My life in Baños del Inca, Cajamarca, Peru

By Danielle L. Krautmann

One month ago, I moved to Baños del Inca, a very small town only 6 km from the city” of Cajamarca.  My first two weeks were filled with holidays: an amazing Christmas visit with my family and a strange illness that rendered me useless for about ten days.  Finally, I feel like I’m beginning to settle in and learn the lay of the land.  My thoughts so far?  I love it here.

landscape Banos del Inca cajamarca peru
Typical landscape outside of Banos del Inca.

Cajamarca is a small city in northern Peru that sits in a valley surrounded by mountains.    Due to a recent mining boom, many Cajamarqueñians say the city is growing faster than its old colonial structure can handle.  Yanacocha, the second largest gold mine in the world is located less than an hour from the city.  To date the Yanacocha mine (not where Charlie works) has produced more than $7 billion worth of gold.  A strong mining presence is felt as you wind your way through the streets of Cajamarca and notice a large population of trucks and stores that sell work boots, safety glasses, and hard hats.

Despite Cajamarca and Baños del Inca playing a significant role in Peru’s history (more on this later), the area does not attract much international tourism.  Small, local tour companies offer van trips to nearby ruins, waterfalls, and other incredible features, but these target mostly Peruvians.    This is just fine with me, the tourists can stay away (unless you’re coming to visit me and stay in my house, in which case you’re more than welcome, I love hosting).  I have found that in Peru, tourism brings opportunists who recognize that people who can afford to travel have money in their pockets.  This puts any gringo at a much higher risk of pick-pocketing, harassment and scams.  In Cajamarca, this occurs on a small scale (as it does anywhere in the world), but I feel far less targeted than other places I’ve been in Peru.  I’m sure its only a matter of time until the locals catch on, but for now, the area is free from that burden and filled with its own unique culture.

The History

If you want an in-depth understanding of the history of Cajamarca and Baños del Inca read a book.  I’ll tell you my version with no promises of accuracy or political correctness.  Here goes.   A long time ago there was this wicked tall Inca named Atahualpa (let’s call him “Hap” to make things easier).  He was the leader of the northern Incas (his brother took care of the Cusco region).  Anyway, Hap and his homies were hanging out in Baños del Inca when they heard that Francisco Pissaro and the Spanish (the conquistadors or conquerors) had reached Cajamarca.  He headed over to Cajamarca with 6000 of his guys.  Some Spanish priest tried to convert him to Christianity, he said “screw you” and threw the bible on the ground.  This started the inevitable fight between the Spanish and the Incas.

Outside the Cuarto Rescate (where Atahualpa was held hostage for a year). I am raising my hand as Atahualpa does in the statues to mark the spot to where he would fill the room with gold.

The problem for Atahualpa was that the Spanish had cannons and men on horses with swords and the Inca’s had nothing but slingshots and axes (how embarrassing).  Within a few hours 160 Spaniards killed 7000 indigenous people and captured our friend Hap.  Seriously, 160 dudes killed 7000!  I am not exaggerating!  When Hap figured out how gold hungry the Spaniards were, he held his hand up above his head and said “I will fill this room this high with gold if you let me go.”  “Cool,” agreed the Spanish.  After a year of gathering Incan artifacts from as far south as Cusco (which they melted down to make pure gold), the room was filled.  Unfortunately, the Spanish heard a rumor that Hap’s buddies were coming to help him.  They freaked out and killed him anyway.  Jerks.

The only Inca building that’s still standing in Cajamarca is the Cuarto del Rescate where Hap was held prisoner.  I visited it last week and honestly, it doesn’t look all that bad compared to how I would imagine a prison cell.  Hap’s presence is still felt throughout both Baños del Inca and Cajamarca, mostly because there are statues of him everywhere with his hand raised up high marking the spot to which he would fill that room with gold.

The Hat People

I have got to stop calling them that.  A Campesino is a person from the countryside.  They look, dress, and live very differently from the city folk.  The stocky women wear wool, knee-length skirts with petticoats underneath to reveal calves with tone I can only dream of achieving.  They sport three or more layered sweaters, with their hair tied back in a long black braid, topped off with what looks like a straw top hat made from woven palm leaves.  They often have either cows, donkeys, or sheep in tow.  Tied diagonally around their bodies is often a piece of patterned, bright colored cloth used to carry their baby, a sack of potatoes or something else really heavy.   Their attire makes me feel like I’ve traveled back in time 100 years or more (because I bet they were wearing the same get-up back then).

monkey fortune cajamarca peru
In the street market, not only can you buy t-shirts for a dollar, there is a monkey who will choose your fortune from a drawer and hand it to you for one Peruvian Sol.

I can’t help but wonder why they dress like this.  Are there practical reasons to wearing a skirt and 5 sweaters?  Or is it just a tradition that hasn’t been updated?  Hmm, maybe people puzzle over the same thing when they travel to Salisbury, NH and see everyone (most of whom are related to me) wearing flannel shirts, work boots, and neon orange hats (so hunters don’t mistake them for moose and shoot them).

It has not yet ceased to amaze me how comfortably the hat people, I mean campesinos blend in with the city folk.  While I can’t help but watch (or stare with my mouth open) in amazement at how much they can carry on their backs, the Cajamarqueñians don’t glance twice.  In fact, I get far more stares walking down the street than any Campesino.

The other day while I was doing errands, I heard a little boy say to his mom “Look!  Look!  Look!” while pointing at me.  “Yes,” the mom assured her son, “that’s a gringa.”  I smiled, blushed and pulled the hood of my sweatshirt over my blond hair as I walked away.  Supposedly, due to all the mining in the area, a slew of gringos live in Cajamarca and Baños del Inca.  If this is true, I don’t know where they’re all hiding.  I have run and walked extensively around the two towns and can tell you that they are not shopping in the mercado, eating in local restaurants, drinking soda in the Plaza de Armas, or running the footpath between Baños and Cajamarca.

Running

I would like to think, that I am enough of a “runner” so that on any given day, if I needed to run ten miles, I could.  This was true until I moved to a town that sits at 9000 feet (2730 meters) above sea level.  The first time I went running here, I noticed the altitude immediately but fought for my breath for 30 minutes.   My stupid legs would NOT move, no matter how hard I pushed them.  I got back and quickly jumped on google earth to map my run and find I had gone less than 3 miles.  Impossible!  I thought to myself.  I can walk faster than that!  Training at this altitude has been an experience but a nice challenge and at this point, my body is finally adjusting.

peru potato field cajamarca peru
Some men working in the potato field near our house.

Surprisingly there are a lot of runners here.   I see them on the 6 km footpath that runs along the road between Baños del Inca and Cajamarca.  Runners of all ages, some more serious than others fill the path each morning.  Being such a friendly town, people greet me along the way.  I never feel as if I’m running alone, rather am part of a community of runners.  I have even heard rumor of a half-marathon in May.

Despite all the athletes in Cajamarca, I doubt I will find an equivalent to my dear friend Gabriella in Lima, who was willing to meet me in the dark at 5AM for a 15-mile run or an hour-long stair and sprint workout.  Gaby, my partner in fitness who would gossip, discuss important celebrity news, and scream along to Ace of Base with me to distract ourselves from the pain.  Gaby, my partner in masochism, who no matter how bad we felt from sit-ups and lunges would declare “one more time” just when I thought we were finished.  Gaby, my partner in debauchery, who would meet me the same night to soften the muscle pain with Pisco Sours.  A friend like that is hard to come by.

Speaking of Friends

Of course, my main concern from the second I arrived to Baños del Inca has been making friends.  The problem is, very few people here speak English, and believe it or not, due to my insecurities about my vocabulary and accent, I can be quite shy in Spanish.  I figured the best place to start, was close to home.

Home. Have you ever read the book, ‘The Secret Garden?  Well, I live in a secret garden with two other couples.  From the street it looks like nothing more than a garage door.  Open it to reveal a long grass driveway lined with flower bushes that host a number of large turquoise humming birds.  Curvy stone pathways wind their way through rose bushes, clusters of corn, strawberry patches, and herb gardens.  Finally you will arrive in a small courtyard with a large stone grill and a fountain in the middle, which the owners call the “Plaza de Armas.”  Within the large “garden” there are four buildings, a large fenced-in area for the chickens and rooster, and six dogs (if you include Brandy).  The building we live in is simple (the bottom floor of the owner’s home), with white walls, brick floors, and tons of windows.

