Highland living looks simple and hard for the speedy bypasser, but it is worth taking a closer look to discover and appreciate the resourcefulness and skills of the people living in the extreme altitudes of Peru.
Even after having travelled numerous countries, we have rarely been so impressed with a local culture. The Andean culture still cherishes its proud Inka heritage, deep knowledge of local materials and medical uses of plants and respect for fellow people and the earth.
100% organic farmers
Everyone is an organic farmer, growing a few of the 3000(!) potatoe types of Peru, beans, corn, lupines or quinoa and owns a few animals, for example pigs, cows, sheep, may be goats and if there is enough water alpacas or lamas. Everyone knows that Mother earth, “pacha mama” cannot keep giving year after year, so all farmers let the land rest after a year and farm a different plot only using natural fertilizers.
The villages are fairly remote, many are not even connected by streets. The main mode of transport is walking, often in simple sandals or even barefoot, horses and donkeys help to transport heavier things up and down the mountains. The fitness of the locals is an absolute wonder for us flatland people who breathe heavily with every step at 3500-4000m altitudes. You will constantly be overtaken by little kids and older ladies carrying enormously heavy looking bundles tied on the backs with the traditional colorful wool cloth.
Once a week a truck comes to as far as the street goes and will buy the farmers local produce to resell it in the cities nearby.
1 room houses
The whole family lives under one roof. The one room houses are living room, kitchen, bedroom for everyone. People like to have multiple dogs that defend the property and scare off foxes or pumas that may try to eat the farmers’ animals at night. Also a family may well have more than 100 guinea-pigs in their home, eating one every now and then for festivities and special occasions.
The people have always used local sustainable materials to solve their problems and serve their needs.
- You need a rope? Just pick up some pampa grass and in seconds they will turn it into a strong rope that has supported bridges since Inka times.
- Need some bricks? Dry clay to create your own adobe bricks.
- You need some food for the guinea pigs? Just cut down one of the bromelia plants growing everywhere.
- You have stomach ache? Just collect some muna, a peppermint like herb, wild anis and an avocado seed and turn it into a medical tea.
- Need to get high? The modern Inca will also know exactly which plants will create hallucinations.
We would have loved to learn more of their tricks. Surely, we have a lot more to learn from them.
Future generations: Growing up in the highlands
Education is very important to us personally, so questions about the future generations were one of our serious topics on our trek.
The kids go to elementary school for 5 years in their local communities, which may well be a good walk away. The schools teach, of course, in the local language Quechua.
High schools are usually only available in the larger cities in the valley and often inaccessible to many kids because of transport and language barriers. The transport costs and time to get to the high schools are high and parents may require the kids to help with the farming work. Another hurdle to continuing high school for 6 more years is that the children only speak Quechua at this time and will need to learn Spanish from scratch putting them at a disadvantage.
Solving the divide between cities and rural upbringing is not obvious:
- Could e-learning opportunities help kids get access to language classes and high schools?
- Could boarding schools or subsidized dormitories help kids avoid the daily commute?
- How can local traditions, culture and language be preserved long term with kids moving out of the rural areas into the cities to get educated and to take jobs in the workforce?
Solution of Ricardo, one of our horsemen (2nd from the right):
He used his extra income from the treks to rent an apartment for his children in town so they can attend the highschool there everyday.
We were really glad to see that tourism and our trip could benefit local people and help make education more affordable for a few.