We caught a bus to Putre a wee village 3 hours away from the coast, The journey was cold and after being used to the heat it really chilled me, Its a gradual climb up to 3500 metros and my ears were popping like hells bells. We hit bad fog and could only see a few feet ahead but we kept climbing and eventually emerged above the fog, The valley walls were visible high up but with a blanket of fog in between like marshmallows or cotton wool even though we were experiencing clear blue skies above.
In Putre we acclimatized, The hostel or in this case Lodge is Chakana, run by avery friendly welcoming couple who are German/Chilean, the place is pretty, rural and very homely. Its hot as hell during the day when the sun shines and tempetures plummet at dusk, we are hoping to see the Parque Lauca once we have gotten used to being at this altitude.
I had not slept at all due to altitude, tossed and turned all night and I woke up after an hours sleep and felt surprisingly good, we had a massive breakfast, packed a lunch and
took off in search of local cave paintings.
We followed a dry riverbed for a few miles until we saw a small homestead ahead of which lay irrigated pasture on which grazed bullocks and goats, we spotted the paintings above us on our right.
When we climbed up there we were dismayed to find they had been defaced by careless ignorant people engraving meaningless names and scratchings yet what remained was truly impressive.
They were painted by the Incas roughly 5000 years ago, etched into the rock with blood and ash, the majority of the images depict Llama, Alpaca and the figures of humans, Llama and alpaca remain important to this day to the local indigenous communities for food fur and trading.
The ranchero who farmed the adjacent land rode by tipping his hat in greeting as we sheltered from the heat unpacked lunch and rested under one of the few trees.
Fed and watered we wandered off to see the cowboy and found him letting stock out of his corral to graze the pasture, he had a healthy herd of bullocks ranging from young to about 2 years and a small herd of goats,
they raced towards the field anxious for the fresh grass, I can understand their haste, not much else grows here, its incredibly dusty. I noticed the the weatherbeaten face of the man gave away his years in this unforgiving climate as he waved us goodbye.
We decided to walk around the base of the nearest mountain so we headed up river following the farmers aqueduct, we soon found a stream coming down from the mountain………time for a swim, Oh man it was cold, probably flowing from the glacier in the nearby mountains so raring to go we climbed up a steep Quebrada not before I slid down part of it, John had the dubious honor of removing cactus needles from my rump and on we went. When we reached the top the views were truly breath taking, we built a kern (this is not the correct spelling) it is a pile of stones built on top of one another, they are to be seen all over this continent some as trail markers and some left by indigenous groups as offering to Pachamama (mother earth).
We trekked several more slopes though none as big as the first and reaching
the top of the 3rd we spotted the lodge around 5 kms in the distance.
On the trail for home ahead of us we noticed a large crowd of people, resting and making merriment on our path ahead, As we approached it was apparent a party was in full swing, A large crucifix decorated with flowers and ribbons lay nearby, we were greeted warmly and cans of beer were shoved into our hands………..eh, ok then.
We chatted to a few of the revellers and found it was local festival of a religious nature hence the cross but we soon found out the indigenous tradition was as strong in this festival as was the influence of Rome.
The celebration was a local tradition were the community got together with 6 crosses, an equal amount of people got in each group and marched these crosses up to the top of the surrounding 6 imposing mountain tops, the men carried the crosses from the village of Putre and a procession of people followed drinking copious amounts of alcohol, "come with us" we were asked several times, oh dear sweet lord, been walking all day, not another feckin mountain, "come with us" a
young woman said pinning a relic to my shirt and shoving another beer in my dusty paw.
Well what could we do but join the happy troupe, John went one step further and carried the cross the whole way up, I've got photos for those of you who find this hard to believe, Sure he hardly broke a sweat.
We reached the top tired but humble considering half my comrades were twice my age, When we did reach the top the views were astonishing, it was close to sunset and the valley below became luminous, the walls alive with shades of purple and orange.
The cross was erected on a pedestal inside of which were numerous candles, colorful Andean cloth was placed at the foot of the crucifix and placed on these were 3 sets of offerings consisting of, Coca leaves, Pure Alcohol and Bottle of Red wine, each person then took turns to kneel long side the offerings sprinkling coca leaves and giving thanks to Pachamama, the wine was then distributed among each of us, we poured a wee bit on the ground in thanks then drank the rest, The pure alcohol was carefully poured into
the ground perhaps as a symbol of her strength. All the while an elderly gentleman played guitar accompanied by the wails and chants of the older women of the group, respectfully passing through sonnets to their maker and laments to earth on which they stood.
The crossover between conventional religion and the more traditional worship of the earth was remarkably easy and seemed at least here that they were on to something, I was dragged into a prayer ring, holding hands and reciting worship…….it didn't last long and soon we were dancing around the cross chanting and laughing, we found out that the reason the song was always the same was because each group on each mountain top had its own song.
Meanwhile some of the women placed plastic sheets at the foot of the cross followed by men with large clean white mesh papooses full of a variety of cooked potatoes which the sprinkled on the sheets, They were delicious in the mountain air, oh what I would have given for a dollop of that kerry gold butter then.
We ate, were force fed shots of an unknown liquor and dragged into drunken conversations we couldn't
keep up with meanwhile the guitar hummed and the woman continued a somewhat mournful lament in the otherwise happy occasion.
The donkey who was unfortunate enough to have carried all the supplies including ridiculous amounts of beer to the top brayed letting us know it was time for home, his obvious dissatisfaction was enough to get the most inebriated arses in gear and we started the journey as the light began to fade.
We walked home under an awe inspiring sky, the milkyway seemed close enough to touch, more beers were handed out under the pretense that the beer burro (Donkey) was tired and needed his load lightening. Every few metres a bush was set alight as fires began to appears all across the valley, this was to signal to the other groups we were homeward bound and a race ensued back to the village, much as it was unnerving to see so many fires in such a dry climate, we were assured it was ok, mmm.
We were invited back to the village for dinner and no doubt more of that lethal brew, John escorted the drunken mob back as no one had flashlights and everyone
was more or less worse for wear, I went back to the hostel to freshen up, we wandered back into town later but the festivities had come to a close and we did not get a chance to reciprocate the kindness, A wonderful and unusual day, we had marched about 20 kms
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