“Your parasite is going to kill you,” the shaman said, smiling broadly at me.
“A parasite has been living inside your body for a long time. It likes you. It feels cozy in there. And now that parasite is growing so fast that it's going to kill you,” he explained.
“I don’t understand, Juanma,” I answered in disbelief.
My stomach was now feeling uneasy. Unsurprising considering the topic at hand. Also, the way Juanma’s eyes shown in the sunlight coming through the open door of the cafe, was disconcerting. I didn’t notice his eyes as much the last time I’d seen him -- two years ago -- because almost everything took place at night. And in the morning, after the ayahuasca ceremony was finished, my mind was not focused on his facial features.
“You are walking around Cusco, spending all your money, gazing at the churches like a tourist in a dream. But you are not a tourist. You live here. What are you waiting for? Waiting. Waiting. Waiting. Your parasite is also waiting. And it’s growing in strength. In power. Do you know what your parasite is waiting for?” he asked intently. He seemed to relish how I was squirming in my chair.
“No, what?” I asked, irritated. Even in my anxious state, I sensed he was correct about whatever it was he was trying to say. The gist of it was not good.
I went silent. I sipped my black coffee and looked around the cafe.
I had met the woman that opened Jack’s cafe, here in the middle of Cusco, Peru. She was Australian, I believe. She’d opened a few different businesses around the world, most of them successful, before settling on Cusco as her final resting place. And when she did settle here, she opened this bustling, expat favorite – quite expensive for this city – on one of its most prominent corners. It's been a raging success ever since.
When I was in town, two years ago, on a mission to do ayahuasca in Peru, I bumped into her at this cafe and I asked if I could interview her on being an expat in a rather odd geographical location, 11,200 feet deep in the Andes mountains. She said, ‘sure.’ But our schedules would not cooperate and 4 months later she was dead at fifty. I only met Jane three times, briefly. But sometimes, when I am sitting in Jack’s quietly, I see her figure running around with purpose and alacrity.
Jane, lucky and smart as she was, had a vice. She was a heavy smoker. This is presumably what ended her life. But I never would have suspected that she was sick back then, seeing her hustling around the cafe, a whirling dervish of multitasking energy. It is almost impossible to believe, in retrospect, that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer long before I had met her. This is what I thought about as I tried to distract myself from Juanma’s words. Perhaps the random ravings of a mad man who bore a striking resemblance to a more fit, (and more Peruvian), John Malkovich.
“Your behavior is dangerous, and that’s why you continue to act the way you've been acting, looking at buildings, talking about colorful balconies while you walk around Cusco. You need to wake up. Because if you don’t wake up, your life is going to fall into ruins. Disaster. Don’t wait until your life is a disaster. Start right now. Today. Don’t wait, wait, and wait...and wait. What are you waiting for? Your parasite is smiling while you wait. And when your life is destroyed and you have no money, it will devour you completely. Do you understand what I’m saying to you? WAKE UP! Anything. Do dishes at a restaurant. Anything. It doesn’t matter. Do you understand??”
“Yes, I understand,” I replied weakly. I was shaken. My tight smile turned into a frown and back again. My face couldn’t decide what to do. It’s unnerving when someone describes not only your external behavior, but your internal behavior as if they’ve been watching you every day for years.
But Juanma hadn’t been watching me. How did he know so much about me?
“Scott, you have to understand that you can use Cusco as a retreat. You can use it to your advantage. Cusco has a dark, powerful energy. Tourists don't understand this because they come and go. But expats get destroyed here. I have seen it happen many times. See these people working in the cafe? They live in Cusco. The dark energy will not hurt them because they are not dreaming. They live here, but not in a dream, like your friends. You must use Cusco as a retreat and not go out at night. Drink 4 liters of water per day. Cleanse your energy. Don’t interact with people. Wear sunglasses and earphones when you walk around. Don’t play music in them, but just so people won’t stop you or talk to you. Again, you do not understand this place. It destroys people from outside of here. OK??”
“Yes, I understand,” I repeated as before, my own words sounding robotic when I heard them.
The truth is that I did know exactly what Juanma was talking about. And he wasn’t being histrionic. There were many stories of expats in Cusco, deep in the mountains in the middle of nowhere, losing everything -- more than just their money. They went back home in little pieces of themselves. They were cautionary tales of people just 'living it up.' Sex, alcohol, going out every night.
The snake squeezing the life out of them, slowly. They didn’t realize what was happening until the denouement.
Juanma was right. I was going to have to wake up and kill my parasite.
(The End. Part 2 of 2)