Andean Soul PART FOUR
Chapter Five – The Moon
After our return to Azpitia, our lives carried on as usual on the outside, following the rhythm of the various village development projects, but on the inside – we had changed. Up until the time of our Andean trek, there was an ever present, palpable tension between Luis and the Gringo Americano Pablo. It was gone now, melted. Something about almost dying together at 16,000 ft. and then walking back down to sea level over the next seven days… Something about the various bizarre encounters we had on the way… Something about listening to the Andean Harp and Panpipes send out their haunting melodies into a brilliant starry night in the last village we stayed in… We were brothers now.
A few weeks had passed since we got back. We were in the middle of the Peruvian coastal winter. A blanket of fog would crawl up from the coast at dawn into the foothills and then retreat at dusk. The villagers spent their days planting next season’s potatoes, beans and rice, gathering firewood from the hundreds of olive trees and tending to their orchards. My feet had finally healed allowing me to do what I loved best – to stroll along the village pathways, guitar on my back, shovel and gloves in hand, looking to help dig or plant or gather wood or, if I was lucky, to play the guitar for someone.
One afternoon I was sitting under a big old olive tree singing and playing for the little village ragamuffins when Luis found me. He implored me to come quickly; there was an opportunity I must not miss! We ran back to the community house where I left my guitar, grabbed a sweater and hurriedly followed Luis down the main road out of the village.
- “Where are we going, Lucho?”
- “Mala,” he answered.
- “Are we trying to catch a ride?”
- “No. We’re walking,” he said with a grin.
- “What, why?’ I asked.
- “You are going to see the Curandera!” he commanded.
- “She can see you tonight!”
Luis had been telling me about the Curandera for weeks. He knew I had been suffering some kind of intestinal illness for months, and wanted to cure me. I agreed to go to see her and asked when we could go. Cryptic as always, he said – “It depends on the moon.”
So here we were high tailing it down the road to the coastal town of Mala, twelve miles away. The sun set, the night cooled and the fog rolled back down to the mighty Pacific, revealing a very full and pregnant July moon! I had never seen or felt a moon like it. It seemed to be carrying us, making us lighter… it was odd and enchanting.
Luis was more animated than usual. He was excited for me to meet another extraordinary element in his mysterious world… the Curandera. On the way he explained that the people of this land follow the rhythm and cycles of the moon very closely. The waxing moon, for example was the time to plant, to start new projects, to cut your hair, to trim and prune, to make intentions. The two weeks of the waning moon was best spent fulfilling your intentions, dispensing with what is no longer needed, weeding, cleaning, clearing, preparing the soil… “During the growing moon, you take two steps forward. During the diminishing moon you take one step back! If you try to keep everything you will lose everything. The moon teaches us not to be greedy!” This and so many other wisdoms poured out from Luis on that walk.
There were much greater subtleties in his divinatory web of appreciation. His observations extended to such things as the texture of fabric in the air we breathe, the vitality of the water we drink. He would talk about the change of song in the birds and insects, the voice in the wind, the change in the smell of the sea, the song of the river, the rustling of bamboo – all as if they were ‘speaking’ to him. He’d move fluently between worlds, one moment being utterly still, quiet and invisible – listening from a place deep inside himself, and the next moment he’d be talking about girls!
Yes, the moon seemed to transport us that night to the town of Mala. We walked the twelve miles in what seemed like no time at all! As we entered the strange town of Mala, Luis began telling me about the Curandera.
Chapter Six – The Egg
She had been apprenticing for 10 years within the auspices of the Catholic Church. She was like a nun with healing powers. The point of being a novitiate for 10 years was to ensure that her ‘powers’ originated from a good source and that they would not be abused. She had almost completed her training to become a fully licensed healer. Until then she could not charge for her services. As we got closer Luis said to be prepared to have my breath taken away. When I asked why, he said – “You’ll see, Pablo. You’ll see!”
When we arrived at the house of the Curandera there was a long line of people waiting to see her. We joined them and waited quietly for nearly three hours before we entered the house. People would go to see the Curandera not just for illness, but for their crops to be healed, or for protection against evil, or to find something they had lost, to bless a newborn child, to help their goats produce more milk, or to help heal someone far away…We were there to ask if she could help heal my insides.
When we finally entered the front room of the house, the Curandera’s assistant recommended that I get a raw egg and a bottle of distilled water from the little market/pharmacy across the street. So Luis stepped out for a few minutes returning with the egg and a bottle of water. The assistant asked me to hold the egg in my left hand and begin to sweep my entire body with it until it was time to see the Curandera.
The house was kept very clean and simple. Chairs were placed along the walls for people to sit in. There were a few religious symbols and images on the walls which, along with the ceiling were painted a vibrant sky blue.
It was my turn to go in. I entered a large room with the same sky blue walls and ceiling and could see a woman behind a beaded curtain in what looked like a kitchen with a variety of pots and herbs hanging from the ceiling. Luis stood next to me with a solemn yet joyful expression anticipating my meeting with this extraordinary human being.
When she entered the room I literally lost my breath! I had never seen a human being as radiant and beautiful as she was. My legs turned to jello and my stomach felt like it was going to fly away. I was light headed and dizzy until she greeted Luis with the kindest, sweetest voice I had ever heard. Luis introduced me to her and we shook hands with warmth and gusto. I was steady now. I had come back to earth. She asked if I had the egg (which luckily I had not crushed out of sheer nervous anticipation) and directed me to sweep my body with it once more, whilst she poured the distilled water into a tall clear glass.
