Friday, May 28, 2010

Good Morning Chaparri: Steve

Up at 6:15 with the screech of a White-winged Guan, and I wonder about its critically endangered status. Around here you would have never known it, with the number of small families moving ground to tree, tree to roof, tree to tree. They do have a slow reproductive cycle, having only one to two chicks (on rare occasion three) a year. They suffer from the usual habitat loss and because of their tasty meat---so say the local guides who had indulged in it years before. At Chaparri, the Guan is one of the re-introduction programs that has been going on for years. They are quite content and visible around the lodge and the Oso (bear) trail heading up the hill. They remind me of wild turkeys in the States and are a bit smaller, around two to three pounds.

It´s light out so I don´t need the flashlight to illuminate my way to the bathroom to avoid tarantulas, toads, or other nocturnal creatures. (By the end of our 18 day stay, we encountered 24 tarantulas, not counting the scorpion spider that lived in the bathroom). Morning was dominated by the sounds of birds, from the Guans to the Croaking Ground Dove, which sounds like a toad, or a deep-throated tree frog. Some Pacific Hornero was usually strutting about on the terrace or the table, and one of a score of the Long-Tailed Mockingbirds perched on a branch, or the edge of the roof, head-cocked, just waiting for an interesting song to mimic.

Down by the fish ponds a rock-lip allows water to slip over from the upper to the lower pond. Hummingbirds would swing in to inspect the area before dipping themselves into the flow. They had good reason, as we later observed, a Peruvian Boa snuggled its body between rocks with its head at the ready, just inches from the rock-lip.

I spent most of my days recording activity data on the newest addition to the Spectacled Bear population at Chaparri. Pier (pronounced Pierre) is an eight-month-old cub who is learning the ropes---but more like the tree limbs, rock cliffs, cacti, boxing and wrestling techniques with Collique, his Mom. To be precise, he is quite cute and the main attraction for the Peruvian tourists who come from Chiclayo or Lima mostly.

Another part of my job was to find Pier and keep him in view through the telescope, which was at times a challenge, so that the visitors could ooh, aah, and coo ¨que preciosa . . . ¨ I was positioned on a small adjacent hill to the area where they were located. Pier and Collique were in a large (approximately four hectares) enclosure of bush, tree, cacti, and hillside with cliffs and caves. On occasion, they were difficult, if not impossible, to locate. Over time, of course, I discovered the preferred hangouts and would always start my morning search in those locations. But, Pier is in the "age of discovery" so he is not as set on routines as elders tend to be. Usually, they would become visible within a half hour, but they would sometimes lounge and play in a somewhat ¨grassy¨ area that was out of view from the telescope position. Yet most tourists were able to get a view, even if it was only black fur draped across the limb of an algarrobo tree with one or two legs dangling down.

My days of observation showed me how a bear cub experiments with its ability and experience to test out the strength of limbs, branches, or a cactus. One day, when I was looking for him he appeared in his favorite algarrobo tree, where he had fashioned four different bedding areas from vines and branches. He saw me and came out on the nearest branch to get a better look---this is when I got my best photos of him. Curiosity, experimentation, and growing experience, I think Pier will do well with his liberty once it comes.

Chaparri is a rescue center for wild animals found in domestic settings, abused, or injured with a good chance of recovery. Once they are strong and demonstrate their ability to survive on wild sources of food they are radio-collared and released. A number of Spectacled Bears have been released since Chaparri´s inception eleven years ago. In fact, one female bear released from the reserve, brought back her partner a couple of years later. Apparently, they wanted una fiesta on their behalf. Currently there are seven bears at Chaparri, and all but two are set to be released at some point, including Pier and his mother. The two bears that will remain are special cases. Cuto was rescued from a circus, where his teeth were filed down and his claws cut. He will never be able to survive in the wild. But he now lives in a one hector enclosure and seems to be content with his life. In fact, I would say ¨Hola Cuto, como estas,¨ every morning on my way up the hill. He almost always responded and seemed to enjoy people talking to him. The other bear, a female, is too old to learn survival skills and she will spend her remaining years at Chaparri in a large enclosure.

When I was on the hill watching the bears I was was usually accompanied by lizards. Small sized guys, like Koepcke´s Curly-tailed, Western Curly-tailed, or the Lined Ameiva. On one occasion a Tumbesian Tegu appeared after making sufficient russling noise in the underbrush to get my attention. Before I saw what it was, I assumed it would be a snake, but no--it was a whitish-silver lizard about three feet long. It was rooting its nose into holes and crevices between rocks looking for insects and small lizards. All my smaller friends had disappeared. She or he didn´t seem to care about my presence, with a bit of distance, as I was photographing its passing.

The "lodge," where we stayed, was a regular crossroads for Green Iguanas, which are green when they are young and grey when they are full grown adults, up to five feet long. Even when they are adults they climb trees for fruit and to sun themselves on unobstructed branches. On land they usually move casually, but if they feel threatened, as they apparently did when Kirsten and I saw them in a pit near the Condor Station, they will take off at a good clip, seeming to run on their toes. They are rather impressive guys.

