We began our last stint of volunteer work this week! An hour outside of Cusco, nestled on the hillside across from Inca terraces and at the foothills of Inca ruins lies the community of Cuyo Chico (meaning Which Boy? not Witch Boy as I originally thought). We were expecting something small, similar to our experience in Karina, and we were proved wrong with a literal fanfare. When we stepped off the bus in front of the main hostel, we were greeted by people in traditional Peruvian clothing playing the flute, drums, and blasting away on a conch shell.
The women threw flower petals over our heads while the men took all our baggage from us and whisked us away upstairs, where we were also dressed in traditional skirts, jackets, shoulder wraps, and hats. They welcomed us to their community and we introduced ourselves (in Spanish and rather poorly) before we were taken to our rooms.
The biggest question on our minds was: why on earth had they dressed us up? We soon learned it was because we were to be put on display at a tourism competition! It turns out that the Peruvian government sponsors a competition between communities to see how many tourists they’re pulling in a year, and the most impressive community wins a cash prize (we were the prize sheep being shown off to the judges). At the end of the competition we were asked to dance with the judges (that went over about as well as you’d expect). We find out on the 29th if we won or not.
The rest of the week has been an extremely diverse and fun look into life in Cuyo Chico. On Tuesday we learned how to make clay for sculptures in the morning and made the sculptures in molds and presses in the afternoon (we are not meant to be potters). On Wednesday we spent the day making necklaces and bracelets with the dried beads and charms we’d made the day before (and freezing our hands off: “summer” means a very different thing at 3000 meters than it does at sea level). Thursday saw some actual farming in a greenhouse where they grow roses. We had to dig new trenches and fill them with guinea pig poo and chemical fertilizers before covering the trenches again (we all limped out of the greenhouse with hands massaging lower backs). In the afternoon we got to try our hands at painting ceramics (we’re not meant to be painters either). On Friday we spent the morning taking corn kernels off the cob with our hands. The corn comes in all different shapes, sizes, and colors, and you take the kernels off by twisting the cob in your hands. It was fast and easy work, even though we did have to fend off the occasional curious chicken. In the afternoon we hiked up behind the village to the family’s field, where we were each handed a sack and a scythe and got to work cutting the grass and flowers and filling the sacks. We gave one sack to the cows and the other three to the guinea pigs (one of which we’re 99% sure Abi and Davina ate for dinner).
We don’t have to work on weekends, so we hiked the 40 minutes down to Pisac to look around (and I only fell over once!). The community sent a guide with us to show us around the market and made sure we didn’t get lost (or overcharged for stuff). The market is enormous and covers at least 4 square kilometers and has everything a tourist could want (and we have no self-control; family members prepare yourselves for a Peruvian Christmas). Davina and India did the hike back to the top while the rest of us took the bus (we got back to the top at the same time. Let that sink in for a moment).
We came back to the market on Sunday because it wasn’t pouring down rain and, to our amazement, the market had gotten even bigger in the sunshine. There was an entire new section of people with fruits and vegetables, street vendors selling roast chicken and homemade chicha, and artists set up under umbrellas painting watercolor scenes and portraits (and women offering to let you take pictures with their babies?) It really is a breathtaking experience. The food has also been some of the most diverse we’ve had since the trip started. The families rotate cooking duty in the community, so we get a different family dish every night. We’ve eaten quinoa, corn, squash, spinach, broccoli, cauliflower, eggs, beans, and algae spheres from a local lagoon (how cool is that?!). Each family prepares the ingredients in slightly different ways, so we have yet to eat the same dish twice (Davina and Emma both swear they’ve gone up a trouser size).
All in all, this week we’ve felt welcomed and wanted more than anywhere else during the trip. The people in Cuyo Chico genuinely seem to care about our well-being and making sure we’re happy and healthy. We’ve all said at some point how we feel cared for and cared about. We are seriously looking forward to next week in Cuyo Chico!