Tired of trodden trails and keen to start the New year with an experience that might set a precedent of some sort, I endure a turbulent ten hour bus ride deep into the Northern Peruvian mountains to a place known as Hauncabamba. Hauncabamba is a region that ,thankfully, has no river rapids, Irish pubs or overpriced ruins to attract the adrenaline seeking, lonely planet abiding wanderer. Rather its a gloomy misbegotten little mountain town whose only traces of life can be found staring blankly from park benches in the central Plaza. My incongruous presence no doubt a novel (but not necessarily welcome) viewing diversion.
Hauncabambas reputation (and hence the reason for my visit) resides in its wealth of Curanderos (healers) and Brujos (witchdoctors) who surround the sacred lakes of Las Haringas . Healers and mystics, who for a substantial fee will banish ones demons (or incur them-depending what youre after) while resolving matters relating to the heart, failing finances, fortunes, health, sex drives etc etc. With no immediate ailment, misfortune or penile dysfunction to declare (Though I have always maintained that prevention is better then cure) my purpose and curiousity lies more in sampling the ceremonies obligatory cup of San Pedro. A cactus extract known to offer up intense hallucinatory revelations and insight.
According to Peruvian mythology, San Pedro was an ancient, who through the consuming of the sacred cacti, managed to retrieve the keys to the universe that God had previously concealed from man kind. I like to think then that I come in search of a freshly cut pair. A pair that might unlock the chastity belt to my supressed sub consciouss.
On arrival at the Bus Station, Im ushered into a make -shift office, really just a room with a few laminated Las haringas posters pasted on the walls. A dusty folder featuring the Ciriculum vitaes of over fifty Curanderos is placed before me. While I leaf through the file , the bus station soft drink seller (and sometime tourism lady) babbles on in an incomprehesible stream of Spanish, showering me with maps and brochures (The type of enthusiasm I imagine comes with recieving your first customer in a long long while.).In my wearied state I can only nod and respond to with my staple Si, Si, Si as if I have grasped every word, when if the truth be told I have not the slightest clue what she is on about.
At a glance, the portfolios seem identical: the Curanderos name, age and years of practise in the esoteric arts listed . Photos pinned to each page depict men (in ponchos and cowboy hats) in their late fifties, weilding objects that look (rather worryingly) like swords. I settle on a reccomendation I was able to come across through some vigirous internet research prior to my arrival. Don Augustin a Cundero whose business card proclaims him to be the Maestro of Maestros.
So the big Don it is: Wizard of Hauncabamba, demon buster and answering machine to the anscestors. I secure an appointment for the following evening and in the meantime crash in one of the towns dillapidated accommodations that go under the (rather oppurtunistic) banner of hostel.
Four o clock the following day, and the wrap of knuckles sounds on my door. My taxi driver come to escourt me to my Curandero appointment. A boy stands on the other side , half my age and only just surpassing my belt buckle in height. I wonder whether his feet will reach the vehicle peddles and suprisingly they do, though this leaves his eye line barely cresting the wheel. I take a deep breathe and off we scoot. Leaving behind the hostile plaza onlookers and low lying valleys, ascending into a landscape set in regular motion with mist and rainy season landslides (which explains the locals preferred nickname- la Ciudadque Camina -the mountians that walk).
Cloud capped peaks, damp villages marooned in bannana thickets fly by, while the occasional deranged village mutt attemtps to savage the taxis Wheels. The kid narrowly averts catastrophe by swerving and swearing (Puta Madre!) at pigs and other errant farm obstacles that litter the road. There are moments where I realise my life is in the hands of an adolescent,his need for speed – insatiable, playing the wheel as if it were a play station consol.
Outside the sun is setting and a recent down pour retreating. The wet air caught unawares in the afternoon glow ignites in a techhnicoulour blush. Thick bands of colour arch from the ground up.
Which we way to Don Augustin-the maestro of maestros- I ask the boy?
To which he points a finger to the very spot where the rainbow brands the earth.
Were off to see the wizard (i humm) the wonderful wizard of Oz.
As night settles the taxi finally pulls up outside a rustic wooden settlement. There standing in the dim candle light of a doorway-the imposing shadow of the Maestro waiting to recieve me.