There are 13 people in our small group exploring Peru and Ecuador for the next two weeks. Given the moderately rugged nature of this excursion, as well as the expense, it’s no stretch to say that we’re all middle-aged yuppies with disposable income.
Arriving in Cuzco from Lima, we hopped a van for Yucay – the heart of Incan culture in a fertile region known as the Sacred Valley. Leaving the bustle of Cuzco, our surroundings became increasingly rural. Homes made of red clay bricks. Donkeys and cows tethered in front yards… Free range mutts in every doorway, or buried head-first in trash cans. Several people commented on the poverty, the poor standard of living… windowless homes – perhaps vacant – would surprise us with a rope full of brightly colored clothing drying on the side. Villages lacking modern convenience or creature comfort.
After a day in the Sacred Valley, it’s clear that the people of this region are not impoverished. After breakfast, i wandered outside following the sounds of drums. Across from the hotel is a field – and this morning it was full of primary school students in uniform. Maybe a hundred of them. Some drumming, some playing Andean flutes.
Along the sides of the field, the younger children danced to the drum beat. In the center? The young men danced, and performed what i later learned were traditional Incan dances. This was gym class. i watched for almost an hour – mesmerized. There were coaches, or teachers, keeping order. Small boys came out with metal hoops and the older boys dove through, executing front rolls on the grass. The crowd pleasers were the “rugby scrum” and the tug of war. Sheer joy. Perfect simplicity.
En route to Ollantaytampo to visit an Incan fortress, we stopped at a farmers market in Urubamba. Unlike Asian markets i’ve visited, it was vibrant without being chaotic. Vegetables – perhaps 20 different kinds of potatoes – fruits, beans, corn of all shapes, sizes and colors.
We saw farmers working their fields with oxen pulling log plows – in one case, a small boy was riding the plow to provide weight. Steep mountainsides, green with terraced agriculture.
Our local guide was most proud of the farmers market. His words “We’re not poor. Look at all this food! Unlike the deserts in Africa, we have resources”. Clearly, these folks don’t really give a damn about what’s happing with this pesky global economic meltdown. Why would they care about the price of oil? They don’t need it to live. No windows? No problem – the climate is beautiful and temperate. They make their own mud bricks – and if they need a bigger house? They build it. Debt? Not an issue. They barter for much of what they need.
Is this poverty? Hardly…