Friday, August 10, 2012

Fiestas Patrias Vacation

July 28th is Peru's Fiestas Patrias, which is basically the equivalent to our 4th of July. As a Peace Corps volunteer we get 4 days of vacation, so with the kids on vacation I decided to head to the northern coast and catch some beach time. It was a great trip, and exactly what I needed at this point in my service. The two main highlights of the trip were a shaman cleansing session in  Alta Piura (the Sierra part of the "state" of Piura) and bio-luminescent algae bloom of the coast in Tumbes.

First, I was lucky to get to see Kyle's (a Peru 17er buddy) site. Volunteers generally do go to others' site (not counting site mates), especially during vacation. So when it worked out that I could crash a Kyle's site, meet his host-family, and see the work he was doing, I jumped at the chance. Kyle is doing great work, and I saw just how different it is to serve in the coast. Besides being a lot hotter, the people, music and culture have a completely different flare to it.

Kyle's world map.

The sunset was very impressive. 

Where moto taxis and mules are common in my site, this setup was more common in Kyle's site. 

Now the shaman. I know, I know my years logged at St. Joes and Loyola Sacred Heart told me I was flirting with the devil, but let me tell you it was fun and interesting. We went to Huancabamba in the Sierras of Piura, a town known for it's shamans and traditional/alternative medicine practices. Not to many gringos pass through there, but it is very popular for Peruvians who want to see a shaman.

B chance we got hooked into the cleansing ceremony. We (myself and about 7 other volunteers) were hiking to a lake, when we caught up to a family going up on horses to see a shaman. We struck up a conversation, where they told us that their sister was sick, and they wanted the shaman to help them focus/pray/cure her. They were very nice, and excited to have foreigners interested in this part of their culture. So excited, that they encouraged us to take picture. The shaman did them one better, and invited  us to join the cleansing ceremony.

The ceremony is a interesting mixture of this shaman chanting, speaking rapidly, and shaking a rattle towards the lake. Meanwhile, the participants stand behind him and observe, pretty normal stuff. Then the shaman faces the people (us) and hands out sea shells to each person. The shell is then filled with a liquid tobacco juice. The shaman prays some more, and has the people focus on releasing the negative, and focusing on what they want. Then the participants snort the juice through their left nostril (it burns worse than a pixie stick... so I've heard). Then the process is repeated with everyone snorting more chew juice through their right nostril (much harder to be enthusiastic about this while still feeling the burn from the other side). Then with blurry, red eyes, and ever present smell of tobacco, the group is separated, and each person get one-on-one time with the shaman. This one-on-one time involves more focusing on the positive things you want, more rattles, the shaman spitting alcohol on you, and you exhaling forcefully in all four cardinal directions (kinda grunt hard breath combination).

Then the coup de grace (shout out to Claire), the shaman prescribes a certain many of dips in the freezing cold lake (kinda like finding out how many Hail Marys you've racked up since your last confession). Seven was the determined number for me. It was COLD, and I did 3 solid, "no fear" dunks, but I have to admit numbers four through seven were preformed like a house cat going for a swim, and that Sienfield episode about shrinkage came flooding back to my memory.

The cleansing ceremony typically leads to the shaman assisting the people in a 'vision quest' which is aided by a hallucinogenic tea made from a local cactus call San Pedro. We didn't stick around for this, so I'm not sure if the family did this, but that's purpose of the whole cleansing process so I assume they did.

Here are a few pictures:

Kyle checking out the cloud forest on our way to Huancabamba.

Hard to  see but there is a slight rainbow to the bottom left. 

The lake. 

Phil holds his tobacco filled shell. 

Starting to take my seven dips. 

Nothing to see here, just a few guys doing guy things.

The shaman at work.

 After the Sierra portion, we headed north to the beach. This was the most important part for me, as I needed some beach time to tan my fanny. We headed to Tumbes where we enjoy a campfire on the beach and mud baths in the day. The campfire alone was great, but it was made even better by a bio-luminescent algae bloom that appeared around 3:00am, making the waves look electric blue when they crashed on the shore. Unfortunately pictures of the bloom didn't turnout, but I'll always remember swimming in the electric blue ocean that night. Pretty cool.
Kyle getting clean. 

The mud bath. 

Cone head.