Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Farming in the Peruvian mountains, getting abandoned there

Greetings from Cusco! I got caught in the rain on the way back to my hostel from a museum, so I stepped into an internet cafe to post an update. 
I got back from WWOOFing at Hacienda Ccapacca, a small farm wayyy out in the mountains, sort of near Cusco on Saturday night. 
First, if you don't know what WWOOF is, it stands for  world wide opportunities on organic farms. It's a website that enables travelers and farmers alike. Travelers can volunteer and get free meals and housing while farmers get extra help on the farm. It's a great way to travel and to see more than just touristic spots. What you do is pay for a membership for countries separately, then you can see a list of participating farms. There are other similar websites such as WorkAway and Help X that are equally, if not more helpful for travelers. 
Anyway, I found my hacienda on the WWOOF Peru website and left a little over two weeks ago at 5am in a cramped van from Cusco. From Cusco I went to Curahausi and from Curahausi to Antilla and from Antilla, to the farm. It was about 6 or 7 hours of riding in a van piled high with everything from roofing (which I had to sit on and around) to bread, to two other gringos (going to the same farm). I feel the need to mention here that this road is all of three years old. Before that, there was only a walking and horse trail from Curahausi. Imagine going huckleberry picking (Idahoans) on a National Forest road near the Snake River Canyon, but in a bus so full of people that you have to stand (happened on the way back). Not a horrible road, by Forest Service standards, but a pretty horrible vehicle (on the way back we had to stop at multiple creeks to get water because it was overheating). 
Anyway, we were let out and pointed toward the farm, where we were greeted by another volunteer who was leaving in the morning. He showed us around and explained how the farm worked, while the owner just sort of grunted a hello before walking out to the garden for awhile. Then she briefly asked our names before she gave us a poop talk, explaining that if our shit was hard, we'd be shitting in the woods for two weeks and that each time we used her toilet, we'd scrub it thoroughly. This woman was no-nonsense personified. She seemed like a bit of a crazy old mountain woman who I could peacefully coexist with in mostly-silence for a couple weeks, but, unfortunately (or fortunately?), she left the farm the next day (a pistol on her hip and ten gallon hat on her head), never to return again  (well, supposedly in one week).
So, I was left with a chacra (field) of habas (beans) and one of potatoes, a large garden, five goats, four chickens, two dogs, four cats, and two 21 year old boys from Virginia. Technically, the Peruvian farm hand, Raul, was there with us making sure we did our job, but we saw him three times the first week and a half we were there. The owner of the farm informed us before she left that he would be cooking for us (wwoofers were not allowed to use the stove) and staying with us, but he didn't really. So, for two weeks, more or less, the boys and I weeded in the garden during the day, after taking care of the goats and chickens. We cooked whatever food we could find in the house in garden, and played cards and watched the sunsets every night, which were incredible as we had a view of the second highest mountain of Peru. There was no bread, no meat, no fruit, no milk, and only a few eggs. She had a lot of leeks, a lot of stinging nettle (?), carrots, cabbage, etc. We had a campstove, no oven, so that was also a challenge. The owner was a vegan chef at some point and we actually found her cookbook, but we didn't have a lot of the ingredients. We ended up frying potatoes and making bean burgers a lot. We also made fried leek rings, which were delicious, chewed a lot of coca leaves, and ate oatmeal every morning. It wasn't too bad at all, although we got into the habit of spending our days in the fields talking about all of the things we couldn't eat. 
As the only volunteer who spoke much Spanish, I assumed the role of interpreter, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, as Quechua was also thrown into the mix and farm vocabulary is not my strong suit. Still, talking with Raul, I learned how to say farm related things  like to harvest, to weed, to plant, the goats got out again and destroyed everything, etc. 
The neighbor came over once in the morning to borrow some tools and proceeded to force us to go to his house and drink chicha (fermented corn alcohol) at 10 in the morning, which was better than weeding and more interesting, as we got to watch them building a house. Another neighbor came by a lot and asked us questions and drank beer with us and Raul one night (we convinced Raul to go to Antilla and get us beer). His name was Olympio and he was fun--much more talkative than Raul, who seemed to prefer to be left alone. 
One day a pig with five piglets came onto our property and got into EVERYthing. We chased it with a pellet gun we found until Olympio showed us his homemade slingshot, which was much more effective. The pigs kept returning though, a few times a day. Then, Raul came back and we all chased and surrounded them and Raul roped the mama. Speaking of mama, everyone calls girls or women mama, mami, or mamacita here, same thing with men and papa. Anyway, we finally got the pig and piglets, which Raul said belonged to a community somewhere nearby. No one really has fences or anything, so animals just go wherever, which somehow works. 
The last few days we were there, Raul came back and stayed with us. Every five days of work we got two days off, so we took a day off and asked Raul about going to Antilla. He said it was an hour's hike from the farm, so we decided to go into town and get some much-discussed fruit, bread, and eggs. Long story short, Raul's understanding of time and distance and the lung capacity of Americans at 4,000 meters was nada. It took us three hours and lots of asking people, some of whom only spoke Quechua, to find the town. Once there, we ran into another gringo who was headed to the farm. If we hadn't found him, he never would have found the farm.
This whole time we'd thought the owner would be coming back any day, because she just went to Cusco to get some treatment for something. But every time I asked Raul, something had changed and she still wasn't returning. Anyway, she never did come back, so I guess I'll never know if she was mad about the fact that we used her stove (she had a sign on it that said you touch, you go), or that the pigs got so many potatoes, or that the goats ate her beat tree, or that we ate almost everything in her pantry. 
 Overall, it was a crazy experience in an unbelieveably beautiful place--so beautiful that nothing else mattered, really. Here's a picture from the farm's site (no camera still, but I'll steal pictures from the Virginians). 

