Encounters with a shamen

Trip Start Sep 07, 2004
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Trip End Aug 15, 2005


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Sunday, May 1, 2005

Another long overnight bus journey later and we found ourselves in Arequipa. Arequipa is a beautiful city, with the active El Misti volcano and 2 other inactive ones providing a gorgeous backdrop to the city.

We were all pretty tired after our long bus journey, so, before entering out into the town we got a few hours kip, before waking up perfectly in time to go out for something to eat. Arequipa city centre is not short on restaurants and bars and it seems that every 2nd building is either a tour operator or restaurant/bar. With so many to choose from we wandered around aimlessly getting a feel for the city, trying a few of the local brews before eventually settling on our place to dine.

The second day we got up really early and checked out the beautifull Monasterio de Santa Catalina which is a huge monastery for Nuns that has been around since the 16th century and still has a few nuns practising there today. It really is quite a massive place and within the monastery there are little streets all named after towns in Spain. After this we went to the main museum to try and see the remains of "Juanita" who was an Inca princess who was sacrificed and her near perfect mummified remains were found in the Andes a few years ago. Unfortunately she was not in the museum as she was in a lab being treated and was being returned the next day. As Ali is with us and we are on a tight schedule this meant that we would not be able to see her as we were later that day going to book our tour to the Colca Canyon for the next day. If we get time Liz and I may return to Arequipa for another day to check out some more of the bars and see "Juanita".

After being slightly let down at not seeing "Juanita" we sat down in the main Plaza to plan what we wanted to do in the Colca Canyon when we were approached by a guy who introduced himself as Raul and asked us if we needed any help with our plans. 5 minutes later we were in his Tour Operator shop and had booked a 2 day tour to the above mentioned canyon. Whilst we were there he also told us he was a Shamen and if we wanted later that evening he would show us a few plants that would get rid of evil spirits and were good for altitude sickness, relaxing and would get rid of bloatedness, sold, we arranged to meet him at 6 in the evening. The rest of the afternoon we just wandered around and had a most glorious piece of chocolate cake in one of the 'Chocolaterias' that are dotted around Arequipa.

6pm came round at we met Raul and he took us back to his abode tucked in down some little side street. He intoduced us to his assistant 'Jesus' and then got changed into his garb. He showed us some of the plants he was going to treat us with which were 'Coca leaves and this dark brown soil looking stuff that is apparently from the Quinoa plant and also some of the cacti that he wasn't going to treat us with as they can have you hallucinating for up to 5 days! He also told us that he came from a small village in the Andes of 20 families and that his father was a shamen before him and the knowledge was passed down generation to generation.

The first thing he gave me and Ali, as Liz had decided she didn't want any as she was being little miss cautious (and how she was proved to be the most sensible), was the quinoa stuff wrapped in Coca leaves. All I can say is that when you start to chew it the Quinoa stuff releases this almighty fiery explosion in your mouth and all you want to do is spit it out, whilst Raul is all the time telling you to "Relajer, Relajer" (Not so bloody easy when your gobīs on fire). After the intial fiery explosion you get a wave of nauseousness before it eventually settles down into something that you can chew. After about 5 of these Ali gave up with her treatment, whilst I foolishly decided that "in for a penny in for a pound", so continued for about 5 more until my nose was constantly running and my eyes were streaming with water. All the time burning the hell out of my gob and feeling sick. Eventually Raul said that part of the treatment was over and I had to get undressed and lie on the floor where he proceeded to brush my body all over with another special plant whilst spitting this spirit out all over my body and into the room. If you think it can't get any worse or more bizarre than that, what happened next was something that maybe some Sado-Masochist may pay for in some dungeon somewhere. Whilst still lying on my front Raul lit a candle and dropped bits of hot wax all over my body from head to toe, I was then told to turn over where he proceeded to do the same all over my front, so in the end I must of had thousands of drops of melted wax all over my that had solidified as they cooled down (Unfortunately we did not have the camera as I was a sight ot behold). Finally I was contorted into to some bizarre position over his back and then was told the treatment was over and all the evil spirits will have disappeared from my soul.

At the end of all this we eventually went for something to eat, or Ali and Liz did because my mouth resmbled something like a fireplace. The next morning when I got up and tried to clean my teeth tiny little bits of the end of my tongue dropped off and the top of it was bright yellow. Hey, but a least the evil spirits had gone!!

We then set of for our tour of the Colca Canyon which claims to be the deepest Canyon in the world and is the home of the Condor. To get there you have to first get to a little town called Chivay going over a pass at nearly 5000 metres. Because of this when we got there Ali was suffering from altitude sickness and had a killer headache, so she didnīt come to the thermal springs which are about 5km from Chivay. The thermal springs are a gorgeous 39C, set in the mountains and as we were there in the evening and it was a clear night me and Liz had a wonderful time soaking in the thermal pools gazing at the stars. Later that evening all our group went out for somthing to eat and some locals put on a folk dance show.

It was an early start the next morning leaving at 5.30am to make our way down the Colca Canyon stopping of at the little villages on the way. At all of these little villages the locals put something on for the tourists so we were treated to kids doing traditonal dances, old ladies with their Lamas and Alpacas, ladies with birds of prey on their shoulders etc, which although contrived was still very enjoyable. Before we got to the deepest part of the canyon there were many places where you could see the way the Inca's farmed with all the terraces cut into the hillside.

At it's deepest the Colca Canyon is 3000 metres deep and this is where the Condors hang out. We had about an hour there and it is almost as if they are putting on a show for you. There are about 45 condors here and they certainly ain't shy so we had a pretty ace time just watching these huge birds glide over the canyon. After which we had a little trek before making our way back to Chivay for some lunch. After which we headed back to Arequipa to catch our bus to Cusco.

We were dropped off in the main Plaza and who should we see on the other side but no other than Raul. We called him over and showed him my mouth (which by now was absolute agony and cut to shreads with a thick yellow fungus growing on top of my tongue) and he said words to the effect of "Yes, it's supposed to burn the inside of your mouth off, but will be OK in a few days", to which I thought, If I knew that I would never have bothered getting rid of the evils spirits in the first place!!. Not totally trusting his word I quickly found a pharmacy and have got some Antibacterial, Antiinflammatory, Antibiotic lotion that seems to be helping, so Mum don't worry I am now able to eat again (just) and much to Liz and Ali's distress can talk again after giving them 3 days peace and quiet.

We have just had another overnight bus with no sleep so having a lazy day in Cusco.
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