Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Mountains and jungles and mudslides- oh my!

How can I describe the past five days? I can hardly put my experience in words, and photos only capture some of the adventure. I will remember the beauty and culture of the Andes Mountains and Amazon Rainforest for the rest of my life.

In Tarma we retraced part of the Incan trail, our footsteps impacting the same earth that the Incans did. We walked alongside medicinal herbs that were supposed to bring good luck or love, used in tequila, and said to cure cancer. Our guide, Jose Louis, was a curandero and Andean priest. He explained the significance of everything we passed, having an ancient connection to the place. I really admire his perspective on life.

Jose Louis was also the night guard for the Hacienda Santa Maria, the beautiful hotel where we stayed. Our room once housed a Peruvian general (and later president) who was on the run from Chilean invaders. The Hacienda had a gorgeous flower farm, adorable dogs, a cat, and a vicuna, and beautiful, colonial architecture.
The next day in Tarma, he and Silvestro led us on a 9 hour trek through the mountains. The deep, bright green of the valleys, dark black rock of the mountains, and glistening blue reflection of the sky in the arroyos will remain in my dreams forever. This part of the Andean mountains was practically untouched by modern civilization, aside from a recently installed electricity line. We occasionally saw the house of a shepard or a flock of sheep (or llamas), but mostly the landscape was empty and pure. It was a place to think and admire the mountains without distractions. As we walked, Jose Louis sprinkled sugar on the ground to bless the mountain and its spirits (duendes). At the top of the mountain, which was 14,000 feet, he stacked rocks together to thank the Panchamama (Mother Earth) for granting us a safe journey. He offered her herbs and sugar and said a prayer in Quechua. With the sun, high altitude, and accompanying burns and headaches, we were indeed thankful to make it to the top of the mountain.

On Sunday we visited a dairy cooperative that is said to make the best cheese and butter in the world. It takes a week to make a pound of butter, and only something like less than 10% of the milk is used. On the way back to Tarma, the Professor raised the question of culture vs. progress. For the 40 families that work for the cooperative, the butter is their pride. However, because it takes so long to make, the cooperative could substantially more economically successful if it decreased quality and increased quantity. Yet doing so would compromise their pride and culture. Development always has a cost, and its up to the locals to determine if its worth it.

Later we went to the Sunday market. Women sold fruits, vegetables, and potatoes of all varieties. Some vendors sold live chicks and others giant snails. The streets were inundated with people and goods. It was a colorful chaos. We spent the rest of the day driving to Pichanaki, a newly established town in the jungle (aka Amazon Rainforest). For the two nights we were there we ate pizza at a German restuarant... something I was not expecting.

The next day in Pichanaki, we visited a secondary school whose library was named after the Professor. There was a big reception for our group because of their respect for him and because he brought more books for the library. We were interviewed for a radio show and were said to be on the cover of the local newspaper the next day. Mira- gringas! We later talked to some of the 12th graders there, though most of them weren't interested. The younger kids were more fascinated by our visit and our American look. Indeed, everywhere we have gone we stand out like white polar bears in the jungle (Lost reference!). In fact, I'm actually tall here.

Next we took a mototaxi to Juan Carlos's farm. We had to cross a river in a ferry made of canoes nailed together with wood. When we arrived we were given cold coconuts to drink out of and later we were served a Quechuan feast that consisted of a tamal, yucca, chicken (that had been freshly "harvested"), three kinds of potatoes, and large beans. Juan Carlos then showed us his orange and banana farm. He recently started composting after hearing about it on a TV show about farming in Colombia. However, despite recent interest in organic farming, he assured us that it was a lie and impossible to make a profit off of in Peru. "Es una mentira como Coca Cola Lite." It is interesting how the developed world expects the developing world to have sustainable practices (which would be ideal by all means), but their process of development was not sustainable at all, and, in many cases, at the expense of the developing world.

On the way back to town, we saw two rainbows in the sky- perfectly fitting, as the rainbow was the symbol of the Incans.

We woke up at 4am the next day to leave for Lima. Even the trip back was an adventure. A mudslide in the road cost us 2 hours, though some were waiting for it to be cleared for 9 hours. We finally arrived back in Lima around 4pm yesterday. Now it's time to start a new day and a new adventure!

1 comment:

  1. so much awesomeness in this post I can't contain myself--- white LOST polar bears, curanderos, and these god-awful sunburns. I swear, I could probably form a small human from all this skin! (wow, in retrospect that sounds really gross...)