At long last: Ollanta!

So far, Ollantaytambo, affectionatly called Ollanta by many, has been as lovely a town as the people I’ve met within its walls. It was founded in the 15th century by the Incan ruler Pachacuti and is best known as being the last successful stronghold against the spanish conquistadors. Today, the city is considered a “living Inca city.” Since the city was founded nearly 600 years ago the Incas and the descendants of the Incas have been living in the same houses lined along the same streets with the same ruins sitting pretty and noble on the hillsides above. The valley Ollanta sits in (at about 10,000 ft) has a raging river coursing through it and towering, snow covered mountains above. There are endless opportunities for running, hiking, swimming and just generally playing in the nature. Pair that with one of the most tranquil pueblos in south america and it’s hard not to take a deep breath, look around and feel completely content.

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Then there is my host family. They are the most adorable and patient people you could ever hope for. The family consists of Eugeno(just try to say that in spanish, it’s ridiculous), Pancha, their 5 children, a dog named Sambo and 2 kittens. The kittens are named Tim and Parakeeta and I’m proud to say I was integral in their naming! They didn’t have names when I arrived so I called the white one “el timido” because he would never let me pick him up and play with him. And out of el timido came Tim. The kids have all flown the nest but mostly live in Cusco so they come to visit all the time. All of the kids study english but are really lovely about putting up with my poor spanish and only helping me out if I’m really struggling.

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Pancha cooks delicious food and puts up with all of my strange requests. However, if they’re really too strange (a sandwich consisting of bread, avocado AND cheese, absurdity!) she’ll just leave me to my own devices and watch me skeptically from the other side of the kitchen. My family makes the best bread in town. It’s a fact. We make whole wheat bread and Pancha puts a bit of anise in every batch. She wakes up at 2am most mornings to make the dough and then rolls out about 1000 loaves before sunrise. She’s at the market by 6am and sells out every time in less than 2 hours. The bread is truly delicious, all the wheat comes from their own farm and Pancha sells the loaves 5 for 1 sole so it’s real hard to go wrong. I’ve woken up twice now to help and it’s quite the experience. We mix in a trough, we let it rise, we put it through this crazy smoothing machine, and then we’re supposed to make perfect little dough balls which is where I’m currently getting caught up. I just can’t do it. The whole family can roll these perfect dough balls in under 5 seconds and not only that but they make 2 dough balls at once! I, on the other hand, sit there at the end of the table by myself with a scraggly dough ball that I resolutely try to make into a perfect sphere and it simply won’t work. One side always gets flat, there’s inevitably a huge crack down the middle and after carefully shaping my one dough ball into the best sphere I can for 5 minutes I watch as Eugeno says “perfecto!” grabs it and then not so subtly reshapes it into one of the perfect balls and puts it with the rest. Damn. While I appreciate the support I think I’m going to start practicing in secret so I can actually be an asset to the bread making team rather than some pity case at the end of the table.

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Eugeno and Pancha speak Quecha first and foremost (language of the incas) and are consistently trying to get me to speak quecha. I consistently refuse. Castallano is more than enough for my brain at the moment thank you very much. Plus, quechua is nothing like spanish. Por ejemplo, como se llama (what is your name) is imasutiki in quechua. Como esta (how are you) is imaynaya. The only words I’ve really got going are charky (jerky) and puma (puma). They don’t really count though since those are the only 2 quechua words that have made it into daily english use. Long story short, I will not be learning quechua.

The town of Ollanta has only 4 ovens. No, you did not read that wrong. The entire town has 4 ovens. Therefore, if you want to cook something in the oven, say a guinea pig for dinner, you have to wander over to one of said 4 ovens and pay to use it. My family has one of these precious hornos and not only do we have one but it is the largest in all of Ollanta. It can fit 15 pigs in it at once! It gets crazy sometimes. If there’s a matrimonio we’re talking 40 chanchos (whole pigs), guinea pigs, chickens, ducks, a bucket full of cow parts and more papas than you can shake a stick at. However, Pancha and Eugeno are masters of the horno and they can get it all done in one night. Personally, I’m more of a single sweet potato from the oven fan but I haven’t tried chancho yet…

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Speaking of chanchos, here’s a lovely example of the patience of my family. I used to continually forget the word chancho and instead say chuncho. While similar, chuncho apparently means “jungle person.” Therefore, I was always asking my family, “how many jungle people are in the oven?” “When you put one jungle person on top of another the sound it makes is the worst” etc. Oy.

I spend most meals with my host family and the rest of the time I tend to spend with the fun people at Awamaki. Everyone I’ve met has been so welcoming and someone seems to be doing something fun every day. There are 6 of us volunteers and 8 full time staff members. There always seems to be a hike to go on,  a festival to go to, a potluck to attend or a bar to meet at for some beers.  Us volunteers have come from all over the world so there are stories and accents to go around.

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These pictures are from one of the first festivals I went to: dia de los compadres. Compadres are basically god parents and they’re far more important here than they are in the states. A god parent shares the responsibility of raising a child with the natural parents to ensure that the child has opportunities in education, personal development, marriage etc. You can be a godparent for more than one child. For example, I’m pretty sure Pancha is the madrina for at least 10 different people. The compadres relationship often cements long term friendships and especially at this festival you could see that compadres and their god children shared a love second only to nuclear family. Then again, everyone was drinking copious amounts of chicha (local alcoholic beverage made from fermented corn) and we all know how much love there is to go around when you’re a little bit burracho (drunk)…

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Weekend numero 2 I went on a lovely hike with Lindsey and Mieke. It was a gorgeous hike that started in a small town, meandered up into rolling hills along a river, topped out at a pass from which we could see snow capped mountain upon snow capped mountain, and then descended through a steep valley to my first incan ruins, huchuy cusqo. Incredibly beautiful, architecturally fascinating and good company to boot.

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As far as work goes I’m pretty excited about the stuff I’ve been working on. Mieke is the sustainable tourism coordinator and she’s rad. She’s also from Seattle and not only do we both love the nature but we both work in similar styles which makes everything easier. The other sustainable tourism volunteer is named Nikki and she’s from Michigan. Also a grand gal and I’m excited to be working with both of them. Anywho, so far we’ve just been getting into the swing of things but that has included heading up to the main weaving community we work with, Patacancha, 3 times already. Patacancha sits at about 13,000 ft and the women wear traditional Quechua clothes, speak Quechua and are incredibly talented weavers. They are all so kind and excited to see us whenever we make the trip up. I’ve gone up on 2 tours and had the chance to see the women weaving, played soccer with one of the ninos and started building relationships with the women we work with, slowly but surely. Mieke also took Nikki and I up to sit in on the annual co-op meeting where we met with the women to discuss contracts and what is expected from both parties. It was incredible to watch these women speaking their minds and voicing their wants and needs even while they were continuing to weave and watch their children at the same time. Talk about empowered multi-tasking women.

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One comment

  1. What a fabulous experience you are having. Excellent post and photos – you really gave me a feel for what it’s like to live in Ollanta, one of my all-time favorite towns. I just read about the awful flood you had. Hope that all is well with you. Wishing you all the best, Terri

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