The Can-Can Lagoon, the shadows, the cow shit and the donkey


So 9am our eyes finally met it, the lagoon we had been dreaming about. We instantly felt that the pain and trouble from the previous night were all worth it: this had to be one of the most special places we had been to during our trip.

A totally unexpected surprise

From afar we had seen a bunch of tents around the lagoon, and we were surprised the place was so populated on a “regular” day. Getting closer our surprise skyrocketed when our eyes met Tanzar, a guy who had done the Vipassana meditation with us a month earlier. Huh?? What were the odds of that happening?

Tanzar welcomed us and pointed out a great spot to set up our tent, then gave us some tips on what to do around and at the end invited us to his tent for tea at 5pm. When he heard of our concern about the food he immediately replied “Oh, don’t you worry about food at all, that’s the last of the issues. We’ll figure something out, I have some noodles and porridge and some pop-corn… we’ll definitely manage”. Pop-corn?? We though we heard something wrongly, but no… Tanzar was going to offer us freshly made pop-corn around the fire that night. We could hardly wait!

We were amazed and touched at the same time at the ease with which Tanzar, one person, offered to feed 4 other people for dinner with the food he had carried all the way up to 4200m. It was such a great example of caring and giving from the heart, no strings attached and not expecting anything in return. It was beautiful and such a lesson to us all…

The cow shit story

Tanzar is half Iranian and half Italian and has been living in Peru for the past four years. We had some great talks with him and one of the stories he shared stayed with me. He was telling us how the previous year at the same lagoon he was walking around and there was cow shit everywhere. So he said to himself “Tanzar… so interesting life is, you are now walking on the same road as the cows”. A few hours later he was coming down from some peaks he had climbed and managed to stay there too long, so he had to climb down after sunset. He did not have a flash light and could not see anything, so he wasn’t sure if he was on a path or not and what was below him. The only thing he could see was the cow shit by his feet… and it was with “If the cows can go here, so can I” that he made it back to his tent safe and sound. Also with the thought “Maaan… the cow shit probably saved my life”.

It was to me a great metaphor of how quick we are to judge people and experiences, and how these exact ones might even save our life later on. Another powerful lesson, this one on suspending judgement… We could not be more grateful for meeting Tanzar up there.

Besides Tanzar, all the other people there were part of one of two groups: one of students and the other of guides to be. They had come to the lagoon during that weekend because, as we found out later, the famous shadows were not visible for a whole month as we had suspected, but only for three days a year, and these were those days. Furthermore, out of the three days the best one was going to be the next morning, exactly when we were going to see them. The guy who had written the two books was there too, so we got to exchange a few words with him and got tips on the exact time and place the shadows would be most visible. The “luck” we had again, we thought. Or as Tanzar would say, “you must have pretty good karma not only to find this magnificent lagoon, but to get here on the best day of the year too”. And even “accidentally” so…

The day by the lagoon

We spent a most lovely day by the lagoon, walking around it, meditating, enjoying. That was also the day we finally understood something we had wondered about for a while: why in the shops in the Sacred Valley we could not find sunscreen with SPF below 45. They had them up to 90SPF, but below we only saw a couple of 30s and nothing ever below that. Well, we realised while up at the lagoon that the sun here is not to be joked with. It really burns! So after that day, “wear sunblock at all times when up in the mountains!!” became something engraved in our minds.

When darkness set, Tanzar was not back yet from his hike, so while we were waiting for him the most lovely surprise appeared out of nowhere: a mamacha carrying one of the typical colorful blankets on her back. And in the blanket? Carefully placed the pots we were going to have our dinner from! Seriously?? A lagoon 4200m high and food finds its way to you when you need it the most? We were so happy we almost did the “funky happy dance”, and grateful beyond words. The dish was potatoes with rice and veggies and some traces of meat we struggled to pick out, but to us it was one of the best foods we had ever eaten. What shocked us the most was that we were in a place where the mamacha clearly had a monopoly, and yet she did not try to rip us off. She charged us exactly what we’d pay for a meal in town, and she did it knowing we had no choice but buy her food. She could have charged us double but she didn’t… and we thought she must be building some very good karma for herself. “As you give, so you receive” indeed :).

