Huancavelica’s name originated from the Quechua words “huanca” and “huillka,” which translates as “stone idol.” Huancavelica is located in the Central Region of Peru, in the Andean region, about 3,676 meters (12,060 ft.) above sea level. It is known for its big mountains, that can be seen along the landscape, and its majestic mines. The Cordilleras of Urpicota and Marcavalle cross the department of Huancavelica, making this a very mountainous department.
This summer, I had the pleasure of seeing this beautiful city firsthand. I visited its lovely cathedral and the Plaza de Armas, its local markets and common Sunday fares.
Besides being in the city of Huancavelica, I had the opportunity to visit the surrounding Huancavelica region. First in the province of Angaraes, in a district at 3,850 meters called Ccochaccasa, I found one of the warmest and most welcoming communities of alpaca weavers. Under the direction of their teacher, Doris, these very dedicated and hardworking women come together as a community to weave scarves, chullos (woolen caps), gloves and more.
In some instances, these garments are sold to buyers who export them, making this a way for the women to not only contribute to their family income, but also to the reputation of the community as a whole. These wonderful women have a store inside their workshop, and in the city of Huancavelica, called Makyss. If you are in the vicinity and check out the store, you won’t be disappointed with the quality you will find in these garments.
Not too far from the alpaca weavers, they were building two fitotoldos. If you have never heard of this word before, like me, they are greenhouses. These huge greenhouses were built so the community could develop polyculture crops of celery, tomato, coriander, lettuce, and onion. Naturally, these products don’t usually grow in the open terrain due to the high altitudes and poor soil quality of the ground.
Other communities I visited were located in the district of Huachocolpa, a province of Huancavelica, with altitudes ranging between 2,700 and 3,600 meters. The communities I visited are located in what are called the annexes of this district. I visited the annex of Totorapampa. Here, the community was in the process of discussing the farming of trout in Totorapampa. I arrived when the community was holding an assembly to discuss its future with this fantastic prospect. Far away, I could see the piscigranja (fish farm) they had built for this endeavor.
In Totorapampa I also encountered a community that grows maca. Peru is the only country in the world that produces it, and this community’s contribution to maca production is certainly significant. I was amazed when I saw the maca growing in the ground as I usually only saw it being sold in packages. The process maca goes through to get from the ground to our tables is also interesting. From planting, harvesting, cleaning, drying, and commercializing maca, there is so much this community does to help create such a fine product.
In the annex called Ccarhuapata, I visited a community that was discussing ways to improve its production of alpaca fiber. I had never seen so many alpacas at once! It was a wonderful experience, getting to be so close to these magnificent animals whose beautiful fiber is now recognized everywhere in the world.
Perhaps the community that impressed me the most was the community of women in the Mimosa annex of the district of Ccochaccasa. Here I found a straight stitch-sewing workshop composed of women following their male instructor’s teachings. They were learning how to sew different garments with the sewing machines they had all chipped in to buy. These women and mothers carrying their babies on their backs were so proud of their accomplishments. They were incredibly excited about the sewing machine, as it meant they could make even more garments at a faster pace. They asked for very little, but were determined to give it their all in order to improve their families’ and community’s lives.
Before leaving Huancavelica, I returned to the first community I had visited in Ccochaccasa. To my good fortune, I met Mama Vicenta, a woman I heard so much about who is the president of the associations of the village weavers in Ccochaccasa Makyss, and Huancavelica. We talked for a long time and I learned so much about her involvement with the community.
She is always educating herself in different themes of community and family and transmitting her knowledge to other women in the community. At this time she was closer to the dining rooms of the community, cooking pig and native potatoes (which, needless to say, were delicious!). The community really looks up to her as a savvy woman and teacher and it is so refreshing to see how respected she is by everyone. Luckily for me, I got to hug her and take some pictures with her that I will cherish always. In these pictures, Mama Vicenta always made sure to pose with her community in the background of each and every photograph.
I wrote this article with the intention of transmitting my love and thanks to the Huancavelican people. It is not easy out there for anyone, but they keep trying and persisting for a better tomorrow and a brighter future for their children and their community. There is so much we all can do to leave our own marks on the world. Go out there, get involved, show you care and leave everywhere you go a little bit better that how you found it when you arrived.
I would like to give a special thanks to one of the most special human beings I have ever had the pleasure to meet, Mrs. Ana Maria Andrade. She granted me with this opportunity by letting me shadow her on her journey to Huancavelica. I was fortunate enough to witness how she makes a difference in this corner of the world for each and every person she encounters. Our newest writer, Tania Lanao travels around Huancavelica in Central Peru and tells us about the communities she meets there.