ISSN 2359-4101

Brazilian Literature in Translation / Literatura Brasileña en Traducción

Issue / Numero

year/año: 2015
issue/numero: # 07

Pilar’s Diary in Machu Picchu

Author | Autor: Flávia Lins e Silva

Translated by Alison Entrekin Illustrations by Joana Pena

In the beginning, everything was chaos!

It was still dark out and I was woken from a nightmare by a terrible asthma

attack. It happens sometimes, though I’m not really sure why. I find it hard to

breathe, my chest tightens with worry, I miss my grandpa... I confess: I’m terrified

of losing the people I love. Grandpa’s gone forever and I still haven’t found

my dad. One thing is certain: no one can separate me and my cat! Ever! That’s why

as soon as that weird conversation started over breakfast I got a horrible taste in

my mouth, as if the bread had suddenly gone sour.

‘Pilar, I called the doctor to talk about your asthma attack and... I think we’d

better send Samba to Bernardo’s brother Betão’s farm,’said my mother.

‘The doctor thinks your asthma might have to do with the cat, but Samba will

be fine on the farm,’ added Bernardo.

My stomach began to churn so much that I couldn’t even reply. I gave my

mother and step-father a savage look, then grabbed Samba and ran to my room.

From the corridor, I could hear my mother saying:

‘Think about it, Pilar. Maybe Samba would enjoy an outdoor life and... please

tidy your room!’

Tidy my room? How could my mother think about tidying in the middle of

something so serious? With my diary in hand and head phones on, I threw myself

onto my unmade bed. I was dying to talk to Breno. At least I could talk to my bestof-

best-friends about anything, anytime. There was no way Breno would agree

with that crazy idea to send Samba away to a faraway farm. Never!

To avoid thinking about it, I decided to try and write some lyrics for a song Breno

was composing on his guitar. Who said writing lyrics was easy? I did a first draft:

In the heat of the Amazon,

the sun of ancient Babylon,

so many interesting faces

so many thrilling places...

No, no! What predictable rhymes! I scrunched up the paper and threw it at

the bin, but Samba intercepted the ball, thinking I was playing with him. What a

character! I called my cat over, gave him a big tickle and explained:

‘We can play in a little while, Samba! Right now I’m writing some lyrics. Listen...

Flying over Egypt,

we see the snaking Nile.

Sailing on the Amazon,

the forest is so fertile.

Up high on Olympus,

we see for miles and miles...’

No! I didn’t want to talk about our travels. I threw the scrunched up paper at

the bin again, but this time Samba didn’t come to play goalkeeper. Maybe he was

hiding under the sheets in a heap on the floor. Just then my thoughts were interrupted

by a loud knocking at the door.

‘Go away. Leave me alone!’ I growled.

‘OK. Sorry. I’ll come back later,’ I heard Breno say.

How could I have known it was him? I jumped off the bed and opened the

door. As he walked in, Breno couldn’t help himself and said:

‘Sheesh, Pilar! Was there an earthquake here?’

My room was so messy it looked like a jungle! A little sheepishly, I said:

‘Well, um... Samba and I were playing scary tornadoes and hurricanes, and

things flew out of my hands and landed all over the place! It was wild!’

‘Hmm, right. And where are the lyrics you promised to write for my song? I

can’t wait to get started. I even brought my guitar!’

I couldn’t find my early drafts in all that chaos. The lyrics still weren’t right, but

I wanted to show him anyway. I pulled back the sheets, looked under clothes and

cushions hunting for the missing lyrics and... nothing!

‘Samba, have you seen the lyrics I wrote for Breno?’

‘Samba?’ called Breno. ‘Pilar, I think your cat vanished in all this chaos and you

didn’t even notice.’

We picked up all the books from the floor, the socks from the rug and... no

sign of him. It was Breno who opened the magic hammock and found a tattered

piece of paper there:

‘Hey! This looks like song lyrics torn in half...’

‘Then the other half must be there with Samba.’

‘There where, Pilar?’

‘That’s what we need to find out. Magic hammock, take me away. Transport

me to wherever I must go!’ I said, jumping in.

Breno quickly followed me with his guitar and we began to spin forward until

we lost all notion of up and down.

The ÑustaBath

When the hammock stopped spinning, I felt queasy. I stood carefully and

leaned against a tree. We must have been on a mountain top because it

was pretty cold, despite the sun. Nearby was a stone construction that looked like

a bathtub. I thought about going over to wash my face in it, but I felt even queasier

and out it came: my whole breakfast! After I had sullied the green grass at my feet,

Breno helped me and I climbed – clothes and all – into the stone bathtub filled with

clear running water. While I was trying to recover, Breno studied the open-air hydraulic

system that brought fresh water straight there from the mountain. Without

pipes, the water ran downhill in little canals carved out of the stones, which all fit

together perfectly.

‘Have you seen the aqueduct, Pilar? What a work of art! Somebody pretty

creative came up with that!’

I was still too dizzy to look at anything and sat down to splash water on my

face. I was already feeling a little better when I heard an unfamiliar voice.

