One of the best ways to connect with people and communities above the Sacred Valley of Peru is to visit by foot, with curiosity, and with and openness to create new relationships with indigenous people along the way. Here is a story of one of my first experiences of traveling through the Andes and living with families along the way.
With Backpack to the Potato Park
I arrived by myself, with my backpack and my tent, hiking to the far side of a nearby lake, lake Pumacocha, where I would camp and connect with Pachamama, mother earth. I neglected to bring my quality backpacking tent from the States when I left last August, and instead bought the cheapest one I could find here in Peru for about 15 dollars. The tent has a rain fly but the rain fly is just for looks: when it rains torrents outside, it rains torrents inside of the tent. And this happened (yet again) while I was camping in the park.
I met this gentleman, Rudolph, in the early morning after my night of sleeping in the rain. He was surprised to see a gringo like me camping in such an isolated part of the park. And by myself? Why was I not staying under a roof with a family? What contacts did I have to justify my presence in the sacred indigenous land? He had come to check the health of his community´s (Paru Paru) source of potable water, the purest source you can find, arriving from a spring on the mountainside. Above our heads swirling clouds, streaming through the mountain peaks, appeared and then disappeared within the timespan of a breath.
A view of the Potato Park. The mountains are speckled with potato plots, about all that people eat around here. All of the potatoes that people farm, they eat, or trade with others in neighboring communities for other traditional crops like corn, quinoa, tarwi. They follow ancient customs to protect the landscape from overuse – for example, after potatoes are grown in a space, it must recuperate for seven years before being farmed again.
After speaking with Rudolpho, I realized the mistake I´d made by not asking for permission to venture into the park. So instead of staying another night in my rain-puddle tent, I did what I do best: I wandered around and talked to people. It was the first family I met who excitedly invited me to stay the night in their homes. Like most everybody in this area, they live off the land by herding sheep and llama, and growing potatoes. In this picture, we prepare to feast. We would eat a gigantic pot of moraya potatoes (special variety, revered. But this is a whole different story I will get into some other time).
Here is Angela the mother of the family, along with the charming daughter of one of her friends.
Juan, ten years old, who I spent an afternoon with, grazing the family´s sixty sheep and thrity llamas.
Sheep in their corral at sunrise before we took them out to graze.