Staying in Calca longer than expected

The 10 days of meditation were over, but we did not want our time in the ashram to be over as well; even before starting the retreat we had felt we’d want to stay there for a few more days, as we felt the space was so special. The decision to stay for another night was then taken quickly, especially since Carmen and Steve wanted to stay as well and we were excited about spending time with them and actually be able to speak to each other. One other Vipassana fellow stayed back, Katya from El Salvador, so we were altogether a team of 6 sharing a room in the Valle Sagrada Ashram. The only other people there were 2 Argentinians who were also our Vipassana friends but were staying in another room, and the owner. That meant we had the whole place to ourselves… and that was great, great, great!

 

First day “out” after the 10 day retreat

The first time we stepped out of the ashram after the 10 days it felt so strange, as if we were coming out of some sort of prison and seeing the world out there for the first time. We walked the 15 minutes to the centre of the little town and went straight into a cafeteria, ordering coffee and the biggest piece of cake we could see. After 10 days of simple diet we wanted to have a taste of everything we had been “forbidden” to, so from the cafeteria we moved on to a restaurant to have lunch, then continued with an ice-cream place, had chocolate and peanuts while chatting in the square and then bought eggs for dinner and pop-corn for the movie watching session we had planned for the night.

Essentially we spent the whole day doing nothing but eating, walking, eating, having lovely conversations, eating and then eating some more. We all agreed it was a day well spent! We obviously decided we had to stay another, so the next day was spent in a pretty similar fashion. What we discovered extra was theriquisimo (delicious) fruit salad in the local market (more info on that in a post on Peruvian cuisine coming up soon) – the best way to start the day, and something we are still doing to this day. We ate there for a few days in a row and we loved going back to the same lady. She became so familiar with us that one day we met her on the street and she gave us each a kiss, as if we were friends forever. This kind of relationships and familiarity made the space so special to us, and also so hard to leave.

It was also during the second day we came across a tourist office in the plaza, and that was pretty shocking as this was one the most not touristic places around. We found out there were a couple of lagoons, some thermal baths and some communities that we could visit around the area. We decided we’d go to the Machachancha Thermal baths the next day, and from there to a community renowned for its textiles.

 

Machachancha Thermal Baths and the textile community

The road towards Machachancha was under construction so the next day we rose early and took a taxi half way, then walked the remaining 3km to the thermals. It was a most lovely walk, meeting the locals on the way and having small talk while admiring the breathtaking view. When we got to the thermals we were happy we could finally dip into the hot water. The place was covered and there were two pools, but unfortunately the water was far from being hot. About 45 minutes later we figured we had enough and moved on to having our delicious picnic under the sun: avocado, cheese and salad, our usual stuff. An incredible combination we think, and, as Steve put it, “the only thing that wouldn’t go well with avocado is broken glass”. Amen to that!:)

From the thermals we found a taxi that took us up to the community where we were supposed to find loads of textiles. Not only we didn’t see any cloth, but we didn’t even see any people. It seemed completely deserted, so we then moved on to checking out the surroundings. As we were walking around we soon came across the strangest thing: a cemetery built in the rock. We still have no idea what the whole deal was with it, but there were remains spread all over the place. We felt like archeologists who had just come upon a new discovery, and the whole thing was quite surreal.

It then started raining so we tried hiding in some sort of cave, but before we could find something appropriate the rain stopped. We started walking back hoping a car would pass by and pick us up, but because the road was under construction we ended up walking 2 hours back to Machachancha, no trace of car on the way. As we were sitting outside the thermals wondering what to do now, we saw this small vehicle coming up the hill and stopping in front of us. The driver was making noise with a little bell and we soon realised he was delivering bread to the people on the hill. We were famished so immediately bought 15 buns that we gulped up on the spot. We then asked him if he could take us back into town, and with a scared look on his face he said: “Maybe… but only 2 or 3 of you”. Katya had problems with her knee so we sent her and Silviu back down with the bread man, while we hoped we’d eventually find another way to get back. Luckily enough we did, a taxi that was apparently the last car that would be going up that evening, so we were very grateful he saved us from the pain of having to walk back for hours in the dark. It was a full day that we celebrated with yet another great movie in the evening, but unfortunately Steve was the only one who managed to stay awake until the end.

We had also heard of other thermal baths called Lares, a bit further but allegedly the best in the area. They were about two hours away and we would have gone except the roads were under construction so we would have had to leave at 4am and get back after 6pm. We weren’t ready for such a commitment towards hot waters, so we decided we’d settle for Machachancha. But if you’re in the area and have a chance, we recommend you check out Lares rather than Machachancha.

 

Aaand… another 10 days in the Valley

The next day we said good bye to Steve, who headed over to a school near Cusco for a volunteering project, and two days later we said bye to Carmen as well, as she headed North towards the teaching job that was waiting for her in Ecuador. The rest of us wanted to stay longer in the Sacred Valley to continue meditating, reflecting and starting work on the books that had so clearly taken shape in our mind during Vipassana.

One of the girls we met during the retreat had told us of 2 places in Coya, another little town half an hour away, where we could rent a room and spent some time writing. One of them was with a family who had a big piece of land and were cultivating corn. We went to see the place one day and even though we liked it, we didn’t see it as a very conducive space for writing. It was so incredibly cheap though that we felt it was for free: a room was 20 Soles a month (that’s about USD7 a month, so about 20 cents a day for the three of us. As I said, for free). There was no bed in the room so we would have had to sleep on the floor, on the carpets or sheep skin they had there, there was also no shower, no gas for cooking and not much space in the yard either … but it was in a gorgeous location surrounded by mountains, and we would have lived with a generous and loving family. It was extremely tempting. We also checked out the other place, Loco Taray, this was 150 Soles a month but for rooms with beds and bathroom with hot water. We analyzed and analyzed and in the end we decided that even though we could have stayed in any of these places, our heart was so much in the ashram that even the incredible prices of the other two places were not enough to make us choose them. So we negotiated a nice 9 Soles a night with the owner of the ashram and decided to stay there for another 10 days. If you’re looking for a very cheap and good place to spend some time in the Sacred Valley though, we definitely recommend those two places in Coya.

The next days spent at the ashram were some incredible 10 days and we enjoyed every moment tremendously. Our routine was getting up before 6, doing some meditation and exercising until 8ish, preparing a huge fruit salad with honey and yogurt for breakfast, writing until lunch time, having a delicious USD1.5 lunch in town, coming back for some more writing and sometimes ending the night with a hot chocolate and bread served by a mamacha (Andean lady) on the side of the road. What more one could have asked for, we don’t really know, but for us this was simply perfect!

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