I have spent these last few days hiking in and out of weaving communities in the Sacred Valley region of Peru. Communities visited include, Amaru, Huaran, Calca and Cancha Cancha.
Amaru is a picturesque community nestled in the mountain ranges above Pisac. The community boasts charming landscape, a communal garden and a small, but welcoming population. On arrival, we were served bread and mate de coca (coca tea), and sat down with Gregorio (the President of the weaving association) and several weavers to discuss possible volunteer-service projects. As afternoon dawned on us, we began to descend the mountain, first visiting the residence of a local carpenter. With profit earned through the sale of textiles in Canada, the community of Amaru was awarded funds to put towards a community project of their choosing. The President, together with the weavers, chose to have a carpenter handcraft a kitchen cabinet and, and also purchased several sets of dishes for all members of the community to use. After settling an advance payment with the carpenter, we continued our descent to Pisac. We parted ways in Pisac, as I hopped on a combi for yet another community.
Huaran and Calca
I arrived in Huaran mid-afternoon. I had heard not great things about the town of Huaran – namely, that it was small, boring and existed more mosquitos than you could swat at. If you judge Huaran by the roadside, this is certainly nothing short of true; however, if you venture deeper into the heart of the community, Huaran has much to offer to the curious tourist. I walked 20 minutes up the road to the overgrown residence of my homestay family. I called out. No-one answered. I called out again. Still, no answer. I took a seat on the concrete steps and wondered about the possibility of sleeping outside should nobody show. Just then, 5 dogs with wagging tails came running at me full-force. “Somebody has to return to feed the dogs,” I thought to myself. As I was waiting for someone to return to the home anyway, I decided to explore Huaran on foot. I set back down the trail until I stumbled upon a small roadside shack selling water, laundry detergent, and tomatoes (among other things). I examined the vegetables carefully, looking for defects and possible triggers for an upset stomach. I was so meticulous in my examination that I had failed to notice a small crowd of children gathering in the doorway, watching curiously my every move. I looked up and said hello. They all giggled and said hello back. I smiled to myself, knowing that Huaran does not see foreigners often, if at all.
I returned to the home and was greeted by Magdalena, a friend of the family, who lives at the residence. She showed me around the house and told me to make as I would at home. We sat down for afternoon tea with Luzmila, a potential Mosqoy 4 student, and who also lives at the residence. Knowing that I would be working with the weaving communities, the two were eager to teach me a few useful phrases/words in Quechua. Having survived a two -hour intensive lesson, I was rewarded with my own Quechua name: “Munaycha.”
The next day, I headed back down the trail towards the road, where I was to meet with Sonia, the President of the Huaran weaving association and several weavers. I was greeted by Sonia in front of her home. We sat in the sun and waited for the other weavers to arrive. Half an hour passed, and only few filtered in. Sonia reminded me that it was the Day of Independence in Peru (and the same day that the new President of Peru would take the reins), so many of the weavers were in Calca or Cuzco celebrating. I nodded in understanding and we proceeded with the textile exchange. As I gathered my belongings, I assured Sonia that I would return in August to further discuss the volunteer-service projects. With the afternoon now free, I took my time walking around Huaran. I stopped in a roadside store to exchange pleasantries and asked about the prospect of internet in Huaran. The shop-owner looked at me as if I had spoken of the devil. “Internet?” she asked. “Not here, not in Huaran,” she responded shaking her head. Disgruntled, I returned to the house late afternoon and sat down with Luzmila and Magdalena over hot tea and bread – now, our nightly ritual. I absorbed more Quechua teachings before calling it an early night.
The next morning I woke up feeling adventurous. Early morning, I left the house with the intentions of scrambling up the mountain overlooking Huaran. Just as I thought I was going alone, the 5 dogs (one not even two-months old) came running up behind, eager to join me on the trail. I laughed to myself thinking this was a scene out of “Little House on the Prairie.” The bigger dogs forged ahead, leaving the young puppy behind. I walked alongside the puppy (“Negra”) and helped her up some of the steeper slopes of the mountain. As we neared the peak, the dogs ran off, leaving me tranquil. I found a rock to sit on and took in the spectacular views of Huaran and nearby valleys. As I began to descend, I realized that I had lost both the dogs and my trail back. I examined the mountainside, wondering which cliff I had ascended earlier. I whistled several times for the dogs to return, waiting only a few minutes before descending on my own (eventually I found my way and the dogs).
I made my way back to the house and entered the kitchen. I was greeted by even more members of the family – Naywa, her father and her brother. We sat down over morning tea and bread and exchanged introductions. Naywa’s father (an archeologist) and her brother (an electrical engineer) were bickering over the correct method to carry out conservation projects. I laughed to myself thinking that engineers are of the same breed, no matter the country (sorry, dad). They asked what my plans were for the day, and I told them that I was expected to meet with the Calca Warmi – a weaving association in Calca. “It’s an easy combi ride,” they explained. “No, I think I will walk,” I said. And so I did – just before noon, I set off in the direction of Calca. It was a long 2.5 hour walk along the roadside and the sun was in full force. In fact, it was so hot that sweat began forming from my hands.
