July 24, 2007
There is one more set of ruins near Ollantaytambo called Pumamarca, and you don't even need the tourism ticket to see it because it's not on the radar of the big tour groups yet. I went there this morning, but there was a problem: I barely had the energy to make it there, despite it being only a short walk from town. As I tried to catch my breath while looking at the ancient terracing, I realized there was no way I could do a long trek in my current condition. I think I still had giardia, the nemesis of my entire trip. You get it by drinking contaminated water, which is practically impossible to avoid sometimes in the Third World. You can kill it with antibiotics, but if you don't eradicate it 100%, eventually it will gain strength and take over your body once again. I think that's what has happened with me. I simply would have to wait a few more days to recuperate before attempting the Choquequirao trek.
After returning from Pumamarca, I took a bus across the Sacred Valley to Pisac. On the bus I met an interesting group. Zach from Afghanistan, Helen from the Dominican Republic, and Q from Barcelona were all living in New York and on summer break from teaching at the UN school there. Q's sister Tina was working in Lima, and the four of them were traveling around Peru together. They told me there was a conference for the native population this afternoon, so I decided to tag along.
The conference was at the Royal Inca Hotel, the nicest hotel in town. I thought it was going to be about preserving the local native culture, but something seemed amiss when the first presenter to speak was a fat white American woman. She started talking about contributions that have helped build schools where kids were taught Spanish to go along with their native Quechua. That sounded fine, but then she mentioned that the kids were being taught how to heal with musical instruments, and soon they would make fine "doctors of sound."
Next, another white man came out and started playing a conch shell while the woman went around the room shaking a pile of dried leaves in everyone's faces. Exactly which disease was this supposed to cure? Between songs they talked about how the world was coming to an end and women shouldn't cross their legs because they are the key to new life. A lot of the presentation was of a strange, no-so-subtle sexual nature. Whenever I looked around the room, I saw a bunch of rich-looking white people dressed in nice clean clothes nodding in approval. The few local people in the audience were dressed in the jeans and t-shirts that they normally wear and had confused expressions on their faces.
There were a few Indians presenting, but they were of North American ancestry. One guy played a tambourine and started humming a tune that sounded authentic until we realized it was "The Itsy Bitsy Spider." The audience soon caught on and sang right along. Then a boy started singing a song about Mickey Mouse and Donald duck being stars in Disneyland. The bizarre performances continued for three hours.
After the conference, as we were walking out, the audience members started talking amongst themselves about how amazing it was. Someone told me that these people all paid big money for this retreat from the US to get back to their native roots. That sounds fine on the surface, but I saw nothing having to do with the local Quechua culture at the conference. We were all invited to a bonfire afterward, but the UN teachers, who were as baffled by it all as I was, decided they had seen enough.
Later at night in the center of town, we ran into the white guy who was dressed as an Indian and played a mad conch shell. He was standing in the threshold of his holistic healing shop talking to a few of the conference's participants. The light from the shop was glowing on his face like someone telling a scary story with a flashlight under his chin. His eyes were wide, his pupils dilated, and he wore an impish grin across his face. "Come on in, the water's warm," he said as we walked past. Uh, no thanks, maybe I'll join your cult some other time.