The Curious Legend of the Papitos

“Superstition” and “faith” are interesting aspects of human nature.  So many of our beliefs, or disbeliefs for that matter, are formulated around unsubstantiated facts, and still we choose to think what we want to think based solely on what our intuition tells us correct.  I can’t argue with you that ghosts don’t exist when you claim to have seen one, it’s impossible for any singular conclusion to come of it.  And yet, without any scientific merit, we will maintain our speculations until something changes how we feel.

The papitos of Southern Peru are the latest “beings” of the region that have been met with skepticism, their supposed manifestations taking on a variety of forms and purposes.  Considering the Inca empire – whose central operations were based in this area – was a polytheistic civilization that celebrated an assortment of mythical creatures, it shouldn’t be a surprise that a society which venerates its ancestry has generated its own lore.  Or is it lore?  Obviously, that would depend on who you ask.

For those who believe in the papitos, the general consensus is that they’re here for good; to provide services for the native population.  What those services are, though, revolves around what you need.  They have been known to be doctors, psychiatrists, mediums, or business consultants; I’ve heard of requests from clients looking to solicit healthy harvests from the mountain spirits to widows seeking counsel on their grief.  The only issue is that the papitos never stay in one place, they travel from town to town in complete secrecy, setting up shop at random locations for fluctuating durations of time. You have to be lucky to catch wind of their arrival and set up an appointment with an intermediary before they leave for wherever the next destination may be.  What this means, of course, is that if you’re in some kind of medical emergency, a visit to the papito probably isn’t in the cards.

If you’re wondering how it is that these papitos are capable of tackling so many professions, the answer is unknown.  That’s because no one has ever seen a papito before, a clear rationale for the debate over what these social benefactors even are in the first place.  There are three theories that have gathered the most traction; they’re either angels, devils, or aliens, with a fourth, smaller faction hypothesizing they’re nothing more than humans with metaphysical powers.  There’s a solid reason for why they’ve gone undetected so long, and it’s due to how they welcome their patients to the meetings.

Once you’ve arrived at a predetermined venue (usually at night), an enlisted helper ushers you into a windowless, pitch black room and sits you down before shutting the one and only door.  It’s there, in the total dark, that you wait for the consultation to begin.  After a certain period of time – whenever the papitos are ready – they expose their voices from obscurity and start discussing whatever is troubling the customer.  How they enter, no one is sure, but it’s here in the shadows that they perform their miracles, never being seen nor touched.  Whenever they’ve concluded their business, the papitos inexplicably disappear and the operation is taken over by the helper again, gathering payment and closing the transaction.

It’s natural to be apprehensive.  The entire scheme may seem suspicious, especially when you take into account that a majority of the locals that visit these less expensive “clinics” are usually impoverished and desperate, but what keeps the idea alive is that they do (supposedly) work!  People swear by them.  A friend of mine who taught English in Southern Peru recalled a story where the mother of one of her students suffered from crippling back pain, a shooting twinge that constantly plagued her spine.  Doctors were having trouble coming up with a solution to her discomfort, so she figured it’d be worth seeking out the papitos in case they could find a way to heal her.  She went through the whole bizarre process – dark room, strange voices – and was ultimately told a certain operation could be performed, that all she had to do was lay facedown on the ground. She was on the floor for around thirty minutes, not a single hand having touched her, when she was informed the “surgery” was complete.  Yet, when she rose to her feet, all of her aches had somehow dissipated.

The cherry on the sundae?  When she went for a routine check-up with her doctor, he noticed that her vertebrae were straight and asked when she had received an operation.  Creepy stuff.

I could easily approach the subject and call malarky, but the truth remains that this woman is one out of many successful cases.  I have no clue what really went down, I’m just the messenger, but somehow, someway, this fortunate lady is walking around pain-free.  It’s no thanks to a doctor, either, that cannot be disputed.  So, what happened? How is it possible that a seemingly incurable ailment casually rehabilitated itself?  Most likely, there will never be a clear explanation.

