Peru, part 9
We have a rude awakening early this morning, 3:30 to be precise, by some young men talking loudly as they return to their rooms. After fuming at the complete lack of respect for the other guests in the hotel, I finally drift off to sleep. An hour later, another inebriated person stumbles down our hallway, talking incoherently and bumping into the walls. This time I am unable to go back to sleep so fantasize for the next hour and a half about pounding on their doors at six a.m. and wishing them a good morning. I don’t do this of course, only because I have no idea which rooms they occupy. Grrrr. Knuckleheads.
We are up by six to finish packing our luggage since we return to the Maytaq hotel tonight. Norma and Marcos arrive at 8 a.m. and we drop our luggage off at the hotel on our way out of Cusco. I’m feeling sluggish this morning due to the short nights sleep but hopefully our walk in the fresh mountain air will revive me.
We are driving north of the city on the same road that we traveled with Lalo. Passing through the dismal shantytowns do nothing to improve my mood. I see a young man throwing bags of garbage out of a dumpster onto the ground. I don’t know if he is picking through it for himself or feeding the large pack of dogs that are ripping through the plastic bags in search of food. There are dogs running loose everywhere in Cusco, all over Peru as far as that goes. In Cusco, we become used to stepping around the canines as they sprawl out wherever they want. Of course, with free running dogs they also deposit their business wherever, usually on the sidewalks. In the main part of Cusco there are people cleaning the streets constantly so at least the poop doesn’t lay around for long. I will admit the dogs are very polite and never bother us with inquisitive sniffs.
We arrive in Chinchero where we begin our trek. Marcos waves so long to us as he drives off towards the village where we will end our hike. Norma does not need to inform me that we are just over 12,000 feet as my body lets me know. However, we are walking down the mountain so this is as high as we will be today. We only walk a short while when we come upon Incan terraces with the familiar aqueduct system we saw at Tipon. The ruins are off-limits as archeologists are in the process of restoring the site.
There is no way my words can describe this incredible walk. The majestic Andes pierce the impossibly blue sky. Streams gurgle near the trail as they make their way to the river, which flows far below us in the verdant valley. The water provides background music to our hike punctuating its soothing song with the occasional drama of a cascading waterfall. There are hummingbirds feeding at the wildflowers scattered about the mountainsides. It’s like fairy tale country! At one point in the trek, we halt to soak in the wild majesty surrounding us. Paul speaks up and says he believes this may be the most beautiful place we have ever seen in all our travels. The odd thing is at that moment I’m thinking the exact same thing. No photo we took begins to convey the splendor of this extraordinary place we have the good fortune of experiencing today.
As we approach the valley, a large flock of mitred parrots rises from a farmers maize field noisily protesting our intrusion. They alight in a tree and allow us to come close to them before they wing their way, squawking loudly, to the far side of the valley. We chuckle at one field of maize where two scarecrows stand guard, one wearing a hard hat no less. Feasting happily beneath one of the scarecrows is a group of blackbirds. Oh well, you win some and you lose some.
Norma decides to forego the trail and follow the cement channel that conveys water to the village. The valley opens up to reveal that it really is as productive as it appeared earlier from our lofty view. It is harvest time in Peru and there are people gathering everything from flowers to cilantro and maize. We visit with a woman stacking curly cabbage in an enclosed 3-wheeled motorcycle. The name curly cabbage comes from its crinkly leaves. It smells like regular cabbage but Norma claims it is more nutritious than the common variety. The thing that amazes us most is how the farmers have arranged their maize (corn) for drying. They have laid sheets of plastic on the ground placing corn around the edges of it for the boundary. Then workers have put the ears of corn on end within this area so the air can get to the kernels more evenly to dry them out. Wouldn’t you love to have that job? In spite of all the man-hours this would have taken, the spectacle of the hand placed corn stretching out over a field is awesome.
Arriving at the village, we begin walking down the village dirt road where the water channel runs along its edge. Norma shows us how people divert the water into their small fields. It is as simple as removing big rocks they use to block the water from running into the side ditches that connect their fields to the main channel. Norma is also giving us a taste tour as she often reaches up to pluck a fruit from the laden trees that grow within reach of the road. The residents keep livestock in pens next to their houses and the animals watch curiously, as we pass by them. The people here are so courteous that each one of us receives an individual greeting, not just one buenas tardes for the group. We become good at pronouncing buenas tardes before leaving the farming village! We walk across the bridge over the impressive Urubamba River where Marco is waiting for us.
