When I decided to make the 5 hour bus ride to Ica for the second time this summer I expected to soak up the hot sun of the Huacachina oasis, take a refreshing dip in our flower-trimmed exotic pool after which I would then make my way through the lime green vineyards of the Tacama estate while sipping on a nice semi-seco vino tinto. No where in that itinerary did I expect to add visiting a witch town in the middle of no where.
Ask any taxi driver to drive you to “Las Brujas de Cachiche” and you will be led down many a dusty dirt road to this scarcely populated town of warm earth where groves of huarango trees echo tales of a rich history filled with floating heads, supernatural powers and of course the famed witches of Cachiche.
According to local legend, there was once a boy by the name of Fernando Leon de Vivero who suffered from severe stuttering in his youth until he crossed paths with a witch from Cachiche. This woman used her powers solely for good deeds and had completely cured Fernando of his condition. Many years later after the witch had died at the rumoured age of 107, Fernando returned to the village and set up a monument in the middle of the town in her honour and to show his gratitude. It depicts a woman with her hands stretched upward in the form of a V with both an owl and a skull at each of her sides carved out of a single huarango tree.
The huarango tree is said to contain positive energy and therefore, it is believed that if you hug the tree and make three wishes they will come true providing you are making them with faith in the tree’s power. Yes, I did it. I hugged the tree and made my wishes. Whether I made them with faith is another story, but if I end up being the world’s most famous explorer- extraordinaire….we will know the truth.
Among the many stories that were told to us by our 8 year old guide, there was one that peaked my interest in particular – the legend of the 7-headed palm tree. Among all the witches of Cachiche, there was one considered to be the ugliest, who sadly for her was voted among the rest to be sacrificed in a ritual ceremony. She fled to a nearby palm tree, which was then split with a spear by another witch in an attempt to slay her. As they chased her, jumping from limb to limb, a palm broke from its trunk and crushed one of the chasing witches. The ugly witch made a curse that if anyone were to let that limb grow back, the land of Ica would be destroyed and all its inhabitants along with it. Just to be on the safe side the inhabitants of Ica still cut the seventh limb to this day.
Upon the conclusion of our mythology tour, I decided to have my tarot cards read by a local shaman. I am happy to report that death and utter unhappiness are not a part of my near future or so I was told and the shaman was pretty spot-on with most things. The shamans also provide healing ceremonies in a pyramid-like structure as well as palm readings and to my surprise Sublime ice-cream bars which completely rocked my world.
Of course this side-journey was loads of fun and filled with bizarre stories but the line between fact and myth to most people here is pretty thin. Needless to say Cachiche is a place where stories are still alive, where there are no rational explanations, where people thrive off of tales of old and a place in my opinion to experience something curious regardless of authenticity.
Christina Baker is a researcher and blogger for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru.