Of Herbs and Smoke: Peru's Payment to the Earth Ritual
When Anibal Clavijo Ubaldo and his family acquired a Peruvian plot of land from the local Andean community in Aguas Calientes, they called upon the local shaman Willko Apasa to bless the property before building the Sumaq Machu Picchu Hotel.
Willko performed a traditional “Payment to the Earth” ritual—a sacred ceremony where an offering is made to Pachamama, or Mother Earth, to give thanks and honor new beginnings. Seven years later, the shaman is still working closely with the hotel as well as their guests, performing cleansing ceremonies, Payment to the Earth rituals, and Andean wedding ceremonies and vow renewals.
I met Willko after a long day of exploring Machu Picchu. We sat crossed-legged together next to the roaring Vilcanota River on the hotel’s grassy balcony encircled by a verdant thicket of trees. His despacho, or offerings, had been meticulously laid out on a hand-woven blanket. Each item and its placement served a particular spiritual purpose. A woody aroma from the burning Palo Santo branch mingled with the sweet notes of flower water to cleanse the crisp mountain air.
While chewing mouthfuls of coca leaves, Willko explained that during the century of Machu Picchu’s construction, not one slave was used to move, chisel or polish the tons of perfectly aligned stones. The Incan community built the sacred site together, by hand, with love. Furthermore, the architecture of Machu Picchu is calibrated to the cosmos with exacting precision in order to receive the maximum amount of spiritual energy. Many people can feel this powerful energetic vibration, which is why it has become such an alluring place to visit.
The hotel’s Payment to the Earth ritual is a way for guests to show their gratitude for Mother Nature’s abundant gifts and harmonize with the energy that connects all things. The ceremony invites the Apus (sacred mountain deities) to help cleanse, balance and guide us. Guests are asked to voice their personal intentions or prayers to the spirit world by blowing on three coca leaves, or kintus, and making small offerings of Andean food, sweets, herbs, confetti and wool.
Each offering corresponds to the three levels of life represented in Andean Cosmology: hanan pacha, the world above; kay pacha, this world; and uku pacha, the underworld. When the despacho is complete, the offering is blessed, bundled and burned by the shaman. Incense is used to transport our intentions to the mountain spirits and any heavy energy returns to the earth, transformed by Pachamama into fertile ground for new endeavors.
Nora Walsh is Travel + Leisure's Latin America correspondent.