Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Images of the Colca

This post is a bit of a cop out given that blogging is supposed to be a primarily written medium and I generally aim to do a reasonable job of narration and description.

However, much of what I've learned and experienced over the past week or so has to go into my 'enthnographic research methods' project, while some things won't show up until my Master's thesis next year. I'm therefore reserving the more writerly tasks for things that I'm going to get graded on, and this post is little more than a series of glorified captions.

So, here are some snaps from my time in the Colca Valley last week.

This is a view over the village of Cabanaconde from near the mirador of Achachuia (a lookout point into the nearby canyon). The mountain in the background is 6,025-metre Hualca Hualca, from whose slopes Cabanaconde has traditionally received most of its water. Unsurprisingly, it is considered the main apu or mountain divinity for the village.

Anyone who has been near Peru, or been subjected to any of my accounts of travels there, has probably seen enough images of the Colca Canyon. But I think this one is worth including anyway. Taken from Achachuia, it gives a reasonable idea of scale, showing the drop from mountaintop to the river. This is not the deepest or most precipitous part of the canyon -- the section near the Cruz del Condor is considerably more spectacular. However, Gelmond assures me that the deepest part of the canyon is actually quite a lot further downstream, when the river has already become the Majes. That's something I'll have to check out some day.

The green strip in the above picture is Sangalle, which was once a verdant orchard, but now offers tourist accommodation, camping, and swimming pools. The area known as the Oasis is owned by Lizbeth's family and currently administered mainly by her younger brother Pablo. Pablo is aiming to convert the accommodation at the Oasis from rustic bamboo bungalows with dirt floors to rooms made of adobe, with tile floors, corrugated-iron and palm thatch roofs, and glass windows. He is building a new kitchen with space for a restaurant, and hopes to install an electric generator in the near future.

The picture shows rows of adobe bricks drying in the sun. They are made of mud poured into a mold, reinforced with wiry ichu grass, and then left to dry for five to six days. After this time, the adobe is rock hard. Although adobe doesn't withstand earthquakes well, it is still the dominant building material in most of the Colca Valley, and would certainly offer improved sleeping conditions for tourists at the Oasis.

The latest addition to Pablo's modernisation drive is a large refrigerator, which will apparently run on gas. Apparently, it took 14 men to bring the fridge down Cabanaconde. If you've ever done the trek down into the Colca Canyon, or something similar, you can appreciate what a monumental task that must have been. As a reward for their effort, Pablo's father put on a burrillada. Translated literally: they ate a donkey.

Cabanaconde's corn is famous as the tastiest and most nutritious in the valley, and perhaps in all of Peru. The harvest ends in May, and at the time of my visit, people were mainly occupied in collecting, deleafing, and drying the corn which had been collected in great heaps in 'corrals' after the harvest. The seƱora in the photo below kindly agreed to let me watch and learn about the process and take some photos of her and her family at work.

After nearly a week in Cabanaconde and the Oasis, I headed to Yanque, a village about two hours up the valley towards Chivay. There, I was met by Edy, who works at Lizbeth and Hugo's place and is studying gastronomy in Arequipa. He is from the village of Ichupampa, about 30 minutes walk from Yanque, and was back there for a couple of days for his birthday. He had offered to show me his village while I was in the Colca valley.

On the way to Yanque, I discovered that the locality was coming to the end of four days of fiestas. The final flourish was an afternoon of bullfighting at the local ring. On our way towards Ichupampa, Edy and I decided to stay and watch.

This is a view of part of the crowd watching the bullfighting, including the band, which struck up a Mexican-style flourish as the bullfighters entered the ring, and then continued for the rest of the time with variations on the distinctive, swirling local melodies. The mountain at the right is Hualca Hualca (seen from a different side than in Cabanaconde), while the peak poking its head over the horizon, Putin-like, is Sabancaya, the volcano that erupted in 1994, melting the ice cap of nearby Ampato and leading to the discovery of the mummy Juanita.

There were four bullfighters, one each from Puno, Arequipa and Cuzco, and one all the way from Venezuela. Below is an action shot as one of the more boisterous bulls managed to separate the bullfighter from his cape. We stayed to watch four bulls, and left before the toro de muerte, or the bull which is to be killed. I kind of preferred it that way.

Between the bulls was an impressive exhibition of the marinera, a dance of criollo (Spanish colonial) origin and practiced with the greatest attention on the north coast of Peru. The dance follows a pattern whereby the women elegantly dances around waving her handkerchief at the man, who describes tight circles on his horse and occasionally takes off his hat to salute the lady. It was pleasant to watch, and I was particulalry impressed with the performance of the horse, which they call a caballo de paso.

The below picture is of Edy with his aunt outside her small 'milk product plant' in Ichupampa. Edy's aunt and uncle have small plots of land which they largely use to graze animals, as do most of the residents of the locality. They received some assistance from an NGO called DESCO to establish the plant and were taught how to make saleable cheeses and yoghurts under appropriate conditions of hygiene. Their daughter was the one who was mainly responsible for the commerical side of the process, and she has now moved to the Majes Valley with her husband, although she is still assisting her parents to an extent. Edy's uncle told me that it is difficult with just the two, but they are struggling on, and that the NGO 'puts pressure' on them to keep the business running.

The milk is pasteruised and flavouring is added to the yoghurt, but not preservative. This means that it only lasts 3 or 4 days, and most is sold locally. We bought a cheese to take with us to Arequipa, and some delicious yoghurt which we consumed in the bus on the way.

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