Washing with an Inca

by Jack Redley (United Kingdom)

Making a local connection Peru


I had just arrived to work on a farm in Yacca, a tiny community in the Apurimac region in Peru. El Patrón had told me I needed a wash. Slightly offended, I politely asked where the shower was. 'Ricardo will take you over to it,' he smiled a toothless smile. Then, he left the room calling back, 'The shower will be strong today. Look after him Ricardo.' The day was clear and bright as I walked down the road with Ricardo, the oldest of seven siblings of the Huaman family. 'We don't have a modern shower Jack. We wash in the river. Our lifestyle hasn't changed for many generations.' There was a dull, groaning sound of rushing water which grew as we walked, drowning out Ricardo's descriptions of how various produce on the farm ripens seasonally. I then saw the Merino river for the first time. 'Are you sure that the river isn't flowing too fast today Ricardo?' I asked in a higher pitch than usual. Ricardo took off his t-shirt and sandals. 'Come,' he striding along the rocky bank of the writhing river. After a hundred yards, he stopped. 'Watch, ok? In, wash, out, alright?' pointing to a large rock downstream. Before I had a chance to reply, he had launched himself. While kicking hard underwater, he washed his hair popping out about ten metres down from me. Scrubbing, and swimming every now and then, he directed himself in the current towards the bank. He then caught the rock with his hands and swung himself up effortlessly. Hesitantly, I stood upstream but from the rock, Ricardo called 'Let's go Jack! Arriba!' I couldn't go back to the house without diving in. This was an initiation. I nodded to Ricardo and leapt in. Shocked by the cold water and propelled by a strong current, I kicked hard until I reached the surface. Through coughs, I blurrily saw Ricardo in the distance laughing madly. Rather than washing, I focussed on staying afloat. Swept along, I managed to get in to line with the large rock. With shouts of encouragement from Ricardo above, I caught hold of the rock's jagged face before I flowed downstream. While my upper body was firmly clinging on to the rock, my legs were still caught in the current. I struggled to breath drinking in water. I found a rock to push my feet against. After a couple of attempts, I managed to haul myself up the rock face and roll on to my back to splutter and cough. 'That was fun,' I said to Ricardo after I had recovered. 'You wouldn't be a very good Inca Jack,' he replied rubbing away tears of laughter.