This is Bersa, the neighbor who I'm teaching English. She's blowing up a balloon at her birthday party.

Olga and Walter, the owners, live above us.  They are a middle-aged Peruvian hippie couple that spend their days tending to the gardens and working on the property.  They have a communal kitchen and sitting area that I visit a few times a week to drink tea that Walter makes from the herbs grown here.  Olga is bubbly, social and loves to throw big parties (two so far).  The third couple, a Canadian guy and Chilean girl, are closer to our age and speak English, but we have yet to get to know them well.

I have one more part-time neighbor, a young campesino girl named Bersa.  Her parents live three hours from town and with her being the youngest of at least ten kids, they were unable to take care of her.  They sent her to live down the street from us with her very frail grandparents.  Unfortunately, her grandparents don’t attend to her much so she spends most of her days here, helping Olga with projects around the house.  She visits me daily, to drop off fresh-picked strawberries, tomatoes, or herbs from the garden.  In exchange, I am teaching her English.  One word a day which I write on a notecard for her to practice.  She’s a fast learner.  Yesterday she greeted my dog Brandy by saying “Hello.  My name is Bersa.”  Brandy looked at her and replied, “Hello.  My name is Brandy.”  Just kidding, Brandy doesn’t speak.

At the end of the street is a small store that sells your basics: soda, chips, toilet paper, milk, etc.  I noticed as soon as I moved here that people tend to congregate there to hang out.  It reminds me of the store my grandfather and his brother owned in Concord, NH called “Phil and Larry’s.”  People would come in for a candy bar and stay for an hour to chat.  I can do this, I thought to myself. So I went to the store, bought a coke from Marta and sat down to chat.  I learned that she owns the shop with her sister (exactly like Phil and Larry’s!).  She had seen me go running by in the morning and told me she goes swimming three times a week in the public pool.  Since that afternoon, Marta does not allow me to pass by the store without a friendly greeting and kiss on the cheek (even when I pass by 6 times a day).

Violeta from the laudramat is equally friendly.  She looked confused the first day I walked in, sweating, my hiking backpack filled with clothes.  I explained to her that I had to carry them about a mile from my house to get there.  She asked why I didn’t take a taxi and I replied “everybody else around here carries things on their back, isn’t that what I’m supposed to do?”  We got to chatting that day, and now I need to plan at least an hour each time I go to drop off or pick up clothes.  She loves to cook, as do I, and she has been giving me recipes for local dishes.  Next week I’m going to her house for a cook out.

While, at this point, I don’t have enough friends to throw a party, I’m getting there.  “Poco a poco,” like everything here in Peru.  Nonetheless, I’m out of the city.  The sounds of traffic and construction are nothing but a distant memory.  They’ve been replaced by a plethora of bird calls, dogs barking and a rooster that calls at all hours of the day and night.  The mountains, the Eucalyptus trees, the fresh air, the friendly people; for the first time since I moved to Peru, I feel like I’m in my element.

34 thoughts on “My life in Baños del Inca, Cajamarca, Peru”

  1. Liz Parker (Mom)

    Nice writing Danielle. You captured the essence of the people and the landscape in the Peruvian highlands. Our trip to visit you and Charlie changed our outlook on the land, the people, and life. The people are so real, so hard working, and beautiful. They were tolerant in spite of our VERY limited command of the language. It’s addicting…we want to go back! And I’m a little nervous we will never get you back.
    Mom

  2. Lovely, Danielle! I can feel the affection you are developing for your new home, and am so glad you are out of the city and able to relax and become a part of your environment. It just sounds so charming, and also so wonderful that it hasn’t been discovered by tourists or day trippers.

    Are you serious about welcoming travelers as guests? I was looking back through our Peru photos yesterday and feeling the pull to return. Who knows when, but I would love to see your world, if we do make it back.

    Please note my new email address – (above)

    All best wishes to you, and hope you will continue your writing! Leslie

    1. Leslie,
      Of course I would LOVE to host you if you came. Being an avid traveler I think you would really like Cajamarca because it is really different from some of the more touristy areas of Peru. I really love hosting, cooking, showing people around. We would just have to plan around my Rainforest schedule (unless you wanted to visit me there). I am not able to see your new email in this message. My email is DanielleLParker@gmail.com. We should talk about this more. I really would love to have visitors!!!!

