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As the famous writer and author of War And Peace, Leo Tolstoy, once wrote “The two most powerful warriors are patience and time.” It has become something of a mantra for me, after losing many weeks walking due to getting sick in Cusco with Covid. After being ill, I really struggled physically, especially when climbing some of the steeper winding trails. My heart and lungs clearly were not what they were before I fell ill. At one point during the first few days back on the trail, I was ascending a steep Inca trail and collapsed coughing and gasping for air. An elderly Quechua couple stopped and asked me if I was ok, and insisted I put my backpack on one of their horses as they happened to be heading up to the same village as me. I reluctantly agreed, and then still had trouble keeping up with them, even without the pack. They were transporting a harvest of the seasonal cactusTuna fruit and papas (potatoes) to sell in a bigger village on the other side of the mountain, a trip they make frequently.
Quechua was the official language of the Inca Empire, and the word papa is Quechuan for ‘potato’. It is amazing to think that the crop now grown and consumed the world over, originated in the Peruvian Andes and the shores of Lake Titicaca. The Inca civilization is believed to have been the first to cultivate potatoes, way up at 3,800 metres above sea level. Wild potato plants already grew around Lake Titicaca and communities of Inca farmers began domesticating the humble potato and learning how to grow and preserve it. They discovered that by dehydrating the potatoes to make a substance called chuño, they could store it for up to 10 or even 15 years.
Peruvian potatoes formed the base of the Incan diet, sustaining the populations of great cities and Incan armies. It quickly became a revered food, as the Incas also used potatoes to treat injuries, predict the weather, and even to measure time (Incan units of time were divided into intervals that corresponded with how long it took to cook a potato to different consistencies).
All along both banks of the Apurimac, among the mountain villages and farmlands, you can see the Quechua people planting and harvesting, dawn until dusk, carrying at times up to 30-50 kilograms of sacks of potatoes and other crops. There are over 3,500 different types of potatoes grown here in the mountain Cuchara’s (Farmland) and it is a vital food source with its origins long before Inca times. Thinking about this, reminded me of when I was a child helping my father prepare, sell and deliver potatoes at the weekends.
War and Peace
I stayed in one village for a few days as they had Direct TV (Satellite TV) and I wanted to see something of events in Europe. People here are mainly of the older generations in the mountains, and, like the river itself, seem entirely unconcerned about life elsewhere. The conversations are almost exclusively about their crops, their animals, the weather, food and family matters. I felt envious of their hard-working but simple and peaceful lifestyle. The Ukraine, Russia and Europe might as well be on another planet for most of the mountain folk here, but for me, the news was a distraction and a worry that broke in on the tranquillity of the mountains. I watched events unfold with morbid fascination, but I realised that there was nothing to be done but continue my journey, and pray there is a positive solution soon. 🙏🇺🇦🙏
Like the papas, the Alpaca originate in South American Andes. The higher I go, the more of them I see, and I now understand that they are native to the higher altitude Andes of 3,500m to over 5,000m. Like the humble potato, alpaca is also renowned worldwide. Their wool provides an amazing array of high-quality, warm clothing and textiles.
Video about Alpaca farming in parts of Peru. Video Source YouTube.
I’ve met many people in the mountain villages, and they all have a story to tell, talking rapidly and switching frequently between Spanish and Quechua. I found it hard to understand but got enough to have a general idea of the topics. I need to learn more of the Quechua language!
The weather-worn faces of the older Quechua people also tell stories of years of toil among the mountains, while the Apurimac River meanders its majestic way toward the Atlantic Ocean. Far below, it carves its way through the bedrock, and fallen boulders are turned inexorably into smooth pebbles of various sizes by the constant flow of water over the millennia. What history must the river have seen over the many thousands of years gone by?
“That old man river, he must know something, but he doesn’t say nothing, ’cause he just keeps rolling… along” ~ Oscar Hammerstein
My next objective is a large town with banks and hostels, a few weeks away. In a direct line, it’s fairly close – but the trails and roads that are close to the Apurimac curve so much that at times I find myself going back before I can move forwards; and wherever possible, I have to cut across the farmland and valleys to advance more quickly.
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📸 Photos 📸
Header image. Chonta village where I spent a few nights before continuing my expedition post-covid.
Chonta Quechua resident Valdor showed me a shortcut as I left the village. The Apurimac is way down behind the village.
Valdor and daughter say goodbye as I leave their village.
Quechua Mother and daughter watch as a thunderstorm approaches. Chonta village Peru
Elderly Quechua couple help me out for a few hours up to the next village.
Carnival celebrations Quechua style
Carnival day in a mountain village.
Quechua lady kindly cooked me breakfast and brewed coffee before I set off on the trail.
Very cold morning. Selfie at well over 4000m – 13,123 feet.
400-year-old Colonial church in a remote mountain village
Blue-and-yellow flora all around the Inca trails. Apurimac River in the distance.
Tracking maps will be added soon here.
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 of £25 or $30 or above will eventually receive a special calendar with images from this trek signed sealed and delivered after completion. 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!