Many journeys do not end with making significant changes to people in real need. But I have just returned from such an experience in a remote community in northern Peru. A friend introduced me to the tour, part of a larger travel company offering sustainable ecotourism, in December. I really liked the concept of helping and getting to know people from different cultures.
Our group consisted of 3 travelers from Canada (Header, David and I) and a guide, Socio Adventures. The purpose of the trip was to build a brick and mortar stove for the family, which is currently doing everything on an open fire.
The right stove will save lives
According to the World Health Organization, indoor air pollution from the intense smoke emanating from these indoor fires is associated with one death every 20 seconds in the world’s poorest countries. A brick stove eliminates smoke and reduces the amount of firewood needed for burning by 50 percent.
Our hike started when we flew from Lima to the northern Peruvian city of Cajamarca. At the airport we met Ben and Selida, representatives of a small adventure company called Socio Adventures. There was little time left to get to know the city before the next stage of our journey. Cajamarca is considered to be one of the hidden gems of Peru and the main square is the place where Francisco Pizarro’s men conquered Inca Atahualpa in 1532 and overthrew the Inca Empire.
Music and mountains
The word “adventure” took on a new meaning when we took a Kajamarka bus on a 7-hour journey to a smaller northern community known as Chota. The unstoppable path of Peruvian music on the bus was set against the backdrop of numerous stops to allow people to run out of their wares and swarm, as well as vendors who boarded to sell something to eat or drink.
The music can also be aimed at dangerous moments, as we have walked very narrow paths and curly hairpins at high altitudes (and sometimes we have to stop because children have built stone carvings in the middle of the road.) The mountains are quite stunning in places and you want your camera to be convenient to shoot. Some beauty.
The differences are fascinating
When we finally got to Chota, I immediately realized that people cared about our differences and they looked at our white faces and / or white hair. We stayed overnight at Hotel El Angel, which was close to the main square of the city and the local market. By the next morning we realized that the large square behind our hotel, which looked out of the tall windows of our room, was actually a prison yard!
Our dining experience at a nearby restaurant that evening was our first experience with authentic Peruvian dishes. Corn, potatoes, rice are the mainstays of the meal and there were many interesting choices and combinations on the menu with different sauces, vegetables, herbs and chicken. “Cuy” (Guinea pig) is a specialty in Peru and, of course, it was also offered.
Early the next morning, we boarded a taxi in the last part of our trip from the Kadmalka community, a 45-minute drive from Chota. Our luggage and two of our passengers chose to walk in the back of the truck through the scenery and had direct contact with the few passengers who “came in” on the road in order to travel to their community in a short time. It took us a while to reach our destination to realize that there was no way to our lodge and that we were climbing the hill with our luggage in hand!
However, Mercedes and Enrique, the local staff of Socio Adventures, were waiting for us to arrive, and they immediately picked up our bags and set off. A group of curious children also greeted us and we started to get acquainted with Kadmalka families. Ben and Daniel conducted a strategic intervention with a Spanish / English interpretation, and I quickly realized that language would not be a barrier to connecting with these recipients.
Blue Lodge was a welcome sight! I had quite rural expectations, but this newly built building had a dormitory-type room on the first floor, which housed men, and a lovely large room with a wooden floor, a double bed, 2 single rooms, and a sink on the second floor. women. We were all grateful for the ceramic tile bathroom filled with a large shower with hot running water; Toilet; Sink; Electric plug.
One of the main concerns of traveling to a third world country is how to avoid the disease. Tips include: do not drink water or ice, avoid raw vegetables and salads, refrain from seafood, eat only fruits that need to be cleaned. The special needs of travelers are included in the accommodation in Kadmalka. Here is sterilized sterile water. The food is prepared in a sterile kitchen by a young woman named Felicita, who attended Lima Cooking School. Its menu was well balanced and consisted of delicious Peruvian dishes.
After lunch we started building a stove fireplace on the loggia terrace. No experience was required. We have good instructions and diagrams and help from Mercedes and consultation from Ben. The fireplace was built from corrugated tin (which was to be flattened and then circled and closed.) The next morning we climbed higher into the fertile hills of Cadmalk to our family home – Nestor and Georgina, and our assistant Absilon picked up the finished chimney.
We were all excited and probably a little nervous. Nestor showed the old salad and the darkness of the walls and ceiling from the smoke. He then showed a new adobe room that was recently built specifically to install a new stove.
Building materials were already in place, and Hezer, Absilon, Nestor, and Georgina set up the furnace site. By noon we had completed the first stage (4 ‘x 2’ brick and mortar oven). Two children, Janet (8) and Kevin (6) came home for dinner to see the progress and we immediately contacted them for their vigilance and excitement.
In the middle of the morning we were taken home for a “coffee break” and served tea, coffee and pieces of roasted corn. It didn’t take long for each other to warm up and we had some wonderful funny moments when we had a hard time asking questions and getting to know each other through a very small repertoire of Spanish / English dictionaries.
The Adobe house had a dirty floor, a table covered with lace cloth, 4 chairs, a closet, dishes and food. Georgina has 3 sewing machines and the ceiling was hung with woven and woven items for sale. There was no bathroom and hot water. This family of four has a very small plot of land at the edge of a hill, for their 2 sheep and 2 cow pastures.
At the end of the morning, as a sign of gratitude for our help, they gave me a gift from the family – a bag with 3 live guinea pigs in it! I hope my surprise was balanced by a true understanding and appreciation of the importance of this offer. The guinea pig, or “cuy” in Quechua, is an important source of protein for these families and has a long history in Inca traditions. Out of respect for the family, we agreed with Felicity to prepare the little animals for our lunch the next day!
The next morning we worked diligently as a team and according to the schedule, the stove was finished and the fireplace was also installed. Wow! We were all very excited about the finished product! The stove is 4 brick level high, full of stone, a brick opening is built on top for the wood. The opening is surrounded by stone and mortar and has a steel plate on top.
After finishing, I asked Georgina if we could have our initials engraved on the soft mortar of the stove somewhere. He has already decided that Heather and I should write something in large print, directly in the center of the hearth – the hearth he watches every day. We wrote: “Thank you!” Our names on both sides.
The main event of this activity for me was just after presenting a few gifts to the family, which we brought from home. Georgina got to her feet to come out a little and I was crying! He said he did not know how to express our deepest gratitude for what we have done for them.
When his words were translated and I looked around, I saw that we all had tears. I came to help a needy family and so I felt richer for the gifts of established friendship and union. Huge differences in language, culture, religion, power, socio-economic status were eliminated, and we experienced the true joy of sincere effort.