      For anyone else reading this, unless you are a murderer or rapest you are welcome to come stay with me and Charlie here in Banos del Inca. I am HAPPY to host!

      Danielle

  3. … and poor Gaby misses you soooooooo much!! Thanks for those words!! I honestly do not think I will ever find a partner in fitness, masochism and debauchery like you 🙁

    1. Gaby, you’re visiting in March for a whole weekend of debauchery and running con resacas. As soon as you find a race for me to do, I’ll book a trip to Lima to kick your “one more time” butt while I sing to Madonna, Britney, and Ace of Base IN Spanish. Un beso!

  4. Suzy (Mom in law)

    Wow, you made up for not writing in awhile! We can not wait to visit and see the countryside and people of Cajamarca! The tour of your home was captivating and fun! I always enjoy and laugh when I red your blogs. Good joBb This could end up being a book, eh?

    1. Well, the campesino people don’t usually jog. I think this is because most of them live miles outside of town up in the mountains. They walk into town in the morning and home at the end of the day (explaining the rocking calve muscles). They are also very hard working, not allowing much time for extracurricular activities (unlike me).

  5. Wow! It sounds fantastic! Sounds like you are becoming very comfortable and settling in as you knew you would. As always, your writing is so interesting.

    I’m with your Mom … worried that you will never return. We do miss you and look forward to seeing you in April, if not sooner.

    Love, Lee

    1. Its true, I have fallen in love with Peru and the thought of returning some day makes me feel a little sad, but at this point we don’t have plans to move back in the next couple years. HOWEVER, I’ll ALWAYS come back to visit my dear family and friends, buy clothing and electronics, and enjoy the order and ease at which daily life operates in the United States.

  6. Dear Daniella,

    My name is Esther and I am going to Peru for four and a half months from 7th March. I have been reading your blog for a few weeks, and I love your writing! This post has made me very excited because I will be living in Baños del Inca! It would be wonderful to perhaps meet you, at least to have a contact in the area! My email is quirkyest@gmail.com

    Do email if you can,
    Esther

  7. Daniella,

    I have visted Cajamarca twice. Lived there for 30 days back in the spring of 2009. I taught English in one of the Christian schools there for 4 weeks. I have been to Peru 10 different times, Cajamarca is by far my favorite place. It was one of the greatest experienes of my life. My plans are to come back there for an extended stay, hopefully fairly soon.
    I feel your love for the area and the people in your words. I shoudn’t, but I envy you. Wish I was there! Good luck and God bless.

  8. Hello, i came to this weblog while searching for something else, but to my joy i discovered this web site. Maintain doing what you’re doing, its great.

  9. Hello, I am Cecilia (from Lima) and I’m going to Cajamarca next week. I’m a mountainering but also I’m looking for runners at Cajamarca. Can I contact you for running some morning?

  10. Rosalia Whiteman

    Danielle,

    My father is from Cajamarca but has lived in NYC for over 50 years. I am an American but a Peruvian at heart, I will be in Cajamarca June 5th for 5 weeks, I have been asked to be the “Madrina” to a 2nd cousin. I would love to speak with you about your stay in Cajamarca as I would love to live in Cajamarca one day. Maybe you would be willing to meet me for lunch one day during my stay there.

    Thanks,

    Rosalia Whiteman

  11. Love the information.

    The company I work for has a large mining project near Cajamarca starting on May. I have a great offer for a three year assignment on the project. I also have another offer on a 5 yr project in Perth, Aust. We are trying to finalize our choice.

    The company has rented several sizable houses in Banos and reserved openings for our two sons in the local International school. My wife’s major concerns are around Illnesses and safety for her and our kids. Coming from the US I’m oncern if our two boys ages 10 and 5 will have enough to do to keep them happy. They love being outside playing baseball, swimming or just playing in the yard. None of us speak any spanish at this point.

    Can you give me your thoughts since your are there?

  12. DanielleLKrautmann

    Hi Scott.