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Back on the Run

Hey all, here's a quick update from Lima, Peru, a little over week after I started my trip.
Before making my way south to the border and on to Peru, I went on a 3-4 day backpacking trip on the Quilotoa Loop, which was awesome. It's supposedly a popular route for backpackers, but we hardly saw anyone else on the trail (no one, actually), just people in some of the hostels on the way. It's the perfect lazy backpacking trip because you stop and sleep and eat at beautiful little hostels with delicious food and cuddly cats. We cheated one length of the trip and took a camioneta because it was going to storm and we'd already hiked around the whole lake. The rest of the trip we hiked though. It was probably like 10 or so km per day. And beautiful. I highly recommend it. 
Afterwards, I parted ways with my friend who hiked with me and got on a night bus south, from Latacunga to a border town called Huayaquillas, which is close to Tumbes, Peru. I got there at 5am and promptly realized it was stupid to take that bus because everything was closed, so I had to change money with people for much less than normal, but otherwise everything went fine. It was a bit of a phantasmagoria; some taxi driver (who ripped me off, but charmingly), took me all over the place in what seemed like a few minutes. First to immigration, then to some random van, which then drove me to Mancora. All of this happened before 8am and on little sleep. I was nervous about my taxi driver, but some security guard vouched for him and he had his offical stamp. He kept telling me not to be scared and insisted that I hold his hand and repeat some sort of prayer with him. Then he asked me if I ever dated older men...sigh, welcome to Peru. 
Once in Mancora, I hopped on another bus, then in another van, then arrived in a desolate little surfing town (half ghost town), called Lobitos. I met my friends there and had a fun time catching up with them, then headed back to Mancora the next day and stayed a day after they left to do things like laundry and bus-ticket-purchasing. 
Anyway, I left Mancora yesterday and arrived in Lima today. On the way here there was mostly sand, the sort you see in a sandbox after a birthday party: random piles of sand, rocks, garbage, some oil drilling equipment, that sort of thing. 20 hour bus trips are probably ill-advised in general, but this one was hilarious. I sat on the upper level, with a group of disgruntled riders. The bus got off to a late start, consistently played horrible movies, two of which were in English for some reason, and in general resulted in a lot of people yelling at the driver and at each other. It would not be a true bus experience without a salesman, so true to form, we got a man telling us about the cure for cancer for the last 30 minutes. (It's some plant found in the north of Peru and made into tea, combined with things like not-smoking, not-drinking, and eating lots of papaya). There were choruses of VAMOS and stomping as well, true to form. 
I met a French and German couple who live in Quito and sort of forced them into adopting me as their travel companion. So far, so good. But tomorrow I'll leave them and head to Cusco. I liked Mancora alot, in a just-for-the-weekend, surfer town sort of way, but Lima is huge and smoggy and disorienting so far. I want to get out. 
In other news, my camera somehow broke without me removing it from my pocket...I can't have things. I'll try to steal pictures from other people. In the mean time, words will have to do.