Cumbe Mayo is one of the places one should visit when in Cajamarca. So that’s exactly what I did. It’s about 20 kilometres from the city centre, driving through small unpaved roads. It’s difficult to get there on your own if you don’t have a car but there are plenty of agencies offering tours, so I picked one of the many on the Plaza de Armas.
This archaeological site is located at about 3500 meters above sea level so, on our way up, as we stopped to take a look at a panoramic view on the Inca city, some ladies tried – and, in my case, managed – to sell us coca sweets. I have to admit I don’t find them particularly good. Neither am I sure if they are of any help against height sickness. But I am the kind of person on whom placebos work very well. So I bought a few, just in case.
In the mini-van, there was also a couple from Lima, a family, and man from the United States. Not that I want to snob other tourists but… Well… As a matter of fact, maybe I do. He was just the kind of person I try to avoid. The one who wants to travel but has only a limited knowledge of the local language and doesn’t seem to be very much at ease being on his own. So he’ll try to get hold of any fellow traveller who speaks his mother tongue. In this case, the obvious victim: me. Most of the time, besides the fact that you’re both western tourists, you don’t have much in common with them, so they try to find the common ground. The evident subject. Travelling. But this time, I acted antisocial enough to avoid the unwelcome intrusion. I can’t say he did anything wrong. I just can be very misanthropic at times. Luckily for him, the couple from Lima also spoke English. And they seemed happy to be able to practice it, as they were addressing me in Shakespeare’s tongue as well, although I repeatedly insisted that they would speak Spanish. Not that it really mattered, in the end. I guess I just was in a bad mood, looking for just any excuse to be disagreeable.
It was a nice excursion though. Our second stop allowed us to have a look at a geographical formation, called the Friars – los Frailones. The wind and rain erosion shaped the stones in a way that made them look like a procession of monks. What came next was a small hiking, during which we discovered petro glyphs, a pre-Inca aqueduct of around 1500 B.C., which was thought, at one point, to be South America’s most ancient construction, and more geologic formations. Not the least, two penises – a big one and a small one. The big one is, of course, Peruvian. According to our guide, the smaller one represents a gringo penis. Though I have no idea on what he based his appreciation. There was also a vulva. As fertility symbols, the custom wants that the woman who wants to have a child sits on top of the penis- shaped rock. A man should sit inside the vulva. I didn’t do any of both. Which is obvious by the fact that I’m still not pregnant – for the time being, rather a relief than a problem.
Cumbe Mayo seems to have been a place of rituals and the aqueduct has probably been built for ceremonial purposes. A huge stone with a lot of eroded petro glyphs is believed to have been used for animal sacrifices.
I could feel no empathy for my North American companion – let’s call him Joseph – who was struggling to keep up with the pace. And, sometimes, struggling just getting through. At the very beginning of the walk, we went through a very small corridor in the middle of a big stone. The guide went first. I was going behind him and Joseph was coming next. When we were in the complete dark, the guide shouted “a la izquierda”, I turned around and said “go left”. Three times. I came back into the open air without any trouble. But Joseph was cursing. He had scratched his glasses and blamed the guide for it. “You didn’t tell me I had to go left!” I could have killed him. Right there. With my bare hands. Not a day for empathy. Definitely.
All along the way, there were little children with lambs in their arms, in case any visitor might want a picture with them for a few soles, and ladies selling handcraft. Or what they claimed to be handcraft. In fact mass-produced cloths that you could get much cheaper in Cajamarca. The people did look very poor though. I had a mixed feeling. I tend not to buy or pay for anything like this. I like real handcraft and don’t want to pay to take pictures. But this is how these people earn their living. Not sure it is better to have a refined taste rather than to support poor families. So many ethical questions I was asking myself to which I failed to find a proper answer. Perhaps it would be easier to come to an acceptable conclusion on these matters if only I agreed to communicate with my peers.