Our Chief Explorer reflects on how Andean culture in general, and one wise old soul in particular, have changed his life for the better.
A blessing comes in many forms. In the Christian sense, a priest might dip you in some water and call it a baptism; or give you a piece of wafer and wine to internalize Christ. Devotees of the Muslim faith gain their blessings from the sun, praying 5 times a day in its direction.
Of late, my mind has been on what’s to come and the types of “blessings” that my life has been strengthened by. One of the most notable has been my friend and colleague Valentín Sinchi. Valentín’s blessings are not Christian (although some tints of influence can be noticed) but Andean. An Andean blessing is one centered around the mountains, what are known as Apus in the local Quechua language. The spirits of the Apus are all powerful, giving safe passage, good harvests and blessed lives. They are the entities that look over the Andean world – in both the literal and figurative senses.
An old soul
Valentín is not a shaman, nor a medicine man, nor any variation of the watered-down nomenclature used by anyone who blows smoke on you – literally and figuratively – while dressed in colored clothing. Valentín is instead an old soul, who has a powerful ability to manifest positivity in one’s self. In the case of a recent ceremony in which he blessed a wife and husband after 20 years of marriage, he also strengthens unions.
To give some context to all this new-age mumbo jumbo, Valentín Sinchi grew up in the indigenous highlands outside of Cusco, Peru. Growing potatoes and herding animals among some of the last truly indigenous people remaining in the Andes. Some twenty years ago or so, Valentín and his family gravitated towards the growing tourism trade, specifically working on the route to Machu Picchu via the Inca Trail. The world around him was changing and the ways in which he supported his family were too. As his people moved away from the indigenous practices of trade and subsistence, Valentín needed to earn monetary resources. For many of these years, Valentín’s deep knowledge of the Apus and traditional ways, was not valued in his work as a porter for tourists on the Inca Trail.
A change in direction
In a case of pure coincidence, upon my initial immersion in the Sacred Valley in 2005 (click on the link for the full story). This was the seed that eventually blossomed in 2013 when Valentín began hosting travelers from SA Expeditions in his native valley of Choquechaca. In 2016, he came on board as SA Expeditions’ chief Quechua diplomat and elder on our 2,000-mile trek across the Andes which rediscovered the Inca road network known as the Qhapaq Nan. Today, Valentín no longer carries backpacks for tourists along the Inca Trail, but instead facilitates an understanding of an indigenous knowledge that predates the modern world. He reminds us that our lives are connected to the nature and people around us, helping us to conceptualize things holistically. Sometimes it takes someone like Valentín to help us to slow down and meditate on it all.
It goes without saying that walking 2000 miles across the Andes with Valentín was life changing. Not just the walk itself but passing over countless daunting and important Apus where Valentín’s blessings ensured we manifested positivity and continued our journey in safety and respect for the people and nature around us. We might just have been swallowed whole by the mountains without him.
Food for thought
I’m humbled by the perspective Valentín has bestowed on my life. He has transformed it into something richer and deeper than it otherwise would be. The world could use a few more Valentíns around, helping us to slow down and be present in today.
- Read all about Nick and Valentín’s journey across the Andes here [link to e-book].
- Interested in sustainably traveling to Valentín’s home in the valley of Choquechaca outside of Cusco?
Nick Stanziano is co-founder and Chief Explorer of SA Expeditions. Much of the early inspiration for his efforts to create transformative and sustainable travel in South America came from immersing himself in Choquechaca. Hiking thousands of miles across the Andes with Valentín only strengthened this passion…
All photos were taken at a recent ceremony where Valentín blessed a couple after 20 years of marriage.