Thursday, October 15, 2009

We Talk A Lot

So now begins the part of our service where we have to figure out what it is we’re doing here. The easy parts are Peace Corps Goals #2 and #3, the parts about cultural exchange. That’s covered every time we talk to another Peruvian or write to you about our lives here. Goal #1--that’s the one where we actually try to help somebody with something—is becoming more important as we start to get our community figured out.

We go to lots of meetings. We talk to lots of people. We put on charlas (“chats”) for the members of the artisan association we work with, coaching them on how to prepare for the upcoming artisan fairs, and on how tourists think. We go to classes at the Instituto Superior, where they have a 4-year program oriented towards “Turismo,” and offer our gringo point-of-view. Jean helps out with the English classes at the Instituto, offering the students a chance to talk with a native English speaker.

Tourism is such an overwhelming factor in the local economy that it seems the logical place to put our knowledge and experience to use. Last year roughly 200,000 people toured the Colca Canyon, nearly all of them passing through Chivay on their way from Arequipa to Cruz del Condor, from which they can appreciate the 10,000-foot depth of the canyon and, usually, see some condors. That’s what they paid for, anyway. Then, they go back to Arequipa, ideally after pausing for the lunch buffet at our host family’s restaurant.

How do we get at least some of them to spend another day and night here in the canyon, to benefit the local economy? Well, coming from Russ it’s no big surprise that some Peruvian version of a “shop local” campaign is just the ticket. We’re trying to help inventory the local tourist resources, attractions, events, etc., and find ways to promote them, along with everything “local”—local artisans, local foods, locally-owned resources. That’s a big job, though, so mostly we spend hours, days, weeks, talking to people, having meetings, making plans. Last week we helped write and record a radio spot to help promote the idea of “turismo vivencial,” essentially home-stays with typical Peruvian families. At least our Spanish is getting polished from the practice!

Russ also helped translate an offer for a 4-day-3-night tourist experience in the Colca canyon, involving turismo vivencial, visits to archeological sites (cave paintings, pre-Inca terraces), activities like flyfishing and horseback riding, herding alpaca, and the like. It’s now posted as an auction item to promote an Ecotourism website. If you want to bid on it, here’s the URL: it looks like a great trip!

Meanwhile, we get to live in the big, fat middle of a traveler’s dream: attending the fiesta celebrating the end of the planting of the corn in Cabanaconde, for example. The field is being plowed by a team of oxen (yes, oxen), and a guy walks behind sowing the corn by hand. Behind him is a team of horses dragging a plank on which someone stands, smoothing out the furrows and burying the seeds.

All of this is accompanied by much chicha, the local homebrew made of local corn, of course. Maybe some other varieties of alcohol, too—pito, rum, caballo viejo, beer. Probably all of them, in fact. A spread of hors d’oeuvres, (toasted corn, smoked local cheese, odd bits of shredded alpaca, fried bread, spread out on a dusty blanket), followed by a plate of alpaca soup. More chicha? Yes, thanks! The whole glass, without taking a breath, is the preferred method of downing it, but our hosts interceded, pleading for mercy on behalf of our fragile digestive tracts. We survived it all, and it was an immensely satisfying cultural experience.

Survived, that is, to travel up to Callalli where some of our artisans live, to present our charla.
They, in turn, dressed Jean in their traditional skirt, vest, and hat for the occasion, and presented us with a lunch of caldo de cabeza. Another alpaca bites the dust, and the soup featured the very cabeza you might surmise from the name of the dish, dismantled in its entirety. We ate that, too (more chicha? yes, thanks!) and survived it, too. We then packed 9 of us in an ancient Toyota Corona to go visit a cave featuring paintings and etchings estimated to be 6,000 years old, depicting the hunting and domestication of . . . what? The alpaca, of course! We then spent the night in a room thoughtfully supplied with two friendly young alpaca. Their water trough was frozen in the morning, typical for springtime in Callalli, elev. 12,600’ . . .

We both have mountain bikes now, and though there’s nothing wrong with the running gear, we still seem to be left breathless from exertion whenever we venture out on them. What’s with that? Russ accomplished a nice circuit of about 20 km. last weekend, visiting two nearby towns and making an inventory of visual and historical resources (meaning: gawking at the scenery, Inca terraces & ruins). From a local high point, we often survey El Mismi on the horizon, the other side of which offers the most remote source of the mighty Amazon. We tell you, the Colca Canyon is the hub of South America!

So, write us and tell us about YOUR fascinating lives! Send photos—our internet connection is slow, but we’ve got little better to do some evenings than watch the files slowly download, and we’re always pleased to see the results: the faces and places that seem to grow more distant with every bite of alpaca . . .


  1. We are enamoured with your adventures. Tom can sooooo relate. I have a post it with "send pics to Jean and Russ" that seems to get stuck to many surfaces, then surfaces again to me. Your world is fascinating and wonderful. I continue to unpack and organize between the family and friend interactions. Mom and Dad need more assistance. Dad can barely walk with a cane. He is doing PT and I hope it helps him. I fill in on the 'Honey Do's' list for Mom. And when Mom isn't around, Dad gives me the 'Carol' list. Their dance is funny, but very sweet. I will post a link to some Picasa albums for you to see some photos. I hope it works for you. Happy Thanksgiving from the Big Sky. With Love, Carol

  2. Ummm, Tom has a question for you. Do you think any people there have, body lice? He says the high elevation shows the inhabitants have a history of relapsing fever. HIstorically, the records show it is not transmitted by ticks, but by the body lice. Forever the scientist.