Chinchero is a traditional village from the Sacred Valley of Peru, one hour from Cusco. This is where I lived an unique experience with the weaver Fortunata, her husband Pascal and their son Diego..
While I was visiting the typical Sunday market, I completely fell in love with the village and the people. With a strong textile tradition, Chinchero, from all of this 3700 meters of altitude, remained an authentic village.
Even if Spanish is spoken by everybody, the villagers are really connected to their traditions and speak Quechua. Women wear proudly their beautiful traditional clothes, black & red, during important ceremonies or rituals. But you also see them wearing it during the Sunday market where the black and red are mixed with the colorful fruits, vegetables and the showy textiles. Chinchero is by the way called the “Birthplace of the Rainbow”. Also, because of its position, when the rain comes, rainbows appear quiet often. Overall, don’t miss the lovely church’s place overlooking the village and surrounding by the patatoes fields and the green mountains with farming terraces.
Thanks to an incredible meeting during my visit of the market, I was introduced to Fortunata who invited me to spend the week with her and her family. First, when I arrived, she was a little bit shy but her beautiful smile and her gentle eyes reassured me. She was always wearing a beautiful felt purple hat, and had a white shirt and a blue vest, and as every woman of Chinchero, she did her hair with two long braids.
It was only 6 pm. Fortunata was sitting on a thick carpet made by sheep wool and next to her were displayed little balls of different colors. She is a weaver since her young age and she began to explain the different stages to make a product textile: from the cleaning of the wool to the natural dyes and the spinning. If you want to know more in details about these stages, you can read my article below: http://cottonandtravel.com/en/traditional-inca-clothing-the-secrets-of-the-weavers-of-chinchero-peru/
Pascal arrived with his son Diego, 7 years old. He was not really tall, his traits could show that he was a hard worker, his darked face contrasted with his little blue eyes, that we could barely see when he was wearing his hat. He looked quiet serious and at first sight, I was quiet intimidated. But then, he began to speak and I could hear kindness in his voice… and also a lot of passion ! Actually, Pascal really love to speak and exchange about his culture with tourists. He couldn’t stop asking me questions about France and how is the life there. He was also proud to show me the potteries he was doing since 35 years now. He explained to me that he learnt by himself « por curiosidad » (by curiosity).
While we were eating these delicious meals, Pascal began to tell me that he built this house with two bedrooms for tourists. Also, sometimes they came here though a travel agency to see natural dyes demonstration. But then, he explained that they were staying here sometimes just for a few hours or for one night and he had only welcomed once, for several days, foreign students coming in exchange with their school. I was reassured. On one hand, he knew a little bit about cultural differences between them and tourists, but on the other hand, he was not so used to welcome them for a long time and share with them their daily life. So, our exchanges would remain authentic.
The day after, Fortunata and I, went in their patatoes field. The evening before, I asked her to come and help her but she was quiet surprised. She had a look at her huband, smiling, like if she was telling him with her eyes « It’s weird, isn’t it? »
The field was in the mountains and while we were walking, Fortunata showed me so many medicinal plants and at the same time, she was knitting someting that apparently would be a hat. « No hay tiempo que perder! (there is no time to loose)», she said smiling.
She also explained me that, here, women always were doing braids because it was easier for weaving and cooking. She also found I had really short hair… but my hair goes to the middle of my back… Later, she told me that, before, women were doing hundreds of braids to show they were single!
After more than 30 minutes walking, we finally arrived to the field and we had a beautiful view on the village. They are really proud of their fields and she explained me that they were producing 4 different kind of patatoes. I loved when Fortunata was telling me stories and while we were working she told me one really funny! Before, to know if the daughter-in-law would be a good future wife, the parents-in-law had to ask her to pass the test of the patatoe! There is one kind of patatoe really hard to peel, so, if she did it right, she was accepted!
The afternoon, I watched at Fortunata weaving for two hours and explaining me with a lot of passion everything about the traditional backstrap-loom weaving technique. Diego was next to her, doing his homework and then we watched together Harry Potter on my computer. It was the first time for him, they didn’t have a computer and he was really excited about it.
Diego was a little boy with great energy and really clever! He was really sociable and came directly to speak to me when I arrived. By the way, he is always speaking! And thanks to him we really laugh all together quiet often! We became closer really fast and I considered him as a little brother. He really loved to explain me evertyhing about his life in Chinchero.
I remember one night, he was pointing at the moon and explained me proudly that it was another planet. So I began to explain him that the moon was not a planet but a satellite of Earth, that our planet was surrounding by several planets coming from a solar system and this last one was coming from a galaxy among billions of other galaxies. He sat next to me and looked at me as if I was crazy. He also loved sitting next to me while I was reading my French book. He was training himself reading at it in a low voice.
The day after, I went with Pascal and Diego to another field, of oca this time, also at 30 minutes walking from their house. We worked from 9 am to 1 pm and it was really hard. But we laughed so much! Diego preferred to take the earthworms than the oca! We also played at who will find the biggest oca ever or the oca with the strangest shape!
Really proud, Pascal told me at least 5 times that the harvest was really good this year and despite he disagree to add chemical products like some of his neighbours. We rested for a few minutes and Pascal thanked me warmly. Then, he asked me what kind of patatoes we had in France, if we put chemical products, if the fields looked like here, when did we have to harvest … I tried to answer the best and suddenly I saw sadness in his blue eyes.
