Hikers on a trail in the Andes overlooking Peru's Sacred Valley with the Urubamba River, seen in the distance, meandering toward Machu Picchu.
The scenic city of Pisac sits in the Peru’s Sacred Valley at nearly 10,000 feet.
The Urubamba River, the valley’s lifeblood, percolates down from Andes mountain peaks that soar several thousand feet over the valley.
These heights provide hikers with spectacular views and Inca ruins that rival those of Machu Picchu itself, located some 80 kilometers downriver.
Pisac seemed to me the perfect introduction to Peru, offering the allure of a mystical ancient culture while acclimating myself to the coca leaf-chewing altitude.
So I started booking.
When searching accommodations in Pisac, I was intrigued by one calling itself a yoga “shala,” promoting programs and instruction. I liked the idea of exploring my long-held curiosity with yoga, and it all looked so perfect in the reputable online rental site’s description. The price was right, and with righteous naivete I booked a one-month stay.
I did first send a specifically worded email prior to booking to confirm that “private ensuite bath” meant the bath facilities are actually inside the room to be used solely by me.
An email was returned confirming.
Upon arrival, I found a sink and toilet outside under a stairwell that wouldn’t allow me to stand while peeing. The shower, with lukewarm water at best, at full force dripping lazily from the showerhead, was about 50 paces away through the crisp mountain air in a shared bathroom that smelled much like an outhouse.
Mistake #s 2, 3 & 4
There was no regular program of yoga, the wifi signal was weak when operating at all, and there was food and dirty dishes left out daily by the hosts, attracting an impressive collection of live bugs in the kitchen.
But it was all cheap. I resolved to make the best of it.
(Traveler’s note: On subsequent trips when I encountered problems like this with an Airbnb host, I complained and was well taken care of by the company. Generally I’ve been pleased with my Airbnb accommodations, but some, like this one, demonstrate what an adventure Airbnb can be sometimes.)
Meanwhile, I was the only guest until almost two weeks into my stay when a pleasant couple of young yoga aficionados arrived from Colorado.
Hosts Paco and Javier seemed genuinely pleased to have some real practitioners on the premises, which led to my first real yoga class.
I thought I might do alright but it was humbling. Paco the yoga master led the exercise in the studio directly above my room. Later, the Colorado yogis said it was a particularly grueling session, especially for a beginner. I didn’t feel so bad then, but I became suspicious of Paco.
Let the Meditations Begin
The next night was a full moon so there was no workout. Instead, there was a meditation session with candles and prayer rugs and doodads scattered about in the dim light and the promise of a fire afterward in the pit outside in the cold beneath a full moon illuminating the clear Sacred Valley sky.
The meditation consisted of sitting in that cross-legged yoga position, chanting ommmm, and repeating a five-line verse in Sanskrit, I think, 108 times. I don’t believe we really did it 108 times but I’m pretty sure only Paco was counting. That was OK with me. I wouldn’t have complained about missing a few verses.
It was not pleasant, what with the sitting position. I thought the exercise was more suited to a restful, prone position. But it didn’t seem appropriate to complain at that point so I stuck to the program.
But that only made it difficult to concentrate which I think was counter to the whole idea.
Marshmallows and Gas
At verse 58 or so, my mind wandered to that campfire we were promised, and I silently wondered whether there might be marshmallows, which struck me as funny. It was about all I could do to keep from chuckling out loud, which might have interrupted the piousness of the affair, so I clamped down a little harder on the ankles under my crossed legs which crimped my desire for snacks.
At about the 89th om, I felt a rumbling in my bowels that normally precedes a satisfying fart and started wondering what a real yogi does in that situation. Maybe they don’t eat enough to build up that kind of pressure.
While contemplating this development, I mulled the urge to let fly one good, loud ass-belch during the ceremony just to see what would happen.