I met Antonieta, the President of the Calca weaving association, at the Calca bus terminal. “You must be tired from the walk,” she said, as we walked to her home. “A little bit,” I said. She sat me down in the living room and ran into the kitchen. She returned with a tall glass of purple liquid. “Drink this,” she said handing me the glass, “it’s maiz.” I gulped and tried to think of something I hated more than beverages made of purple corn (common in Peru). I graciously accepted, wondering how I would consume her offering without making a face. “Delicious,” I said, taking my first sip. As the weavers filtered in, Antonieta brought out the textiles for me to examine. “They are beautiful,” I said, running my fingers over the tight knit weave. I asked her about project needs in Calca as she labelled each textile piece. Antonieta and the weavers suggested cooking classes, painting/sewing classes and expressed interest in daytrips/excursions to nearby ruins and points of interest. I made quick note in my agenda and began to gather my belongings. “Finish your maiz,” she said, “you will feel better.” And in one big swig it was gone. As our meeting concluded, Antonieta held up two pairs of wrist-warmers. “Which pair do you like best?” she asked. “Both,” I said, not wanting to offend. “They are yours,” she said, “a gift to remember me by.” I thanked her and she walked me to the bus terminal where I would pick up a combi in the direction of Huaran. As we waited, I let out a shiver from the cold. Antonieta pulled the sleeves of my sweater over my arms (almost mother like) and demanded that I dress more warmly the next time I come. I assured her I would as I boarded the combi for Huaran.
I was not quite sure what to expect of Cancha Cancha when my alarm sounded at 5:00am on Friday morning; in fact, I was one of many who could not place Cancha Cancha on a map. “The trail is easy,” insisted the Peru leaders.
After a hearty breakfast of yogurt and bread, Naywa, Magdalena, Luzmila (both natives of Cancha Cancha) and I left the house at 7:00am (an hour later than agreed upon). We ascended. We ascended more. We ascended for a total of 4 hours – a trail I would hesitate to call “easy.” I am learning not to trust what the Peru leaders say about the hiking conditions. The trail to Cancha Cancha is best described as a straight uphill climb, rocky and unmaintained. Notably, sections of the trail were flooded by water running down the mountainside. However, the trail was worth every step uphill. As snow-capped mountains appeared in the distance, I could tell that I would be taken with Cancha Cancha. I stood in amazement as I passed by llamas and alpacas grazing by the river banks. “This is the real Peru,” I thought to myself, “rugged and unmaintained.”
We arrived in Cancha Cancha just after 11:00am and were welcomed into the home of Luzmila’s sister. Her children shyly poked their heads around the corner and said hello. Luzmila’s sister, also a weaver, served us pasta and potatoes. Given my recent experience with potatoes, I kindly refused and explained how the potatoes in Q’enqo left me feeling all but well. She nodded her head in a sympathetic manner and served me pasta with canned tuna and a hot cup of mate de coca. As we ate and drank, I heard strange noises coming from the dark corners of the home. Before questions formed in my head, between 20 and 30 guinea pigs ran out from under the bed. “Only in Peru,” I thought to myself, “only in Peru…”
After eating, I excused myself to visit the washroom. I walked across the hill to the elementary school, where only basic facilities existed. I took my time walking back to the house, stopping to take photos of the mountainside community. I was struck by the natural beauty of Cancha Cancha – a small village populated by no more than 20 mud huts. Amenities in Cancha Cancha are non-existent – the closest store could be reached by a 7-hour return hike to Huaran (although, most, I am told, go to Calca). I met a young boy playing in the grass with his soccer ball. He was fascinated with the camera I had hanging around my neck and asked me to take photos of him throwing his ball into the air. I had never before seen a child so excited to examine his own image on the screen of my camera.
I made my way back to the house, and as the other weavers joined, our meeting began. I reminded the weavers of the projects decided on at a previous meeting held in April – rebuilding houses devastated by the 2008 floods and trail maintenance – and asked if there were further projects to add. The weavers nodded their heads, but seemed more interested in attempting to pronounce my name. “Lindsay,” I said. “What is your last name?” they asked in unison. “Zibrik,” I said. I chuckled knowing that the ensuing pronunciation would be nothing short of a disaster. As expected, not one weaver came close, but they, nevertheless, complimented me on my name. “It’s a beautiful name,” they said, each nodding their head in agreement. “Thank you,” I muttered, not knowing what else to say.
As our meeting came to a close, I broached the topic of setting our next meeting. We spent no less than 30 minutes agreeing on the time of our next meeting. Number after number was thrown around as a potential meeting time. Just as my thoughts started to trail, I heard “2 soles.” “Sorry?” I asked. “If we are not there by 9:00am, we will each pay you 2 soles,” they explained. I laughed, warning that I would hold them to their words.
Naywa and I began our descent from Cancha Cancha just after 2:00pm. [Luzmila and Magdalena stayed behind, choosing to spend the evening with their families]. Descending the mountain took almost as long as ascending – roughly 3 hours. Mid-way, we were stopped along the trail by several Cancha Cancha locals. They asked for money to continue their work along the trail. I respectfully declined (explaining that I was a volunteer in Peru) and urged Naywa to push on, as every minute at rest on the trail meant 5 more mosquito bites on my (vulnerable) legs.
We arrived back at the house at 5:00pm. We both slumped back in our chairs at the kitchen table and let out long-overdue sighs of exhaustion, resulting from a long day of hiking. I could feel the sore throat that I had woken up to worsening. I pushed my chair in and said my goodnights, knowing that a full night’s rest would recharge me for more difficult days to come.