Post by Shannon Stellato
May 15th, 2017, I had an experience of a lifetime. On our way to Ausangate Lodge, we stopped to visit a community along the Transoceanic Highway, called the Cuyuni community. As we stepped off the bus our guide Edwin explained that they were greeting us as brothers and sisters. They played traditional music and wore costumes meant for special occasions. The first thing they showed us was a temple where people traveling along the highway will stop to present offerings, mostly flowers and coca leaves, or light a candle for the Apu. Next, we took part in a religious ceremony also presenting offerings to mother nature. We were each given three coca leaves and one by one we closed our eyes, breathed in, and made a wish before the shaman placed our leaves into the offering. I thought it was very interesting hearing what the local people wished for compared to what I wished for. I wished for a successful career while they wished for a good crops. I think it shows how our ways of life are different and yet similar at the same time. I wished for success in my career as an energy engineer, while they wished for success as farmers. Although these ways of life are different we both wished for success in our jobs because it directly correlates with our quality of life. After the ceremony, we learned more about the Cuyuni’s way of life.
The next thing they showed us was how the women weave. In each design the lines and colors represent different aspects of their lives. In the one pattern they showed us, the green color represented the wet season, the pink color represented the dry season, the red and orange colors represented the community, and the line between those colors represented the highway. Our guide explained the importance of the outfits of the women who were weaving. The single women wear bright colored and flashy clothes. Married women wear less bright and flashy outfits. Widowed women wear darker, plain outfits. Next, they showed us how they use llamas for transportation and farming as they walked us towards their houses. Before we visited their houses, we enjoyed a nice meal of potatoes and cow cheese. Our guide showed us how to use a tool for plowing the land. The Cuyuni community grows about 40-45 types of potatoes and boil them during the wet season and cook them underground during the dry season. After finishing our tea and potatoes we were shown one of their kitchens. Thanks to the highway built in 2007, the community is able to live a better life with electricity inside their homes and natural gas in their kitchens. Although the Transoceanic highway changes their way of life, the community says they are happier because of it. The highway has allowed the community to obtain new building material, different types of food, better schools, and faster transportation. Next, we were allowed to go into the building where they keep their guinea pigs. Every family in the community has guinea pigs. They are used for food and their poop is used for fertilizer. Guinea pigs are ready to eat and sell in 4 to 5 months and are sold for about 20 soles each. Compared to other animals, guinea pigs have a small carbon footprint, which is good for communities that rely so much on the land. They last thing the community showed us was a ceremony for the llamas. The community prepared chicha, a fermented beverage made from corn, and then gave it to the llamas to promote strong animals and hope for more llamas in the future. We joined in on their dancing and singing for their ceremony as they brought us to a spot where women were shearing a sheep and showing us the full process of spinning the wool, cleaning it, dying it, and finally weaving it into masterpieces that tell a message. After that, we boarded the bus and headed to a local restaurant to enjoy an authentic peruvian meal. It was truly an experience of a lifetime and one I will never forget.