‘Are you a ñusta by any chance? You’re in the ñusta bath!’

A girl with brown skin and long, straight hair was staring at me in surprise. Her

question made absolutely no sense to me, so I decided to introduce myself.

‘Hi, I think you might be mixing me up with someone else. My name’s Pilar.

Nice to meet you.’

‘This bath is only for ñustas, princesses, those chosen by our sun god Inti!

I don’t even want to imagine what could happen to someone who gets in there

without permission!’said the girl, making a sign of reverence to the sun.

‘The god Inti? Who’s that?’

‘Haven’t you ever heard of Inti, our most important god? I thank him for every

sunny day that dawns.’

Breno gave me a little smile, knowing how curious that conversation was making me.

‘How does this sun god choose someone to be a princess?’I asked.

‘The high priests chose the ñustas, or acllas, communicating directly with the

gods. Has the sun god chosen you by any chance? Has he sent you a sign?’

‘Well, I was sick and needed a bath afterwards. But I’m going to get out now

because this water’s too cold for me.’

‘It’s probably soroche: altitude sickness. Chew on these coco leaves and you’ll

feel better soon.’

And that was how I came to chew on some terribly bitter little leaves that

helped me overcome my dizziness and stop feeling queasy. I was still feeling the

cold though and, seeing that I was shaking, the girl with long hair held out her colourful

poncho of the softest wool. When she took it off, I saw that she had a small

animal on her back. How adorable! I reached out to pat it.

‘What cute animal is this?’ I asked.

‘It’s a baby llama. The poncho’s made out of its mother’s wool. There she is,

over there.’

‘What delightful animals! And what a sweet baby! Can I hold it a little?’ I said,

dying to cuddle the baby llama.

‘Of course! He’s very tame. My name is Yma and his is Cori, which means

“made of gold”.’

‘He must be very precious to you,’ I said, thankful for the poncho and hugging

the little Cori to warm myself up a little more.

Breno looked around, unable to recognise the place.

‘We’re on a mountain, aren’t we? What city is this?’

‘Don’t you know we’re in Ollantaytambo, in Peru’s Sacred Valley? How did you

get here?’

‘Yma, this is my friend Breno. We always travel together, but we never know

where we’re going to end up and... to tell the truth, we came looking for my cat,

Samba. He’s white, with chocolate-coloured paws. Have you seen a lost cat around?’

‘Are you talking about a white animal, with a long tail, kind of greedy?’

‘Very greedy!’ laughed Breno.

‘Have you seen Samba? He’s very precious to me.’

‘I think so, Pilar. Over by the corn field. Come with me!’


Peru is a beautiful country in South America, on the edge of the Pacific Ocean. Its

current capital is Lima. During the Inca Empire, from the 13th to the 16th century,

the capital was Cusco. The Inca civilization was one of the most important in the

Americas. The Incas lived mostly in the Andes mountains, in the countries now

known as Ecuador, Chile, Argentina, Bolivia, Colombia and, of course, Peru. They

spoke Quechua, a language still spoken by many Peruvians. Nowadays, however,

the country’s official language is Spanish. I’m going to make a big list of my favourite

words in Quechua!

After I had tightly rolled up the hammock and stowed it in my jumbo-pocket,

Breno and I followed Yma through the narrow streets, between houses built out of

enormous blocks of stone with straw roofs. Breno was in awe of the engineering

of the place.

‘I wonder how they cut these huge stones? And how do they get them on top

of one another? I don’t even think they use cement, Pilar. They all slot together.

Imagine how much strength it must take to lift such heavy stones?’

It really was curious and enchanting: an entire city made of enormous blocks

of stone that slotted together perfectly, but there were no cranes, cement or jackhammers

anywhere in sight. A mystery!

We walked down a long road and came to a field planted with corn of all different

colours: white, black, yellow, red, mixed! I had never seen so many kinds of

corn in all my life! I felt like trying some...

Samba had beat me to it, of course! His familiar little white head popped up

from inside a basket of corn cobs. I tried to coax my runaway cat over, but he didn’t

even flinch. He was focused on something that I couldn’t see from where I was. As

I drew nearer, I saw a boy in a red beanie, who must have been the owner of the

basket. He was blowing into a rolled-up leaf as if it was a whistle and mosquitoes

were flying around in a circle in front of him.

‘Look, Breno! I think that boy knows how to tame insects!’

‘Tame insects, Pilar? That’s practically impossible!’ said Breno.

‘Actually, Pilco does know how to tame insects. He has many talents,’ said Yma


I couldn’t miss out on the opportunity to learn how to tame insects. I already

knew how to talk to birds, but I’d never imagined I’d be able to communicate with

flies or mosquitoes! I was so impressed that I sat down next to Pilco, introduced

myself and talked him into teaching me. You had to roll up a freshly-picked leaf like

a flute, then give a few short whistles followed by a longer one. I imitated everything

that Pilco did, but... it was a disaster! We were soon surrounded by a swarm

of bees!

‘Oh dear! What now? How do I get the bees to leave?’

‘Right now you’d better run, Pilar!’said Pilco, picking up his basket of corn and

racing off.

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