The Inca Utama is not what we, here would call ordinary hotel accommodations. It's actually more like a small city or compound. We noticed that a small historic Andean Village was built primarily to demonstrate how the Aymara lived. On further observation, however, we noticed that the folks who provided the demonstrations were actually not performing for us. These round, mud huts were their homes. These llamas and chickens were their animals, the fabric they wove out on the lawn was being sewn, worn and sold; in the dead of winter.
We were issued new rooms and new rocks to accompany them on our second day. Seems there was a mob of several hundred "Crazy Brazilians" as they were called that had been occupying our rooms . We were told that this religious cult had all come to experience the winter solstice at the sacred island of the moon. We didn't mind the reason for their visit, but that on check-out they failed to return our room key - so we didn't get a rock like everyone else. Up in the room, we were awed and amazed at the height of accommodations provided for us. Seems that we had been booked one of the more hoity-toity rooms of the hotel. After hearing horror stories about high-voltage exposed wire water heaters strapped to the shower-head, the nicely tiled bathroom complete with a TUB was more than welcoming. We actually had a double room with a "cama matrimonial" (which literally translated means married bed) in one room and two twin beds in the other. Not having any other guests, we chose to make use of the newfound space, promptly plopping every piece of gear and equipment we lugged along onto bed number one and all the snowsuits, leggings, leathers, mittens, snow socks and boots on the other. "Look!" I said, pointing to the room filled with costumes and gear, "It's the Bat-Cave!"
Our window overlooked the Andean village and from this height, we were able to look down and see every person and everything going on. Some new construction was underway so regularly, teams of men and boys were moving boards, rocks, logs and wheelbarrows full of dirt around below. It must have been the ant-farm type perspective that enthralled me, but I found myself getting out of bed early each day to look down and watch the people below move and build things, demonstrating use of the simple machines in an ancient almost tool-less environment. I never understood why they chose to roll the big logs up the dirt-pile first, then down, but they did this with every one and I didn't mind watching. Soon too, I noticed personalities of the young boys enlisted to push wheelbarrows. There seemed to be two who in rivalry would meet time and time again head-on to face off or bash the other's. We even watched an elaborate dance of the wheelbarrows when one tried to outsmart the other and sneak around from behind. Captivating yes, but I must admit, more fascinating to watch was the crane they had employed to pound pilons into the shallow water with a dangling engine block.
Now by the end of our second day here, it had actually turned mostly cloudy and begun to obscure the sky. So, suppose you traveled all the way to South America to observe this most breathtaking view of the sky, only for it to be cloudy. After a very nice dinner spent with necks crooked out the windows trying to peek at the sky, all 24 of us wandered out, hands in pockets looking upwards at the gray sky. Each astronomer had his own way of coping with the overhead gloom. Some persistently stood, checked, and watched the sky while others chose to ignore the problem and find other preoccupations. One fellow, John Phelps, had in his visits down south spent so much time on the waters' edge that he'd compiled his own book of bird descriptions for bird watching. The hotel had plenty of attractions to keep twenty some anxious visitors busy.
I know I spent many daytime hours at a time out on the deck by the water's edge watching the ducks, the boats and the locals go by. Not one species of animal seemed familiar. Wonderful smells of soup and baking bread were perpetually leaking from the kitchen out back here and as often as one would wander down to the dock's edge, either a food delivery van with twenty workers would appear, or somebody was feeding llamas, or some other colorful local distraction would appear. Out on the caban~a looking for good spots to set up our cameras, should skies ever clear, Vic and I looked back to the hotel to find two of the observers taking up the view over a good book, while Astro-Gato, the group's new mascot cat squirmed his way up into Eli Maor's lap.
Rumor had it, too that there was a spa in the hotel offering a hot-tub, medicinal treatments and a masseuse. Fred, Pat, Vic and I were hoping to make good use of the hot-tub, so we visited the spa to find the staff needed at least a 4 hour notice if we were to use the adequately termed Tepid Tub. Pouting again to wander the halls, we found Scott Mitchell, Fran Debnam, and several others forming a reading group in the lobby. Scott had scheduled to receive a massage and by the third evening, at dinner we all felt we knew each other well enough to require a recount of his experience. So, while watching Fred marvel at his bottled water 'con gas' bubble up the side. (one must specify if you prefer your water with or without gas) we apparently caused Scott to turn multiple shades of red while politely noting that his massage was very good.