I was a bit frustrated with my inability to photograph the Pacific Parrotlet that appears to travel in pairs and would light on a branch, then be off before I could get either one in focus. Groups of Red-Masked Parakeets would fly by daily, but rarely land, and many times I could hear them but not see them. Then, of course, the hummingbirds which are difficult even when you are ready---lot of blurry shots. So I continue to practice.

I could go on about the Sechuran Foxes who would trot about looking to see what sort of scraps were available. Or, the White-tailed jays, always eager . . . But you´ll just have to go check out Chaparri yourself. It´s well worth the effort.

Chaparrí: Kirsten

The legend of Chaparrí is one of two brothers, one good and the other evil. Chaparrí was a great lord with the powers to heal and divine, who led his people by example. Yanahuanca used the power of sorcery and potions to turn his people into "sons of the demon," and follow his every command.

One day Yanahuanca and his followers attached Chaparrí, kidnapping his wife Collique and killing her grief-stricken husband. Yanahuanca then continued forward to plague other communities in a greedy search for treasures.

Hearing the call of his people, the Sun God finally resurrected Chaparrí, who struck Yahuanca and his followers down, turning them to stone. However, tormented by having accomplished this deed, Chaparrí bid his people to cut out his heart and place it on his head. Then he, too, turned to stone.

It is said that on clear nights the two borthers talk to each other, Chaparrí trying to turn his brother away from evil. When this occurs, the two shall return together.

The town of Chongoyape ("Weeping Heart") was named after this legend and is watched over by Mount Chaparrí, a site of great spiritual importance to the Moche Culture of northern-coastal Peru. As of 1999 it is also the site of the first private conservation area in Peru, Chaparrí, initiated by a photographer named Heinz Plenge and owned and maintained for ecotourism revenue by the town of Chongoyape.

We volunteered our services at Chaparrí for 2.5 weeks this past April.

And what to say about our time at Chaparrí? Every day we hiked up and down trails, and I enjoyed the burn of my legs working, heart pumping. It felt GOOD. Everyday we got sweaty and gross and then refreshed after a shower. Every meal was cooked and eaten outdoors. Every other day we saw a couple of tarantulas, or a scorpion or scorpion-spider, or a boa constrictor in the wild, and it all felt normal. Every day we saw Sechuran Foxes, shared common spaces with several bird species, enjoyed visits from the tortoise who kept trying to bite us, watched Spectacled Bears up close or from a distance. And Panchita, the young peccary who stuck near the ranger station, was always ready for a scratch behind the ears or under the chin, under the belly. By the last day of our stay she had learned to use our legs as scratching posts: if you happened to be standing with legs apart, she would come put her head in between and rub it up and down against your legs. You were lucky if her nose wasn´t full of mud.

It was enchanting. And those were just the animals.

Valentin, Peruvian gaucho, who we watched effortlessly lasso the horse he wanted and pull it from a group of 8 or so. We joined him one day as he patrolled the border of the reserve on horseback. A sweet man, but we could understand perhaps 1/10th of what came out of his mouth.

Porfirio, animal, reptile and insect handler who seemed slightly off his rocker and perhaps a little too unconcious of his power play with animals in cages (and out). He liked to pick up scorpions and tarantulas and then demonstrate his prowess by putting them on the table. Made me a little uncomfortable. Scorpions or tarantulas in the wild are one thing. When you respect them with distance, they respect you with the same. However when they´ve been picked up and relocated under a spotlight to a table surrounded by people, you only know they want to get away as fast as they can. But which direction will they take?

Those that made us feel like Chaparrí was home were Joel, Ivan, their mother Marina and brother Abrahan, their friend Elisabeth. Ivan has been involved in the reserve since before it´s inception. He now manages the rangers and oversees most of what happens at the reserve: the day-to-day "jefe." Shy and mysterious but with a sly streak, it took a few days for us all to be comfortable with one another. Once he decided we were useful and trustworthy, his smile loosened and soon he was answering Steve´s chides with a smirk and a twinkle in his eye.

The next eldest brother, Joel, is the opposite. Totally outgoing, he is the one to greet the volunteers and give them the tour. He celebrates his 22nd birthday in July, and he´s already been working at Chaparrí for 6 years. Joel is sweet; he is a clown; he is serious about learning everything he can about the wildlife and the reserve. he is trying to learn English on his own (with the help of the occasional volunteer). he was curious to learn about us and to teach us what he knew. he is completely genuine. He connected.

Elisabeth is just my style. Another whose soul resides in the kitchen and with the land, she is both a guide at Chaparrí and a culinary student. Warm, outgoing, easy to laugh, she opened her arms wide for a hug when we left.

