We drove out of Cusco in our minibus, through the city of about 500,000 and into the rural area. Up up into the mountains. 3,300+ meters to a “el ultimate pueblo” the last town before the mountains rise even more steeply. The tour operator contracts with the tiny village. About 24 women participate. We were met by a team of 8 women, an older man, and several children. Dressed in traditional garb, playing music, dancing with us, and giving us flower necklaces. We all greeted each other and introduced ourselves (our guide taught the basic Spanish phrases for “my name is…I am from… I am x year old….I have xx children” to those who didn’t know). Many of the folks there only speak Quechua, the native language. Only those who went to school have learned Spanish.
After introductions, we went to a field to dig small yams. Peru is known for having thousands (literally) of varieties of potatoes. Clearly some in our group had never dug potatoes before. Most of the crops grown by the village are up in the mountains where they walk hours each way to plant, tend and harvest. We saw from a distance people working up there, and fires where they cook potatoes for their lunch.
Speaking of lunch, I was extremely happy that everything they served us was vegetarian. We started with a fava bean salad with some cheese on it (we saw the favas growing). Followed by a variety of boiled potato. And then a quinoa soup with squash and potato. Then a buffet of a corn/chard bread, yam stew, mountain greens, quinoa, and potatoes. Potatoes are big. I don’t think everyone in our group was as happy with the food as I was…
After lunch, we saw a demonstration about how the ladies wash the sheep, llama and alpaca wool with a soapy mixture made from a root, and then the different compounds they use to dye the wool, and how it is spun and woven. Amazing amount of work that goes into everything that is made. Of course, we had to buy some scarves made from baby alpaca wool. So lovely — the people and their handiwork.
We then drove to a viewpoint where we looked down into the Incas’ Sacred Valley, and into the valley itself. We landed in the town of Ollantaytambo. Giant peaks surround. It happened that we arrived during the festival for the town’s saint. After checking into our hotel, my husband and I headed for the town square where we sat on the second floor of a bar, drinking a beer, and watched round after round of costumed dancers. We are thinking each group, with very unique costumes and dances, came from a different area. The most amusing was one where a dancer in a Western-style suit with a big-nosed mask, carrying a big black book, tried to dunk the other dancer’s heads into a tub of water. Hm, baptism? He was routed out, dunked into the water, to much laughter.
After dinner, we returned to the square where an older man and two women grabbed us to dance to the Peruvian heavy metal. They keeping speaking to us in Quechua, but of course we could not understand. We bought a big bottle of beer to share with them and had a fine time. My husband picked them up when they topped over, with much laughter. The man kept pointing to the sky and saying “Apu!” We responded, “luna?” Thinking he meant the moon. We found out today that Apu is a spirit mountain. So even though everyone was celebrating a saint’s day, it comes back to the land, the sacred valley, the spirit mountain.