Chanting Into the Home Stretch
By then I was pretty sure we were rounding the 100-chant post and heading for home. Wasn’t long after that when one big long “ommm” marked the end of meditation and a refined sense of relief among the devotees
Eager to leave, removing myself from the seated position I’d maintained faithfully throughout the ceremony proved troublesome.
So I was amused when Mr. Yogi himself from Colorado said his leg had fallen asleep and that he was pounding it with his fist WHILE THE CEREMONY WAS GOING ON! All the while my eyes were closed in deep meditative thoughts of marshmallows and intestinal gas, wholly unaware of such blasphemy.
As soon as I was nimble again, I went downstairs into the backyard where it was clear these yoga masters were not schooled in the Boy Scouts.
The fire was a paltry conflagration of bamboo and eucalyptus leaves burning down to nothing in no time, constantly sending the faithful off for more suitable shrubbery.
Alas, there were no marshmallows, nor hot chocolate, which I really could have used in that brisk Sacred Valley night air.
Little did I know that real fun at the Shala was just about to begin.
The Invasion of the Yogis
Saturday morning of the last week I was there, a smug, self-absorbed group of about a dozen well-practiced yogis moved in hell-bent on a rousing weekend of mantric mayhem.
Javier and Paco were absolutely enthralled. All of a sudden there was a yoga program after all.
Early Saturday evening, in fact, there was a yoga exercise session that I stumbled upon mid-om upon returning from collecting my laundry in town. I must have missed the memo.
On Sunday morning the yoga troupe was abuzz about an excursion with Paco and Javier to a lake where they were planning a “spiritual healing” ceremony with huachama, a “healing” drug of the hallucinatory kind.
The yogic pranksters boarded a van and were driven round and round on a nearby mountain but they couldn’t find the lake. They rolled back into the shala just about the time the huachama started kicking in.
Several sat cross-legged outside there rooms in the rain in a serious huachama state, until they, too, decided to retreat to the exercise area located, as I had mentioned, directly above my room!
I might have felt better about that had I been invited to partake of the huachama. But now I was pondering a long night of loud giggling, om-ing, flutes played badly and senseless beating drums.
Plotting The Final Act
I was already miffed at my apparent marginalization. Now I thought they were just rubbing it in.
I retreated to the kitchen where two rebel yogis sat sulking after being harassed and ridiculed by their fellow troupers for not consuming the huachama. They were busy keeping insects off their food as they ate.
We commiserated over our woes and hatched a plan.
I would play music as loud as I could from my room to compete with the yogis upstairs.
One of my new kitchen friends suggested heavy metal. I mentioned Metallica. The assault was on.
I located Metallica’s “Top 30 Hits” on YouTube -- who knew there were even 10! -- then cranked my Chromebook up to “11” and let fly!
The yogis started scurrying for cover like roaches in the dark when a light turns on.
In five minutes, our sonic battle was won.
There was peace, at last, in the shala!
This true travel tale took place in October 2017.
Quotes For A Good Life On The Road
“A foolish faith in authority is the worst enemy of truth.”
-- Albert Einstein
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Who Am I?
I'm a retired journalist from Hawaii who tired quickly of retirement and hit the road as a slow, solo world traveler in August 2016. I've spent time in 20 countries on four continents. Currently I'm in sunny Merida, Mexico, waiting out developments in the coronavirus crisis before moving on. Meanwhile, learn more about me and my travels at Nomadic Matt, and Expat Focus, and in a great story by veteran Borneo newsman and prolific author James Ritchie, about our memorable meeting in Malaysia, A Confluence of Adventure Writers .
Also online ...
GARIFUNA SETTLEMENT DAY
Still the most authentic, lively and colorful local cultural festival I've seen on the road.
I found this Alternative Arts and Music Festival in the Amazon highlands of Peru. What a find!
Solas "Best Travel Writing" Awards
Saysha: What Happened?
13th Annual Solas Awards for Best Travel Writing
(Read it here)