By Mel Goldberg


chivay1We left Colca Canyon and started the long and bumpy five hour ride to the town of Chivay (pronounced chee-vái), high in the Andes mountains. We seemed to be traveling back in time as our bus rattled over unpaved dirt and rocky mountain roads. I do not know if chewing coca leaves helped, but I never felt any altitude sickness even when we crossed the Pata Pampa Pass at 4825 meters (15850 feet).  To put that in perspective, California’s Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US, is 4418 meters. (14495 feet or 1350 feet lower than the Pata Pampa pass).

We were in good physical condition and had no problems. My son and I hiked in the area, and Marcia, his wife, who is five feet tall and weights about 100 pounds, jogged up a flight of one hundred stairs.  Although the trip brought some discomfort, the scenery was magnificent. At rest stops, a crowd of locals greeted us with alpaca-wool sweaters, gloves, scarves, and all manner of locally made goods for sale. Many of the vendors were children.

We saw vicuña, a protected species. Fortunately, I had a good telephoto setting on my digital camera because these animals tend to stay away from the roads. Llama, used for their fleece, and alpaca, a good source of high protein meat, were common and more accustomed to people.

Traveling through small villages, we were amazed that the lives of these mountain people had changed little in five hundred years.  Around the town of Chivay and on the ancient terraced land, people still farmed the same way the Incas did. Chivay is a small town and our guide surprised us by taking us to La Caldera, a hot water outdoor pool, where the water enters from a stream heated by the volcano. The heat of the water is determined by the distance from the inlet point, which was about 80°C (175°F). It never became cool but the heat decreased as we moved away from the inlet. We were able to soak and relax in 40°C water (105°F).

After a refreshing swim, we continued on to our hotel in Sumbay, where we had dinner at El Chinito Restaurant. The dinner consisted of a large buffet which we found commonly prepared for travelers. Peruvians delight in serving large quantities of food to travelers and the buffet was sumptuous. At dinner we were treated to a costumed folk dance and heard Peruvian folk music, which usually involves guitar, percussion, and Peruvian pipe flute. Often sung in Quechua rather than Spanish, it is a type of music that never gets old because it calls to mind the deep history of the country.

City people speak Spanish but Andes mountain people speak Quechua, much different from Spanish. Some examples: Hello in Quechua is allillanchu (a-yee-yán-chew); What is your name is iman sitiiki (eé-mahn seet-e-eékey); Goodbye is ripushayku (reep-oo-sháy-koo). Quechua, an official language in Bolivia, Peru, and Ecuador along with Spanish and Aymara, is the most widely spoken language family of the indigenous peoples of the Americas, with a total of some 6 to 8 million speakers.  A few authorities see a relationship between Quechua and some Chinese dialects.

A Quechua woman usually wears a hat, locally called a bombin, and tilted at an angle to convey information.  Women from Chivay and Cabanaconde (a village, about 50 km west of Chivay), wear hats made of cloth, flannel or wool. After a hat is embroidered, local people can tell if the wearer is from Chivay or Cabanaconde, and the tilt tells them if she is single or married.

Many Peruvian people have rosy cheeks, making them look healthy.  But facial flushing is often a sign of rosacea. At high altitudes, the sun’s rays cause dermal inflammation and damage to superficial blood vessels.

The next day we were off on a three hour van ride to the city of Puno on Lake Titicaca, 3,812 meters (12,500 ft) above sea level, and one of the highest commercially navigable lakes in the world.  Titicaca is a Quechua word that means puma, an animal with great religious and cultural significance.

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