Wednesday, 10 September 2014

The perfumed bed

Tello and his explorers were hardened travelers. The expeditions took them all over Peru´s remote deserts, mountains and jungles where, come nightfall, they were more often than not dependent on the generosity of locals for lodgings.  And as you may suspect, beggars can’t be choosers. In this story Hernan tells us about one particular bed that the archaeologist never forgot.

Guaman Poma de Ayala - The Author Travels

The perfumed bed
In which it is confirmed that some resting places are definitely more desirable than others

Travelling through the small towns and villages of Peru is something of an adventure. One day we could be staying in a comfortable hotel, but the next we would be in a second rate hostel, the next in a hovel or even in a cave.  And let me tell you a cave was preferable to some of the hotels we have seen. Tello was always meticulous in his personal hygiene, but you can imagine the myriad variety of beds in which he had slept, and the countless bugs and odours to which he had been exposed.

Once, for example, when he arrived at a small coastal town, an excellent room was made available for him complete with a bed made up with impeccable white linen. Unfortunately he was forced to vacate it only a short while after he had slipped between the beautiful snowy sheets, because a whole legion of insects had begun a stealthy advance up his body. Happily he had with him his riding kit, and he was able to stretch out his saddle blanket on the floor and lay down to sleep there, having first surrounded himself with lit candles to keep the bugs at bay. Of all these experiences, there was one that Tello never forgot. His night in the perfumed bed.  

I don’t remember exactly the name of the town in the region of Ica where this story took place. It was contrary to Tello’s normal custom to announce his visit to an area, but in this case, because there was no hotel in the town, he had done so, and consequently he had been received very warmly by one of the local dignitaries.

After a long and very agreeable dinner he was finally taken to a room where a bed had been made up for him. It was an enormous room but it gave the impression of being smaller due to the amount of paraphernalia that was crammed in there.  The room was full of religious icons and statues, shelves piled high with ugly ornaments, family portraits and pictures on every inch of wall space and knick knacks in all the corners.

The bed itself was a veritable museum piece, an antique that should have been kept under wraps, but it was at least spotlessly clean. The only problem was that an overpowering aroma made the atmosphere in the room almost unbearable. Indeed it was quite difficult to breath.

It wasn’t only in the air. It was obvious when Tello lay down to sleep that the bed had been completely drenched in perfume. He was tempted to leave the huge bed and go out onto the patio to sleep, so strong was the terrible smell, but he was exhausted after a long journey. His fatigue soon overtook him, and he fell into a deep sleep.

After a couple of hours, however, his worst fears were realized. The bed was a nest of fleas and they were all over him. He sighed, got out of bed and patiently got dressed. And, opening the door to let at least some of the smell out, he settled himself down to sleep upright in a chair for the night.

Shortly after dawn he made his way downstairs in search of a drink of water, where he bumped into the housemaid coming out of the kitchen. She was obviously surprised to see him up so early, and greeted him with a peculiar question.

“Good morning señor. Have you perchance been bothered by spirits in the night?”
 The girl seemed a little breathless and agitated.
“Because that bed where you slept belonged to Doña Lastenia, Don Ernesto’s grandmother. She died of old age. Poor thing she didn’t know anything by the end….. and ….. uh …. she did everything in her bed sir.

They just buried her yesterday.

The mattress stank so bad the mistress had to douse it in perfume”

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