It’s been an amazing two weeks in the Sacred Valley. We’ve stayed in a community called Janac Chuquibamba with five wonderful families. My Dad’s parting advice to buy any clothes the community members were wearing on grounds of practicality proved useless: they gave us each a red poncho in a ceremony involving music, dancing, and food when we first arrived.
We were based in a restaurant called Achupalla. It’s a communal eating place that feeds all the tourists that pass through here on half-day tours through the valley. It was partially funded by grants from the EU and Japan. Suffice to say, by Peruvian standards, the food was very, very professional. The chef has a jacket and a hat and everything. We’ve been treated to an array of traditional Peruvian cuisine along with Western favorites like spaghetti bolognese. For us, the food (and our rooms) have been the best of all of the communities by some way. Still haven’t had one reliable warm shower though. Get it together Peru!
Whilst this community of Janac Chuquibamba is obviously very accustomed to tourists, it’s also in some ways the most insular. Children are taught Quechuan as their primary language and begin Spanish at five. Many of the young ones (and even my ‘Dad’,) have even less Spanish than we do. That said, they’ve let us into their world with willingness and flair. My video which I’ll edit post-trip will, I hope, communicate some of this. They really, really liked being photographed and were desperate to teach us about their food, farming methods, and way of life.
Our work has focused primarily around helping our families in their fields. We’ve picked several varieties of potato, weeded oregano beds, hoed fields for planting, and watched a few cows do the latter task far, far better than us. The work is backbreaking, below a strong sun or afternoon rain. The community has set us to a different task in a different place each day, which has allowed us a real overview of their methods. We’ve even helped with other tasks, like mucking out a 250-strong guinea pig shed, and helping make ‘Adobes’: the bricks the community fabricates from scratch using mud, water, and straw. Oh, and yes. We’ve had guinea pig now. We also set up a ‘school’ in the afternoons for the kids in the community. Attendance is voluntary, and the language gap between our shoddy Spanish and their shoddy Spanish made going more difficult than in Karina, but we made a substantial impact. The older group can do animals, useful phrases, months, and numbers passably. The younger group can do greetings and say sorry. Mostly. We think.
In the weekends we’ve been taken up the surrounding mountains by the family heads: Florencio, Cellestino, Vicente, Juan-Baptiste, and Francisco. The community has ‘apus’ high on the hills. These are places with some importance or significance to the community, like the lake-come-reservoir that supplies their water needs. These have been my favorite points in the two weeks. It’s felt like a more honest tourist-community relationship than when we’re struggling to hoe their fields.
We’ve also taken advantage of the Sacred Valley’s other attractions. It has a huge variety of beautiful Incan ruins, from large scale terraces not worth visiting so much as gawping at from a bus, to full-on temples and forts that were the location of some genuine Incan victories over the Spanish military. My favorite by far was Moray. These concentric circular terraces are set into a shallow valley. It’s thought Incans used these as biolabs, using the varying altitudes and sun intensities to test different conditions a crop growing. The ancient structure is very well preserved and the simple terraces looked peaceful in the fading evening light.
As with the other two communities, us being here is immensely valuable in itself. It provides income to fledgling tourism efforts in a secluded area, it provides experience and feedback for the people who gave us bed and board, and it provides a unique and important opportunity for the community to learn English. As with Karina, I’m confident we left Janac Chuquibamba a better place than when we arrived.