There are some folks in Peru who find Steve´s very presence (namely his stature and shiny head) hilarious. Sebastian, our landlord from chivay, was one (he would break out in guffaw just to see Steve and I standing next to each other). Marina was another. At the onset, Marina was immensely shy and reserved. But once Steve started bashing his head on the ceiling of their tiny kitchen, Marina was both concerned about his wounds and had a great laugh over his banishment from the room.

A week into our stay, after I managed to prepare a carrot cake from memory for Steve´s birthday, Marina quickly assimilated me into the kitchen. The next day she said to me, ¨We should have pancakes for breakfast tomorrow." "Sounds good." Then she asked, "Do you know how to make them?" Apparently she didn´t. So the following morning found me down at the ranger´s station at 6am, preparing American pancakes as close to my father´s recipe as I could remember. They went over well.

Very much like Joel, Abrahan is open, friendly, and very curious about foriegners. Though he´s still in high school, he would show up on weekends or weekday evenings and help with the cooking--or do it all with the help of his even younger brother Ishmael. When asked how close they live, he said not far at all--3 hours walking or 1 hour running would get them home. But then, it seems that Chaparrí is also very much "home" for the whole family.

We spent all meals and every evening with the rangers: Joel, Ivan, Porfirio. Evenings soon revealed Joel´s love for ranchero music. Some nights after dinner we would sit listening to Joel and Ivan strumming guitars, singing of lost loves and bad drunks. We joined in when we could (usually his limited us to the chorus). But with each lull--at least 4-5 per evening of song--Joel would start up with La Bamba, and we´d do our best. The combination of all 4 of us only got us through 1.5 stanzas and the chorus. Never improved much on this front. Most other evenings were spent talking, tutoring Joel in English, and going through his collection of ipod music. This meant more ranchero, until Joel downloaded the entire itunes library from somone else´s computer and discovered Johnny Cash. The subsequent English lesson was all about pronouncing the lyrics to "I Walk the Line."

Perhaps when I´m away from home it becomes that much easier and more natural (or more imperative?) to open myself up to accept new places as "home" and new people as family. Like the unusually strong connections strangers make when on a trip together, or kids at sleep-away camp, it combines the curiosity and excitement of new people and places with the human desire for community. Stronger perhaps in some of us than in others. What is surprising and wonderful and real about this incidence is that the connection appeared just as true from the other side. Chaparrí is home to Joel. He has established vamily and community there. The terrain is his home. But he also desires to travel, to adventure, to discover other people and places. So perhaps we were a taste of the adventure coming to him. Joel and I shared a mutual desire for foreign community. Our eyes were the ones that struggled to hold back tears before they spilled into clear signs on the face, as we said goodbye.

Now I imagine what it would be like to show them the places we love at home in the states. To walk in the Massachusetts woodlands in autumn. Listen to the snow fall. Visit the beach in East Hampton. Take them on a sailboat. Hoping they would love our world as well, or at least find it fascinating and beautiful.

Puya Raimondi: Steve

Puya Raimondi is one of the oldest plants in the world. It is the largest member of the bromelaid family and is found in only a few isolated areas of the Andes. We saw them outside of Huaraz in the Huascaran National Park along the route leading to the Pastoruri Glacier (5200 meters), in the Pachacoto Gorge.

At its base, the Puya forms a rosette of long, spiked, waxy leaves, two meters in diameter. The distinctive phallic spike of the plant can reach a height of 12 meters during the four month flowering process. This process ends its lifespan of 30 to 100 years (there seems to be a dispute as the lifespan).

When the flowering process is at its peak, as many as 20,000 blooms can decorate a single plant, and create up to six million seeds. Groups of Puya Raimondi bloom together to present a incredible landscape with the backdrop of the Cordillera Blanca.
1 April, 2010

All the Other Places: Kirsten

From March to mid-April we traveled from Chivay in the southern highlands, to the central highlands, to the northern coast, using Lima mostly as our transportation hub. Peru is a country with incredible biodiversity. It contains desert coast, climbs to some of the highest peaks in the world, and plunges into Amazonian rainforest, with everything else in between. So it´s no surprise that we discovered a different element of Peru in each new location. What I´ve found especially enriching has been the discovery of a different community as well. The following are some snippets of our experiences.

The Travelers
Arequipa, December-January, March 8-9

The month+ that we spent at the hostel in Arequipa served as an introduction to the world of South American travelers. Gringo gypsies, traveling in couples or small packs along a well-worn path known as "The Gringo Trail." It is here that you can engage in odd philosophical discussions and info-gathering sessions that generally start with "so where else have you traveled in Peru?" The vast majority are only spending a couple weeks or maybe a couple months in Peru, as a one-country trip or part of a larger jaunt around the continent (or around the world).

