I have written a book proposal while in the field, and will be submitting it to presses during the fall--wish me luck! Here is one final story from Benigno from the very last minutes of my time in the field in Tuncarta this year. Enjoy!
The Lake at Lluzhinplan
After we eat breakfast there is about an hour left before time to catch the bus in Saraguro. Benigno says, "Let's go see one more place. I have one more story for David's last hour in Tuncarta for now."
We walk up the road a ways, passing his neighbor, Angel, who is stretching a hose to begin flooding a pile of dirt he is going to make into adobe blocks. We shake hands and I say goodbye to Angel, who I've met before, but never really talked to much.
Behind the top of the hill, Benigno shows me a marshy spot where a small pond seethes with large tadpoles and near-frogs.
"This whole area used to be a lake," he says. "The grandfather of my grandmother knew the story of what happened here. It's not a tale, but a real story of something that happened.
"One night, late, a young boy, about 10 years old, was walking his family's sheep home on that path right there." He points to the stone line path that is still in place, though the road is only about 20 yards on the other side of it. "He was walking just at this place, when the sheep started bleating, and startled, and ran as fast as they could to get away from the lake. The lake was seething with waves, like on the ocean, and the waves came out of the lakebed and tried to grab the boy and pull him in. He ran, really scared to his house. 'Papi! The lake tried to grab me,' he said. His father knew then that there was a huaca (malevolent spirit) in that lake. The next day he brought an offering of cuye asado with salt and put it right there, over there on the hill for the huaca. But the huaca didn't like the offering, and the waves kept splashing and crashing on the hillside. The father went back to the house and got a whip. He came back and he lashed the waves with the whip, telling the huaca to leave. A great cloud lifted up out of the water and floated off down the hill, carrying most of the water and the huaca with it. Ever since, this hasn't really been a lake--just that small pond there, and a marsh filled with these reeds."
Here Benigno grabs a handful of the four foot long spikes of the water plants at the edge of the marsh.
"They're called lluzhinplan--that's what the lake was called, and now this place is still called lluzhinplan."
We look around, and I feel the way that this community swells with powers embedded in places. Benigno is a pragmatic, realistic man, with eyes and ears that hear and see multiple dimensions in the inhabited landscape around him--the stories tie him to the flow of times and places that are not only what lies in front of our eyes, but also extends into the past and future as well.
"This isn't something made up--a cuento," Benigno adds. "This is something that really happened."
"How long ago would this have been?" I ask.
He thinks for a moment, calculating the years of his grandmother's grandfather's life. "About 200 years," he says.
We start back down the road--time to drive to town for the
bus. While we walk, we talk about the next time I come to visit. Benigno has
been collecting these stories for years--says he has enough of them to fill a
"We'll work on that book next time," I say. "I have a good
program on my computer we can use to lay it out and prepare it for printing.
Maybe we can publish it in a bilingual edition, like the Neruda book we were
reading the other night."
Benigno thinks this is a fine idea, and, like me, I think he is looking forward to the opportunity to work together again the next time I put on my pack and set out on my travels.