We didn’t think the day could get any better, but we were wrong again!  Soon after we finished our food, Tanzar got back to the tent and we ended the evening around a lovely fire munching on freshly made pop-corn (with butter too, what madness!), bananas and hot yummy tea (with rum too, what extra madness!). Who says you can’t have a bit of luxury even in a tent 4000m high??

We went to bed still amazed at the day that had passed and the way things had turned out for us… How can one not appreciate life then, when it comes with such surprises and even little miracles? All one has to do is be aware of them, welcome them, believe in them and most importantly be thankful for them. And then they will start appearing more and more and make our life more and more special.

The next morning and the shadows

We had been told the best time to see the shadows was 6 to 6.30am, from one of the peaks around the lagoon. We got up at 5.30 and 45 mins later we were up on the peak, eyes wide open, staring at something that completely exceeded our expectations. We had seen many a rock or shadow that was supposed to look like something, and if you made an effort you could see it, but this was completely different. This actually looked like what it was supposed to: a puma chasing an Indian. And we were seeing it on the best day of the year, after receiving guidance from its discoverer. We knew very clearly this was a moment we were going to treasure and keep in our hearts forever.

After about half an hour we came back down because we had arranged with the mamacha to bring us some vegetarian food the next morning. We met her as soon as we got back and we were ready and excited to meet our breakfast: pasta with traces of vegetables and ponche, an incredibly delicious drink made of beans. Having this from the mamacha‘s bag on top of a mountain was more precious to us than a buffet of croissants and capuccino in a five star hotel!

The way back down

Boca and I had planned to teach 7th Path in Urubamba the next day, so we knew we had to head back soon. After breakfast we packed quickly and said good bye to Tanzar, who did one last of his extra kind gestures: he introduced us to Vicky, a mamacha who was heading back to Calca, so we could follow her to make sure we don’t get lost on the way back down. Vicky was together with Michele, her 4 yr old son, and Mariano, her don’t know how many years old donkey. We knew it would take about 4-5 hours to get back down, so when we started I asked her how long we’d take, more for entertainment as we knew the answer was not going to be very relevant anyway. She looked at me and said “well, it took me 2 hours to get here, so probably 1.5 hours”. We looked at her with an obviously doubtful look on our face. “To Calca??”. “Yes, to Calca”. We started walking, thinking she must be making very gross and inaccurate estimations. Boca pointed out: “Yeah, so do you think she used a timer when she came up?”

Our laughter was short lived, as 5 minutes into the walk we realised why she had told us those timings: because that was the truth! What for her and the donkey was walking, for me and Boca was running… We tried to keep up with her but it was so hard, especially when we were going downhill and we felt out toes were going to come out through our shoes any moment. We kept slipping on the pebbles and rocks, and we even fell a few times, but she never showed even a trace of difficulty or tiredness. Moreover, her 4 year old boy who was also faster than we were, kept playing and falling and she’d just smile and joke and encourage him to keep up. The boy fell 20 times, we fell 5 times, and the mamacha never. We were oficially impressed and we understood that when the locals say 2 hours, it’s because for them it is 2 hours. But to get an accurate time for us, the gringos, we need to multiply that by two or more.

When we finally got to Calca our feet were covered in blisters and every single step was so painful we wanted to cry. We sat down on the grass unable to move or talk. The mamacha looked at us, traces of pity in her eyes… she took out her cellphone: “Two and a half hours”, she announced. My oh my, so she did have a timer after all! What a joke!! We thought that was hilarious, but lacked the energy to even laugh. We knew if she had been alone she would have made it in less than 2 hours, because she had to stop repeatedly on the way and wait for us… so we ended up slowing her down. We also knew that if we had come alone we would have certainly not made it in less than 4 hours, the proper time for the gringos.

Oh, what an eventful 3 days they had been!

If you’re in the area, do go up to the Can Can Lagoon… it’s definitely worth it! And just a word of advice – be prepared :).


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2 responses to “The Can-Can Lagoon, the shadows, the cow shit and the donkey

  1. What a beautiful experience, thank you for sharing!

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