    I have a feeling by what you write which company you work for. I want to start by assuring you that they have a very good program for ex-pats. My husband works for a different company and we have had a little crazier of an experience, but I know many people who have come to Banos through your company and have had a very smooth adjustment. Your sons will have plenty to do through Davy college and the other ex-pats who send their kids there. Many of the ex-pats who come do not speak Spanish when they arrive, but the company you work for offers free Spanish lessons. Also, immersing yourself in a culture will help you pick up a language quickly.
    You sons will be safe here, and there are not many illnesses to worry about because we are at a high altitude (10,000 feet). None of the mosquito-born illnesses you see in the jungle (such as Dengue fever) are an issue here. Most of the ex-pat apartments are well-guarded. The only concern I would have, as far as illnesses are concerned, is rabies. Although Banos has done a good job vaccinating the dogs, there are still aggressive dogs here (both me and my friend have been bitten). I’ve been through the regime of rabies shots, and my friend didn’t have to as her attacker was already vaccinated. This is my biggest complaint about this area.
    Another thing to keep i mind is that things are VERY different here. The food is different (I really like it), and there are not the same quality restaurants, stores, etc. that we may be used to where we come from. It is hard to find all of the food items we are accustomed to in the US…for example, ingredients to make mexican food, tahini to make hummus, bread flour, good cereal, and yogert you eat with a spoon (yogert here is the drinkable liquid kind). The adjustment has been fine for me, but it will depend on how open minded you, your wife, and your sons are.

    Personally, I think it would be an amazing experience for you, your wife, and your sons to spend 3 years here. Your sons could become bi-lingual…what an opportunity at an early age.
    If you would like me to get you in touch with some other ex-pats who have come here and work for your company, or if you have further questions, please email me :DanielleLParker@gmail.com.

    good luck with your decision!
    Danielle

  13. Dear Danielle,

    Really enjoyed reading your descriptions of life in cajamarca. I’m a student from the USA and I’m doing a film/documentary/multimedia project of sorts in Peru . I am heading up to cajamarca in the next few days / week and was hoping to speak with local people about the history of the city, hear some of the myths and stories -especially interested in learning bout the mining industries impacts on lives and culture there. I speak spanish im more or less fluent . But definitely understand the pitfalls of the gringo effect ( that u described in the blog). I know that having some contacts is important. I was hoping u could offer some advice or perhaps meet in the city for a chat when I arrive! Let me know 🙂 happy writing and running

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  15. My son Cody Bird is living in Baños del Inca:)now and loving it. I live in Massachusetts and want to come see him and even more so after reading about your time there. If you see a Caucasian male about 19 years old, ask him if his name is Cody:) Keep posting and thanks, Adam

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  17. alexandra alcarraz

    Hello Danielle,
    Are you still living in Cajamarca? I was born in Lima but every summer vacation I asked my mom to send me to Cajamarca where my grandmother lived. The last time I was there it was 10 years ago. I live in Baltimore now and going to school here. I’m writing a paper about Cajamarca, you definitely inspired me to write about this awesome and full of memories city .

  18. Oh I loved your post. I have been to Peru 3 times. I love it. About 9 years ago I first read the story of Pissaro and Atahualpa. And my heart bleed for the Peruvian people. Since then I have read so much of the beautiful history of what is now called Peru. Dating back almost 3000 years. I have been to Cajamarca, and the Banos deL Inca. BEAUTIFUL! The country side and the people. Next year I plan to sell everything here in Florida and move to Peru to teach English. Just today at church my mind was wondering( like it often does at church) and it came to me. I want to live and teach English in Cajamarca. I hope to read more of your post. Thank You

  19. Hello Danielle,

    I don’t know if you are still checking this site, but if you are I would greatly appreciate any insight concerning my few questions. My wife and I are looking to live in Peru this winter. Your experience in Banos del Inca and Cajamarca sounds like it was wonderful. It sounds like the kind of place that would work out great for us. My wife wants to study Spanish. Is there a school or are there private tutors in Banos or Cajamarca? What is the cost of living in that area? Finally, what is the climate like there?

    Thanks for any reply.

    Andy

  20. You do not have all of the facts. The Spanish had on their side those indigenous people who were opposed to Atahualpa. The Incas had just had a civil war and there was a large group who were in opposition to the leading Inca king. With the aid of these warriors there was a mass slaughter of many thousand indigenous people. No matter how many were killed in that first war, the Europeans would have over run the people at some point. A great book to read is The Open Veins of Latin America written by Eduardo Galeano. This does not tell of the conquest of the Incas by this first skirmish but does tell how the super powers have raped all of Latin America starting with Spain then England and now the United States.

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