Friday, June 5, 2015

Cusco - Day 10

Monday, June 1, 2015
Our focus today was "A Day in the Life" of a real Peruvian Village.  Cultural exchange is an important part of the OAT experience, and Pepe told us to be prepared to be "taken out of our comfort zone."
We started at 8 am and traveled out of Cusco, high into the nearby mountains. Along the way, we passed through the outskirts of Cusco where the "squatters " live.  Pepe has told us on several occasions about the people who come to the city from the mountains and squat on the hillsides.  Since it is public land, they are eventually able to claim it as their own. When enough people assemble in one of these enclaves, the government provides infrastructures such as sewers and water. It is an interesting system, but it encourages a lot of environmental degradation. Pepe said there is no zoning and even his neighborhood has been encroached by commercial businesses.
Our first stop was to Izcuchaca, a village in the Rio Mantaro Valley.  We disembarked at Plaza Civica or town square where the morning activities were already in full swing. Pepe introduced us to several of the people who make their living as small "entrepreneurs" at the square. The first was Maria, who starts her day at 3 am, boiling potatoes and eggs, to make a breakfast dish.
She then walks a long distance to the square and sells the combination in a small dish for 1 sol (33cents). She must sell 50 a day to make a living. And she rents her spot for .50 sol (15 cents) a day.
The next woman we met sells telephone calls. There are two cell phone services in Peru - Moviestar and Claro. She has purchased a phone for each company. People use one of her phones to make a call and then she charges them for the minutes.
While we were there, Pepe called his wife and the woman charged him a half a sol. She prefers being her own boss instead of working at a more laborious job in a laundry or cleaning and she can arrange time to be home with her children. 
Across the street from the square were people selling various drinks made from barley, corn or other grains. This woman is selling Chicha, the corn beer, while she is caring for her neice.  
Then we walked along some of the side streets and observed more of daily life. This photo shows the transportation in the city -- (from left) a "moto taxi" made out of a motorcycle with 3 wheels, a bench and a canvas cover; an old motorcycle; a 3-wheel bicycle with a platform and cover; and a simple truck.
All kinds of grains are sold in raw form to feed various livestock. This woman is actually selling some kind of plant door-to-door while carrying her inventory on her back.
Then we visited a bakery. Actually, it was a "contract" bakery. The man we met owns the wood-fired oven and the kitchen with a heavy duty mixer and other equipment. People can come there and make their own bread, either to sell or for a special occasion, and they pay him for the use of his facility. He said there are 20 bakeries in this village, which seemed like a lot but bread is an important staple in their diet.
 He demonstrated how he can make different breads from one batch of dough. Then he showed us his wood-fired oven, which heats to about 350 degrees. The oven is made from mud packed with human hair, which makes a good insulator.
Further down the street we came by an Internet cafe where people can use the computers for one hour for one sol. Pepe also pointed out a local radio station that he said people still use to communicate with each other. Every day between 12 and 2 pm, the radio broadcasts personal messages. For half a sol, you get your message aired 3 times a day for 4 days. It can be as simple as a mother telling her adult child to come by her house.
Then Pepe had an exercise for us. We divided into groups of 4 and had to go to the city market and negotiate prices. He gave each group a list of items -- we had to find the prices on each and then make a purchase of one of them. The market was stimulating, both in color and senses. The people in this village are so colorful that they seem to blend in with the market stalls around them.
One of the products we priced was a half kilo of quinoa. It was 4 sol or about $1.30. Because it is now a global commodity, it is becoming too expensive for many Peruvians to eat, which is a shame since they have subsisted on it for centuries. My group then took a moto taxi for 3 sols back to the main square.
We reboarded our bus and traveled about an hour to Chinchero Village, which, at an elevation of 12,500 ft - is the highest point we traveled in the Sacred Valley. Along the way, we stopped to observe a beautiful mountain lake surrounded by farmland.
We saw the quinoa growing, about ready for harvesting,
and we had a close encounter with a shepherd and his sheep.
Our first stop in the village was an elementary school that is supported in part by donations from Grand Circle Foundation (connected to OAT). They welcomed us with a musical play about "old people." Some had on their parents' jackets and wore masks of old faces.
We thought it was an appropriate play for our group. Then each one picked one of us (I was chosen by a precious little girl named Dayana)
and led to their classroom where we sat next to them on little chairs. Pepe facilitated the interaction. First the children introduced themselves and said where they are from. Then we introduced ourselves, our origin and occupations. Then we worked on a simple project together to share our languages.
Many of these children speak Quechua in the home and learn Spanish when they come to school. They also learn cursive writing. We discovered many of these 7-year-olds walk at least 30 minutes one way to get to school.
Our second stop was to the home of a mestizo medicine man, who performed a "curandero" ceremony, a healing ritual with Inka roots. Also known as "Pago a la Tierra" or "payment to the earth," it is a ritual offering to Pacha Mama (Mother Earth). Ingredients such as herbs, dried beans, spices, sugar, candy, part of an animal fetus, and a number of other items, each ore measured in tiny packets, were laid out in sequence on a large paper wrapper.  Then each of us stood and made a wish on 3 cocoa leaves and placed them in the packet.
At the end, the shaman wrapped the package and took us outside. He set the package on a little pyre, and we watched it burn next to a burial hole he had prepared.
I felt the sacredness of the experience.
From here it was a short distance to a weaving coop. Weaving had been an important tradition to every Inkan family and some of the designs go back 2,000 years. There are thousands of techniques, layouts, styles and practices associated with Peruvian weaving, and we had a chance to experience just a touch. What beautiful work!
First we had lunch with many of the artisans. Our meal was potato and lamb soup with a dish of mashed potatoes and a corn and bean mixture. Corn and potatoes are staples of the Andean diet and they have more than 3,000 varieties of potatoes. The meal was served by our hosts and they ate with us. This woman participated in every way while her baby was on her back.
Then the weavers gave us demonstrations of their traditional clothing, drop spindle spinning, the preparation of the natural dyes, the dyeing process and, finally, the weaving.  
We all had to participate in one of these activities and I chose to wear the traditional clothing.
I am still fascinated by the backstrap weaving and would like to understand it more.
We had an hour bus ride back to our hotel with a brief respite for dinner. Tonight we had our farewell dinner at Casa Qoricancha. We all talked about what an amazing trip we had and what a great guide Pepe was. Tomorrow 8 go on to Lake Titicaca while the other 7 of us head back to the states- but not before a last minute shopping spree in the morning!

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