The Shaman

I wasn’t home for more than a few weeks when my friend, Francoise, told me that she was going to Peru to study with a shaman. How interesting, I thought, and then went about my day.

I continued my routine of watching continuous episodes of Downton Abbey while fantasizing about Ivan and Victorian cookery and holding office hours at my cafe. This isn’t time allotted for bookkeeping or employee relations, rather it’s a series of sacred moments set aside for friends to stop by and gossip, drink bottomless cups of coffee and pop hot-from-the-oven cookies into their mouths. But, even with all these distractions, I couldn’t get the shaman out of my head.


Heritage Corn: Peru

Heritage Corn: Peru


This particular shaman was female, a Peruvian woman named Doris who had lived in the Amazonian jungle for 30 years, studying plants with its people. She was a healer who was willing to share her hard-gained knowledge. She had been tested, tried and true by a few acquaintances.

I had honestly never thought about Peru until that moment. Macchu Pichu? It wasn’t on my list.

Then a friend, who had once written about Peruvian food for Gourmet magazine, came to visit. Over plates of mango-spiked ceviche and Pisco sours—in San Miguel nonetheless, she filled me in on Peru’s cutting edge gastronomy, their amazing indigenous ingredients and their abundance of top-notch restaurants. Ok, now I was interested.

I emailed Francoise and asked her to tell me all about her adventure when she returned, that maybe I would go the following year. She replied immediately saying Doris had just written asking her to bring a friend along. “This must have been meant for you”, she said. “You have to join us.”


Causa--Peruvian dish with potatoes

Causa–Peruvian dish with potatoes


Now at this point I have to tell you that I believe in signs. I believe that our path is clearly marked, if only we pay attention. Plus, when was I ever going to get another personalized invitation to Doris’s home in Peru’s Scared Valley.

I told Francoise that if I could secure a frequent flyer ticket, I would go. Twenty minutes later I had a first class seat to Cusco, leaving the following week—a bargain of only 30,000 miles on Copa Airlines. A true sign.

I emailed Doris, introduced myself, and asked about the next step. She inquired about my health and I presented her with two problems. She recommended massage and clay baths. That’s when I realized I was going to a rustic spa. What else could it be? We would study plants, using them on ourselves and…


Field of llama

Field of llama


I actually never asked about the “and.” Instead, I packed my winter gear, last used in Mongolia, along with my bathing suit and the suggested sarong and headed to Mexico City to catch my flight.

The leg of the trip from Lima to Cusco was memorable in that the pilot kept tipping the plane from one side to another. He never lost control, rather he was a proud Peruvian and didn’t want us to miss any of the sights. And with the Andes not too far below us, if he tipped, we could see….the lakes, the llama, the high snow-covered peaks. “To the left, ladies and gentleman,” the pilot announced as we clutched the arms of our seats. “Oh, wait, to the right,” he added, excitement spilling from his voice as he dipped to the other side. You could tell that the man loved his job and we, at least in my opinion, were lucky to have him.


Cusco's main square

Cusco’s main square


After gathering my bag and passing through customs, I headed out of the airport, bombarded with men holding signs with names on them. That’s the moment I realized I didn’t have a plan to get to Doris’s house. I had sent her my flight information, but never asked the necessary questions of who, when, where. I had failed to inquire about a phone number, and didn’t know the name of the town where she lived. Oops!


The streets of Cusco

The streets of Cusco


Now, here’s the part where I have to admit that I’ve actually done this before…and obviously didn’t learn my lesson.

If was 1986 and I was behind the Iron Curtain.

To be continued…

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