In the end that’s not what’s important, it’s not like this narrative is the first to bring light to an unexplained phenomena.  When it comes down to the basics we’re an odd species with disparate and peculiar beliefs, not everything we do makes sense.  Instead what the papitos offer is insight into a beautiful and historically complex culture, exhibiting a way of thinking that’s rooted centuries in the past.  It’s fascinating that this greater recognition of folkloric spirits is the residue of a belief system that has permeated through the generations, and that the remnants of dated ideologies have birthed new concepts.  Oddly enough, when you look at in that context it’s totally reasonable.

One day the curtain may lift and we’ll know the reality of what’s going on backstage (I, for one, am rooting for aliens), but until that day comes let’s have fun deciphering the possibilities.  Isn’t that the point of a good mystery?  Let’s dig into a world different than our own and appreciate how a population deals with their own unique bumps in the road, facing challenges that contrast what we’re used to.  Let’s indulge in “faiths” and “superstitions” with an open mind, so that we may enjoy the stories that precede them.  And besides, the papitos, oh man what a cool basis for their “existence”!

What do you think?  Do you believe the papitos are real?

Restoring Valparaíso’s Former Glory

Beginning in 1848, a little event called the California Gold Rush intoxicated people from all over the world with the idea that they could make a quick million.  With hearts full of ambition, nearly 150,000 prospectors in Europe took advantage of the golden opportunity and sailed across the Atlantic, around the southern tip of South America, and all the way up the coast until the reached the boomtown of San Francisco.  If you’ve ever looked at a map, you already know that’s a crazy long trip, one that could take months upon months to complete over the unpredictable dangers of the open ocean.  Such a voyage is, to say the least, exhausting.

During this surge of migration, the small Chilean seaport of Valparaíso reaped the benefits of money-hungry sailors.  Since its location was half the distance to San Francisco, it was a reasonable spot to rest up for the remaining journey.  With a growing number of Europeans bringing over their influence, the town began to blossom into a cultural hub with staggering diversity.  At the turn of the century, Valparaíso was inhabited by British, German, French, and Italian immigrants who injected the town with their own unique flare, and by the time Valparaíso reached its Golden Age in 1914, it had earned the title as the “Jewel of the Pacific”.  It was, without a doubt, the most important port city of South America.

The docks of modern-day Valparaíso.

The docks of modern-day Valparaíso.

While the economy of the region began to explode, budding entrepreneurs who sensed a business opportunity opted to take up residence there instead of continuing north.  As the permanent population grew, so did the innovation.  Before Valparaíso had even reached its peak, it was already responsible for South America’s first football team, volunteer fire station, stock exchange, mercantile building, Protestant church, public library, Spanish-language newspaper, and brewery; all of which were scattered amongst beautiful, palacial Victorian buildings and lush, rolling hills that descended right into the blue waters of the Pacific.  With a stunning backdrop and spirited culture, it’s no wonder people were sucked in to Valparaíso’s magical allure.  The city had found its swag, and the sky was the limit!

Except it wasn’t.

Almost overnight, everything changed.  Just as Valparaíso had reached its pinnacle in all things cool, the United States decided to build the Panama Canal.  Starting in 1914, all traffic from Europe that would’ve gone through Valparaíso chose to cut their voyage in half and sidestep South America altogether.  The fallout was absolutely devasting; nearly all of the wealthy families left for greener pastures, rendering large sections of the city abandoned.  With no real reason for being, Valparaíso started to fall into the abyss.

Ironically, it’s this very desolation that makes Valparaíso the incredible city it is today.

She didn't turn out too badly!

She didn’t turn out too shabby!

With many locals debilitated by the sinking economy, they turned to the ports for creative solutions to their problems.  Most notably, they recycled corrugated metal sheets left behind by ships and incorporated them into their architecture as protection from the weather’s elements.  Once they realized that the humid air from the water rusted the metal, they used the leftover paint shipping companies would discard to protect their homes against the moisture.  In many instances, though, there wasn’t enough of one paint to finish off an entire facade, so the exterior would be done up in a variety of hues.

Imagine a whole city full of color like this, it never gets old!

Imagine a whole city full of color like this!

