The Cavern of Cajamarca

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Jaime and friend at Usha Usha bar, Cajamarca

Jaime Valera takes another sip of ruby red wine before he peers into his laid-open, yellowing notebook and begins lightly strumming a melody on his old guitar.

He turns and says something to his group of assembled friends and they all descend into a chortling laughter.

Then his son pulls up a chair behind a cajón drum, prompting a couple of others to pick up a different guitar and some shaky eggs. They start to play and, before long, the small room is filled with the beautiful melancholic sound of a Brazilian love song.

Usha Usha bar is a bit of a legend in the north Peruvian city of Cajamarca. For 21 years Jaime has been inviting travellers and nationals alike into the intimate, dimly-lit room off Amalia Puga to share a Chilcano de Pisco while talking about anything and everything and enjoying a musical tour of Latin America.

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One of Jaime’s handwritten songbooks

He has hundreds of hand-written songs picked up over the years from his travels jotted down in his notebooks – all of which he has memorised perfectly.

Visitors lean back on wooden benches shouldering the plaster walls, which are adorned by dozens of signatures and messages of appreciation. It’s almost the equivalent of Liverpool’s iconic Beatles hotspot: the “Cavern” of Cajamarca.

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Anna and I enjoy the music

After the song has finished Phil pretends to take his pants off to throw them at the group, which makes them all crease up in fits of giggles for about ten minutes.

Jaime’s personality is witty and engaging. He laments the fact that a change in the law meant six months ago he was forced to replace his beloved traditional kerosene lamps with electric ones.

“The government banned kerosene as it is used in coke production,” he explains, bowed head shaking. “It’s a shame as the gas lamps really added to the intimacy here. And it’s ironic that coke production has gone up!”

A fellow musician starts playing a new love song, from Argentina this time, and Jaime follows his finger movements and joins in now and again even though it is the first time he has heard it.

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Cajamarca’s Lennon and McCartney

After the applause has died down and Jaime’s wife has cracked open another bottle of red, he announces: “Now, to Paraguay.

“I think as a Latin American it’s very important to travel and get to know all the different cultures of the continent. I feel that music from the Andes and Paraguayan music are the most mystical sounding of all.”

Another tune starts up and the group sing slow, haunting harmonies that paint pictures of rural countryside and lost love.

Over the next hour this is replaced with upbeat, jokey songs singing of the joy of harvesting and riding in the open countryside, a “La Bamba” parody satirising political figures and a beautiful Inca song.

In between we chat about England and the group treat us to stellar performances of Greensleaves and Hey Jude.

Phil and I and our American friend Anna bid our farewells and thank them for a lovely evening.

But before we go we grab a pen and scrawl a message beneath a small arch on the wall – one of the few places with blank space left at this cultural gem.

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Our tribute

About travellingtoothbrushes

We are a couple of journalists with restless toothbrushes. Our teeth scrubbers seem unable to leap out of their respective washbags to take up a permanent residency on the bathroom shelf. So, we've decided to let them live the way they want to and take them on a trip around South America...
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One Response to The Cavern of Cajamarca

  1. Lieske says:

    Nice message Phil!! Seriously sounds like a magical spot. You are having some amazing experiences…! X

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