So, he explained that, in a few months, this field will disappear because the government was going to build an international airport, privatizing all the fields around here from the agricultors. He will have grants but this was not what he wanted… He just wanted to keep his fields because, here in Chinchero, you can’t buy new ones, as they are all already divided. It is a legacy that he will not be able to give to his children. And, it is also thanks to this fields that he can feed his family and don’t go buying in the market (or just for tradding for other vegetables)!
I looked at this beautiful landscape and thought with sadness that it will be gone soon…
Sunday ! It’s the Lord’s day!
We left at 11 am to attend Mass. When I entered into the church, I saw, in front, to the right, several men with traditional clothing and typical hats which pompoms were going down to the middle of their back. The other men, like Pascal, were wearing beautiful black suits. Even Diego had beautiful black brogue shoes. To the left, women were dressed with their traditional black skirt, with a red jacket and a red hat. It was the first time I saw Fortunata in her traditional clothes and she was absolutely gorgeous ! She explained me later, that before, women were wearing it everyday but now it was only for special events. Nowadays, young girls didn’t want to wear it so often and she was worried to loose this tradition. They are the only women in Peru, wearing this kind of traditional clothing, so they are really proud of it!
Mass was really noisy. The priest was speaking as loud and as fast as a football commentator! He began by a great “Buenos dias a todos”, and everyone repeated it all together. There were also a lot of prayers and songs, sometimes in Quechua, sometimes in Spanish. Later, Pascal told me that they were loosing their Quechua language because, now, most of the children, like Diego, even if they could understand, they couldn’t speak it. At the end of Mass, every men wearing the traditional clothes blowed in a big shell (or something like that) and the noise resounded in all the church! It was really surprising!
I didn’t know what to expect after Mass… Fortunata told me they were going to stay all together next to the church for a few hours… So, she took me to a small terrace where 40 women were sitting in circle on a low wall, while the men were sitting on the other side, separated from women. I sat next to Fortunata but she explained me that everyone here had already ”his spot” so I had to sit somewhere else at the end of the circle, next to a woman called Lucia.
All the women was looking at me… I was the only tourist sitting here with them…. And also the tourists around us taking pictures of this “show”, were looking at me strangely, as if I was lost. “What is she doing here alone, surrounding by these women in traditional clothing ?” Suddenly, I felt I was became myself a tourist attraction…
Lucia welcomed me warmly! She spent the next 4 hours explaining what was happening… I learnt that every women here was representing and taking care after a saint. When it is the celebration of one of them, the group meets together. The woman in charge of the saint needs to prepare the meal for everyone and also do the Chicha, the typical drink. So, I understood that this meeting was not happening every Sunday and that it was a unique chance for me to be here at that very moment !
Then, I saw like a strange trade of money and cards between them and Lucia was calling the roll to collect everything. Later, Fortunata explained me, that, before each Mass, a lady gave them a card to see if they attend Mass and they don’t arrive later! When they call the roll, if she doesn’t have it, then she needs to pays 2 “soles”. And, if she is not even attending the ceremony, she needs to pay 25 “soles”! As everyone here has an important mission, they really don’t mess about that! Also, to participate to this ceremony, they need to pay 25 “soles” everytime. All the money collected is used to prepare Christmas’s Mass. So, finally, taking care after a saint is expensive!
For one hour, a group of ten women recited prayers, one by one. They are the most influential because they take care after the most important saints. They poured flowers on every one’s heads. After that, the other 30 women went one by one at the center of the circle to recite a prayer and give flowers to everyone and they were hugging each other: the first one whispering “Un feliz abrazo” and the other one replying “Gracias Mama’’. One of them laughed at me because apparently I didn’t hug her properly. Indeed, you need to put your right arm in her shoulder and your left one in her waist.
After one hour hugging each other, we started the dinner… “Papas à la Huancaïna” a traditional Peruvian meal with chicken and rice. Then, we began to drink the Chicha and even the “Cusqueña“, the local bier, while we were chatting and laughing.
After thanking again Lord, it’s completely full and with the hair filled with flowers that we came back home.
It was my last day with Fortunata and Pascal. The evening before, I could see Fortunata’s face sadder than normally. She asked me how we could stay in touch. So, she asked her daughter, 14 years old, who was living in Lima, to speak with me by Facebook. We spent our last afternoon all together at the sun in the courtyard.
When Pascal had to to go back to the field, he sayed goodbye with a lump in his throat. He hold me and whispered “You are like my daughter now. I wish you could have stayed longer with us. I also thank you for the hard work you did with us and for sharing our culture and daily life”. He also wanted me to tell him when I would be arrived at my next stop because he would be worried: “As your parents, now, I will be worried for you, travelling alone…”. I tried to reassure him and thanked him warmly holding back my tears. One hour after, I had to take the bus to go back to Cusco. But Fortunata told me “Stay a little bit longer with us, one hour more, maybe…”
So, I enjoyed the most I could these last moments and remind me all about this unique week trying to set all these images in stone. Fortunata and Diego went with me to the bus station. She was still knitting her hat while walking quietly. When the bus arrived, I could see tears in her eyes. I gave them a last kiss and she gave me her little bag she was wearing everyday, so, I could always remember her. I got into the bus and while it was leaving, I looked back to see them a last time.
If you are interested in living an authentic experience like that… Fortunata and Pascal would love to welcome you in Chinchero! So don’t hesitate to contact me if you want more info 🙂