Thursday, April 26, 2012

Exploring Peru, pt. 1

Traveling to Pisac

From my base of operations in Cuzco I traveled to Pisac for the day, with a small group of like minded tourists.  We had a mini-van, a guide and a day to travel through farms, terraced gardens and finally this little village.  Terraced gardens are all over Peru as the ancient civilizations took advantage of any space that could be used to plant crops.

The terraces would be rock walls or in some places timbered walls were soil was transported to the terraces, then planted.  To this day the farms don't use mechanical equipment to increase the capability of land that is marginal at best.

Peru grows over 3000 types of potatoes, as well as beans, corn, and wheat.  Rivers rushing down the mountain sides provide hydro-electric power.

The banner around my neck contains samples of the seeds planted and harvested.  Tractors, trailers, harvesters, 4-wheelers, etc. are no where to be seen.  Everything is done by hand, with oxen pulling the plows.  I asked a lot of questions about why, because the land is fertile and Peru could be exporting crops all over the world.  The answers I got were rather surprising, at least to me.  The unemployment rate in a lot of Peru is almost nil.  By not using equipment, everyone who wants to work, can work, from planting to harvesting.  The cost of food, milk, meat is all low because the farmers aren't paying for fuel, equipment, etc.  There is an active barter system between families and communities: labor for crops, vice versa.

The native people still follow many of the ancient traditions, from using alpacas for food and wool, and herding them from one field to another.  Again everything is done on foot, with dogs and children. Alpacas can't do things like plowing a field or even providing a ride for someone.  Some of them are trained to carry small packs.

The families always posed with their animals, expecting a small payment of course.  I didn't feel comfortable with this; I felt like I was exploiting not only the children but the traditions that the families follow.  The families would gather with their animals and traditional costumes whenever a tour bus would pull into an overlook or area containing native crafts.
I asked about the hats.  I noticed a large percentage of the older native women wore hats, some even looking like top hats.  Why?

Turns out it's a hold-over from 'colonial' times.  A native person, working in a household or descended from the Spanish conquerors would show their status by wearing the clothing of the conquerors.  The hat tradition still remains.  A native wearing a 'colonial' hat can trace their ancestry to the Spanish conquerors in some fashion.  The generation growing up now doesn't seem to be following that part of their traditions.

I asked my guide about their financial situations.  Were they as poverty stricken as some of the literature would lead you to believe?   I was really uncomfortable with having small children gather around me, hands out for coins and then smiling for the camera. 

 If so, was it by choice as they struggled to keep their cultures alive?  Was having tourists handing over small change for photos absolutely necessary for their livelihood?

The answer was 'not really'.  Turns out in this family's case they have a contract with North Korea (N. Korea?!) for clay!  The clay is harvested from a local stream/hillside and shipped to N. Korea where it is turned into roof shingles.  The terra cotta roof tiles seen around the area on homes is actually a sign of wealth.  Many native families not only 'harvest' clay for N. Korean contracts, they also ship wool around the world.

A local tradition for a new family starting out is for the family and friends to buy roofing tiles for the newlyweds. The more friends you have, the more tiles you get, maybe enough to cover an entire roof.  Some young men won't marry until they have bought or been promised enough tiles for a roof.  Think of it as a dowry.   Then the groom can go to the bride's family and show that he is a 'wealthy man' because he can tile his roof.

My guide chuckled with us and wanted to know if we could adopt him.  He was trying to get enough tiles to do his roof so his girlfriend would marry him!

The government of Peru is very pro-active in helping the native peoples in their efforts.   The invention of the Internet has really helped them to move into the 21st century at a level that works for the tribes.

The natives make beautiful wool tapestries. They are hand loomed, hand died and expensive!  I would have loved to bring home several of them but I didn't have room in luggage or my pocketbook.

Notice the thatch roof.  These merchant stalls are designed to be put up or taken down, depending on where the tourists are going to be.  While this one looked more permanent than some, it's still all held toward with twine and nails.  Nothing permanent.  You don't put expensive terra cotta tiles on a temporary roof.

One of the strangest things I saw, and at the same time it makes so much sense I had to stop and look at it.  You can actually buy them already modified.

Someone takes a old motorcycle (like WWII old), takes off the back-end and replaces it with 2 wheels, turning it into a trike.  Then a bench seat is added, or cargo and a smaller bench.  PVC piping is used to make a frame cover, then a cover is built over, complete with windows and doors.  The driver sits on the motorcycle seat, his passengers and/or cargo sits behind him and away they go.  No tags, no driver's license, nothing.  I saw a lot of these completely filled with family and dogs.  The back cargo area was full of groceries or whatever supplies they were moving.  They were on the sidewalks, on the streets, anywhere a car would go, they would be there.  Some of the professional designed and built ones had beautiful canopies, advertising all over them, fancy headlights.  I saw what would be a 'biker's bar' with a sidewalk completely lined with these, all colors and designs.

These make great since in the smaller towns and villages because except for tourists vehicles and the occasional commercial vehicle there are NO cars.  Considering that the roads are all one lane, made of cobblestones or planks worn smooth by traffic no wonder cars aren't around.

A typical street in Pisac.  Stone streets, small vendors in little alcoves, with just enough room for foot traffic or carts.
The native people wander the streets, pose for photos and then smile.  They speak Quechua, maybe a little Spanish.  The children are so cute and sweet and just know to smile and hold out their hands.

One of the mainstays of the people living in Pisac is silver mining.  There is a large mine in the mountains behind the village and you can watch the raw ore being made into beautiful jewelry and trinkets.  The mines are owned by the local people and the local people that have the talent make beautiful things.
The ones not involved in mining do a combination of farming, weaving and tourist industry.

The tiny children wear flowers from local gardens wove into their hats.  This particular family included a puppy and a lamb for photos.  I had 5 sol in my pocket (about 1.25 in US).  I watched at least a dozen people hand them a lot more.

I still don't like it.  But the family knew how to take advantage of every camera around everyone's neck.
The side streets contain an assortment of stores like any other small village.  The signs are in Spanish, Quechua and English.  There was even an Internet cafe. But there aren't any cars, just carts, motorcycles, etc.

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