Cabbies and Colonial Relics
Lima, March 9-16, 27-29, May 11-13

The best discussions we´ve had in Lima are with cabbies. Steve has been keeping tabs on the general sentiment regarding President Garcia (generally bad, too much corruption) and the upcoming Presidential Election of 2011 (mixed, but leaning liberal). Other cabbies offer a minimal (and gratis) tourist service, pointing a building out here and there as we drive. Ironically, they all point out the Palace of Justice. One particularly fascinating and talkative guy told us about the travails of dealing with the medical establishment and his schyzophrenic daughter; about the architectural styles of Limeño buildings; about the ceviche restaurant that was excellent for locals but not for tourists. "I eat there, no problem. You eat there, 4 days on the toilet."

From a journal entry, March 10:
I had just read an article discussing San Francisco during the Gold Rush--it´s baudiness, it´s love of opera and opera houses--and then, after a 16-hour bus ride and major lack of sleep, we arrive here, at the Hotel España in Lima. A modern hostel of eclectic taste in an old building resplendent with colonial feel...high ceilings, semi-labrynthine, chock-full of European-inspired artwork, very tall double wooden doors with wooden windows you can open separatedly (no glass), chandeliers full of CFLs. Upstairs on the roof terrace, 4 tortoises, a parrot and a mackaw join the scenerey and the overall feeling of a little chaos.

Add to that the Argentinian Ballet and Dance Folklorica group that has taken up the majority of rooms on our floor, and you might understand how I feel somewhat like I´ve been sent back in time to gold rush San Fran. Now after an afternoon nap we wake to the lively voices and some music from the danza troupe, futbol on the radio.

From a journal entry, May 16:
I already wrote a bit about Hotel España, a place we´ve stayed 3 times. It´s comfortable now, our favored room in "the dungeon," near two bathrooms and internet, the sound of sewer running beneath the floor...The place where time of day is a mystery: as long as the light down our narrow hallway is off, it could be mid-day, bright and sunny but you´d never know it for how dark this room is. The area where sounds bounce off the high ceilings and you know everyone´s business (if you can understand their language). Ventilation is also up high, with glass-less windows above every door. Sounds easily rise, carry, float to other rooms. So it was that during our last visit we knew very well there was someone with intestinal problems from the explosions in the bathroom early in the morn.

The Crafts Community
Huancayo, March 16-27

Textiles, ceramics, carved gourds, metal work are important elements woven into the fabric of Peru´s complex history. They were part of everyday life but gained particular elegance, complexity and import for religious ceremonies. Some people still work in these trades, though now more for the tourism industry than anything else. In Huancayo we met Lucho, an adventurer and businessman with a passion for saving these traditional art forms through tourism (mentioned in previous post).

We also met Leoncio, in his home in a village called Cochas Chico. When you go to visit an artisan in the Mantaro Valley, more often than not you are being invited into their home. You pass through the dirt courtyard, dodging chickens and followed by the timid but curious gaze of youngsters, to the looms with bags of textiles, or shelves of gourds. Even store fronts are just that--a "front" for doing business, with the living quarters out back. But like many other gourd-carvers, Leoncio doesn´t have a store front. To truly see his wares, you follow the address on his business card to the threshold of his home.

It´s a family business, and we had met Leoncio´s somewhat awkward daughter at a craft fair in Huancayo. We were particularly interested in a gourd she had telling the story, frame-by-frame, of a marriage in Cochas. Most other gourds depict scenes from daily life, one melding into the next. This style of illustrating a series of events was something new.

We walked into a gem of an experience. I haven´t mentioned this yet, but since Arequipa I´ve noticed that Peruvian men giggle (generally younger men and teenagers). You might get this a little with boys and very young teenagers in the States, but it lasts a lot longer and seems more widespread here. Well, Leoncio never lost his giggle, and sense of humor is his way of life. All in all, we spent almost 2 hours with him, looking at various gourds with different stories, his elderly body barely able to handle his exuberance. He would crack himself up over the stories he created, lose his balance, lose his place in the sequence and start making stuff up. It was fabulous. And though we don´t have a child, he gifted us with a baby rattle on our way out, for when the time comes.

P.S. Just last night I was reading in A Traveler´s Guide to El Dorado and the Inca Empire (written in the 1970´s) about artesanía in Peru and under gourd-carving, our very Leoncio is the one artisan mentioned.

The Extranjeros
Huaraz, March 30 - April 6

We decided to go to Huaraz because it was supposed to have particularly "colorful" Semana Santa processions. They were fine, but not as interesting as we had hoped. What we did find interesting was the relatively large expat community that has developed here. They´re an interesting lot, with histories you´d love to dig into. Those we met were all men who had come to climb the imposing peaks of the Cordillera Blanca and found themselves hooked not only to the peaks but to Peru (or Peruvian women), and settled.

We spent a lot of time lost in conversation with Jim, an American from Illinois/Seattle, who runs an eclectic international film series in the lounge of a Dutch-run restaurant/bar. We (mostly he and Steve) brouched all manner of subjects starting with religion, and we celebrated the eve of Semana Santa with a viewing of Monty Python´s The Life of Brian. Jim is a genuinely curious and creative spirit, constantly exploring himself and his environs for new discoveries. I found myself envious of his energy and ability to take the gift of time to work through intellectual and creative endeavours.

