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Photo by Celia Mitchell (2015/16 Semester Photo Contest Entry), Indonesia Semester.

PachaMama’s Teachings

Sometimes you need to take a step back and read PachaMama’s signs. This became more and more evident as our first exped in Parque Patagonia continued to unfold. What started as whispers from our surroundings culminated in all our shouting and arm waving from PachaMama. But first, a little backstory. In Andean culture, there exist three totemic symbols: snake, puma, and condor. The snake represents the underworld, the puma the earth, and the condor the heavens. As condors unwavering flight and ability to glide through thermal currents began to be interpreted, they culturally became regarded as God’s messengers. They serve as symbols for a higher Being and their presence reminds us that PachaMama is listening. This could not hold more true for our experience in Parque Patagonia.

Our first encounter with condors came on the third hiking day. It was the hardest day yet and involved the most elevation gain of any hike we completed. About halfway up the mountain, when our strength and fortitude was really being tested, we spotted two condors gliding overhead. We stopped and admired how they moved through the sky. Rejuvenated by their beauty and grace, we continued up the mountain. PachaMama gave us our first lesson: never give up.

The second encounter with condors came about halfway through our journey, where we spent three layover days nestled beneath a glacier. In this time, we were able to reflect about our experiences and connect to our surroundings. In this time, we collectively created a list of inherent rights of a mountain. As we were reading off our list and offering it to PachaMama, three condors appeared. Carving through the skies, the condors passed along a second teaching from PachaMama: respect nature and the world around you.

Our final encounter with condors came as we were driving out of Jeinimeni and finishing our time in Parque Patagonia. The spectacle of thirty+ condors circling and diving out of the air dropped the jaws of everyone in the van. As the van climbed the hill, we got closer and closer to these majestic messengers. Mere feet from the van, we could distinctly see the sheer size and stunning white and black patterns of their wings. The only words uttered were ones of astonishment and awe. With the loudest and most obvious sign of our entire trip, PachaMama sent us off with one final insight: be appreciative and love what PachaMama provides.