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The word Pachamama translates to Mother Earth from the ancient Quechua language – pacha meaning universe, world, or earth, and mama meaning mother. In the many mountain villages I passed or stayed at, the people who live there spend most of their days working the land by hand in the various chakras (Quechuan for farmland or small-holding). Almost everyone has some size of Chakra, and I was surprised to see how rich the soil is so high up. Clearly, different crops are grown at different altitudes, but whatever the crop and whatever the altitude, Quechua tradition is to give thanks to Pachamama for the harvest and for all the food, water, animals and fertile soil.
Making an offering
On my arrival at one village, Chinete, I was invited to dinner and to share a cold ceversa (beer) with the Chief. before drinking, we made an offering to Pachamama by scattering droplets of the liquid on the earth. As we settled down to our food, he told me how, as an 8-year-old child, Sendero Luminoso terrorists invaded his village killing people. He and his mother ran into the mountains and survived, escaping from one of the terrorists who grabbed him by his neck as he collected a bag of clothes to take with him.
Also, I was surprised to see how these mountain dwellers make use of the high up sometimes very steep mountain slopes to grow crops from Coffee to Avocado,lemons, potatoes, mandarins, yucca, corn, bananas, beans, cacao and of course coca leaves among other crops as has been done since the time before the Inka civilization.
Sow & reap
It is difficult to set yourself against machinery and farming on an industrial scale, but I believe there is something special and satisfying about growing your own food from seed to harvest, and then cooking and consuming it. Being in such close contact with this rich soil makes you more appreciative of the food you consume. It is nature’s supermarket, and the locals reap the rewards of their work in the fields. They work hard and are used to walking long distances. Many still use donkeys for transporting the crops up and down the mountain trails.
My original plan was to advance by walking along the riverbank of the Apurimac to a point where I could climb to a road on the east side, but because of earlier delays, I found that the rivers had risen too high at the onset of the wet season. Instead, I re-routed to cross the mountain trails while staying as close as possible to the river.
I stayed at various villages where residents were very surprised to see a gringo, especially one walking alone. Some of them were keen to warn me about the danger of encountering large groups of armed mochileros (young cocaine transporters), most of whom just want to earn money to pay for their education or help their families. Some also said there was a danger of being ambushed by armed thieves along the trails, so I found myself taking on a local who knows the area well to walk with me for two days. What they did not warn me about, however, are the landslides. After an all-night rainstorm, we were stunned when tons of huge rocks crashed down onto a part of the trail we had passed only seconds before. My walking companion Herberth just said “You were lucky – Pachamama is protecting you”
Local Quechua resident Herberth joins me for 2 days.
The first big climb
After crossing the Apurimac via large steel bridge, I spent a very warm night in my tent listening to the river thundering past, psyching myself up for an 8 hour, lung-busting, 2,490m climb to reach Taccmara village and road on the west side.
View from the hike up to the village. Steel bridge, bottom right of photo.
The zig-zagging, stony climb took me 8 hours, and I was accompanied by two dogs who followed me all the way up from a house on the riverbank. I kept stopping to try and send them back down, taking the opportunity to catch my breath and to take photos of the views. When I finally reached the village at the top, it was freezing cold – the coldest I have been since leaving the UK, at a record altitude for me.
One of the dogs that accompanied me for the 8-hour climb (The dog owner collected his dogs the next morning in his pickup truck!)
When I arrived, I was immediately welcomed into a Quechua house to drink hot, homemade coffee, and pass the night. The Quechuan house owner and his wife told me vehicles have gone over the edge climbing up the hill since the trail was made into a road. Apparently one car crashed only two weeks ago and the driver died. I have seen various memorials as I walked up (see photo below).
The villages on the mountain-top were picturesque, and not what I was expecting, with neat fields of grass, pine trees and cactus. Also sheep, cows, pigs, ducks and many guinea pigs (cuy– Quechua people eat these like we would eat chicken) At times I felt like I was somewhere in rural England (apart from the cacti and the cuy).
Unfortunately, I will not make Cusco before Christmas now, but I plan to get there before new year. It’s probably just as well, as I have no spare money to spend on Christmas celebrations – I will probably be camping on the banks of the Apurimac or higher in the mountains on Christmas Day. At times I get a real 4G mobile signal when at high altitudes, so I will certainly try to post some photos over the festive week.
Many thanks again to everyone who has recently donated to my expedition funds. And thanks to all for following and taking precious time out read this blog. Seasons greetings from me, from Pachamama and the Andes mountains in Peru.
Another blog to follow from Cusco!
More recent images
Header image. Working the land high in the mountains.
“Soil is the great connector of lives, the source and destination of all.~Wendell Berry
View from halfway up the climb to Taccmara village.
I saw quite a few memorials to victims of landslides or vehicle accidents on the winding mountain roads.
Standing a bit to close to the edge but great views after the lung-busting climb.
Quechuan woman carrying firewood home.
Pueblo San Fernando where I spent one night
These Altberg mountain boots. Very comfortable indeed and zero blisters. Thank you Altberg .
Altitude 3500m freezing early morning fog/clouds
No cement here! Quechuan Houses built from large mud and stone bricks locally sourced.
Support the expedition
If anyone would like to help with a donation to my Paypal account to keep things going, it would be greatly appreciated. Please use the Paypal link below, which will take you to my support page. Any donation above £25 or $30 will eventually receive a special calendar with images from this trek. Any technical problems donating, or if you prefer to help via a bank BACS payment, details are now on the support page also, Thank you!
Map. Pan and zoom to see more detail