...And that is precisely what a curandera (female shaman) did two nights ago. We traveled up to Otavalo and its surrounding pueblos, and Marlene was blessed. Apparently, an evil spirit had been living inside of her and causing bad luck, so she needed the spirit removed. This involved being rubbed down with eggs, bread, cologne, and herbs. Also, having cologne spit onto her entire body and having fire balls blown at her.
Please picture with me a small, fiesty Mexican girl standing with feet straddled over a bed of glowing coals, each foot resting on a woven corn husk mat. Now picture her reaction as she stands, in underwear only, while an old women speed drags a cigarette and blows smoke rings at her, proceeding afterwards to blow entire balls of fire (with the aid of alcohol) near her bare skin in an effort to scare away any malevolent spirits. Now picture her expression the first time cologne gets spat into her face... and hair... and chest... and legs... and arms... and then is spat onto bundles of herbs which she is then beaten lightly with.
After Marlene´s evil spirit problems were cured, the curandera blessed all of us by having us cup our hands, which she held one by one as she -espimir-ed cologne into our faces, which was followed by pouring violet water into our hands and having us run it through our faces and hair. We were then told not to bathe for a day. My hair was greasy and I smelled like a cologne with the delightful name of ¨horse water¨, but at least no evil spirits were invading my headmeats.
But I´m getting ahead of myself. Before going to see the Shaman we stopped at a touristy lake place where I got to pet a llama (dont worry mom, I brought the hand sanitizer). Then we went off to a housing collective where an old indigenous woman showed us how llama fur was traditionally spun into yarn, and a young man showed us the traditional weaving technique for using said yarn. It apparently takes 8 hours to get about six inches of cloth from this technique, if you are making an intricate design, and he has made afghans for a couple of high end hotels which end up costing about 400 dollars each.
Also in the housing section was a giant fenced in area of guinea pigs, called Cúy here. Cúy is a delicacy, and also often used in shaman work to detect what is the cause of suffering in a person -- the cúy is held by the shaman and rubbed over the person´s entire body, during which the animal dies of shock. It is then carved open and the entrails are examined to figure out what´s what. Thankfully, our curandera prefers using candles, and only resorts to cúy in exreme cases.
We stayed at a gorgeous hostal (sounds like an oxymoron, I know) run entirely by indigenous people, and before dinner Rachel, Ali, Kathleen and I started performing as a makeshift a capella group out on the steps of the restaurant. The little indigenous girls sat on benches near us and listened until it was time for them to get changed to dance -- a group of 5 children performed three or four dances for us during dinner, and then hawked their scarves and bracelets. My wrists are very bedangled at the moment. Dinner was excellent with the exception of expecting a small glass cup to hold juice, when in fact it was warm whisky with raspberries. Some of our group got very, very tipsy. And this was BEFORE visiting the curandera.
The next morning, we headed out to the animal market in Otavalo. Hundreds of pigs, sheep, and cows paced in pens while waiting to be bought and sold. Old toothless grannies came up and begged us for money. Stray dogs are everywhere.
After the animal market, we headed out to breakfast in downtown Otavalo, and from there went straight out into the artesania market. Bags, sweaters, belts, jewelry, art, hammocks, bongs, pipes, purses, hair ties, hats, statues, yarn -- stall after stall in bright booming colors with shopkeeps who seem to decide we are instantly their friends. Bartering was incredibly fun and easy since I was in a group -- hooray for group discounts and the ability to withstand pressure and walk away, only to be called back with ESPERA! UN DOLAR MENOS! I earned good karma points by giving one of the toothless grannies fifty cents.
Our final stop was to a volcanic lake, with bubbles of gas still seeping up through the algae from cracks at the crater´s bottom. The lake is two kilometers deep and a dark, beautiful blue. Surrounding islands, formed by the volcano´s eruption, are covered in bright green foliage and bordered by flocks of black and brown ducks that peck at the algae. Because there is no sand in which to lay eggs, there are no fish... just rabbits and ducks and the like, a very small ecosystem.