Fun Times with Lilo
Shall we continue with part 2...
Since moving here and now with no NGO work I have filled my days with other things for the moment until whatever is next for me appears. Part of that is a lovely visit to the sauna for Lilo and I. This depends on how everyone is feeling. Lately that hasn’t been good with Lilo being quite unwell for a few weeks now and I’ve also had my fair share of feeling crap from various things; cold, parasites etc. Lilo introduced me to this sauna about 2 months ago which is very reasonable cost-wise with the steam rooms and saunas all being very hot. Don’t you just hate it when you go to a steam room or sauna and they are only lukewarm! There is even a small pool. This sauna is used mostly by Peruvians and all areas are mixed. There are 3 different saunas of varying heat and in each there are wooden bowls of salt to help you cleanse as you begin to perspire. I was unaware until then that you should go into the sauna dry (not showering first) and let the perspiration build from a dry body. To help the cleansing process and benefits of a sauna salt should be rubbed behind the ears, between the fingers and toes and under your armpits. These are the most beneficial areas but all over is fine too.
We begin in the medium temperature sauna, move onto the first steam room,(there are two of these) a swim then another sauna and steam before showering and leaving. The steam rooms all have eucalyptus in them...none of your essence mind you ,mixing with the steam...no it is full branches of eucalyptus in the corner....and why not..there are thousands of eucalyptus trees here.
Trying to swim at altitude is something else I have found! Your lungs give up on you very quickly, especially if you put your face in the water so trying to control your breaths. I’ll keep working on it though. Most Peruvians can’t swim and you find the young boys just carrying on, diving and showing off in front of the young girls! Lilo and I try to avoid these times so we can have the small pool to ourselves. We meet the crowds when we forget it is a holiday. There are no hairdryers either (the changing rooms being very basic) so I’ve got used to air-drying my hair, which has varying levels of success..but never mind. I always feel so much better after the sauna. It is a very pleasant way to spend a couple of hours. This followed by a coffee and cake, weekly food shop and home.
Inti Raymis (google)
A huge annual event here is the Inti Raymi festival in Cusco; the festival of the sun. Many people come from all over the world to see it and pay a lot for seats in Sachsaywaman (around $100 I think) to see the full celebrations amidst the ruins. To get a feel for this without the cost many people line the plaza in the centre of Cusco and streets where the festival begins. This is what we decided to do this year. Lilo had done this many times so Annie (the volunteer) and I took our lead from her. To get a better view we headed for one of the first floor restaurants and had a coffee and cake.
This gave us a birds eye view and beautiful it was.
The Inti Raymi festival is a religious ceremony of the Inca empire in honor of the god Inti one of the most famous gods in Inca religion celebrating the Winter Solstice recognised as the shortest day of the year. Many people/ actors take part dressed in various traditional costumes depending on their role within the ceremony. The fountain in the centre of the Plaza is switched off and a construction put around it (about a week before) with steps to a model of the Inca King. This stays in place for a few months allowing people to stand on the steps and be photographed. The spectacle itself is beautiful and the music quite ethereal. At the ruins in Sachsaywaman there are a more festivities with dancing and the sacrifice of a llama (fortunately not actually done nowadays) and which go on for most of the afternoon. Sunstroke is common because of the strength of the sun at this time of the year and usually clear skies so umbrellas are often used to help. You also often see people walking about town holding a paper of some kind at their hairline to keep the sun off them.
Albeit the restaurant was very busy we could still see and get a feel for the festival. This would have been impossible on the street as just trying to get to the restaurant was a challenge! We spent a very pleasant couple of hours here before we headed for another Festival - the Festival de Productores Agropecuarios in Huancaro. Lilo had been before and was keen to revisit it , to fill our day out. This was one I didn’t know. The area it is held in is used for lots of gigs and festivals..very boozy and noisy affairs here. You wouldn’t want to live nearby anyway. After queueing for about 30 mins to get our tickets from a tiny hole in the wall we then joined another queue to get in. As you can imagine orderly queues aren’t great here so there is lots of shouting if someone tries to queue jump which is often. There are police around but usually trying to keep the traffic and crowds of people apart, to save accidents. To be fair you don’t expect a lot from the police here; they are very poorly paid and mostly looking for back-handers if you are stopped in a vehicle.
