Somewhere between Cusco and Aguas Calientes, Peru, I peered out the window of my train, yearning to absorb the energy of the surrounding verdant jungle. We sped along the ferocious Urubamba River, a winding body of water that the Incas considered a reflection of the Milky Way, on the way to Machu Picchu, a new journey for me, one I’d been waiting to take for a long time.
It was my first time in the Amazon rainforest, but I’ve always been curious about the Indigenous groups that dwelled across the Americas before colonizers attempted to eradicate native people, including my Charrúan ancestors. By the early 1600s, European colonizers had brought such extensive disease and violence that they killed at least 56 million Indigenous people across the Americas — the biggest genocide in history.
Due to the erasure of Charrúas in Uruguay, little is known about our cultural traditions or ancestral lifestyle. This leaves a gaping hole in my understanding of what makes me who I am. But, I believe we carry with us the trauma, memories, and blessings of our ancestors. And so I know I inherited my passion for preserving nature from my Charrúa kin. My love for Tierra Madre, or Mother Nature, influences everything I do.
Indigenous peoples are not a monolith, but learning about the customs of myriad groups has helped me to better understand my specific roots. Once, a Maya woman in Guatemala touched my heart and told me that everything I needed to know was already there — I just needed to find it. My visit to the Lost City of the Incas was another attempt to strengthen my bond with my native roots and connect with nature.
Once I was actually at Machu Picchu, which means “old mountain,” I immediately felt a strong energetic sensation. Local Peruvian guide, Carlos Solaligue, took my tour group to a vantage point with sweeping vistas where he recalled the history of the Inca empire. My heart ached as a familiar sorrow overcame me: My own ancestors didn’t have the chance to preserve their heritage. Travel has become a tool I use to process ancestral trauma and my tattoos serve as talismans from my experiences.
When the conversation shifted to Christian missionaries, I left the tour group to find a quiet place to meditate. When I opened my eyes, I saw wild chinchillas peeking out from a rocky crevice nearby and felt that Pachamama, the revered Earth Mother of the Incas, was with me at that moment.
While in Peru, I kept encountering more omens guiding me towards Pachamama. After exiting Machu Picchu, I saw a group of Peruvian musicians serenading a crowd with traditional sounds of the pan flute. They sang in the Quechua language about Pachamama, the lyrics translated to “new Earth, Mother Earth.”
In the afternoon, I browsed the stalls of artisanal crafts in the Aguas Calientes market. At a jewelry stand, I felt a strong connection with a symbol on a pair of earrings. I asked the vendor about the significance of the spiral. She smiled and explained it’s the Inca motif for Pachamama. At that point, I was not at all surprised.
Back in Cusco, I visited Peruvian Shaman, Victor Peralta. Peralta learned Andean esoterism from his abuela, who was a medicine woman. He led me to an enclave used during the Inca empire for sacred ceremonies. Divine talismans sat on a colorful woven rug, including a condor feather, representing the heavens, and burning moss. Peralta uses smoke from the moss to connect with deities.
He beckoned me to stand under the dense canopy behind the sacraments for a Pichay aura cleansing ritual. He prayed in Quechua to request permission to perform the ceremony from deities, including Pachamama, and to invoke the energy of the surrounding mountains. As he prayed, he moved the burning moss around my body. The gentle incense surrounded me as he whistled and used the condor feather to touch points on my body and whisk away malas vibras.
I was told to inhale deeply as he played the conch shell next to my body. The vibration of the conch shell’s song moved within me in a circular motion. Peralta said this sensation was the energy activating my chakras. I didn’t bother resisting the urge to cry. The tears I freely shed felt like physical representations of the negative energy the Shaman was releasing from my alma — my soul — during the cleansing ceremony.
After the ritual, Peralta told me, “You have to trust more in you. The knowledge and wisdom that you’re looking for are sleeping in your memories.” He performed another blessing to call on Pachamama to wake up those memories. Finally, he invited me to join him in an offering for Pachamama called Jaywarikuy. I was given a trio of coca leaves, referred to as K’intus. He instructed me to breathe my energy onto the leaves and to place them into a hole in the Earth.
Following this, I had the urge to commemorate not only my journey in Peru, but my journey with Pachamama. I already wear 27 tattoos. They’re mostly symbols representing meaningful moments and places I’ve visited during my travels. I knew I needed to add the Pachamama symbol to my collection. I’d been longing to wear a tattoo that encompasses my love and respect for nature. When I came across the Incan symbol for Pachamama on those earrings in the artisan market, the design of the tattoo manifested as I was drawn to the labyrinth-like formation.
It made perfect sense when, as I arrived at Quilla Tattoo parlor, a song about Pachamama was playing — another omen. The tattoo artist that day was a woman; a final kismet chance encounter. She gave me a tattoo of the Incan Pachamama symbol over my recently cleansed heart chakra. The tattoo is of the circular spiral the Incas used to depict Pachamama. The spiral moves inward, reminding me that our inner journey is what guides us. On the tail-end of the spiral, she placed three dots for the snake, puma, and condor that represent the underworld, Earth, and heaven to the Incas.
I’ll forever carry with me the divine female energy of Pachamama. The tattoo reminds me of the lessons from the Shaman — the plight of my ancestors is within me.