I must also give the staff credit for shifting arrangements to occupy us in our anxious evenings. One night, they performed the presentation of the ancient Kallawallia witch doctor. In explanation of the 4000 year old sect of medicine men, we were shown a slideshow presentation about how the kallawallia lived in the remote reaches of the Andes and studied their whole lives to learn the art. Once the principles were explained to us, we were invited on a tour... Ten of us tiptoed outside into the drizzle where candles lay around a yard-like area marking the path to the door of a small building. Ivan again began to explain more of the practices of the witch doctor as we entered a dirt-floored museum setting displaying many uses of various herbs and remedies. One of the common practices for luck and prosperity was to bury a llama embreo in one's field before planting. Several other strange, obscure practices were apparently still in place paying homage to the Pachimama (mother earth), but none as perevilavant. I suppose I was just too impatient to stand and wait for the lengthy explanations Ivan was giving the rest of the group, so Vic, Fred, Pat and I hurried ahead trying to read all of the name-tags and explanations on the really interesting specimens ourselves. Some of the good luck idols were self- explanatory such as the Bird who signified safe travel, or the interlocked couple that signified... well, I guess that goes without saying. Others such as the turtle and the cat were a little sketchy. But before long, we had passed all the preserved little animal bits and drawings of obscure medical diagnostic practices involving rabbits and were now in some kind of sanctuary. We balked initially on entry, since we'd walked in on some others not from our group. The walls made of the same mud as the rest of the native buildings had about 20 shelves cut and candles burning in each one. The room smelled of soot with candle wax dripping from the orifices and smoke marks saturating the ceiling above. The air was undoubtedly ancient in it's feel. Primitive benches lined up facing where one would expect an altar, but there was none. Only a little old man robed in native clothing, shelves of containers with strange contents and a mat spread on the floor in front of where he sat. He seemed to be giving some form of tea reading for a woman in front of us. We quietly took our seats to the left of the other tour. As we watched the Kallawallia offer answers about her friend's crippled hand. Fred found a most inopportune time to catch a case of the giggles. I think it was difficult for the translators to maintain such a somber atmosphere with this pack of crazy Americans breaking up the show. The tour in front of us were soon done, leaving us to stare blankly at the elderly witch doctor without a clue as to what we were to do here. Our guide soon arrived with the rest of the group reiterating that the Kallawallia didn't speak Aimara or even Spanish, but their own special Secret Language and translators would be required for us to speak to him. He waved his hand in the direction of the helper in the Toyota hat kneeling beside the Kallawallia on the 'stage'. It was explained that if we gave the man a piece of something we'd touched, - say a 5 Boliviano bill- that he would be able to answer questions by throwing coca (tea) leaves and reading where and how they fell. The first volunteer was Fran who asked if her ancestors would be happy that she's researching them. So Fran spoke to Ivan, Ivan translated to Toyota guy, and Toyota guy talked to the medicine man. This language link transpired in either direction 4 or 5 times while the leaves were arranged properly to represent her family. Just as the medicine man began to toss the leaves, the lights no one had noticed until now overhead and around the room blew out. "Caraj**! Que pasa!" cursed the old man in Spanish (who had been translated to into his native secret tongue until now) We figured that Fran's ancestors must really want her to stop her research immediately. But the Witch Doctor directed Ivan to the fusebox on the wall telling him to flip the red switch in very clear Spanish and Toyota man returned with a flashlight he aimed at the ceiling for ambiance. We had several 'readings' in the darkened room, including some more personal material about wishes for spouses or wishes for children. Seems that the Kallawallia was of the belief that one cannot have children without a wife. "He hasn't been to the 'states lately has he?" interjects Vic. But the lights returned and nobody had any more questions, so we moved through the stormy passage back to the hotel.
Back to the friendly, familiar face of Daniel, our maitre'D. It took me 4 days to remember how to say scrambled, but every morning, Daniel came to the table beaming, with fresh, hot Cafe' con leche asking how we'd like our eggs. Seems now, there was to be after-dinner entertainment provided just for us. The local Bolivian band was performing again to candlelight on the off-chance that the skies cleared and we would need darkness at the hotel to observe. I sat now and invited Eli to come enjoy the music. I told him how I loved the syncopated rhythm of most of their music and we began to discuss how we found music and math to be similar. A concept I had never heard acceptance on until I spoke to Eli. Seems he's failed to tell me in our conversation that he's a math professor, actually published in the area of the math in music. He did, however, invite me to join him for performance of the National Symphony a nephew of his was conducting should he successfully connect with him. We enjoyed the full display of all the instruments with simple flutes ranging in size from a pan flute smaller than your hand to a 6 foot long hollow wind instrument. They had gorgeous animal skin 'bombo' drums and an equivalent to the tambourine that was made from strung pig hooves that sound like a rattlesnake tail shaking. It was clear that if you were to be a band member that the one to receive all the attention and to sing was the churrango (tiny guitar) player. There's no way the flute player could have the wind to sing after puffing away for so many hours at this altitude. Plus, the percussion player was always switching instruments. It was comical, though to see the 4 men marching around in a tight circle with baby steps to many of the tunes. Before long we'd blown all formalities and were officially prying in great detail into each other's personal lives; gathered around candlelight, clutching cups of hot cocoa, telling tales long and tall.