As soon as we entered the courtyard of the Utama Hotel and Spa, it was clear that this was no ordinary spa. There was a llama drinking from a circular stone fountain. And just beyond it, a hand-written sign indicated the availability of a medicine man, an astronomer and a visit to the Fountain of Youth.
I was on a two-day furlough from a volunteer assignment with The Canadian Executive Service Organization (CESO), a not-for-profit development agency that transfers Canadian expertise to Bolivia and other developing nations.
Accompanied by another volunteer, we had chosen the Inca Utama Spa, located in the village of Huatajata, less than an hour away from Bolivia’s capital city, La Paz. The village rests on the shores of the world’s highest lake, Lake Titicaca, and is considered the birthplace of the Inca Empire.
Our first stop was the hotel’s museum, the Mystic World of the Kallawaya. Known as the doctors to the Inca Kings, the Kallawaya are healers who travel the ancient Inca trails of the Andes gathering traditional herbs and divining the future through the casting and reading of coca leaves.
Within the labyrinth of the museum’s stone walls, Tata Lorenzo, a visiting Kallawaya medicine man explained that the indigenous communities around Lake Titicaca continue to live according to the three principles of Inca life. By maintaining the golden rules of the Empire of the Sun: Ama suwa, Ama quella, Ama llulla (do not steal, do not be idle and do not lie), they live in harmony with nature.
In his soft, gravely voice, Tata Lorenzo offered to perform a blessing for us. By invoking the energy of Mother Earth through ceremony, he believes that a person’s life force, or ajaya, can be coaxed into equilibrium with the environment. He lay his botiquin (medicine pack) across his knees and, lowering a set of coca leaves to his mouth, blew gently and whispered a prayer.
With thanks, we headed to the nearby Kallawaya Spa, where we decided on a massage with coca crème extract. Although illegal in North America, coca is popular in Bolivia and Peru where it is often chewed as a mild stimulant. During our massage, the crème released a pungent fragrance – it was a vigorous workout that left us feeling refreshed and invigorated.
At nightfall, remembering the hotel’s astronomer, we wrapped ourselves in alpaca ponchos to follow Marcello Hazcon, a guide of indigenous Aymara descent, to the Alajpacha Observatory. Based on ancient Inca designs, it is set out over the water and is fitted with a retractable reed roof. As the slats parted above us, the stars seemed to spill out of the indigo blue night sky like an inverted cup. The Southern Cross tilted like a drunken sailor, while Mars shone like a lamplight among the constellations of the Southern Hemisphere.
The next morning, while the sun rose over the snow-capped Andes, we boarded a hydrofoil heading to Sun Island and Moon Island, just two of the many islands that circle the lake. Ruins of temples mark where the Sun sent Manco Capac and Mama Ocllo, founders of the Inca dynasty, down to earth, according to Inca legend. We drank from the icy Inca Water Spring, a legendary source of eternal youth, before heading back to La Paz. Upon return, we reflected that, much like Bolivia itself, the Inca Spa was a unique place. More whirlwind than retreat, it was in perfect harmony with the Inca principle of Ama quella – do not be idle.
If You Go
Inca Utama Hotel and Spa. Huatajata, Spa treatments range in price from US$10-$20. Phone and fax: + 591-2-213-5050 email: [email protected]
Crillon Tours offers packages including round-trip transportation from La Paz, guide, overnight accommodation, meals, museum entrances and hydrofoil tour of Lake Titicaca from US$125. 1223 Av. Camacho, La Paz + 591-2-233-7533 Website: www.titicaca.com