During this lesser-known event takes place every year in late September, a group of mountains in the Sacred Valley come to life for a few short hours. Those who come to witness this mystical sight, weather depending, will see a fascinating group of shadows emerge on the face of two of the most revered apus, mountains peaks, in the Sacred Valley.
We made the climb to see the shadows
On the early morning of September 28, several days before the principle day of the event, myself and a couple of friends set out to climb to the base of Apu Pitashuray, a sacred mountain that rises above the town of Calca, in the Sacred Valley. It a 3,000 foot climb that we’d would make in order to see the now infamous shadows that appear for four days every year on the face of the mountain: shadows of a puma, an Inca priest and priestess, and a serpant.
For some, this may seem insignificant. In fact, until about 15 years ago nobody even knew that they existed. It was a man by the name of Walid Barham Ode who, one morning while camping below apu Pitusiray, saw the shadows appear, and recognized the similarity they had to a few drawings he’d seen in the manuscripts of Filipe Guaman Poma de Ayala, one of the first Inca chroniclers who was alive during the 16th century. Other texts that Walid found mention an important festival that only happened for a few days every year, right before the much needed arrival of the rainy season. According to obscure ancient document’s he found, the ancient festival was only attended only by the highest ranking Inca priests.
A spectacle that’s deep with ancestral story
Across the ages, Andean people have honored sacredness of the mountains where these shadows appear, and there are several myths that explain why.
One story goes that a man named Orqo Waranqu, leader of the Urco people who lived in the valley below, needed to find a solution to a problem his people were having: though they lived on fertile land, they lacked water. Orqo Waranqu knew that water was plentiful in the mountains above, and came up with a plan for how to bring the water to his community.
Since his beautiful daughter, Pitusiray, was at a marriageable age, he made the following promise: any man who could bring water from the mountains to the Urco peoples’ land would be offered his daughter’s hand in marriage. The two suiters who competed to bring water to the community were named Sawasiray and Kuntisiray. Out of luck, Kuntisiray broke open a spring and brought water into the community, therefore receiving Pitusiray’s hand in marriage.
The problem was that Pitusiray did not love him. She was instead in love with Sawisiray. So, during a stormy night, Pitusiray and Sawisiray, deeply in love, snuck away into the mountains to be together. When they got into the mountains they were turned to rock, together forever side-by-side.
Walid, since rediscovering the shadows on apu Pitusiray, has written a couple of books about his discovery, about Inca ruins, and about local archeology.
Our voyage to apu Pitisuray: an intimate and beautiful event
In the past, the event has drawn hundreds of people, many coming to party and leaving their trash in this sacred spot. Walid therefore expressed relief that the numbers of attendees have dwindled in previous years. This year, only about two dozen people came: tour guides, other travelers, friends of Walid, and a few other locals who seemed to have deep connections to the land.
A few hundred feet below us along the shores of lake Qan Qan, more people continued to trickle in while it got closer to the central day of the festival. Myself and three others were the only ones able to see the shadows this year though, since we arrived early. The shadows appeared on our first day on the mountain, but on the rest of the mornings the mountains were consumed by clouds.
Make a trip to this year’s event on September 30th! Here’s how:
If you want to take part in this year’s event, then check out the adventure being organized by local guide Alfredo Huarcaya. The experience will include hiking and camping at the site of the shadows, an option ceremony with huachuma (the San Pedro cactus), vegetarian meals, and a group integration session. To find out more, visit the Facebook event page.