Attending a llama blessing ceremony is truly a once in a lifetime experience. Despite the altitude change (thankfully, my guide had something called “agua de florida” that rectified my light altitude sickness after a few deep breaths), it’s an incredible experience I am still remembering with joy several days afterward.
I found it incredible how warm and welcoming these people were about inviting complete strangers, who may or may not treasure their beliefs, with open arms to say, “welcome, come be a part of us.” It’s truly a beautiful experience to take part in a ceremony that is very sacred to the Quechua people.
The day began with a drive through stunning scenery: majestic mountains made way for waterfalls, green rolling hills dotted with stillwater ponds, the glassy surface occasionally interrupted by the calm drip-drop of rain from the clouds above. As we rose in altitude, grazing llamas graced the hillsides in numbers greater than I would have imagined.
While watching the scenery roll by through my window, I was thinking how easy it would be to believe in the “spirits of the mountains,” as is the custom of many in this region: the mountains are truly magnificent, and I won’t waste any more words to describe a landscape that can only be felt and experienced in person.
It was overcast and a bit cold when we arrived at the llama blessing ceremony site, both rectified by the warm woolen fabric I was immediately dressed in: scarf or montera, along with a beautifully woven skirt or pollera. The men were given ponchos of the same skillfully crafted fabric. I was amazed at how warm the clothes were; I didn’t feel the light rain or cold at all during the ceremony.
The llama blessing ceremony began with Juan (who introduced himself as ‘Juancito’), explaining the symbolism of each object in the ceremony: among them coca leaves (a plant indigenous to South America and considered sacred by many), alpaca wool, wine, and chicha (a Peruvian drink made from corn). The objects were blessed and buried in the earth as an offering to pachamama (mother earth). I was able to take part in blowing three times on the fabric encasing the offerings, and watch as it was reverently buried along with a blessing spoken in Quechua. Juan’s words were translated by our guide, Simone, who translated Juan’s native language into English for us to understand.
The second part of the blessing consisted of catching a llama (or in this case, an alpaca), tying it down, and ceremonially cutting some of the wool.
Anyone who wanted was able to take part in this, and I was amazed at how the wool looked once it was off.
They then showed us how they take the wool and spin it onto a spindle – the dexterity with which they do this shows the hours and days and years they’ve spent converting the soft wool to yarn.
Juan explained the Quechua culture is completely secluded, and their days are spent working with the alpacas and dying the wool to craft into beautiful fabric. He also mentioned how the hills were once covered with more horses than alpacas. The horses were brought by the Spanish during the Inca conquest, but found converting the soft wool from llamas and alpacas was more profitable to the community than raising horses, so they began to raise more of the native creatures.
Once the ceremonial cutting of the wool was complete, Juan set the alpaca free to join the others grazing nearby.
The next part of the ceremony was the “marriage” of two young alpacas! There was a lot of symbolism, but consisted of painting red dye on their wool and sprinkling them with flowers. They were then covered in a blanket (considered the ‘honeymoon’ phase), while music from instruments were played. If the alpacas leapt quickly from under the blanket, it meant a good “marriage”, and many baby alpacas would be born that year.
We finished the ceremony dancing in a circle, our only music two flutes and a conch shell, and dancing to the rhythm of our happiness. One of the musicians showed me how to blow the conch shell (known as ‘pututu’) and even asked if I wanted to play for the final dance (I declined, saving my air for oxygen).
We finished by visiting Juan’s family home and enjoying a meal of “pachamanca,” or food cooked in an underground oven, shared with these wonderful people who call the Andes their home. It was truly an unforgettable experience, and something I’m grateful to have taken part in.
Llama blessing, and several other Andean ceremonies, can be included in almost any Ayni Peru itinerary. Our Lares Homestay Trek and Ausangate (or Rainbow Mountain) routes are ideal, because of the presence of Paq’os in their home communities. However, day visits are possible, as are ceremonies near Lake Titicaca and the northern part of the country. Contact us for more details!