By Darin Wahl
I had caught this bug about a month before arriving to Cochabamba. I ate somewhere I shouldn’t have. I don’t want to get into it. Let’s just say it was bad. It wreaked havoc in there. Recovery felt a long way off.
“Hey, do you know someone who might be able to sort me out?”
“Oh yeah. You should have told us sooner. We know a guy. He’s a curandero, a native medicine man. He’ll have something that will help.”
We drove into the hills outside of town. We parked on a street with row like red brick home development. It was the highest and last street on the hill. Beyond, was where the curandero, his family and apprentices would harvest medicinal flora (and fauna?). We walked into a small covered courtyard where half a dozen people sat or kneeled with knives in hand, carving up what looked to be some cousin of the aloe. He brought me to an unlit room of glass jars. Big ones. Rows of jars, floor to ceiling like a library (exactly like a library), containing all manner of everything. Dried, preserved, essensed, tinctured, soaked, distilled. There were things going on in those jars. Quietly, and in the dark, the everyday flora and fauna of the eastern Andes, through hundreds or thousands of years of collected knowledge, practice, experimentation, skill, intuition, culture, and creativity, were becoming...hope. A thousand years ago, someone like me came to a man (or woman) like this one, hat in hand, offering in tow, and he or she, because of an intricate and inherited knowledge of his or her ecosystem, helped that person, cured them, maybe saved their life. That house and the people in it were a treasure. A great treasure of this region. Absolutely priceless. Utterly irreplaceable. And yet was being replaced, day by day, by the incursion of “development” on the land, on the people, on the culture.
And I came here, to this damn near sacred space, because I had diarrhea that wouldn’t quit. “Here, take a spoonful of this three times a day.” He handed me a bottle with a dark brown liquid in it, a similar brown to coffee, but chunkier, like mountain man coffee.
“What’s in this?”
“Mostly tree bark. And other things that will help you.”
“And here, only eat foods on this list.”
“Got it. Dang. That’s a short list.”
He shrugged. “It’s up to you if you get better. It’ll always be up to you.”