INCA HOT SPRINGS
by Frank Richmond
Cajamarca, in northern Peru, has been in my travel sights for a long time. In my busy travel schedule I had categorized this destination as a “potential place of interest,” but not a “must-see” priority. Like most travelers I had a preconceived mental image of Cajamarca as a small city in a “feel-good” valley dominated by small pastures, where the inhabitants lived a simple lifestyle, and where it might be possible to stumble upon some remnants of the Inca civilization. It was the Inca aspect and the simple lifestyle that interested me the most. So with unbounded enthusiasm and muted expectations (a formula that I find enhances my travel experience), I set out from the Lima airport for a one-and-a-half hour flight to Cajamarca.
The late afternoon flight was spectacular. There is something very special about viewing the Andes from the vantage of the condor, especially in the fading light of day. Virgin valleys soon gave way to checkered pastures of vivid greens, a telltale sign that the pilot had the airstrip visual and we were about to land. I remember that a light rain was falling, usually a sure recipe for dampening the spirits when arriving at a new destination. But for some inexplicable reason, I felt uplifted by the rain. Perhaps the travel gods had something special in store for me.
We skirted the city of Cajamarca and headed for the small town of Baños del Inca, a twenty-minute ride from the airport. In the fading light we passed a large sign announcing our arrival at the Hotel Luna Seca. I could just make out a line of stables as we entered the driveway and the clouds of mist that appeared to engulf the property. “Raining a little heavier here,” I thought to myself as we pulled the luggage from the vehicle. Seeming to read my mind, the driver explained, “It’s only steam from the thermal pools—you do not need a raincoat.”
Exploring the hotel grounds at night was a surreal experience. Lights strategically accented the illuminated clouds of steam that rose from bubbling cauldrons of thermal waters. As spectacular as the gardens were, I was blown away when entering my room. It was a small, European-style room, tastefully decorated and very cozy. Upon opening the door to the bathroom I could only stare in awe at a tub the size of a small swimming pool. I could not resist taking a photo of my duty-free wine silhouetted against the steam rising from the scalding waters filling the bath. As I Iay in the thermal waters with both body and mind succumbing to its relaxing powers, I recalled that these were the same waters that Atahualpa, the last of the Inca rulers, was reputed to be bathing in when he was captured by PIzarro—and within the year Atahualpa would be executed by his Spanish captors. I quickly dismissed these painful thoughts in anticipation of a revitalizing night’s sleep.
The next morning I was amazed to find the breakfast room dominated by what appeared to be business people. Eventually an explanation began to emerge. An hour from Cajamarca is the Yanacocha mine, the second largest gold mine in the world. For the variety of business people visiting the mine, Luna Seca is their hotel of choice. It saddened me that, with so many of these people just looking for a comfortable bed for the night, the outstanding spa and health facilities offered by the hotel stay underutilized. On the other hand, the potential of these facilities as a health and wellness travel destination did not escape me—a point that I filed in my personal hard drive.
Cajamarca is an enigma. There was obviously money being invested in tourism, yet there were few tourists. The two churches standing guard over the manicured plaza were beautifully maintained. The famous room that Atahualpa had twice filled with silver and once with gold as ransom for the Spanish was undergoing renovation. The local market, vibrant with activity, was devoid of gringos. I had a wonderful time investigating fruits and vegetables I had never seen before with no pressure to purchase—a rare experience in most markets today.
A Gastronomic Miracle
By the end of a long day I felt a strong connection to the valley, the city, the underutilized hotel and spa, and the potential of this region as a future center for spiritual and wellness activities—and I had been there for less than 24 hours! I don’t normally arrive at a judgment about a new destination this quickly and must admit my decision was greatly influenced by Fannie, my local guide. She was everything and more that I emphasize during my sessions as a guide trainer. She’s a natural connector, a rare quality, especially across cultures. Now I was again going to put her to the test.
“Fannie,” I said as I lowered my voice, as if to keep my family back home from picking up on my conversation, “I would like to try a guinea pig for dinner tonight.”
Her eyes lit up. “You like guinea pig? My grandmother cooks the best guinea pig in Cajamarca. When we don’t eat Grandma’s guinea pig we always go to this special restaurant. Grandma says it is nearly as good as hers, but not quite. I’ll take you there.”
The guinea pig with Fannie will go down as one of my most memorable gastronomic experiences. Let’s just say it was delicious—I won’t go into any further details. Just as we were about to finish the meal, Fannie asked if she could use my digital camera. After scrolling through the pictures I had taken, she suddenly stopped, and her face lit up. “Remember the picture you took in the Church of San Francisco of the Last Supper? Look at the plates in front the thirteen people at the table.” With that she handed me back the camera. There, to my utter amazement, on the plate in front of Christ, was a guinea pig. My connection with Cajamarca was complete; it had the seal of the highest approval.
FOR MORE INFORMATION about traveling to Cajamarca, other areas in Northern Peru, and beyond, Contact HOLBROOK TRAVEL at 800-451-7111 or firstname.lastname@example.org. For sample programs, visit their website at www.holbrooktravel.com.
NORTHERN PERU — TIPS FOR HISTORICAL TRAVEL
Northern Peru has much to offer for those interested in ancient cultures, archaeology, beautiful landscapes, and nature. Explore the cultures of the Moches, Chimus, Chachapoyas, and Inca by visiting Chiclayo, Chachapoyas, Trujillo, and Cajamarca, site of the first contact between the Spanish conquistadors and the Inca civilization.
Cajamarca is a city of colonial charm, rolling Andean countryside, and home to the important archaeological sites of Ventanillas of Otuzco and Cumbemayo. It is a place of great historical significance - in this city Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro captured, imprisoned, ransomed, and executed Inca Emperor Atahualpa, unleashing the destruction of Inca civilization.