Hop onboard the Macho Train and discover the forgotten, the culturally enriching and absolutely breath-taking→
|The author at a camelids investigations center in the heart of the Peruvian highlands. (Photos by Nathan Paluck)|
By Yadira Salazar
I always wanted to study abroad and June I finally got the chance, taking off for Australia in late June. But before leaving Peru I wanted to discover more, and I chose Huancavelica, a lovely town in the Andean highlands.
Located 3,600 meters up in Peru’s poorest departamento, people do not think of Huancavelica as a travel destination. In colonial times it was the site of Latin America’s most important mercury mine. A few decades back it was wracked with violence from the radical Shining Path group. But for me, in 2010, it was the perfect place to charge my Peruvian batteries before my year abroad.→
Photos by Mylene D’Auriol
|Huancavelica’s 16th century Cathedral is one of the most important examples of colonial architecture in the city.|
(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.
|A peasant couple proudly showing off their wares: corn from the Huancavelica valley.|
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.
In the Heart of the Andes
(LIP-wb) — This story takes us along the backbone of Peru, from the bucolic to the commercial, through the Mantaro Valley, then on the Macho Train to forgotten Huancavelica and its sacred mountains, old colonial mines and scissor dancers.
Our adventure ended, via the Liberator highway, with the blessing of the Beatita de Humay, close to the ocean at Pisco.
You could say that history literally crossed our path, because the Mantaro Valley is essentially a cattle area and we had just left the Santa Ana hacienda, which survived the rigors of the years of agricultural reform and terrorist incursions, and is now a peaceful guesthouse.
And history crossed our path because a crowd of people and bulls appeared suddenly on the road, causing our driver, Valois Llanos, to brake sharply. This was the Chupaca fair, an old cattle ranching tradition.
We took the opportunity to check out prices: bulls for 2000 soles, horses 500, donkeys 200, pigs 100, and sheep for as little as 20 soles.