Once in I realized what I was looking at was The Highland Show come to Peru! This was their version of a big Agricultural Show. I know there are others at different times of the year as I have seen the tents but I think this is the big one. Obviously a lot of judging had been done by then as very fluffy alpacas stood with their proud owners brandishing their rosettes. Photos would cost you 1 sol. The rest were all in their pens happily munching away at the fodder left for them. Llamas, alpacas, pigs and sheep had all been judged. There was even sheep shearing but with hand clippers. There were stalls of all kinds selling artisan products to organic produce to puppies and little canary-like birds. Amongst the many fast food stalls we settled on chincharon ( fried pork with potatoes and corn) for our meal and a large bottle of beer to split between us. It was a beautiful day and where we managed to sit was in the shade, so perfect. The show was pretty busy but Lilo said by night it would be full to overflowing. To the side of the show rings and stalls was a large grassy area with a stage at one end. This is where the night activities would be held with lots of drinking and bands…..not for us! We each bought a couple of things, had our very pleasant lunch and headed back. A lovely day was had by all.
A little later I heard through a friend that Ollantaytambo was having its Inti Raymi ceremony. She was going with a few others so we tentatively arranged a meeting and if it happened, it happened. I hadn’t been to Ollanta since returning in January so was keen to eat at the Café delighting in my favourite foods. It was another beautiful day which always makes a difference. LIlo and I had arranged to meet Annie at the combis for Ollanta in downtown Cusco but as can happen with these things we missed each other. Annie was running late and we tried holding a place for her on one of the combis but as they usually fill and go people were getting agitated so eventually we had to go. She came on the next one and was actually there almost at the same time. The drive from Cusco to Ollantaytambo is an hour and a half and the scenery en route is quite spectacular. The mountains usually are snow- capped and the sun reflecting all the amazing colours is always a joy to see. The scenery constantly changes as you drop down from Cusco into the valley so you are never bored.
Lilo was nervous of using these type of taxis now (she admitted this seems to happen as you get older) so sat up front getting the full beauty of the drive. She hadn’t been to Ollanta in a long time but wanted to show us certain landmarks while we were there.
When we arrived Lilo was desperate for coffee so we headed to the Café and had coffee and banoffee pie..mmmmm! We could hear the music eminating from the ruins after a time so we headed off following the music. It was great that we were all allowed to enter the ruins without paying (normally this would cost 70 soles (about £18). We found a good place to watch and watched as the story unfolded. The sight was just amazing, quite a spectacle - each level of the ruins with children and adults from all over the area in their traditional costumes and playing their traditional instruments ; the music was so ethereal and their chanting just added to the atmosphere, sending tingles down your spine. The vibrant colours dotted all over the ruins from their clothes and props as they waved flags and this beautiful music was really a delight, helped enormously by the beautiful day of course.
Once the story had been told and the music reached its climax the procession, led by the King and Queen of the Incas, slowly descended from the ruins making their way back through the village to an area where the festivities would continue with lots of drinking and dancing. I met my friend briefly but they all had other plans. We decided to linger in the ruins for a bit longer and explore the ruins a little now we were in. Lilo pointed out the face and crown of Viracocha on the opposite mountain and the condor in the ruins. It took a minute to see the condor because of its sheer size. It was the whole of the mountain top and quite incredible once you find it. As it was so hot we cooled our feet off in the river spending a very pleasant half an hour before heading back into town and a beer. Chilling, eating, drinking and good chat was the order of the day for us! We had a lovely meal in the Café where I caught up with a few of the women and the chef before we looked for a combi to take us back. This is the challenging part as there were 3 of us and we were looking for spaces on the tourist buses heading to Cusco. These are the buses picking up the tourists returning from Machu Picchu. You can no longer travel directly from Cusco to Machu Picchu since the landslides in 2010. We got lucky after about 10 minutes getting us back into Cusco before it was too late. It is always a thought when you return later as Lilo and I then need to get a taxi and not many are willing to go that far out of the city to where we stay! All was well though and we had a lovely day.
In June we had another little outing , this time to San Pedro.
OK just to be clear. There is a San Pedro plant, a cactus used in shamanic ceremonies to help gain clarity of one’s life. There is also San Pedro village, about an hour or so out of Cusco in a taxi (although you can get there by bus as this is the main route out of Cusco to Puno and other major cities). This is where we went on this particular Sunday. This village is widely known by local people in Peru and all over for its special waters. It is known as the poor man’s clinic. Drinking these waters completely cleanse the system, supposedly helping clear gallstones and various illnesses. Bus loads came from Bolivia and all over to partake. Lilo had mentioned this to Annie and I some time prior to this and we thought it might be a bit of an adventure. She warned us it was very primitive but worth doing. Seemingly you shouldn’t do this cleansing more than twice a year because it is so absolute! The day was not just for us but to allow Lilo to visit and help Virginia (one of Lilo’s housekeepers). She needed to take 2 kittens to her in -laws who stayed in the village. We were also invited to eat there. The day was to start early, leaving at 6.30am so we were there in plenty of time to cleanse, have lunch, do the eye therapy, then return. As always here, things didn’t go according to plan being a little late setting off. This didn’t impact too much on our day to be fair. We all headed off, stopping en route to collect bread being sold in bags at the side of the street as we passed through one of the villages and a few vegetables from a local market.