She took the egg and cracked it over the glass of water and observed how the yolk and the albumen descended into the water. I was transfixed watching her watching the egg fall into the glass. She then looked at me with a very serious expression and said –“Someone in the village doesn’t want you there. They touched you with something here (lightly touching my left shoulder) and it has come to rest here (pointing to my lower right abdomen). And if you do not get rid of it, it will erupt in one year!”
“What?” I pleaded.
“Do you want to be healed?” she asked.
“Of course!” I said “Please! But…who…how…?”
She wrote out a list of things and said, “Come back in one hour with these things which you can get at the market across the street, and I’ll make a remedy that will heal you in three weeks.”
We thanked her warmly and took the list to the market. The ingredients for this remedy included Agua de los Siete Espiritus, Agua Florida, Agua de Carmen, Rubbing Alcohol and Brut Cologne! In disbelief I bought the ingredients and dutifully returned to the healer one hour later.
When we returned to her house, all the other patients were gone. She beckoned us to come in and asked for the bag of ingredients. She then went back into her kitchen where she had a large pot on the stove bubbling with herbs. She added the various “Waters” to the pot along with the entire bottle of Brut! After a while she asked Luis to come back and help her pour the contents into three one gallon glass bottles. They came out with the warm bottles and she described how I must drink three gallons a week for three weeks. That I must return for two more refills. That I must do this in order to be healed, otherwise I will have serious problems in one year!
By this time I had completely acquiesced. I was exhausted, overwhelmed and bewildered. We thanked the Curandera once again, picked up the three gallons of who knows what and began our walk back up to the village of Azpitia. Fortunately we got a ride in the back of a pick-up truck with one of the village farmers returning from the market in Lima. We arrived home at midnight. I decided to take my first dose of the concoction in good faith. I could barely get it down – herbs, flower water, Water of the Seven Spirits, Carmen water, alcohol and Brut cologne! But I managed, thinking ‘When in Peru, do as the Peruvians!’ hoping this would actually work.
Thus began my healing regime having visited an angel!
Chapter Seven – Belief
I had to ask Luis what the Curandera meant by her diagnosis – “Someone does not want you here.” How can that have anything to do with my battle with dysentery? He explained that there are Brujas in the village that can put a curse on a person, for whatever reason.
“What? Who? Why would they do that to me?” I asked.
“You’re the Gringo Americano Pablo. Some people fear what you represent. Some people don’t trust foreigners, especially Americanos,” he replied.
“But we are only here doing good things for the village!”
“Some people don’t want your help,” was his reply. “Some believe we have been pillaged by your country for half a century. That you represent just one more oppressor in a long history of oppression.”
“But I’m not those things Luis! You know that!” I cried.
“I know that about you now Pablo. You are buena gente! But when you first came here I thought you were just another in a string of do-gooder missionaries trying to save us unfortunate ‘third worlders’!”
“What should I do now, hermano?” I asked Luis.
“Finish the remedy, then go, leave this place before something worse happens to you!”
“But I don’t believe in witches or curses or any of that!”
“It doesn’t matter if you believe it or not,” he said, “It is as real as the air you breathe!”
I had to leave Peru. It was not what I wanted. But I had learned to respect Luis’s warnings. I decided to go to the project in Venezuela. One of the project ‘elders’ offered to get my ticket for me as he would be going to the airport in Lima to pick up an international visitor. When he returned with the ticket a day later he apologized that he could not get a ticket for the date I wanted, that I would be leaving a week sooner.
This meant I could not finish the Curandera’s remedy. I would be a few days short. “Oh well”, I thought, “I don’t believe in that anyway.”
I said my sad farewells to Azpitia, Peru; to my dear friends there; to the land, the river, the most incredible mountains and the sea; to the people of the land; and to my brother Luis, beacon of Andean Soul.
Chapter Eight – One Year Later
A year later, I was living in a cabin way up in the San Juan Mountains of Northern New Mexico. Much of the time I had lived there had been solitary. It was my ‘hermit’ phase after spending a few years in “3rd world” development projects interspersed with a semester here and there in Universities. In July 1982, a good friend from California came to live with me in what we called Casa Cielo
up Portrero Canyon above El Rito, New Mexico.
Every morning I’d read excerpts from my Latin American journal.
“Hey, check this out! A year ago today I went to the Curandera…”
At about three that afternoon, I doubled up in excruciating abdominal pain. After we realized this wasn’t going to go away, my friend took me down the canyon in my VW Bus and we stayed the night in a cabin at the base of the canyon. We tried every remedy for my stomach pain from Golden Seal to medicinal teas. Nothing worked.
The next morning I couldn’t move at all. Every part of my body ached and my lower abdomen felt like it was on fire. We got me to the bus and drove down into El Rito to see the only available physician, the town veterinarian! She took one look at me and said, “Your appendix is about to burst!”
She hooked up an I.V. with glucose, got me into the bus and they drove like hellfire down to Espanola Hospital. Within five minutes after arrival I was prepped for emergency surgery, my parents were informed, insurance was arranged and I was under anesthesia for an appendectomy!
The whole time I was remembering the words of the Curandera.
Consequently, my beliefs have changed!