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Time is moving at a startlingly rapid pace here in Cusco city, and I have been learning and absorbing new information and cultural idiosyncrasies. Since my last post, I have begun visiting the communities with whom Q’ente partners, which have been exciting, daunting, interesting and exhausting!

The first community on my itinerary was Cancha Cancha. Located near the tiny town of Huaran, Cancha Cancha is nestled in a valley that is a 3.5 hour hike north. Kristina and one of the Mosqoy students named Fernando accompanied me on the trek, and we shared the stunning mountain views and trail mix on our way up. We passed groups of bleating sheep and curious llamas on the trail, along with their attentive owners who never hesitated to smile and say, “Buenos Dias!” Upon our arrival, two weavers invited us into their house and prepared fried potatoes, noodles, and soothing tea for lunch. Dozens of guinea pigs squeaked at our feet as Fernando translated the messages that Kristina and I had for the community into Quechua. Our stay was re-energizing and short, as we needed to return before the sun went down.

Three of Q’ente’s partner communities are located in the Mapacho River Valley, which is a considerable distance away from my home-base of Cusco. Last weekend, Mosqoy student Nataly and I made the journey to Parobomba, Bombon, and Pitukiska over a three day long hike in the mountains. Her lovely family welcomed us into their home upon our arrival in Parobomba after a considerable hike into the picturesque mountains. To our excitement, her mother prepared Cuy (gunea pig) for dinner, and we chatted as the sun fell behind the ridgeline of the mountains at a surprisingly early hour. Rest came very easily that night!

An early wake-up call and steaming bowl of potatoes and fresh eggs ensured we were chipper for the next leg of the hike to Bombon. We set off on the dusty roadway the winds along the midsection of the mountains between the communities, and picked our way along the valley and up to the small community located on a ridgeline above the Mapacho River. Our stay was relatively short, however, as all but one of the weavers were taking advantage of the sunny and mild day to take care of their faraway fields of potatoes and herds of animals. We rested briefly while notifying the weaver of our plans to return next month, then retreated to a soft, mossy spot a little further along the trail from Bombon for a nap. Llama calls and the dog barks echoed throughout the valley and provided a soft soundtrack for the break.

Raindrops sprinkled on our faces and urged us to continue down to Pitukiska, the last community requiring a visit. As we plodded on, the dusty road transformed into a stony one, with exposed red and brown tie-dye rocks jutting out of the land to our right. The raindrops began to fall more frequently as we descended into the valley, and by the time we made it across the harvested potato fields to the house of friendly weavers, the sky was clouded completely over and the rain fell rapidly. Our host welcomed us in and treated us to instant coffee, much to my delight. Geese, ducks, chickens, cats, and dogs all stood imploringly at the door for a scrap of food or a seat by the fire away from the rain. The time came for me to find the outhouse, and I skipped through the downpour to find that it was already occupied by a dog, who was unwilling to give up the shelter. I tried several methods to coax him out, and ultimately admitted defeat. You win, dog, I prefer the great outdoors anyway!

The president of the Pitukiska weaving association prepared fantastic meals, and for dinner we had twice-baked potato filled with meat, along with French fries and a bowl of unpeeled potatoes for snacking. I am shocked at how many innovative ways they can prepare potatoes! We discussed the upcoming elections, along with the merits and downfalls of each candidate. Their family has to travel all the way to Parobamba to cast their ballots.

In the dark evening and pouring rain, Nataly and I snuggled into our quarters early and read until the day’s tolls made our eyelids heavy, and I slept like a rock through the night. Cheese-filled wontons and omelets for breakfast! We departed Pitukiska by zig-zagging up and over the nearest mountain, then enjoyed our leisurely walk back to town.

Exhausted, excited, emotionally energized and ready for a movie in bed, we boarded a bus back to Cusco. It soon was filled to the brim with travelers, and made frequent stops along the winding route. When we were about half way home, the bus bumped to a stop, and the engine cut out. Our driver bumbled around up front for a moment, then made a casual announcement. “Folks, just one minute here. The acceleration cable has gone out, and I just need to make one quick repair,” he boomed as he flicked open a pocket knife and cut the thin rope that kept the curtains suspended along the top of the passenger windows. After procuring a 5 foot length, he disappeared out of the bus for three minutes. “He can’t be serious?” I said incredulously to Nataly, who didn’t have any answers. Then he boarded the bus, and as swiftly as he had stopped it, started the engine again and we endured a slow, nerve-racking ride home.

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