Joe, one of the sweetest English-speaking eccentrics in Peru, owned the hostel where we stayed with his wife and 2 girls. He had a sense of humor so dry...well, I don´t know, but he was great fun to chat with. Always a smirk waiting in the wings. Needless to say, he and Steve got on swimmingly. And he seems to make a pasttime of betting on political elections.

We also spent a good deal of time at Café Andino, run by a Minnesotan and his wife. They serve excellent coffee in a cozy environment with a surprisingly high-quality library of books. Ironically (without knowing what currently lives in our garage), he told Steve that a perfect business opportunity would be to open a used book store in Huaraz. ;)


"An adventure is never an adventure when it´s happening. Challenging experiences need time to ferment, and an adventure is simply physical and emotional discomfort recollected in tranquillity." (from Hold the Enlightenment, by Tim Cahill)

Our bus ride to Casma would fall into this category. Not sure that I´m sufficiently tranquilized to recollect this one. I´ll just say that it has something to do with the lack of ability (or desire) of some Peruvian bus drivers to safely navigate a fully loaded bus over a half-constructed one-way road, with 2-way traffic, on the side of a mountain, with a drop who knows how far down, the dark. The only ride (dar I say "thus far"?) when I seriously began considering the odds.

The Stories That Make History
Casma, April 6-10

We pulled into Casma with all body parts intact (and me silently fuming about the driver), and crashed at a hostel with rooms that dropped to 89 degrees at night and power that occasionally went out for 30 minutes or so. We found 2 restaurants with decent, cheap food and a population that appeared less-than-excited to have foreigners walking around.

But the next day we met a fabulous guide who led us through wind-swept sands of pulverized granite, over shards of ancient ceramics (no joke) to the ruins of Chanquillo, a fortress and solar observatory occupied in the 4th century B.C. Over lunch, we asked how he came to be a guide:

Thirteen years earlier he had been a moto taxi driver when one day a woman from the states came by, asking all the cabbies questions they couldn´t answer. He approached and she showed him a photo of the fortress. A native of Casma, he knew where it was and accompanied her there. The next day, from another photo he guided her to other ruins. The photos drew her a map, composing a story as she progressed. She was retracing the steps her son had travelled through Peru before he died mysteriously in Quito, Ecuador. This box of his photos was all she had.

A Blister in the Sun
Huanchaco, April 10-19

Huanchaco, ancient port of the city of Trujillo and current mellow beach town, was our place to "chill." To sit on the beach staring at the ocean, finding my equilibrium, watching surfers and fishermen on totora reed boats, enjoying the company of two zany New Zealanders we originally met in Arequipa. And, as a side-effect, getting fried. Steve too. It´s something we silly gringos tend to do when we meet the beach near the equator. Especially when fooled by the cool breezes of the Humbolt current. That distinctive magenta hue is what separates the extranjeros from the locals.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Putting Your Life in Your Work

This evening we had the honor of being invited to Lucho´s house to see his collection of mate burilado (carved gourds). In the morning over toast and coffee he had joined us, and spoke with knowledge and passion about the crafts of the Mantaro Valley and the history of Sendero Luminoso (¨The Shining Path¨) and Tupac Amaru. (Sendero Luminoso and Tupac Amaru were/are two revolutionary groups labeled by the government as terrorist groups. Sendero Luminoso could reasonably labeled as such, as they resorted to violence and, from what we have read, systematic assasination of community leaders. Tupac Amaru, though it started as a group focused on change through peaceful means, also resorted to kidnapping.) Sendero Luminoso in particular, combined with the government´s response to the group, hurled Peru into a dark era, culminating in the early 1990´s.

Lucho spoke about the history and culture of his country in a way that had us all entranced. Then he offered to show us his collection in the evening, if we wished. Steve and I made sure to take him up on the offer, and others followed.

We climbed the steps to the floor above his restaurant to rooms where tourists learn Spanish, his bedroom off to the side. And he started pulling down gourds. One fell, we gasped. ¨Oh, don´t worry. The good thing about the gourds--they don´t break.¨ And he dropped another on the floor.

¨Now this one, this was a model done by two very talented gourd-carvers. Two brothers, good friends of mine. They made this gourd, and showed it to me and asked, ¨We are thinking of entering this into the national competition. We can reproduce it on a larger gourd. What do you think, do you think we should do it?¨

It was 1991 and the worst year of the violence and terror brought by Sendero Luminoso. The gourd showed the blowing up of electric towers, the Sendero Luminoso flag, Fujimori. It also showed the Gulf War with portraits of Bush and Saddam, tanks and oil fields. (¨You know, we´re not stupid here,¨ Lucho said, ¨We know it was all about oil.¨) It showed also the cultural traditions--festivals, etc. And a bit of Kama Sutra on the bottom. It showed the times, it showed the events of life of 1991.

