I can’t remember if I felt any different that Sunday morning as I dressed in the amber-hued sunlight which warmed my rustic bedroom but a significant day and night lay ahead of me. I had spent three weeks now in Ollantaytambo, a rural country town in the heart of Peru’s Sacred Valley.
A humble neighbour of the magnificent Machu Picchu, Ollantaytambo is, in its own right, a world heritage site which has earned the title of ‘Living Inca Museum’. Hence folk the world over gather here, mostly on a short stay en route to Machu Picchu. I had decided to claim it for longer, if the locals would have me. So far, so good, I was learning Spanish and making some improvement and now my new friends at Coffee Tree Restaurant were also teaching me Quechua (the language of the Incas, which is a first language of many people in this area)
It was one of those extra special days as I was about to find out. I had no conscious plan of my own but over in the square waiting for my arrival was a sequence of events that would play out perfectly. I would never forget the moments that were about to unfold nor the people I was about to befriend.
Crossing Plaza De Armas (main square) I spotted my friend Alex waving to me from the bench outside his Coffee Tree Restaurant. I went to say hello. He introduced me to his friend sitting next to him. ‘Hola Henry!’ I understood from Alex that Henry was the owner of a new Hostel/Hotel in town. To be honest I didn’t understand every single word but Henry seemed like a friendly fellow and most polite. There and then he invited me to come to see his new hotel.
At Hostal La Casa Del Abuelo I met Catty, Henry’s wife and their new born baby, little Michaela, the sweetest thing you ever saw bundled in soft pink clothing. ‘Caroline, you want tea?’ Catty enquired. Henry already had the tea prepared. Catty carried on attending to her baby girl while Henry busied himself about the place. We chatted as best we could with our broken languages. Both Catty and Henry were keen to learn English and they offered that we might help each other with this exchange. I was invited to visit any time.
Just then a guest came from the stairway into the reception area where we were seated. She was speaking Spanish but her accent was unusual and her voice quite distinctive. She wanted to find out about the area, having just arrived by bus from Machu Picchu. It didn’t take long to figure out that we were both English speaking. As Nabila and I introduced ourselves it seemed certain that we were headed for adventure. Invisible threads had been woven into this scene, drawing like minds and hearts together for the purpose of merriment and good cheer. I drew a map on the back of a napkin indicating the highlights of the town and making sure to advise her of my Ollantaytambo friends whom she should visit and give custom to.
Nabila and I arranged to meet at the Coffee Tree after 5pm and Liz her companion would also be joining us. Meanwhile, Catty had decided that I should join her and Henry for lunch along with their cousin André who was visiting from Lima. In many Irish homes, a guest will realise that refusal of the invitation to eat or drink is a wasted exercise, after the third insistence it is better to accept the offer. It seems the Peruvian’s and Irish have some common traits. In those first few hours of this family’s company I have to say I was touched by their kindness and acceptance of me.
Eventually all the dishes had been added to the table, a round cake of soft cheese and some bread pans as I was already accustomed to. In addition there was cancha, Peruvian fried and salted corn, and I was served a bowl of stew with pieces of tasty goat meat. There was plenty to go around lots of conversation too.
My ability to converse was still a little stifled but I was forced to try harder to communicate. My new friend Henry, who to this day I am so fond of, is a most inquisitive fellow, who never tires in his eagerness to learn not just the English language but about life outside Peru. He had a natural curiosity and conversations could take many twists and turns. I would end up telling him things about Ireland such as the story of how we got the Shamrock as our emblem or about Fionn Mac Cumhaill and The Salmon of Knowledge….In Spanish!!!
Later I looked at my watch. It was time to meet my other new friends…….the Americans. This was just the start of the adventure. I thanked my new Peruvian friends and promised to visit soon. With an extra spring in my step I made my way towards Plaza De Armas.
Copyright Caroline Cunningham Author of Wild Star Landing