The last time I went through Pampa Galeras was two weeks ago. I was returning from a trip with my friend Alexander along the Nasca-Cusco tourist corridor, a round trip of four days. As we were heading to Cusco, the national reserve had the characteristic green color of ichu, under an intense blue sky, which was outlined by different types of cactus and hills of stones.
The streams and lakes glistened in the sun and the herds of vicuñas crossed, trapped between shyness and their conviction that the vast territory of 6,500 hectares was theirs.
When we returned from Cusco we passed through the reserve, right at the end of the day, when the sun begins to hide behind the mountains. We parked the van, convinced that we were in some outer space. The inchu grasses and the streams had turned golden with the last rays of the sun and everything else, hills and road, became giant black spots that ringed the reservation as if it was the crater of a huge volcano.
The Pampa Galeras National Reserve was created in 1967 with the aim of preserving the vicuña, and years later was given the name of Barbara d'Achille in tribute to the conservationist killed by Shining Path. Although the vicuña is the most abundant species in this part of Ayacucho, located 4,000 meters above sea level, it is possible to see small groups of guanacos grazing apart from the vicuñas and alpacas. In waterways, and in different seasons, there are pairs of Andean geese that keep stay together until death, as well as choccas, flamingos, birds of prey, foxes and viscachas.
Pampa Galeras has the largest number of vicuñas in the world, usually in groups of 12 led by a male. Every June 24, the local population celebrates a ritual, whose origins are lost in time: the Chaco. In it, the villagers and pastoralists from the communities of Lucanas Puquio create giant human fences, and with sounds, whistles, shouts and flapping colored cloth, they drive the animals intoto a pen.
Then they begin the task of shearing the vicuñas, yielding the finest wool to come from any of the world’s camelids, before releasing the animals to the wild once again. This year, they have scheduled two more shearings, in order to promote this activity, whose origin predates the Incas. One chaco was held on July 13 and another will be done on the 22nd. These rituals combine a party, the celebration of the tradition and the economic activity resulting from this valuable resource.