Lucho said he told them they should enter the competition, that they should create a gourd that came from their hearts and it would be a piece of art.

So they did. And it won. And after it won, it was confiscated by the government as a piece of Sendero Luminoso propaganda. Both brothers went to jail.

Lucho´s friends said, ¨You know, you told them to do it.¨ So they worked to raise money, to get a lawyer, with the goal of getting their friends and the gourd back. While in jail, the artists were apparently forced to carve out an ¨x¨ over the Sendero flag.

After three years, the friends and the gourd were free. Lucho was offered the gourd.

So there it was, a gourd about 1-1/2 feet wide by 1 foot tall, every inch carved and some parts colored. The tanks from the Gulf War, the electric towers falling, the people dancing.

¨And there´s this one, a very special gourd created by a man who started carving at 80 years of age. He began carving because he was partly crippled. He had been a weaver. You can see that the work is not mature, it is like a child made it.¨

¨This one is a very small one that is used for limestone, ground lime, that people chew with coca leaves. The work is very small, very fine, and the dark lines are made by heating a small stick and using the end to burn in a design.¨

¨This one is very special because it shows what the gourds are all about. There is a man, his father was an excellent gourd-carver. And the son grew up by his side. He became really a fantastic gourd carver, very famous, and started exporting his work. He moved to Lima. And now he has a son. When the son was old enough to start, he gave him a gourd to carve. And what do you think he carved? Look. It´s the city, all rectangular buildings. Some day he will come to Cochas and learn to make finer work. But you see? He carved what he knew. That is what is important about the gourds. The people put their lives into them.¨

¨See this one. It is a beautiful piece of artwork. It shows the customs. You can see people carving gourds. Here, you can see them cooking meals. Having babies. Celebrating together. Some learn to carve and make beautiful little llamas. But their heart is not in it. Here, the heart is here, their life is here.¨

[I´m sorry to say we don´t have photos of his gourds, nor are we carrying our computer to post photos of those we´ve purchased. You´ll have to come by and see them when we get home...]

Friday, March 5, 2010

Fiestas, Large and Small

4 March, 2010: Kirsten

It has been a month of slow discoveries. Watching traditional festivities and dances, developing relationships and as a result understanding a bit more of the culture here and there, trying to adapt to a different sense of time. There have been moments of deeper awareness of the cultural differences and language barriers as well as moments of pure joy at the sense of new mutual friendships.

We still have not left Chivay. Actually, I should revamp that: we have left Chivay to visit a few other small towns in the area, but still have not made it to the tourist locales on the opposite end of the canyon. We finally, last weekend, made it to the hot springs in Chivay (the major tourist stop here), which was most definitely worth it. Of course we did do it "our" way—we walked there one Friday afternoon and found the place to be full of tourists, so we decided to go back by collectivo the next morning. We saw only two other tourist couples, but many more locals. And we had an entire pool to ourselves. Steve's conclusion: "I could do this again."

We have been spending many rainy afternoons over cafécita con leche and chocolate caliente at Carlito's Restaurant, designing a menu for the restaurant, taking photos of various prepared dishes, and getting to know Carlos, Ingrid, Carmen, Danny and Lusero (now talking in her own language and very interested in seeing the world around her). The times with Carlos and Ingrid have been the backbone of our month. Waiting for events they say will soon happen has taken a good part of those times.

We have come to understand that along with anything good in Peru comes the necessity for a bit of patience: the dancing, the fiestas, plans, and everyday life. We were invited by Carmen the first week in February to go with her to Uscallakta, an ancient Incan pueblo now in ruins. We got there three weeks later. Mid-month when the festival of Solteros and Solteras began and folks started striking blows at the first tree, we stood there for two hours (starting two hours after they began) before the tree finally fell. Many an invitation from Carlos and Ingrid has been delayed by two hours to two weeks. And so we have spent the interim reading, watching, drinking cafécita and chocolate, and waiting. The people here are imbued with an incredible amount of patience. Dance steps are simple and go for hours. Plans happen when they happen. If they don't happen when you think they will, too bad. Better have a back-up plan. Or a warm place to stay and wait (preferably with said beverages).

Steve is talking about the larger festivals in the area: let me talk a bit about our own, smaller fiestas.

On February 12th we celebrated our 3rd wedding anniversary (the date we actually got married and then took our cat's pee to the vet, not the date we had a party). We thought it would be a quiet day, celebrated by baking macaroons with Ingrid. But two of Carlos' friends from Cuzco were in town; folks who bring the party with them wherever they go. Mateo, from England, who opens his mouth and fills the room with sound—usually boisterous laughter, along with whatever he might be saying. And Laura, of Peru, who turns out to be a tour guide who worked in the main Archeological Museum in Lima.