In San Pedro we met Virginia’s elderly relations (both ladies in their 90’s), dropped off the kittens (who had been as good as gold the whole trip sitting on our laps) and food before heading to the site. The cost was minimal (3 soles- less than £1). We had brought our drinking glasses, toilet paper and a jug to make refilling easier. When you enter all you can see is a sea of bodies; men , women and children all standing or sitting around drinking or running off to the many stalls on the right. Most arrive early (around 5 or 6am) to avoid the heat of the sun, to finish and leave. Needless to say the children weren’t drinking, only helping refill the glasses of their parents. There were a few selling stalls with various trinkets behind the cleansing area, mostly with things to amuse the children, so there was lots of noise from whistles. There was building in process I assume making more places to get out of the strong sun as these were few and far between. Most of us found walls or just stood or walked about to help the process!! Basically you fill your jugs or glasses at the copper spouts coming from the glass covered dome where the water was coming out of the ground, and start drinking. It was recommended to drink about 15 glasses for the best effect. This started a competition between Virginia and Huvenal about how many they had drunk. I could hear other Peruvians doing the same. I was struggling to drink any quantity at any kind of speed as the water was lukewarm and tasted like I assume Epsom Salts would taste like. This would explain the cleansing effect!! Drinking it made me feel a bit nauseous. Eventually I started gulping more than sipping , this and I think I just got used to it so made drinking it easier. Either way it soon had the desired effect! It was quite amusing watching people with a glass in one hand and a toilet roll in the other. The whole process probably took about 3 hours. Annie was taking a little longer and worrying it wasn’t going to work but before long she was joining us in the stalls. The idea was you kept going until there was nothing left!!
The stalls were interesting and as Lilo and I discussed there is no way a set up like this would be allowed in the Western world. It would have the services crawling all over it demanding this and that. Here the set up was simple; rows and rows of stalls with huge containers of water outside each and a bucket to fill and slosh down the stall when you were finished. The stall itself was small with positions to place your feet then squat over the small hole in the ground. Buckets were in the corner for toilet paper to be put into. Once finished you got a bucket of water and sloshed it down a couple of times so it was clean. Women came along with huge hoses refilling the containers with water. Once the cleansing process started you made sure you were never very far from the stalls and could see some free cubicles so there was no delay when you felt you might need to go again. Once started you went a lot!!
Nearby there was a mirky looking pool of the same water which you could swim in. We did see one man with his bathing cap on who went in for a dip but no-one else. On the wall behind the pool was a list of all the natural minerals and salts in the water and in what proportions.
All in all and interesting morning!
When we decided that was it for us all we all headed back to Virginia’s relations where she had prepared a lovely meal. She had left a little before us to set up. We had a lovely soup, salad, local cheese and choclo (sweetcorn but the natural grown one here which is larger and paler than the one we have at home). A very nice spread completed by a mint tea to help our digestion.
It was then time to try the eye wash station. This separate area (on the other side of town) is reputed to help cataracts and generally good for eye health. At only one sol it was very cheap. There was another swimming pool here, much cleaner but as it was getting colder none of us felt we wanted to venture in. We headed to the pool around the side, specifically for the eyes. We settled on our stomachs and prepared to dip our eyes in. You obviously have to keep your eye open in the water which is always tricky and made worse by the feel…boy did it sting!! There was an old man there and he kept up the eye cleansing for quite some time; much longer than us! We lasted a short time then on the way out we decided dipping our feet in the pool would be a nice option. Wrong! The lady in attendance decided otherwise..we could bathe in it but not dangle our feet over the side!! We tried to reason with her but she was for none of it so we left.
As there was still a bit of the afternoon left I asked if we could visit the next village- Raqchi which Lilo had told us about. The ruins were different here and very pretty. However when we arrived Annie and I just decided to browse the stalls and not visit the ruins. The artisan stalls were a little different here so we spent a pleasant hour each buying a couple of things. A lovely way to finish off our day we felt.
Hope you are all enjoying catching up with my experiences. Just to let you know I added another section about the combis to part 1 in case you wish to look at it. I have tried to describe it as it actually is.
Until my next blog mis amigos...hasta luego.