Did you ever think in a million years, you’d end up at a gender bender party in the mountains of Peru?
Asks Aimee a fresh faced, 22 year old Aussie with blonde hair and mountain tan.
People. I can honestly say… not.
We’re sitting in the sunlit gardens of a placed called Healing House in the arty San Blas ‘hood of old Cusco town in Peru.
At 10,000 feet high, Cusco is the pretty little village in the mountains where travellers arrive to to acclimatise before doing the Inca trek or similar to Machu Piccu.
I was last here 4 and a half years ago.
When the Bug Bit
Peru was the place where the travel bug bit.
I remember waking up in Lima and wandering the streets enchanted by the bright yellow churches against a cloudless blue sky. I couldn’t believe how relaxed and comfortable I felt in this most foreign of places watching old Peruvian grannies with their long dark plaits boiling quail eggs on street corners
And now finally, after almost 5 years I’m back.
Less than three months earlier i’d been lying on my couch of my south London apartment feeling flat, hopeless and completely depressed.
Being back home in London after travelling for the previous 19 months had been painful. I’d developed a skin crawling anxiety about being back in the neighbourhood where I was born and repeated all the same old destructive patterns I thought i’d managed to kick to the kerb. Another long distance relationship with an emotionally unavailable man and another marketing job that gave me no time to myself had left me questioning how I had managed to so swiftly rebuild all the old bars of the cage that had kept me captive in the corporate world before.
I decided to extricate myself with a one way ticket to Peru.
Realising how lonely it had felt living and working by myself in the big city all I knew was that I wanted to find an intentional community in the mountains, near nature, where I could continue “the journey.”
I landed at a hostel called Pisco and Soul Pisco being the local grape fuelled liquor that makes the national cocktail Pisco Sour - with absolutely no plan or onward itinerary. Down the street I find a building with a bright yellow sign attached called Healing House. An intentional community for people to raise their vibration, a yoga studio and accommodation all in one. I decide to check it out at their donation only yoga class on Sunday followed by brunch cooked by volunteers in the house.
The walls of Healing House are a bright sunshine yellow and the yoga studio and accommodation is built around a shared kitchen, herb garden and communal lawn for sunbathing.
The girls who’ve volunteered to make breakfast bake fresh banana bread, oatmeal with stewed cinnamon and apples and brew pots of deep, dark Peruvian coffee for the brunch while I soak in the sunshine, listen to the sound of the wind chimes; watch the rise and fall of the dark green hills of Cusco in the distance and admire the bright orange star bursts of marigolds, tiny purple borage flowers, mint, lemon verbena, and feathery fronds of the fennel tree in the herb garden.
Nicky, a lean, tanned and toned athletic American has run Healing House for the last four years along with her partner - a gentle Peruvian called Alvaro. Her intention is to create a space for conscious people to come and raise their vibration. A Vinyassa yoga instructor and Reiki Master, she practises what she intends with strength and kindness.
“It can be painful…awakening…” she says,
“But you’re here now, you don’t need to do it alone.”
I try and avoid bursting into tears in gratitude. I’d like to keep the cool Brit facade (if i ever had such a thing) intact for at least a few more days!
I move in for a month and have fallen in love with my new bedroom. walls and a large skylight that the sun streams through. There are gold sun shaped mirrors on the wall, a little writing desk and a table laid out with candles and Pablo Santo, a scented wood native to the Andes that the locals burn to cleanse the air.
How I Live Now
The days roll by effortlessly by. I pick fresh flowers from the garden (asking permission first) and make teas with the herbs.
The yoga studio weekly schedule includes daily hatha and vinyassa classes, kundalini and workshops in sacred dance, Tai Chi, Qi Gong and Vipassana meditation. All of which are discounted to 10 soles (£2) for residents.
Sunny days are spent lolling on the grass sunbathing watching the girls soak chia seeds and shell cacao beans.
Outside on the steps of Healing House Placida and Juliana, old Peruvian ladies in traditional dress with long dark plaits and sun weathered skin, weave belts for passing tourists.
One day a week the “yoghurt” lady comes to ladle out thick, white chunky freshly home made yoghurt from a big bucket; other days the “peanut butter man” swings by offering a highly addictive paste that i’ve taken to eating straight out of the container. Food freshly made with no use or sell by dates.
Meals in are simple affairs, often I just scoop out the soft flesh of an avocado (a different beast to the impenetrable hard, green ones of my British supermarket) and smear it on freshly baked bread with olive oil and salt and lime with produce bought fresh from markets in San Blas and San Pedro.
Meals out often gravitate towards La Boheme, a French cafe with hostel attached that does devilish crepes such as salted caramel and dark chocolate and mango and a great glass of red wine. Greenpoint, a Vegan cafe whose set menu of freshly made, organic salad bar, homemade bread, soup, main course and dessert for 12 soles (£2.50) is the best value in town is always a popular lunch option.
On Tuesdays at the house there is a meeting for residents and staff to discuss, share or offer their news and a “pot luck” lunch where everyone brings a dish. Normally the table heaves with pasta, salads, quinoa (the magic grain local to the Andes ) and fresh mango and chocolate brownies. Although someday pot luck means 7 different types of bread.
Afterwards the house offers a free health clinic for Local Peruvians where I get to practise my reiki on unsuspecting Cusquenans.
Peru’s answer to 28 Barbary Lane
Gradually I get to know the cast of characters in this little intentional community.
There’s Maria the dark haired wise cracking west coaster. She’s the House Manager who plans to retreat beachside in Belize to avoid the Cusquenan cold with her Peruvian husband Alejandro, who she married after 2 month whirlwind courtship. Ricky, an ebullient Aussie who bursts into Healing House in a blur of coloured wraps and shawls, manages the website and schedules. Stephanie, a rosy cheeked German brings a gentle sensitivity to my favourite yoga classes in the morning and Larissa a salty, west coaster has me intrigued with talk of her Shamanic soul integration journeys.
Often seen soaking up the sunshine in the wind chimes and marigolds of Peru’s answer to 28 Barbary Lane, is Healing House’s very own Mrs Madrigal. Michael Michelle, a transvestite Kundalini teacher with a penchant for purple.
And finally there’s Aimee of course. Part time tell it like it is , laugh out loud Aussie part time Barbie girl whose past life of Champagne quaffing in body con party dresses complete with bleach blonde blow-dry and luminous pink lipstick seems a million miles away from the make up free, fresh faced traveller i’m used to chatting to now.
Despite the 17 odd years in age difference we seem to share the same silly sense of humour, inept awkwardness around men and a past punctuated by the dark clouds of depression and anxiety.
Gender Bending in Cusco
Today’s Sunday Brunch is in honour of Michael Michelle’s 51st Birthday. He is residing over today’s proceedings resplendent in a tight leather purple pencil skirt matching lipstick and manicure. To celebrate we’re having a costume party with the theme of “experimentation in gender.”
Aimee and I sit watching, sweltering in heavy suit jackets and ties with painted on glittery moustaches as Maria strikes a pose in red sequinned hot pants and Marilyn wig, Michael Michelle totters around in patent stilettos to top people’s drinks and Chris wafts past in full make up and a girls silky negligee.
“ I mean honestly, did you ever think you’d be here, at a gender party in the mountains of Cusco??” asks Aimee again.
No i can honestly say I’d never dream it in a million years. But right now I can also honestly say, there’s also nowhere else i’d rather be.