By 5:30 Ingrid and I were finally in the kitchen, with Laura, concocting macaroons. Only there isn't an oven in the kitchen of the restaurant. Instead, most of the folks in Chivay go to one of the handful of ovens that bake loads of bread everyday. The ovens are fueled by a peat-like material from the hills, and are working I don't know how many hours per day…possibly 24. So in the pouring rain, the two of us headed out in a moto-taxi (a small motorcycle with built-in cart in back to hold people, all covered with a plastic roof). These things have no windshield wipers, so I have no idea how the driver could tell where we were going, but we got there. And, 15 or so minutes later, we left, with perfect, lightly-browned coconut delights.

The night continued with dipping the buggers in chocolate, then dancing lessons from Laura and Mateo, some dinner, and all 7 of us gobbling up the entire batch of macaroons.

We had been invited, in a round-about sort of way, to join Danny in traveling to his home-town of Ichumpampa for another festival of the harvest two days later. At 7:30 am sharp, Danny was outside our Hostel waiting. We all jumped into a collective for Yanque, as there were no collectivos running to Ichumpampa that day. Once in Yanque, it was another hour on foot to Ichupampa. Another thing to mention about the folks here: hardly anyone has a car, taxis are too expensive for longer trips, and collectivos only run to certain places and not everyday. So most folks are used to walking, often up and down mountainsides, often with heavy bundles on their backs, and often for miles. It's just the way life is here, in particular involving the numerous terraced charkas, or small individual farm plots. The only way to get there is to walk.

By the time we've arrived in Ichupampa, we have realized that the festival we're about to take part in is not a public one. We're invited into Danny's home, we're given two chairs of honor to sit in, and chicha (a corn drink that is also fermented into a beer) to try. We meet his father, mother, sisters, a brother-in-law, and nephews and nieces as we wait for folks to get ready to go to the chakra. The festival this day is about celebrating the harvest to come. It's a day to go to the chakra, harvest a few potatoes and ears of corn, and cook them at the chakra—a kind of picnic.

When the time comes, we head out with a pack of 3 adults, two children and 3 donkeys. Danny's parents have remained at the house to prep food and drink chichi. It's another 30-40 minutes' walk to the farm, slow-going with the donkeys. Once there it's a lovely day for a picnic. We help harvest a few potato plants and some choclo, or corn. Kindling is gathered from the dead stalks of wildflowers. While the food cooks, we all take part in gathering cherries from a tree nearby. Steve is particularly helpful given his reach! It's a lazy afternoon, and by the time the food is ready we're quite ready to eat it…simply boiled potatoes and corn with cheese. But delicious! As the thunder clouds start rolling in, we head back to the house just in time.

…And at the house another feast awaits. We are this time ushered into a room with two chairs and a table, and wait to see what happens. Two plates of food arrive: a very stew of potatoes, carrots, and other veggies with rice. A beautiful meal. Only we're the only ones in the room. Do we start? Is anyone going to join us? Not sure, after several minutes we figure we're just supposed to eat, so we do. Then Danny's father comes to join us, without food, and we proceed to have a great conversation (of broken-Spanish and slightly compromised understanding) about farming in the area. I'm completely absorbed. Chicha (beer this time) arrives and the conversation continues. And before we're finished, Danny comes in to say there's a collective waiting outside for us. With hurried but overwhelming thanks, we rush out…only to have the collective break down just down the road. Still, we don't return to the house, just wait for another collective to come by. It has been an exhausting and surprisingly beautiful day. Not at all what we thought we were getting into, we left feeling so honored to have been welcomed into it.


1. La Danza Wititi

2. Roasting coffee beans with Carlos

3. More coffee beans, well-roasted

4. On the way to Ichupampa

Candelaria, Yunsa y Wititi

22 febrero: Steve

February is a month of fiestas in Chivay. It begins with the celebrations of the Virgin de la Candelaria, with her image and pedestal carried about town and poles of fruits and vegetables on the flanks hoisted by some brave men. The poles are 15 to 20 feet long and well decorated with the wealth of pacha mama---clearly heavy! It seemed to be a Catholic holiday mostly, but with clear indigenous overtones. That night there was the processions of the pacha mama poles with band and dancing. The virgin was nowhere in sight.

As the month progressed the energy of "tiempo de fiesta" increased little by little with globos (water balloons), white spray, and colorful powder. A couple of weeks ago girls were targeted by boys and then the girls organized to retaliate. These were the opening salvos of "carnival" that culminated this past weekend with the Festival of Yunsa and the nights of dancing the Wititi and a neighborhood competition that is sponsored by the town with cash prizes.

Yunsa features dancing, music and the cutting down of a eucalyptus trees that are festooned with prizes. These celebrations took place three different nights, Saturday, 13th of February, this past Thursday the 18th and Friday the 19th.

