A Q’eros Painting in Stories
The crystal white mountains invited us into the land of the Q’eros people that is watched over and protected by Pachamama (mother earth). The local mountain deities or apus protected these mountains in the past from invading Spanish conquistadores helping the people of Q’eros disappear into the Peruvian Andes. As we started our journey through unfamiliar lands, each step we took we were followed by a white mist. I believed that the ancestors of the people of Q’eros continued to protect their lands as foreigners ventured into it.
As we reached our first homestay we were greeted by two wonderful families. After we had dropped our packs into their warm homes, they prepared us delicious yellow potatoes that they had grown themselves. They were first peeled and spiced with cumin and after accompanied in a soup that had a brilliantly unique taste.
Another potato popular in Q’eros is the black chuño potatoes. The chuño potatoes had a bitter but distinct flavor that many of us were unfamiliar with. It offered a different flavor in the soup that though in the moment may have irked my taste buds, I was able to experience another aspect of a very divergent community. After we had eaten we laid out our sleeping bags and at 8pm the lights went out. As I went outside in the middle of the night, the darkness wrapped around me. Everywhere I looked there was no sign of lights and everything was black.
The second day we awoke to the same mist that seemed to touch every aspect of nature. The Quechua people treated Pachamama with the utmost respect and our guide Seawar made us realize this throughout our 4 day journey. In the middle of our journey Seawar invited us into a circle and laid out a mass of coca leaves on his distinguishing sombrero de vaquero. Each person took 3 green coca leaves into their right hand reciting, Urpichay sonqoy (Thank you in Quechua) and closing their eyes. Seawar in the middle of the circle asked us to hold the leaves to our forehead and recite a prayer and word of thanks. We thanked Pachamama for inviting us into this land and after laid our green leaves into the center of the circle.
In the final and biggest community in Q’eros, Hapu, I stayed atop a small mountain overlooking the rest of the community below. As we gathered on the morning of our last day with the Quechua people, Seawar explained the tradition of Pachamanca. Again we gathered in a circle holding eachothers hands and watched as the red blood of a sacrificed sheep spilled before us. Though very graphic we were all able to watch an important historical aspect of Quechuan culture. We also laid the meat in an underground oven, cooking the meat with heated stones and burying the red embers in the earth.
As we were about to head back to the town of Ocongate a Quechuan person told something very special to our instructors. They said that they were thankful that we were different than other travelers in the idea that we had stopped to learn rather than giving and leaving. We had embraced their culture with an open mind and lived a lifestyle many of us will never experience again. As we packed up our truck and the final glimpses of a special community and people vanished, a clear blue sky, thanks to Pachamama, accompanied us home.