|By Emily Guilmette, Kuoda Travel|
|Dear Kuoda Friends and Family,
Our day-long adventure took us South (photos at the end of the post!), zipping with our chatty driver out of the historic center of Cusco. We passed the city’s more modern urban areas, watching locals hurry about their daily business and hankering for a stop in one of the many “pollerias,” where spicy rotisserie chicken is served dripping and with avocado. We sped through the small towns just outside of Cusco that each specialize in a type of food. For example, one is famous for its bread; one for its “cuy” – guinea pigs. (Food, as you can see, is plentiful and excellent in Cusco.)
Shortly, we emerged into the more agricultural part of the valley where golden fields stretched out on either side of the road before bumping into the bases of the mountains that hump up suddenly like dusty green whales. While Cusco has started to climb up the peaks that surround it, outside of the city the mountains are untouched and tend to hem in the flats spaces. The less civilization surrounds you, the larger they seem.
We skimmed along the winding road that now followed a wide shallow river reflecting the incredible blue of the sky and only slowed for the speed bumps in the middle of small towns. We waved at the children herding llamas and sheep and honked the horn at the dogs that insisted in ambling in front of our car.
As the day went on, the towns became smaller and quieter and dustier, with mud-brick buildings hugging silent plazas. In the last – proudly proclaiming itself the birthplace of the revolutionary Tupac Amaru – we left comfortable roads behind and began to rattle our way up into the mountains. Some villagers had told us the bridge was half an hour away. Others said an hour and a half. In the Andes (as in my small Vermont home town) many things are “just over the next hill.”
Our driver, undaunted, turned on his eighties mix and we kept climbing up out of the valley, singing along with Madonna. When we reached the top, I gasped at the distance and sense of space that overwhelmed us. The high altiplano stretched away in all directions. The blue of the sky, the yellow and brown of the earth, stone… this simple palette created a sense of wonder.
Now and again, a small house surrounded by fields and stone corrals for sheep and llamas emerged from the landscape. We sometimes saw people in the distance stacking small tents of hay. And then, just when the shaking of the car and largeness of the country became too much, a crevice seemed to open in the earth and the glint of the Apurimac River appeared.
We descended endless switchbacks (a bit harrowing, as guardrails are rare here) until we finally parked along the side of the road in the midst of what was a local party.
Each year in the beginning of June, the communities in this area come together to weave a hanging bridge in the Incan style. There is a perfectly serviceable modern bridge crossing the Apurimac a stone’s throw away, but the tradition is so beloved that it is enthusiastically continued. In fact, each community must contribute a certain length of rope and during the weekend of the construction, a mayor takes attendance. Failure to attend means a fine! Yet, with incredible sunshine, laughter and a bit of beer, it certainly didn’t seem like an event anyone would want to miss.
All attendees dress in colorful traditional clothing and people of every age participate. The first day of the celebration is spent gathering the grasses (a very strong local variety) and weaving them into the ropes for the bridge. Much of this work is done by the women. The next two days are spent constructing the bridge and much of this is done by the men. In fact, the women aren’t allowed near the bridge until it is complete.
On each side of the river, ancient stone staircases descend steeply to stone footings for the bridge. Thick lengths of rope are strung across the gap with men from one community working on one side and men from another community on the other side. When enough ropes have been passed across to form the floor of the bridge and the handrails, brave fellows sit astride the ropes and begin weaving them together. They seem completely oblivious to the drop below as they inch forward.
With the smell of cooking smoke in the air, the shouts of the workers, music from rehearsals of dances, and the constant arrival of new recruits on motorbikes, it was truly an event unlike anything I’ve seen. The sense of community and tradition was so palpable and the landscape so lovely and rugged.
What is appealing about Peru is that it is still a large country with many places relatively untouched by tourism: we were among the very very few “tourists” watching the building of this glorious bridge. Travel allows us to step outside of ourselves, to learn about new places and people and return home with fresh perspective. And for this reason, I encourage all of you traveling to this wonderful country to take the opportunity to visit a small community; to go beyond the tourist track; to meet the local people; and to find a way to do all of this sustainably and with little negative impact.
Please feel to ask me more about this fabulous day-trip from Cusco! firstname.lastname@example.org.