The Yunsa celebration has various parts:1) men go out and cut down the eucalyptus and bring it into town. Folks, mostly men, "plant" the tree in the holes in the cement. But, before placing it in the hole place offering of coca, potato, herbs, alcohol, etc., in the bottom of the hole. Some groups decorate the tree with balloons and prizes before it goes up, while others put the prizes on after the tree is raised. 3) The tree is again cut down but in a much more festive manner. Shots of liquor, mostly cerveza, are handed around while people, mostly women, hold hands or a garland while dancing around the tree. Meanwhile, a group of musicians, drummers and quena (recorder-type flute) players, play and drink to the side of the festivities. Next to the tree were five or six cases of beer, large bottles that is, and two "facilitators" who handed out the shot glass—perhaps a two ounce glass—and the axe to each person taking their turn. They would take three swings usually, then another shot and pass the axe on. The tree had a six to eight inch diameter and it took two to four hours for it to be chopped down. The eucalyptus tree with its goods is a variation on a piñata, although there is no candy. It had blankets, plastic basins, kitchen supplies, clothing, table cloths, jackets, scarves, indigenous cloth, etc.

The different nights of this festival have variations; the first night seemed to be the total community, with a band on a stage, which played rock music after the tree was cut down. The other two nights were organized by neighborhood, where each neighborhood would take a corner of the plaza principal. One corner had one tree, another two or three. A bit of friendly competition. In fact, at least on one occasion, when one neighborhood finished cutting down their tree they paraded it around the plaza, crimping the ongoing party of another group—at least, when they were passing through.

The first of the two night cycle seemed to be the night dedicated to the solteras (single women) who would sing:

Pichutanca malguero porque cantas tan temprano,

Si yo quiero ver a mi amado.

¡Pucllay! (juga Quechua)
Espejo necesito yo, para ver mi linda cara,

Machete necesito yo, para romper mi arbol.

Yo soy soltera, como una manzana madura

Rough translation:

Pichutanca malguero (a bird) sings very early in the morning

If I want to see my love.

Pucllay! (a Quechua cheer--- is yelled out)

I need a mirror to see my pretty face

I need a machete to cut down my tree

Pucllay! (is yelled out)

I am single, like a ripe apple

There is more to the song, but this is all we got.

They sang this while holding hands and circling the tree. The solteros appeared to be the musicians or other male merrymakers. I don't know if they hand a song.

Anyway, when the eucalyptus was close to coming down the crowd came closer in order to position themselves for their desired prize. Once it fell there was the expected mayhem for a minute, then the glorious smiles of those with their gifts in hand.

So on Thursday I helped with putting up two of the trees for "our" neighborhood. In brief, it was not well organized. And the two or three drunks and the general drinking were not much help. But there was a great deal of cheer and patience.

The first tree was smaller and it wasn't raining yet. Yes it is the rainy season, so most of this merrymaking is accompanied by a good deal of rainfall—at times downpours—but the fiesta continua! What I found odd, besides the general disorganization after years of doing this, was that most of the gifts that would be attached to the tree were not by my group, when the tree was on the ground, whereas another neighborhood did this, saving the effort of one brave soul who climbed the tree to attach things after the "planting."

The second larger tree was more frustrating in the rain, and it embraced gravity quite well, coming down twice off the supports we put under it. Meanwhile, we were getting soaked. Ultimately, a truck was called into action to first attempt pulling it up, which failed when ropes broke, but succeeded in pushing it up and into the hole while breaking a couple of branches in the process.

Danza Wititi festival began Saturday, February 20 with the three barrios parading around the plaza, then dancing on their respective corners till midnight. Young single men dress in the local indigenous ankle-length embroidered skirts, usually worn by women. Their white shirts are overplayed with locally woven textiles rolled and tied diagonally from their shoulders to their waists. Their hats are roundish with three levels, the last with tassels to hide their faces. The origin of this was to disguise themselves from protective fathers who may disapprove of their daughters dancing with young men.

The music is different from Yunsa with a brass section, trumpets and small tubas, taking the place of the quenas. The dancers, mostly women, dance either alone, as couples, or, at times, as triplets. They take several steps then swing around twice to the left, then a couple of more steps before swinging once to the right, then repeat the cycle. They do this either in a small circle of less than ten people or large group of hundreds.

The following day, Sunday, the barrio competition was conducted in front of the town hall, where judges determined who had the best presentation and awarded money to the neighborhoods. It appeared that every neighborhood received some money.

We were invited to march in one of the processions but declined. In doing so, we were able to watch all the presentations, which was much better. After the official processions, the town party ensued and merriment embraced cerveza till ten or eleven at night.

Our hotel owner, Sebastian, says that everyone loves a party but then everyone is broke: "no hay plata."

Apparently, we have been told, the fiestas in December are even bigger.


  1. Pacha Mama poles for Virgen de la Candelaria
  2. Pulling on the damn tree (note Steve in green)
  3. Yunsa festival
  4. Mujeres y hombres dancing Wititi