Thursday, May 13

Paula: Our last day in Cusco was again a beautiful one. We were greeted again by the blue sky we have become accustomed to. This was scheduled as a "free day" with no set itinerary and Hilda kindly offered to join us on the excursion of our choice. It wasn't hard for us to decide what we wanted to do, and we quickly headed to Chinchero, high in Peru's countryside.

Hilda told us that most tourists ask to go shopping when they have extra time, and that we were the first group she has had who asked to head to the farmland in hopes of pulling more potatoes! We have become almost addicted to the pleasure of meeting everyday people as they work, and whenever possible offering a helping hand. So with our backpacks full of cheese, bread, matches, pens, combs and marbles to share with the people we encountered, we were off.

Hilda suggested we try the local bus and for 1.5 soles per person (about 35 cents) we made our way to Chinchero. The 45 minute bus ride found us sharing seats with many colorful locals most who had bundles from their trip to the Cusco market. At each bus stop, a doorman would loudly yell our destination and new people would board.

We got off the bus at the outskirts of this small farming and weaving town of 2,000 residents and headed down a path through several fields of barley and wheat. We had visited Chinchero earlier in the week and decided to return as it was one of the closest farming communities to Cusco. We again marveled at the beautiful scenery laid out before us - gorgeous snow capped mountains (dominated by Mt. Veronica) and lush green farmland. Not long after we set out on the path, we discovered we had an additional guide. Pan, as we came to call her, was a cute golden dog who decided to befriend us, and we quickly discovered that she liked our bread - thus her nickname "Pan" (bread in Spanish). Pan accompanied us throughout our walk this morning and appeared to let other dogs along the way know that it was alright for us to pass.

We stopped to speak to several people working in the fields, first an older gentleman cutting and stacking lima bean plants and then a woman harvesting barley. As we continued our walk, we came across an older woman cutting barley with her son. She was very friendly and we offered to assist them in stacking the piles of freshly cut stalks. David and Katie enjoyed using the machete while we chatted with the woman about her work and the location of her field and home. She had a 30 minute walk to her home and was preparing to tie the bundles of wheat to her two donkeys and make her way beyond the village so that her son would still have time to get to school. We tried to help her lift the bundles but soon discovered that they were heavier than they looked. The donkeys had fun stealing mouthfuls of barley as she tried to get her haul strapped securely to their backs.

As we continued, we found several women watching their sheep graze as they sat and spun wool. We joined one of these women and Katie continued her training in spinning. She has now graduated to using alpaca wool which is more difficult to spin. This woman was also watching two grandchildren and we enjoyed sharing bread and cheese as well as crayons with them all. The flock included four small lambs, two of which were only two days old.

We could see the brown earth of the potato fields off in the distance and continued until we met a large family working a field. Hilda introduced us to the owner and asked if they would like some extra help, indicating that we had "experience!" They all laughed but were more than willing to accept some extra hands. Our first task was to gather large chunks of dried dirt for the oven. Having seen the traditional potato oven earlier in the week, we were excited to help in the building today. Once the clay oven had been formed by stacking the mounds of dirt, we gathered dead foliage from the field to burn.

Once the oven was burning, we turned our attention to helping hoe and collect the ripe potatoes. A small four year old boy named Christian joined us and we soon realized he would be supervising our work. He was quite cute showing us how to use the lampa correctly and where to dig. We all laughed as he tried to carry bags of potatoes twice his weight.

As we completed working in the fields, potatoes were added to the oven and hot coals. Within the hour, we were sitting with this friendly group enjoying roasted potatoes. We had also brought two large rounds of cheese and some bread which they were happy to consume with the potatoes. We found a place to wash our hands before eating but were amazed that none of the others did the same. In some respects it probably didn't matter because the roasted potatoes were covered in dirt. After removing them from the oven, weeds were used to dust over the potatoes twice. We asked Hilda if this was part of the ritual and she laughed saying, "No, they are just cleaning the potatoes." We tried to carefully peal our potatoes and kept our consumption to just a few - though they were delicious, mud and all!

We all enjoyed each others company and they had lots of questions for us. They wanted to know what farms where like in America. They asked our names, ages and jobs. They teased us about being so thin and said potatoes made them all fat. We had lots of laughs before saying adios. Before leaving, a man walked through the field selling popsicles and we were able to purchase enough for everyone for less than 3 soles (about 80 cents).

It was already mid-afternoon by the time we started back toward the center of this community to catch a taxi. David and Katie passed out all the combs, mirrors, pens and marbles we had brought with us and received lots of smiles in return. The taxi cost us a bit more than the bus but was still a bargain at 12 soles (about $3.50). We returned to Cusco a bit sad that our time in Peru was coming to an end, and sadder yet to have to say goodbye to our guide, Hilda who has become a wonderful friend.

Tomorrow we will be flying to Lima and then taking a five hour bus ride to Ica. Ica is on the southern coast of Peru and is an oasis sitting among huge sand dunes. David will be celebrating his birthday here and is hoping to learn how to surf the dunes.












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