Good Bread, Terrible People, Ayahuasca and the Charlatan
Good bread and terrible people: two byproducts of tourism that are in heavy supply at the center of what used to be the Inca empire.
During our stay in Cuzco, Ania and I enjoyed the luxuries of hard crust and sweet, absorbent french toast, but we did so under the gaze of Asshole Artesanos.
Of course, not all artesanos are assholes. The ones I’m talking about are a different species. From the Yucatan Peninsula to the Sacred Valley, they appear where ever there’s a constant supply of tourists and prey on them.
Asshole Artesanos are usually males. They dress like hippies, but they’re not. They say everything’s ‘chevere’ and repeat the phrase ‘buena onda’ at every break in conversation.
On first encounter, they offer you drugs. San pedro, ayahuasca, cocaine, hongos. Whatever you want.
They seem to live in backpacker’s hostels. They pretend to be your new amigo while they hit on your girlfriend. They preach about the Pachamama and Quechua beliefs without knowing much about them. They kind of play instruments and they kind of make jewelry, but it’s all crap and they know it.
But hey, it works. Tourists want drugs and cheap necklaces and women want that ‘exotic experience.’ Asshole Artesanos are there to fulfill these demands.
The main problem comes when they take advantage of tourists in their most vulnerable state: under the influence of heavy hallucinogens.
There are institutions in Cuzco that operate for the sole purpose of daily, scheduled ayahuasca and san pedro sessions. Houses that tourists can visit to get dosed and lay around, babbling for a couple eternities, closed in by four walls, completely detached from nature and the rest of the universe.
A ‘spiritual’ experience, they call it.
Ania and I met a shy Polish girl that tried ayahuasca in one of these places. It was her first experience with drugs. She went with an artesano buddy that was supposed to stay with her throughout the trip, but as soon as she started feeling it, he left her alone with the ‘shaman.’ She was the only one tripping that night, everyone else was smoking and drinking, waiting.
She sat quietly as the ayahuasca took over. It’s liquids filled every gap between her brain and her skull, squeezing her mind like a coal black hand wringing out a pink dish sponge.
And the ‘shaman’ watched it all. ‘She was ready’ he thought to himself. At the peak of her trip he started caressing her, telling her how pretty she was. He tried to hold her. She refused, but he insisted.
Scum of the Earth.
The next morning, she came back devastated, defiled. Nothing happened, but understandably, she didn’t want to talk about it for a few days. For her, it was a shattering moment in the flow of life. For the ‘shaman’ it was routine.
His only regret was that he didn’t pick up a new foreign girl. Sometimes they wake up hypnotized.
A few days later, I met a real shaman in training. He was of indigenous blood and studied for years in spiritual and medicinal schools down in the jungle. I asked him what he thought about the tourists that come to Peru looking for ayahuasca and he laughed.
“Locals sell ayahuasca because it’s good business,” he said. “It’s just about money, nothing more, which is sad because ayahuasca is a serious event for us. According to tradition, only selected people in a community can take ayahuasca and they have to prepare for the event for 35 years.”
“Thirty five years?!”
“Yes, normally people don’t take it before 40. Also, they’re usually shamans. It’s not for ordinary people.”
“So what do you think about these shamans that sell it to tourists?” I asked.
“They’re not shamans. No real shaman would give it to anyone that’s not ready. They’re Charlatans.”
“What are Charlatans?”
“People who talk a lot, but know nothing.”
From Asshole Artesanos to Fake Shamans, Cuzco is full of Charlatans. It’s a shame for a place with such nice bread.
Cuzco, Peru - © Diego Cupolo 2012