In the backpackers’ paradise of Ica, there is a small lagoon called Huacachina amid a vast desert of sand dunes. Legend has it that long ago, a prince and princess lived in this region. When the prince suddenly passed away, the princess cried and cried all throughout the area, and her tears collected into what is now the lagoon. Shortly after the lagoon was formed, the princess was sitting by the lagoon when an evil spirit frightened her, and she jwent into the lagoon to hide. Unable to swim, she drowned in the lagoon and was never seen again. To this day, swimmers are warned not to swim in the lagoon, as she likes to take others to the bottom with her.
And just outside of Ica, there is an old witch town called Cachiche. This town used to be filled with the most beautiful and powerful witches in all of Peru. The witches wanted to know all of the secrets of Peru, and to do this required a sacrifice of one of their own. The witch they intended to sacrifice did not want to die and tried to flee the town. In her attempt to flee, she jumped on top of a palm tree, and the other witches used a magic lasso to try to grab her. Instead of roping the fleeing witch, with each toss of their lasso, they split the palm tree again and again until the palm tree had 7 different heads. The fleeing witch jumped from head to head trying to escape, but not all of the heads were strong, and when she jumped on the 7th head, it broke. She fell and was captured, and taken to be sacrificed. Right before she died, she put a curse on the tree, saying that if the 7th head ever grew back, that all of Ica would be flooded. In 1998, the 7th head started to grow again, and shortly after, much of the town fell victim to a horrible flood. So now, they make sure that the 7th head never grows back to keep the people of Ica safe.
These are just 2 of the many legends that make up Peruvian history. With such a strong Indian heritage, so many towns, places, natural wonders, and other items have a story that explains or justifies their existence in a rather fantastical and romantic way. Usually, these legends, much like with a religious story, have a moral and a lesson learned. And the widespread knowledge of each legend is a true testament to their strong connection with Peruvian heritage and culture.
What I find so amazing is that where I live, a lake is a lake. It’s there because a spring leaked, or a glacier melted, and it generally leads a fairly repetitive existence. But in Peru, something as typical as a lake can take on a profound, exciting and meaningful existence. It gives each element around you a persona, a character, an energy, and in my opinion, makes Peru come to life.
Holly Brinkman is a researcher and blogger for the Karikuy Volunteer Program in Lima, Peru