A Taste of the Andes

October 25, 2008

It’s 2:30 am and I’m awake before my alarm: today I’m going to the sierra. Two pairs of pants, one backpack, three shirts, one hat, a scarf and two jackets later I’m stepping outside into the night to meet Dalylah, the loan officer, to go to the bus station.


3 am at the station

3 am at the station

There are piles of rocks in the sidewalk.  Here the driver is tossing them to the side so the bus can pull off the road into the bus terminal.  And look, Mom! I found a gym!



Despite our late night departure, the music is blasting in the bus.  I wonder if it helps keep the bus drivers awake.  At some point during the journey a garbage bag full of something (thank God) soft falls on my head from above.  I vaguely remember rubbing my nose and looking around to see who threw the bag at my face before falling back asleep confused. It’s okay because I wake up among the clouds.


Dalylah is getting off at Otuzco, but I’m continuing on another hour and a half to Cuyuchugo to meet the women of the San Juan Miraflores bank.  Dalylah’s last stop isn’t Otuzco either – from here she will hire a mototaxi to carry her to her 8am meeting somewhere higher up in the mountains.  Mototaxis are motorcycles with a small passenger cart on two wheels attached on the back.  I’m thankful for my crowded, but four-wheeled, bus.


Descending to Cuyuchugo

Along the way I’m the girl with the camera.  I just love the vistas of mountains, clouds and rustic streetscapes.


Streets of Otuzco

Streets of Otuzco



Cuyuchugo! Bajo! Bajo!


It’s my turn to get off the bus and here I am: mountains, clouds and the Cuyuchugo main square.  It’s a small rectangle of grass the size of a basketball court bordered and criss- crossed by dirt paths.  There are a few buildings surrounding the square including a church and maybe a municipal building.  I would have taken a picture, but I was wholly engrossed in figuring out who I was supposed to be talking to and where they were – someone was supposed to meet me!


… A few faltering steps in a couple of directions, mostly just tottering around the square waiting to be found… And nothing.  It’s time to ask questions.  And what do you know, the first person I come upon leads me down the street to a room full of women.

Here they all are – gathered waiting for me!… Oh my… It’s my first solo meeting and these are some somber looking señoras… Well, here goes:

“Good morning señoras, my name is Jenny. I am a representative from Kiva, an organization that works with Manuela Ramos.  I am here to do some short interviews with you and take your photographs for a report we are doing on each of your loans.”

“What is Kiva?”

“Why do you need our picture?”

“What does this have to do with our loans?”

“Don’t start yet, not everyone is here.”

There was a lot of explaining to be done.  But the women were patient with me.  In fact they all waited their turn as I called them one by one up to the desk to conduct a short interview.


The socias were almost all born and raised in this tiny pueblo in the mountains.  To be sure, life here is difficult.  Most of the women sell livestock, corn or clothing here in Cuyuchugo or in neighboring towns. Their profits are slim in almost all cases. One señora buys and sells her goods with a profit margin of S/1.00 – $0.30 – per piece she sells.


For me, some moments of the conversation weigh heavily on me.  As the interviews continue, I start to modify my questions based on their reactions to my queries:


“And how long does it take in a car to get to Coina?”


“In car, señorita? No, five hours walking, every Saturday.  We’ll sell clothing at the market there.  And then Sunday we walk to the market in Caribamba, four hours.”


I also start to reconsider my regular “What is your goal or wish for the future?” question.  For the city socias, this was more easily and readily answered.  But among these women, it’s different.  They tell me life here is suffering.  They tell me they just want to survive or that they just want to earn money to get by. 


But really, the conversations were not all gloom and doom like I’ve been making it seem.  When I ask the women if their work is difficult, they all tell me – “No, we’re accustomed to our work, for us it’s good because it earns our living.”  I ask if they like Cuyuchugo, and they do.  Life here is tranquil, the air is fresh, the weather is nice today.


And it is.  The sun is shining in patches and the rest of the sky is made up of dreamy clouds that seem within an arms reach. After the interviews I walk to each of their houses and take photographs of them for their journal updates.


The town is more like a park to me.  There are dirt paths leading here and there, but you could just as easily follow a stream or a wooden fence to someone’s house.  There is green grass everywhere – it’s as though the town has been set down on one huge lawn.



The houses are made of earthen bricks.  Inside some of the homes I find cuys – little guinea pigs that people raise and eat or sell.


There are farm animals everywhere.  Chickens, pigs, donkeys, sheep and of course inside the house the little cuys.  Here is a picture of one of the señoras butchering a lamb to prepare it for sale.


Another Sheep bites the dust

Another Sheep bites the dust



And along the mountainsides far up into the cloudline are fields for growing corn and other crops.  Here is a picture of a man plowing along a steep incline with his oxen.


The señoras have all been very kind, letting me into their homes and sharing their lives with me for a little while.  Señora Julia and I hit it off particularly well and we chat for a good bit about the United States and Cuyuchugo and the differences between the two.  She invited me to breakfast here with her family here in her lovely garden.



I would have loved to stay and enjoy her and her family’s company. But I hear the honking horn announcing the approach of the next micro for Usquil where I have my next appointment.  I wish so much to have stayed, but instead I’m roaring away in a big bus up the hill to the next town.



Usquil seems like it has a little bit more going on than Cuyuchugo.  There is a national bank office in the main plaza and concrete benches and sidewalks surround the square.





Here I don’t bother to wait for someone to approach me and ask straight away for the women of the Usquil communal bank.  After a few tries I’m directed to a restaurant right off of the plaza.





They were not expecting me, via some sort of miscommunication with the loans officers; but, no matter, there are only three women in the bank and messengers are sent to bring them down from their houses up the hill.


My interviews here are shorter – everyone is busy and has other things to attend to.  I have quick conversations with three women: a soda-seller who works out of the restaurant on the plaza corner, a woman who cooks in the restaurant by day and sells beef heart kebabs from a street cart at night, and a woman who raises, butchers and sells pigs. I’m only in town for an hour, but I do manage to see some recently born piglets.



And I also take a little impromptu tour of the town.



Unlike Cuyuchugo, Usquil is set among the hills.  Every street trends up or downhill.  Sometimes the streets have stairs and a lot of times the streets have little burros.




Even though Usquil is more dense than Cuyuchugo it is still quiet.  The picture above is Thursday midday along one of the main streets.




Again I want to stay, but I hear the micro roaring into town.  When the bus draws near, it honks the horn so people know to come outside to flag down the driver if they want to get on.  Likewise, when they want to get off, they walk to the front of the bus and are can disembark at whichever corner they desire.  Our bus was super crowded on the way back to Trujillo.





These people had to stand for two hours until they arrived at Otuzco when more seats opened up.  One of my favorite moments of the ride was when we were stopped to let someone off and the conductor hung the ladder on the side of the bus to fetch the luggage tied down on top.  All of a sudden I hear baa-baas and see a big ole sheep is being lowered by a rope off the side of the bus.  The poor thing had a rough landing – he got dropped the last couple of feet.


But I suppose if his future is anything like the half-butchered sheep I saw this morning, then that’s the least of his worries.  For the rest of us it’s on to Trujillo and to our beds to rest!


One comment

  1. Interesting Read! Very detailed blog,thanks for sharing

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