Every month as part of the Inca project a hike is arranged. This month it was a two day hike to Patabamba, a village set high above the Sacred Valley.
We were at the bridge at seven in the morning, Dee a new volunteer was waiting with Abi & it was freezing as the sun had just risen above the mountains. There was eight of us in total, Walter, Shingi, Dee, Will, Geoff, Sorcha, Abi & I waiting for a bus. The first bus was packed & we had no chance of all getting on along with our rucksacks although the conductor tried his best to squeeze us in as it would be more money for him. We waited for the next bus & a collectivo driver came up & said he could fit seven of us in & take us where we needed to go cheaper than the bus. We said there was eight of us & he said that was no problem & to follow him. We walked round the corner expecting to see a minibus but there was just his regular taxi. Will & I got in the boot with the luggage, Dee, Abi, Sorcha & Geoff squeezed
onto the back seat & Shingi & Walter sat in the front seat so that Walter had to lift his left buttock everytime the driver needed to change gear. When we got out of the car, after they had opened the boot, we met Beneccio, Susan & Hampi (Quechua for medicine) the dog. Beneccio was the president of Patabambas community weaving association & had with him two llamas & a donkey to help us with the hike to Patabamba. We loaded sleeping bags & Dee & Abi's casserole dish lunch box onto the animals & set off up the mountains. It was still early in the morning but the sun was strong & got stronger the further we climbed. After several rest stops we reached the highest point of the climb, a saddle between two mountains & from here we could see Patabamba in front of us along with the snowy peaks of high mountains in the Sacred Valley. The hike now was easy & soon we were walking into Patabamba. Our first stop was a large adobe house where we dumped our stuff & had lunch. The first course was corn & desiccated potatoes served in a blanket that
was rolled out on the table. Next came a bowl of soup & a plate of salad. As we weren't told we were getting lunch most of us had just eaten our sandwiches & it was hard work eating another three course lunch, especially the dessicated potatoes that never quite regain all of their moisture. Susan had some locally produced sugar cane spirit in a plastic bottle & we had a toast after lunch taking it in turns to drink out of the bottle cap.
Outside we had ponchos & chullos (Andean hats) waiting for us to wear. After we had all donned them & laughed at each other we went looking for plants to produce dyes. North of the village the view opened up onto the Sacred Valley & far below us we could our home town of Pisac, a four hour walk away over perilous cliffs. The bushes we then came across were the ones we needed & we set about collecting the leaves. Most of the leaves we covered in sticky sap & soon our hands were pretty grubby. Beneccio explained that the leaves could also be wrapped in a bandage & were good for healing broken
bones. To demonstrate this fact Hampi had managed find the rotten leg of a dead donkey & carried it back to us, then she started gnawing away at it. It was pretty disgusting, but Susan congratulated her anyway. When we had a poncho full of leaves we headed back to Beneccios. The court yard was full of women either weaving or producing twine & a fire at one side had a pot on top ready for our leaves. Beneccio then told us about the community of Patabamba with Susan translating. Patabamba was founded soon after the Spanish reached Peru when a family who was fleeing from the brutal Spanish retreated to the hills. The community thrived here until 1882 when a plague decimated the population over a seven month period leaving only fourteen surviving. Recently the community has been reviving the old traditions of textile production from wool & natural dyes & the association has been set up so that skills can be passed on to future generations.
We saw a collection of the ingredients used in the dyeing process including cochineal, a beetle found in the fruit of cacti. We then dyed a piece of wool in the leaves
we collected & stood around for half an hour as the dye set. Hampi was now gnawing at the hoof of some other dead animal.
Back at the house that we had left our stuff there were only five spare beds so some of us had to find others elsewhere in the village. Shingi & I found two beds in the sewing room at the village shop, a shop selling the basics of flour, water & Coca-Cola. Walter found a bed in Beneccio's potato store room & Susan ended up in a stable in a sort of manger, but Geoff gave up his bed in the house to sleep with the potatoes.
Once our beds were made we headed back to the house, I had carried a bottle of rum on the hike, although heavy it was worth it in the end. Geoff went to the shop for some Coke & we mixed it with the rum in an empty Gatorade bottle. The rum lasted all of twenty minutes & it was time to drink Susan's sugar cane spirit. It tasted really rough after the rum & Coke & most of it spilled down our faces as we were drinking it from a cup fashioned from a cut down bottle. Dinner was soup, meat (which Hampi ate most of), veg, rice & coca tea. Soon after dinner Beneccio came in with his small Andean guitar & started playing & singing. Most of got up to dance, I tried not to bang my head on the ceiling. After the singing & dancing the table was prepared for a ritual. We were all given coca leaves in our ponchos of which we were supposed to chew a few. Then everyone was given a cigarette, you weren't supposed to inhale it but rather blow smoke to each corner of the room. Earlier that evening Geoff was told he couldn't smoke inside as it was the girls bedroom but here we all were with lit cigarettes in their room with a fire being constructed in the corner to fill the room with more perfumed smoke. Next we had to arrange coca leaves in our hands so that we had ten lots of four leaves, quite difficult with only eight gaps between your fingers. These quintos
of coca leaves were supposed to be the best leaves neatly arranged but only seemed to have dog eared leaves. We took it in turns to pass the leaves onto Beneccio, blowing on each quinto
as we did. The leaves were arranged on a piece of paper surrounded by candles. Once all the leaves were given up other items were added each representing important things in Quechuan/Incan life. Some I can remember the significance of, some I haven't a clue but they included confetti stars, part of a dried llama foetus, a starfish, some gold & silver, sugar, pink wafer biscuits, glitter, rice, wine, wheat & a magnet. We then took it in turns to pour wine on the four corners of the table & the offering in the middle & drink the remainder of the wine. The whole package was then wrapped with twine & a rose & would be burnt at midnight so that all our hopes & wishes would come true. Everyone in the room then hugged each other. We didn't get to see package burn as we were all exhausted & even sleeping on potatoes seemed inviting.
Drink of the Day: Ron Cartavio
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