It doesn’t matter where you come from – but especially if you’re from Europe or North America! – Cusco will immediately make you feel like you are in the middle of a completely different world. The mystique of this old capital city of the Inca Empire, the Inca ruins scattered around it, a bunch of alternative restaurants, hostels and associations that have so many followers here, tourist agencies which promise shamanic trips, the enchanting smell of palo santo saturating the softly lit streets… While you can feel this other-worldliness in the city, the experience is undoubtedly deepened in the remote villages in the heart of the Andes. Weekly visits of such communities for Q’ente meetings are a part of my job. This is how we buy textiles and engage with the communities. We make sure we have direct contact with the mostly female weavers who otherwise may not have a chance to express their opinions and concerns. But turismo vivencial – immersion tourism – is something that the weaving communities that work with Q’ente are interested in developing. So these kinds of visits will soon be available to everyone! They are an exciting, wholesome, new way of getting to know a foreign culture, which allows you to not merely visit a place, but really live and breathe it.
My November, the first month I spent as the new manager of Q’ente, was marked by such visits, the last ones before the rainy season. Now, during the rainy months, as opportunities for hiking and exploration are not as plentiful, I’m sitting in my apartment, hiding from the storms and reminiscing about my last visit to a remote village of Parobamba on the last weekend of November. To give you a taste of these visits and what turismo vivencial feels like in the Andes, let me take you with me…
…It’s 9:00 am on a Saturday morning, and I’m buying the last few things in a corner store in Amparaes, a small town a two-hour ride from Cusco, when I hear the fruit-truck driver honking from the street for me to hurry up. “Ven (Come), mami,” he shouts out. He needs to deliver his bananas, bread, chicha (typical Peruvian corn beer), cookies and other difficult to access goods to the villages of the Mapacho River Valley. I need to make my way there to buy textiles and engage with the weavers, but also to satisfy my curiosity. How do people live in these villages, nestled high up in the Andes? What will I be eating? Where will I be sleeping? What are we going to talk about? I’m going there with Cara, the AYP manager, and with Karina, a Mosqoy student who speaks Quechua, since the villagers, especially the women, don’t know Spanish for the most part. The ride to the valley is an adventure in itself. The fact that we are sitting on a wooden plank stretching the width of the truck, our feet dangling off it, makes me feel like I’m on a two-hour amusement park ride. Coupled with the crisp views of the expansive, wild, colorful Andes, it is one of the more amusing drives of my life. Just as we get used to the bumpiness of it, we are told to jump off: “We are in Parobamba.”
We are still dusting off when we notice a short, sturdy man waving to us from one of the houses, his almost toothless smile stretched into a friendly smirk. “Hola, amigas! (Hey, friends!)”. Señor Zenovio welcomes us into his family’s home, proudly telling us about his friends from all over the world: Switzerland, Canada, France, and the United States. The visitors that come and stay in their house are clearly not considered just tourists; they’re guests, friends even. We are shown the way to our bedroom – a small, modest space, which has his youngest daughter’s posters on the wall. One of them is a collage representing her goals: to become a police-woman. Supporting their children’s studies is but a far-off dream for most of the families living here and it makes me happy that Q’ente’s sister program, Mosqoy’s AYP, is making it possible for young people like her to study in Cusco. Many stories are shared over the meal we have in their kitchen. They serve us a yellow pumpkin soup with Lima beans and delicious corn patties. They say that it was hard, but that they got used to cooking for tourists and for vegetarians, which many of their visitors are.
The space reveals many aspects of their lives: an old, yellow poster of Alberto Fujimori on the wall – a reminder of señor Zenovio's admiration for the former president – and a pile of incredibly intricate hand-made fabrics in the corner – the artifacts of the rich textile tradition that continues to flourish in this village. They are Quechuan history books, one of the only ways in which the mostly illiterate women that make them can express themselves through art and often the only means they have to make money.
That evening, in a quiet, intimate moment by the fire, the lady of the house and one of the members of the Weaving Association Q’ente works with, señora Brigida, tells me that the money she makes by selling textiles in cooperation with Q’ente makes her feel more confident, more secure and more able to participate in community decision-making. Without that, she would not have much of a say, she says, and neither would the other women. She is happy the tradition continues to live on, as weaving is something she learned from her mother and that she taught her daughters. This makes it so much sweeter to know that at a meeting we had earlier that day with the 24 weavers that form the Weaving Association of Parobamba, we bought one of her creations, an impressively precise artwork, flowing in yellows, blues, whites and greens, displaying, among other symbols, a couple of humming birds, a Quechua symbol used for wedding offerings. We also bought several other pieces to display in the Meeting Place in the Plazoleta de San Blas in Cusco, where they will be offered to the public. I can’t wait!
At 4:30 the next morning, as I’m sitting on the fruit-truck on our way to Pitukiska, another weaving community, I’m holding Brigida’s artwork in my hands. The connection this fabric has with the nature around Parobamba and with this community itself is almost palpable. It was woven on a wooden stand that’s perched up in front of Brigida and Zenovio’s house. It was dyed with dyes that were made with plants that grow on the lush hills surrounding it. As my body is getting used to another bumpy ride, I’m thinking about how it seems like the energy of Parobamba, its people and their stories, is woven into its threads. I am feeling lucky to know I’m bringing it to the city to share with the visitors and natives of Cusco, and with the outside world. Suddenly the fruit-truck comes to an abrupt stop. It is 6:00 am and we are at Abra, the mountain pass from which we will descend through the valley of golden sharp grass, full of curious llamas and alpacas, to the village of Pitukiska. Let the next part of our adventure begin!
-Ana Ftz, Q'ente Manager
Photos by Alexandra Leinweber