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February 9th 2012
Published: February 11th 2012
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The high passThe high passThe high pass

5,000 metres plus we travelled a cold and snowy road
An early breakfast at the hotel and on the road by 6.10 am. We headed back towards the high pass. This time, there was thick snow, frost and ice with only the centre of the road cleared by limited traffic. It really was quite spectacular. We stopped for photographs and a loo stop, then back to the same service area to drink hot herbal tea with coca leaves. Shortly afterwards, we started driving a new route towards Raqchi to stay in the village with local families. After a few more short stops - including lunch of rolls and cheese and tuna overlooking a small lake - we arrived at Raqchi at around 5.30pm. Representatives from the families who the group were staying with greeted us wearig local costume, all receiving a ritual greeting hug from everyone.

We were allocated to a family who's daughter took us through the village and up an untarmaced track for a further 20 mins to the house where we were greeted by her mum who had a large flask of hot water and tea bags standing by ready for us to drink. Unfortunately, there was some misundestandingas to which of our bags we required from
The high passThe high passThe high pass

View from the road
the bus. We hadn't lugged them as yet as there had been a problem with the locker handle and we left to go to our family prior to the lock being openend. Several minutes later our two heaviest bags were brought to us, neither of which we wanted so Ed walked back with Dave and a local to take back the
unwanted cases and bring back a much smaller lighter bag whilst Jo practised her Spanish with the help of a dictionary borrowed from the bus´ library. Jo managed to have a half-way decent conversation with Martina (the mother) and learned that she was 40 years´ old, had 3 children, one 17 year old away at college, the 13 year old who had walked us to the house (Vanessa) and an 11 year old (Raquel). She managed to communicate this soleley in Spanish and in addition, Jo learned that her husband had walked out on her when the children were young and that she had travelled over half the world including Indonesia, Thailand, Africa, Amsterdam ad other places sent by the National Geographic to give lectures about the many different corn varieties grown in the area organically. Martina was an
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Amber with guess who.....
absolute delight - a really happy, smiley and welcoming lady.

Our visit to Raqchi is a community project funded by an agency of which Dragoman is a part. We learned from Martina (again all in Spanish) that she hosts foreign visitors like us 40 times a year which provides her main income along with pottery demonstrations and making pottery and home-made jewellery for sale. The family also have one bull, one cow, five sheep, seven chickens, a dog named Princesa and a cat!!

The house was very basic although by Raqchi standards, we suspect one of the richest ones. There was a Western-style toilet and fuly working shower with hot water (although the shower was a slightly odd contraption) and the bathroom was nicely tiled. The bathroom was stand-alone and you had to cross a muddy courtyard to reach the guest bedrooms of which there were two, each with three beds in. The room was extremely simple, just beds standing on a wooden floor and a couple of wooden hanging hooks and a long-life light bulb. However, the bed was very comfortable with spotless sheets (and believe me, Jo inspected them very carefully before getting in!!)

We had supper with the family. Vanessa, her mum and uncle Alejancro plus Dave, who was also staying
with this family. Food was a potato and maize soup, followed by chicken and cooked grated yam and rice and pudding was a ridiculously thin slice of pear with a load of juice. The latter was drunk with a teaspoon but in
the end, we decided the teaspoon was too much effort for too little reward so we drank from the bowl. As the uncle did the same, we decided this mus be acceptable.

After supper, the whole group met in the centre of the village. Before doing so, we were given local traditional costume to wear by our hostess. Ed's head would not fit through the original poncho he was given and Jo´s local dress also not designed for her size! (We looked quite a sight and have photos to prove it)

We trekked the 25 minues back to the village with the aid of torches where we joined the rest of the group (all in similar costumes to ours) to attend the local ceremony of thanksgiving to the local spirit of Patchamama (Mother Earth) and Apu (the mountains) which involved each of us in turn putting two coca leaves into two cups part-filled with beer. Two leaves were held in the left-hand and two in the right-hand. The leaves in the left hand were dropped into the left cup representing patchamama and the right into the one representing Apu. Before dropping the leaves in, we each had to blow on the leaves 3 times.

Once everyone had added their leaves, the cups were taken around everyone to blow three times onto. Clearly, clearly despite the Catholic faith forced upon them at the time of the Conquistadors and there being a church in the village the traditions haven't really been lost and this original 'pagan' religion runs alongside Catholicism.

Then followed some dancing with background music from guitar type instrument and singing. We all had to join in the dancing which fortunately did not go on for too long. As those of you who know us well - this sort of thing is really not us!!

Led back to the house to sleep.


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