It all started with another dreadful breakfast.
I had asked Aracelli for eggs, toast and coffee. After about half an hour I was presented with a hard boiled egg.
I cracked the top with my knife and was just about to cut the top off when the white poured out onto the table cloth.
‘How long did you boil it for?’ I asked.
‘Seven minutes’ came the confident reply.
She was either lying or simply unable to tell the time.
Even I knew it only took three minutes to boil an egg if it was placed in boiling water.
Nelson and I looked at each and we started to laugh. There were sympathetic looks and some gentle shaking of heads from his relations dotted about the kitchen.
I told Aracelli that I’d boil my own eggs if she couldn’t do it. She insisted on trying again so I resigned myself to going with the flow again.
My second egg was boiled for nearly ten minutes. I must say it was definitely hard boiled. After three of those and an Imodium I thought it safe to hike up to the ruins without a spare loo roll.
It was a two hour trek to Carcahuasi, the mountain top ruins hidden by the cloud forest and covered with orchids and bromeliads. This is just one settlement in what Gene Savoy (reputed to be the original model for Indiana Jones) included in his ‘city’ which he called Gran Vilaya. This is a network of over 24,000 round, oval and walled cut-stone structures which cover about 100 square miles.
As we climbed through the dense jungle up steeper and steeper slopes we suddenly came to a low wall about four feet high. A few minutes later we came across another, this time about twenty feet high. As we continued upwards yet another appeared with a cave like opening in it.
As we kept going up Nelson got out his machete and started hacking away the jungle to cut a path around the summit. We came across several circular platforms which would have contained four dwellings. There are forty of these platforms, so with and average of four people per family and four families on each the village’s population was about 640 souls.
It was hard to be sure but we eventually arrived at the highest point. There was no view as the vegetation was too dense. The highest building had a large circular concave grinding stone in the centre. Aracelli produced some of last night’s wine and some coca leaves. She passed the wine around and we each made a silent wish. We each then buried some leaves in the ground.
Feeling thoroughly at one with Indy I asked if I could borrow Nelson’s machete while he had lunch and start clearing the jungle so we could get a view down the valley.
I set to it, being careful I didn’t chop my arm or leg off by mistake. That would have been a real downer.
Nelson told me to start from the bottom so I dropped off over the ledge and started hacking away. Nelson got out his coca supply and crammed a wodge of leaves and some bicarb into his mouth and started chewing.
After about ten minutes I could feel myself starting to get carried away so I had to be even more careful. This was not the place to chop off a finger as it was a one day walk to the nearest road and a five hour drive to the nearest hospital.
That is, if there just happened to be a vehicle at the end road just waiting. If not, it was another day’s walk to the nearest bigger road with sufficient traffic to get a lift into Chacha.
I handed the machete to Nelson. He set to it like a Whirling Dervish. In half an hour he had cleared an incredible amount and the view was amazing.
This was exactly what the Chachapoyans had seen from the same spot over fourteen hundred years ago.
We trekked back to Nelson’s house.
I was nervous. Aracelli was cooking chicken again.
It still took another hour (with the fire already lit) to present me with her offering. Chicken and rice.
I cut into the chicken, confident she would have learnt from last nights fiasco.
But no! Blood oozed out again.
‘Aracelli, it’s not cooked again, there must be something wrong with the wood.’ It was never her fault always some one else’s.
I started smiling and everyone else in the darkened kitchen was smiling as well.
The previous week Aracelli had guided an English couple but had also brought a cook. Everyone had been really impressed with his speed, and the quality and variety of his meals.
Later that night, whilst I was alone in my room, there was a knock on my door.
It was Nelson. I asked him in and he was clearly embarrassed by Aracelli’s cooking.
‘What would you like for breakfast?’ he asked.
It felt like planning a midnight feast while our parents were away.
‘Huevos y pan tostada, por favour’. I replied.
What would Aracelli do if she found out?
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