Slowly, the city began to regain its vibrance.  A new generation recognized the charm Valparaíso still held, subsequently bringing flocks of artists and free-thinkers in search of inspiration within the port’s former glory.  Its antiquated elegance was still palpable, thus giving Valparaíso a newfound appreciation.  In 2003 its authenticity was saved when UNESCO declared the historic center a World Heritage Site, driving the Chilean government to declare Valparaíso the nation’s “Cultural Capital”.  In doing so, the city’s distinct appearance was preserved.

Calle Serrano, the area that was being built up as the rich section before 1914 hit.

Calle Serrano, the area that was being built up as the rich section before 1914 hit.

It’s not just Valparaíso’s presentation that makes it unique, it’s the vibe that truly makes it shine.  Progression, art, and liberal thought are the forces that drive the city forward; freedom of expression is more perciptible here than anywhere else I’ve visited.  It’s not uncommon to see a dude dressed in a Peruvian alpaca pullover, sporting a dreaded mullet, carrying his guitar and smoking a joint; nor is it rare to spot a girl with dark-red lipstick wearing chained clothing, head half-shaved (think Skrillex), shoving nails up her nose to earn some spare change on the street.  The people are inventive, illustrating the bland spaces of their walls with world-class street art, thus rendering Valparaíso one giant canvas in which to play.  It’s a sight to behold; magnificent, dazzling, and wholly consuming.

Walking along the streets is more like taking a tour through an outdoor museum.

Walking along the streets is more like taking a tour through an outdoor museum.

Valparaíso may not have fully regained the economic prominence it once held in the early-1900s, but it doesn’t need to in order to be the incredibly special place it is now.  Presently, you can be who you want to be – there is no standard for what’s “weird”, everything just “is”.  It’s an attitude that’s refreshing to bear witness to, and after seeing how the youth of region approach life I can’t help but be convinced Chile will be good for years to come.  It seems as though other foreigners have caught the scent as well; I’ve talked to dozens of travelers who were captivated by what Valparaíso had to offer, they meant to pass through but instead decided to figure out some kind of work to keep them there.  They found the soul of this marvelous city just too good to resist, unable to move on from the thrilling renaissance passing before their eyes.  Now, doesn’t that sound familiar?

Can it get much better than this?

Would you want to leave this?

“Urubamba is so rich, but its citizens are so poor.  We feel ignored; we’re such an important part of Peru’s identity and yet we’re so unappreciated.  I just want the best for my people, is that so much to ask?”

-Pepe Morales, Urubamba Citizen

And So the Adventure Begins!

A big hello to the blogging community, Internet, and world!  As the sole owner of this domain, allow me to be the first to introduce you to Clear to Roam, a blog dedicated to feeding the relentless curiosity about our global surroundings as we all make our way across this amazing planet.  If you’ve arrived at this first post, thank you for clicking the respective link that got you here, and I sincerely hope you’ll stick around as this front page begins to fill with text. In a few days I leave the United States to begin working a second stint in Urubamba, Perú, a quaint little town located around an hour north of Cuzco, the historic capital of the Incan Empire.  Nestled between the walls of the Sacred Valley, an area considered to be the old nucleus of the Incas, Urubamba is a fascinating place brimming with cultural activity and historic significance.  The rituals of the past are tied with the present more so than any other place I’ve been, the spirit of their ancestral background continuing to live through them with a modest purity.  For all the beauty the Sacred Valley holds, poverty has become an unfortunate reality throughout its various municipalities.  In many instances, especially farmers living on the outskirts of the Valley’s heart, citizens are getting by on as little as $20USD per month. This need for assistance is the void my position is hoping to fill.  I work as a Staff Leader co-managing various community service projects and leading program participants on excursions.  I love the work I do; I get to learn about an absolutely mesmerizing culture, I have a leadership role that enables me to teach, and I’m able to help a community that needs it.  It’s utterly exhausting being responsible for teenagers as they work and travel in a far out country, but it always challenges me, pushing me to be the best possible version of myself. I return to Urubamba rejuvenated, inquisitive, and fueled with a ferocious motivation to do all that we can while down there.  I am so excited to share this journey in my life with all of you out there interested in listening; I am nothing short of astounded by what I observe there, and I hope to pass on that same bewilderment and magic I feel to you. Please feel free to send me any comments, feedback, or questions!  Don’t hesitate to reach out.  Thanks again for reading and I look forward to hearing from you!