Day 18

19 Jun

Leaving from Huaraz on Saturday morning, we boarded a somewhat smaller bus and made our way towards the mountains. We had a tour guide who only knew Spanish so he would shout things and then wait for our professora to re-tell everything in English. It got old to say the least. The whole trip up there took 6 hours, but it was mostly because we had so many pit stops! We stopped in a small town at 9:30am for some ice cream (lucuma of course), then heard all about the history of the towns we passed through and information about the landscape from our tourguide. We were driving between two mountain ranges, the montanas negras (black mountains) and the montanas blanco (white mountains). These Peruvians sure do get creative with their naming of landmarks. The mountain ranges were separated by a river, although now I forget the name of it. I was trying really hard to pay attention but between his constant shouting and all the pretty landscape, plus limited sleep the night before, I just wasn`t all that interesting in the geographical history of what we were driving through.
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BUT we did stop in Yungay, where a famous avalanche happened in 1970 that killed 85,000 people. Yungay is kind of the central hub for a lot of mountain villages, and was back then too. It was on a Sunday afternoon around 3pm, when most people were there for the local market. Mother Nature did it`s thing and the avalanche just kind of came out of nowhere, a lot of snow and a big chunk of the mountain, causing a bunch of rock and snow to hurdle down the mountain. The avalanche took only 3-4 minutes to come down, so nobody really had a chance to escape. The only things that remained afterward were 4 (of about 30) palm trees, and the local burial building. We walked around where the old plaza had been and there was a huge chunk of bent metal on display, which we later found out was a bus that had been demolished in the avalanche.
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Since 1970, there has been a lot of erosion in the area, and as more soil gets removed, the more reminants they find in the dirt. Not far from the bus, the fender of a car was emerging that has been buried from the avalanche. The avalanche also affected life on the other side of the mountain, in the village we stayed with our host families in. They told us that before the avalanche their village had about 80 families, and afterwards only 4 survived. 
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Speaking of host families, after we visited Yungay we took a quick trip to a glacier lake — GORGEOUS, I got a few mesquito bites, and then we went to meet our host families!!! The village we stayed in was called Huamachuco (Wah-man-chew-co), and there were 5 families that hosted our group. The village was recently set up to be a tourist location, so the families all had small houses next to their own homes that had 2 bedrooms and a bathroom for visiting guests. It was genius!
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The families were all farmers, but by also taking advantage of the tourism they could get even more income and help support themselves, just by being themselves! The bedrooms in the house each had 3 beds, so we were in groups of 3 but shared a house with another group. ie 6 girls, one bathroom, most on our periods. Fun times. 

ANYWAYS though, my host parents were Gregoria and Louis, who were both children of huge families (Gregoria one of 10, Louis one of 9) and grew up in Huamanchuco.
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They met when they were 16 and after Louis courted her by offering her family gifts of guinea pig (coy – pronounced coo-ee), corn, and quinoa, and asked her father`s permisson, they got married at age 20. They had their first child, a son, at 20 as well, and then later had 2 daughters. The son currently lives about 500 yards from them and has 3 children, while the daughters have moved to Lima and are not farmers. Gregoria was such a funny woman! I wish I could have understood more Spanish so  I could have communicated with her more. Louis was also very nice and answered all of our questions very willingly, proudly telling us about his livestock (2 bulls, 3 horses, chickens, 20ish coy, pigs, and sheep), his crops (corn, quinoa, potatoes), and his “antique house” which was a small round building that was leftover from before the avalanche, what the homes used to look like. Apparently before the avalanche all the homes were circular, but after they were build in rectangle or square shapes. We don`t know why. These farming families did everything by hand, had no machinery or technology except a shared community phone, and all the women completed their tasks with a baby on their back.
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We asked Gregoria a lot of questions about growing up in Huamanchuco and if things had changed at all. She said they hadn`t. Starting at age 2, children are expected to help their family harvest crops and do chores. She used to help her mother take their excess crops to the market in Yungay to sell. Her mother is still alive at 72, and lives a few miles away from Gregoria and Louis. When we asked how Louis proposed to her, she just started laughing and blushing and wouldn`t tell us! It was so adorable. We also asked her what the hardest part of living on a farm was, and she didn`t understand the question. Then we asked what her favorite part of living on a farm was and she instantly started listing off things: raising the coy, harvesting her crops, seeing the beautiful mountains, how peaceful things were. We asked if she loved her life and she smiled really big and said a definite yes. It was so beautiful to see this woman who genuinely loved her life, especially when so many people think that her lifestyle is hard or too simple or unadvanced. 

We met their grandson, Cheeto, who was the cutest little boy ever!
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We kept trying to talk to him in Spanish and thought he was just shy about responding until he said something back and not even the Peruvian girls knew what he was saying! He was speaking Ketchwa, the local language. It`s similar to Spanish, but a more gutteral language with much longer words. The community all knew it and was taught it from birth. The children growing up here didn`t know Spanish until they went to school and learned it in the classroom there. Since Cheeto was only 4, he had no idea what we were saying! I just waved to him and kept saying “hola, Cheeto” until he figured out what I meant and then would wave and smile back at me 🙂

Louis told us not to shut our house door all the way because the lock had been lost and so if we closed it all the way, we would lock ourselves out. Of course the first thing we do when we leave for breakfast in the morning is lock ourselves out. Good thing this girl has practice climbing through windows! (If you have no idea what I`m talking about, just ask me sometime about the house I lived in in Ames last fall) We proceeded to lock ourselves out of that damn house about 5 times over the course of the weekend.
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The first night we were there, we had a nice meal prepared by the families and then we had a bonfire with some traditional music! I cannot describe how nice it was to sit there and have dinner with people and actually have conversations. Nobody had a phone, nobody was worried about anything else besides what was happening in that room. At the bonfire we were all joking around with each other and dancing to the music and enjoying each other`s company. The families passed around some lemonade with pisco (wine liquor) to “keep us warm” (it gets freezing ass cold in the mountains). It was such a nice night. It was a new kind of happiness for me, away from all the distractions and brevity of life back home or in Lima. Nothing substantial happened, but it was the happiest I`ve been in a long time.

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Each morning we were away from Lima we all dreamed of having something besides BREAD for breakfast. Well, nothing changed while we were away. On Monday when we were leaving Huamanchuco though, the families brought us SCRAMBLED EGGS! I can`t tell you how happy I was! I seriously almost peed my pants I was so excited.
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Things I have gained this weekend: minor improvement in Spanish-speaking skills, insight to a beautiful culture`s lifestyle, 7 bug bites, a spectacular view of the mountains, seeing the most gorgeous set of stars I`ve ever seen in my life, seeing the other half of the moon (seriously, it`s flipped since I was in the southern hemisphere!), quads of steel from squatting over toilets (most toilets are mysteriously missing their actual toilet seat here in Peru…), the opportunity to harvest and “mill” quinoa, hearing the Peruvian legend about a white man who roams the mountains at night and sucks your fat if he catches you, hearing another legend about how any white person you see in Peru will try to take you away, how to use a rock to mash up things because we don`t have a blender, the fact that I will be a completely inadequate mother after witnessing these moms cook, clean, harvest crops, do laundry, and tended the animals all with a baby in a blanket on their back, how to make fried bread, mastering the art of crawling through windows and brushing teeth/washing face with a water bottle, and how to not smell after not showering for 2 1/2 days.
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The Struggle: I`m pooped.

The Silver Lining: I get to sleep in my bed back in home sweet home Lima tonight 🙂

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