Friday morning I called Jeff first thing. It was his wedding day. It is not every day that your best friend gets married, and not being there to see it was tough. I had contemplated just buying a ticket and showing up, but I just could not justify spending the resources on that. $1400 can educate two girls for a year. So a phone call had to suffice. It was good to talk to him, and I couldn’t be happier for them. Congrats Jeff and Angela!!
That afternoon we left on our two day hiking trip. Alex planned a trip for Ana, Alicia, (volunteers from Connecticut) and I to travel to see where some of the girls live and how they have to travel to school. This is what I had been waiting for!!! I wanted to see firsthand how they got to school. I keep telling people how the girls have these long walks and I knew there was sometimes a combie (overloaded minivan, usually with 10-15 people) ride in there as well. Bianca came too, so the five of us set out.
What an amazing two days. I can honestly say that the purpose of the Sacred Valley Project is necessary and meaningful.
It began with a 15 minute combie ride to a bridge over the river to a town called Pachar. There, a large group of kids were waiting including Anita (one of our girls) and her little sisters. I didn’t exactly know why we were waiting, I just thought we were talking to the kids before traveling on. Then, Anita pointed and said here it comes. A big truck was driving down the road. It was about the size of a large moving truck with a normal truck bed in back. As it approached, I realized this was our ride up to the village of Socma. Two of the girls live there, and they were the reason the Sacred Valley Project was started. They opened the back door so our group could get in. Whoa. It was packed! There was less than standing room only, and in addition to people there were piles of goods from the market stacked on the floor with people sitting on top. I had to climb over the edge in the front and drop in. I had to stand on one foot because there was no room for the other. I counted 80 people in total, mostly women and children. A plank was placed at the front, and ten people stood on it. It bent perilously with every bounce, threatening to break and endangering the three women nursing their babies crammed underneath it. Maribel was there as well. I found out later that the truck runs once on Wednesdays and Fridays, no wonder it was so loaded. The people have two chances a week to carry food up to their houses.
Overloaded truck up to Socma
Alex, myself (standing on one leg), and 73 other people in the back
That can't be safe...
The ride lasted about an hour, and climbed steep switchbacks up over 2000 feet. We caught a beautiful sunset on the way up, which distracted me from the usual “don’t look down” 100 to 1000 foot drop I have now become so accustomed to experiencing everywhere I have traveled in this country. We pulled into Socma as it got dark, and Maria Elena’s mom was selling food. It was a plate of boiled corn kernels and something that reminded me of collard greens. There is a little guest house for tourists on the edge of town, the rooms were nice but the bathroom was only a hole in the ground. It felt like I was back in Morocco. Later that evening, we had dinner at Nohemi’s house with her family.
The next day we rose early, ate breakfast with Nohemi again, and headed up the mountain. Our first destination was Markuray, the home community of Maribel. The hike was the usual combination of beauty and fatigue. It was a two hour hike up about 2000 more feet. So this is the walk Maribel does every Friday on her way home. We were exhausted. Her tiny little community had a nice school and small soccer field. There is no road for cars, the landslides claimed it long ago. So the one teacher drives a tiny motorcycle up there every day. Maribel's house was one room, with a bed in the rafters above and one below. We were invited in for coffee, potatoes, and an egg. Afterwards, her father took us to his field, which he was extremely proud of. It was pretty cool, there was a huge sunflower, cauliflower, cabbage, chamomile, and of course, potatoes.
In front of Maribel's house with her siblings and cousins
Maribel's little sisters
Maribel and her family
Maribel's mom making us food
We then continued up the mountain a little, and started to cross around to another community, Ryan. This is the home of Elizabeth. It was another hour and a half walk to get to her house. On the way, we passed the strangest rocks I have even seen. They were solid when in the cliff, but when you pulled them out you could crush them in your hand. We also started to see significant landslides dotting the mountainside. This is a huge issue in the highlands, and at one point, Alex pointed out a two foot wide part of the path and said how when (not if) a landslide covers it, the entire community will be cut off. We were pretty whipped by the time we got to Elizabeth’s house, but she wasn’t there. A neighbor said the family was out tending sheep. So we headed down and around the mountain to a set of ruins. They were built on a gigantic rock face in the side of the mountain, above a beautiful waterfall. The waterfall dropped about 1000 feet down into the valley.
Yup, we were a little tired
On the way, we passed three women walking up to Ryan. Alex stopped to talk, and it happened again for the third time that day. Everyone up in the highlands knows Alex and his work there. Besides the dorm, he has built bathrooms, galpones, and brought electricity into the villages. But the focus is on the dorm, and one of the women asked Alex if her daughter could come stay there. So once again, I had to watch Alex’s face drop. He carefully explained how there was no more room at the dorm and they were not accepting new students at this time. The mother seemed to already know the answer and knew the miracle would not arrive that day. I know it kills him every time he has to say no, and that is often.
Beautiful waterfall with Incan ruins above
After lunch and a photography lesson (thanks Ana) at the ruins we began hiking down the opposite side of the valley to Pilcobamba, the home of Anita. We stopped for chicken and potato soup and to chat with her mom. We tried not to stay too long since it would be dark soon and we still had about a 2 hour hike down the entire mountain out to the bridge in Pachar.
In front of Anita's house
The hike down was amazing, and we arrived in Pachar just as it was getting dark. Alex suggested we all split a large bottle of Coke, so I went into the store to buy one. Now, in Peru the standard doorway is 5’10”. So I constantly have to bend down into every doorway. But I was so tired I didn’t bend enough, and hit my head so hard I fell back on the ground and just lay there. Good times.
Hiking down to the valley
We waited on the side of the road for about 20 minutes waiting for a combie to drive by and take us back into town. Arriving in the plaza exhausted we headed home.
So now it all makes sense. The trip is long and arduous to get into town, and I am glad I got to experience it. We didn’t make it to Sylvia’s or Vicintina’s houses either, apparently because they live even further into the mountains. Maybe that will be another weekend.