Photos by Mylene D’Auriol
(LIP-jl) — Located in a valley that is as deep as it is beautiful, the city of Huancavelica is a destination often overlooked by tourists in Peru. Its traditional architecture, gorgeous landscapes, and the hospitality of the local residents make this corner of the Andes one of the most interesting spots for a weekend trip.
It is a while yet before the sun will emerge from behind the rugged mountain peaks but Faustino and his family have already been up for more than an hour. In the pre-dawn darkness and bitter cold, the sound of light footsteps on the hard ground heralds the arrival of another day in the village of Taraco.
Faustino is getting ready very early this morning in preparation for his customary trip to the nearest community further down the valley. The llamas can be heard bleating as they approach the house and, with pieces of ice clinging stubbornly to their thick wool coats, assemble outside the family’s simple mud and stone dwelling to be loaded up for the trip.
Although I am wearing just about every item of clothing I have with me, a blast of freezing mountain air still cuts right through me. Luzmila, Faustino’s wife, smiles and hands me a thick woollen poncho to provide added protection against the icy wind coming off Lake Choclococha, which looks even bluer than usual in the half light of the early morning.
Sunlight shafts into the patio and highlights sacks of dried llama meat or charqui, piles of leather strips, and the smoke coming from Luzmila’s kitchen fire. Around fourteen llamas patiently wait their turn to be packed with goods. With amazing patience, Faustino and his son, Julián, distribute the loads evenly into thick flannel sacks. “There must be nine kilos on either side or the animal refuses to walk,” Faustino says, as he tugs on the ropes around the belly of a large, midnight-black llama. One by one, the animals are readied for the trip. Little Julián ties some metal bells around the neck of the llama that will lead the pack. “That’s so the others don’t get lost or stop to graze on the way,” he says with a smile.
The large black llama with the metal bell in the lead, the long caravan starts down a narrow gorge on its three-day journey along the valley below.
Faustino says goodbye to Luzmila and little Julián. “Next time you can come with me,” he promises, giving his son a light pat on the head. With his knapsack filled with just-cooked potatoes, some corn and jerky, the llama herder sets off on yet another trip to trade with peasants in the lowlands. He plans to exchange jerky for corn, lima beans, some pasta, and maybe some sweets for Julián. Faustino takes the same route used by his father and grandfather before him, both of whom were llama herders.
The llamas he uses today are descendants of the pack built up by his grandfather.
It is as if time has passed by this face of ancient Peru in this little corner of the Huancavelica highlands. The story I have just described took place only metres from the road to Huancavelica, the city of the stone idol, in the upper reaches of the central Andes.