After a late lunch, we begin the drive back to Cusco. We come to an area where natives are picking up potatoes out of the fields. It appears that someone has been here with a plow and plowed up every potato field in sight! We approach one group working next to the road and Norma suggests we stop. Paul and I reluctantly agree-ha, we are nearly out the doors before Marcos comes to a stop.
There are at least three generations maybe four working in the field. The three men are using big hoes to finish unearthing the spuds while the two oldest children follow behind picking up the potatoes and placing them on blankets. There is a chubby-cheeked toddler playing in the dirt. When reasonable amounts of potatoes are on the blankets, the kids gather up the corners and drape the potatoes sack over their shoulders. They carry the vegetables to the edge of the field; add the potatoes to the growing pile where the women sort the potatoes by size. They will sell the largest spuds in Cusco and the families will keep the smaller ones for their own use. Some trivia for you, potatoes originated in Peru not Ireland and Peru has over 3,000 varieties of potatoes. I think we sampled half a dozen varieties in our time here.
The youngest woman in this group has twins looking over each shoulder secured by a blanket in the typical Peruvian way. The cute babies have me so mesmerized that I forget to take a photo. Luckily, Paul took a great photo of the threesome. Paul and I put our cameras away and begin to help the kids throw potatoes on their blankets. The little girl is more than happy to let Paul carry her sack of spuds for her and rewards his gesture with a timid smile. The eldest man walks up to me and puts his arm around my shoulder while beckoning Paul over where he throws his other arm around Paul. He is talking with exuberance and though we have no idea what he is saying, his tone is full of warmth. Of course, the barrel of chicha by the potato pile may have something to do with his fondness for usJ.
We know what is coming and sure enough, they offer us chicha. I refuse by putting my hands to my stomach and try to put a look of pain on my face. I figure this deception isn’t as rude as a flat refusal of their hospitality. One of the older women comes up to me chattering but realizing I cannot comprehend her words, raises her hat off her head and lets loose a happy hurrah. The meaning is obvious, chicha will make you feel good even if it makes your stomach hurt. I don’t doubt this at all but she has made me laugh as heartily as a glass of chicha would. I’m not sure how Paul got out of drinking chicha but Norma complies, as does Marcos. I see Marcos take a sip of chicha and when he thinks no one is watching pours the rest on the ground.
Before leaving, I hand the two older children and the toddler a soles. The older children take the money and say gracias. Paul has already given the mother of twins one soles for each of the babies. The youngest boy, perhaps three years old, takes the coin and a grin splits his dirt-streaked face. Mom prompts the tyke, asking him “what do you say” and I swear I heard her ask the boy this in English. Hmm, maybe I just translated what I thought she was saying. The little guy says gracias I think and we wave goodbye to all of them. I turn for one last look at the farm family. The toddler must think he needs to earn his soles as he has put a few potatoes on his blanket. He puts the sack over his shoulder and as he makes his way to the mound of potatoes, his pants begin to fall down. The little boy reaches his destination before his drawers fall off his hips where mom corrects the problem. I am still laughing as I get into the car!
When we reach our hotel, we say goodbye to Marcos and Norma. We thank them both profusely and give them the tips they definitely deserve. The staff at Maytaq warmly greets us and they retrieve our luggage from the storage room. When we ask for the pouch containing the extra cash we left with them to store in their safe, they can’t locate the money! The young staffer that took the money this morning is not on duty tonight. I believe the staff is panicking as much as we are but they try not to show it. They assure us they will find the missing money so not to worry. Fat chance of that happening. It isn’t long before someone turns up at our door with the black pouch. Whew, talk about a feeling of relief. Paul and I conclude that either Maytaq doesn’t have a safe or the worker forgot to place the money into the safe. Whatever the reason for the misplaced money we will not leave our excess cash in their care again.
Tonight we meet Jose Luis who will be our guide in the Amazon rain forest. Jose Luis is very personable and we take an instant liking to the man. The journey to the river is a two-day drive and we are leaving at 6:00 in the morning. After these past mornings of eight a.m. pickups, the six o’clock departure sounds mighty early. I’m excited though as I am ready to do some serious birding and Jose Luis is an expert birder! Poor Paul.