Today’s itinerary takes us back into the mountains surrounding Qosqo, but this time by a road paralleling the railroad line that runs to Machu Picchu heading westward up through a new town topped by a forest of cell towers.
Once over the pass and heading north toward Urumbamba we’re back in the countryside, on a high plateau covered with larger fields of potatoes and corn also tended with hand tools.
Breaks in the cloud cover reveal the summits of Cordillera Blanca towering above the pastoral landscape.
We stop for a photo-op at a turnout and a woman in traditional garb arrives and opens her blanket full of textiles and gourds to offer for quick sale.
Our destination is the village where OAT, our tour company, has established another relationship with a local community, here in support of a one-room elementary school. The children are on winter vacation but have assembled from distant villages to greet us. They surround the bus and lead us by the hand into the classroom, where we’re welcomed by their teacher, a beautiful and dignified resident of Qosqo who comes with her young daughter three days a week.
The homemade posters on the wall exhibit a curriculum emphasizing the modern as well as the traditional. Nutrition, reproduction, and environmental health
Math and self respect
Reading and writing Spanish and the indigenous language of Quechua that Spanish conquerors and missionaries tried unsuccessfully for centuries to eradicate.
The children show us their notebooks, as impressive in the work produced and the care with which they’ve been graded as my grandsons’ in their California Catholic schools.
Alvaro translates as the children come to the front of the class and tell us about themselves. Their their career aspirations include doctor, lawyer, tourguide, pilot, nurse. None of them mentions farmer.
Then we hear their recitations of poems in Quechua celebrating Peru’s traditions, people and natural environment
[Click photo for movie]
Finally a chorus of farewell for sixth graders who will be graduating this year and moving on to middle school.
[Click photo for movie]
After presenting our gifts of school supplies and toys we reluctantly say goodbye.
Just behind our bus a villager parades down the street with his charges.
On the way further into the hinterland, there’s more to see than can possibly be absorbed through the moving bus windows.
We arrive at Moray, an Inca site of landscape sculpture, ritual worship, astronomical observation, and agronomic experimentation. The concentric terraces that suddenly yawn below us like a negative impression of Ollantaytambo create a wide range of micro-climates, growing warmer as one descends. Although the absence of decipherable Inca records leaves uncertainty, it is likely that it was designed for testing and breeding some of the thousands of varieties of potatoes and corn and other crops precisely suited for diverse Andean environments.
Toward the north, the Cordillera’s glaciers loom, though shrinking and collapsing due to global warming.
Toward the east, following the course of the Urumbamba river down toward the Amazon, one can see the tall peaks surrounding Machu Picchu.
Alvaro approaches a huge aloe, puts his mouth around the devilishly sharp point of one of its leaves, bites, chews and pulls with an intensity that makes his whole body shake.
Finally he pulls back, leaving a bundle of fibers protruding from the stalk and removes the point which is attached to more of them. “Inca needle and thread,” he says, “These are fibres they used to lash timbers and build suspension bridges. They’re stronger than steel.”
Next we head to the town of Chinchero, home of numerous Andean weaving cooperatives catering to tourists and dedicated to preserving traditional materials and methods and to providing a source of income to poor rural families.
We’re greeted by Julio, an intense but reserved patriarch garbed in a gorgeous hat and poncho who speaks excellent English. He is the owner of Wina Away.
He invites us to share a lunch of potato fritters, quinoa soup, rice and a mash of beans from Peruvian lupine prepared by his wife and served and shared by the resident weavers, women of several ages.
They come to his center from distant villages and stay with their children for weeks at a time, perfecting their skills and laboriously producing the gorgeous fabrics they wear and offer for sale here and in certified outlets in Qosqo. The meticulous production goes slowly but they receive a large enough percentage of the retail price to make it worthwhile.
Once lunch is cleared with the assistance of our group, we move chairs and tables for a demonstration of the craft techniques. A beguiling little boy watches.
His young mother suddenly picks him up and wraps him in a blanket she ties on her back.
Within a few minutes he falls asleep and she puts him down in a bedroom and returns to work.
First stage of the process is to wash the raw alpaca wool with a lather made from the grated root of a plant they spend hours foraging for in remote mountain locations.
The cleaned wool is spun on a drop spindle like those we have seen women using alongside the road and in the market.
They die the wool using various natural materials that produce vibrant and durable colors.
Colchinea squooshed out of the prickly pear beetle is mixed with lemon juice to produce a bright crimson.
We get our own chance to dip and color the wool.
The warp is strung by two weavers rolling balls of died yarn back and forth between wooden poles.
One end of the completed warp is strapped to the weaver who moves the shuttle with a bewildering flurry of gestures out which the intricate pattern slowly emerges.
[Click photo for movie]
The final products are marketed by their creators. Jan and I admire a table runner that takes a person several weeks to produce. It’s design includes the Inca princess’ eyes around the edge, a figure-eight shaped symbol of the seasons, and a line of snow covered mountains.
We buy it for eighty dollars. There is no bargaining.
Slideshow of these and more full-size photos
Link to Day 9