By Nicholas Asheshov
I first met Washington Gibaja in 1995 when he was 13. He was the pushiest and most winning of half a dozen village urchins offering their services as guides in the dramatic ruins at Ollantaytambo.
“How did the Incas construct this citadel-temple?” he intoned in a pip-squeak voice, confidently imitating the big-shot professional guides. When three even smaller urchins began a song-and-dance act we said we hadn’t any small change. Washington said expansively, “Don’t worry. I’ll handle it”.
A week ago I sat with Washington at a table at the Tambo Café in the Plaza de Ollantaytambo eating roast pepper and palta salads. I had run into him at the airport. His card featured a classy chacana design and went on
Magical Tours Peru
Washington Gibaja Tapia
Manager – Photographer – Writer
Machu Picchu Cusco Peru
Private Native Guide Ceremonies & Workshops
“See you Saturday,” he had said.
His websites include www.Magicaltoursperu.com and as we sat with him and his pretty wife Pamela and four-year-old daughter, Washington was signing for me a copy of his new book, Sabiduria y Amabilidad de la Pachamama.
Thirteen years ago his efforts as a guide supported a handful of younger brothers. Today as he scribbled quickly a dedication he was telling us of his trips to universities in half the states in the U.S., to Indonesia, Nepal, Thailand and Taiwan.
Then we moved on to his campaign a couple of years ago for mayor of Ollanta. “I lost because people got confused with the numbers,” he said. “I think I’ll be in next time.”
His English is quick and fluent. The bubbly energy that had caught our eye back in 1995 was very much still there but the brashness had meshed into a good-humoured earnestness.
I already knew how he had talked himself into an early big leap forward. He must have been 16 or so and was as usual working the ruins when he spotted Sharon Forrest. Sharon is a big, blonde Canadian leader of New Age tours to Peru, Egypt and India. Forty years in the business, Sharon once hypnotized me and said later that I’d talked like a parrot of my previous lives.
In any case, there she was like a battleship at full steam surrounded by her admiring group as she preached in the ruins. Ni sonso ni perezoso, Washington went straight up to her and said in broken English, “You were my mother in another life.”
It was chutzpah meets chutzpah. Sharon is an admirable personage who enjoys doing good and nothing by halves. A few months later Washington had a room in Sharon’s house in San Diego, California and was going to school there. One of his little brothers was later to join him.
Washington told us the other day that he had just returned from a tour including Sedona and the Cascades Ski Resort above Seattle. He had given séances and organized shamanistic ceremonies: “Groups of 20 to 30, put together by friends. I made $4,000. Ten percent of this I used to buy story books in Lima for the kids in the schools up in the highland communities. I coat them in plastic and give them to the teachers.”
This is part of a virtuous circle that sees Washington organize chocolatadas at Christmas for the 35 Quechua communities out in the boonies among the glaciers above Ollanta, Peru at its most profound.
When visitors buy Washington’s book, @ S/35, they mark one of four boxes on a fly-sheet to signify where they want their 10% to go. The choice is between ojata sandles; the chocolatada; school books and a school-lunch comedor for 120 kids that Washington has set up in Ollanta itself.
“They put in their emails and I send them photos of what they contributed towards. I’m building up quite a mailing list.
“Obviously I’m pretty well known to the people up in the comunidades.”
Sabiduria y Amabilidad is full of fine photos, many of people not just ruins, all taken by, of course, Washington. The book, which has a twin version in English, takes travelers through a score of sites as well as Machu Picchu including those round Lake Titicaca. It’s without doubt the top New Age guide to the Inca world. Here’s a sample from the Intro:
“Todos poseemos una forma de energia y solamente tenemos que empujarla hacia el planeta y compartirla con nuestros semejantes asi como la Pachamama comparte su energia con nosotros plena de amor y humor.”
It’s all fluid, fresh and polished, a credit to the Ollantaytambo and San Diego educational systems. FIN
Published in Caretas Magazine the week of Jan. 16, 2009