I was really excited to return to the community of Ccaccaccollo this year. Last year my photo group spent three days doing a home stay and portrait project for the Planeterra Foundation in this community. This year, we were returning only to visit the weaving community and have demonstrations on how the community operates.
Our G leader, Elard Aranibar, has been to the community many times and had taken a few photos of this elderly man while visiting in 2008. In 2011, the man passed away.
When we returned to the community this year, Elard was showing the photos to the man’s family. It was a very emotional moment and it reminded me of the power of photos, even more so for those who don’t have them as a regular part of their lives.
For us, photos are standard and help us remember our youth as well as the elderly in our lives. For many communities around the world, photos don’t exist and memories are only those in your mind. That is why the emotion behind these photos is so incredibly powerful.
After a successful 2012 Peru Through the Lens tour, I asked participants to provide me with feedback about the trip so that I could continue to improve it for the 2013 year. Today, as I reviewed that feedback to see what I haven’t yet done, that I need to do, I reminisced while reading through each respondent’s highlights.
Here are participants responses to the question: What were your top five favourite experiences or places of the Peru Through the Lens Photo Tour?
1. Meeting and making new friends
2. Tombs at Sillustani (optional excursion during free time near Puno)
3. Machu Picchu – for the personal physical accomplishment & the view
4. Lake Titicaca – specifically Taquile Island
5. Pisac ruins
2. Home stay at Ccaccaccollo and community of Taray
3. Machu Picchu
4. Hot springs at Aguas Calientes (optional during free afternoon)
5. Markets (Cuzco, Puno, Ollantaytambo, Pisac)
1. The time Shari took to teach me about photographing using manual and using the histogram on the back of my camera
2. Seeing the ruins at Pisac
3. Lake Titicaca – including Taquile Island, the homestay at Luquina Chico, and the floating islands
4. Having the time to see the Ollantaytambo ruins the second day in the morning (optional during free time)
5. Ruins at Machu Picchu early in the morning
6. The sense of community that was established with our tour group early in the trip
1. Machu Picchu
4. Uros Floating Islands
5. The Flat topped island at the Chulpa Tomb ruins in Sillustani (optional tour during free time, near Puno)
1. Homestay at Ccaccaccollo
2. Machu Picchu
3. Uros Islands
4. Luquina Chico Homestay
5. Taray Dance Festival
1. Seeing Machu Picchu at the end of the trip. It was the icing on the cake for this Peruvian adventure.
2. Home stays…both of them – Ccaccaccollo & Luquina Chico. This truly gave me an insight into the Peru culture and gave me a perspective on life that I would not have gained from looking out of a bus window or simply sitting in coffee shops.
3. Visiting the Uros floating islands and meeting the community who live there.
4. The photo project of taking family portraits. It was touching to see how many of these families were so excited to have us take pictures of them. When I showed my “Mami” and “Papi” the pictures I took of their community they both began to weep with joy. It was quite an emotional experience for me.
5. Making new friends with the group that I got to travel with. They were all fun and I learned more about photography from interacting with each and every one of them.
1. Uros floating islands
2. Machu Picchu – It was great getting there early to sit and take in the vast beauty.
3. Taquile Island – tough active day but lunch with the million dollar view made the struggle worth it.
4. Pisac – so much beauty and history
5. Cusco architecture
As for myself, my highlights were:
1. Machu Picchu – Please read blog post Lost City, Found Self and you will understand.
2. Puno – The impromptu carnival street parade some of us saw during our free time and visiting the market to buy vegetables for our home stay families.
3. Luquina Chico Homestay – The parade of welcome music by the local men, dancing with the locals, helping make fried dough, photographing the locals at work (fishing & sorting fish), my little home stay sister Deanna, who cried when I left.
4. Uros floating Islands – The history of these islands fascinates me!
5. Homestay at Ccaccaccollo – challenging to communicate with our families because they speak Quechua, but feeling warmly welcomed. Enjoyed the volunteer family photos & meeting so many people of the community.
6. (I couldn’t just have 5!) Taray Dance Festival – A complete authentic travel experience. It was not a tour, nothing planned, just going about a day the same way that the locals do. Except this particular day was a local dance festival.
In Taray, Peru I had one of the most fabulous days on the entire Peru Through the Lens 2012 trip. It was not officially part of our itinerary, but they happened to be hosting a dance festival that our home stay community was taking part in. So, we were invited to join in and I am so glad that we did. This is not your typical tourist ‘tour’, instead, it was a very real, authentic experience with the locals, going about their day and seeing how they really live their lives!
Taray is a small community along the banks of the Urubamba River in the Sacred Valley, close to Pisac. We were staying in the community of Ccaccaccollo up higher in the mountains and traveled down to the community, about a 30 minute car ride. Kristie and I traveled in a car with our home stay dad. Steve and Andres traveled by local ‘bus’, meaning a large open-backed truck with a tarp over it and I think Andrea & Edward walked down the mountain to the community with their home stay family.
We were all dressed up in traditional attire and each arrived at different times, creating a spectacle being white tourists all dressed up. Nothing like drawing attention our way! Kristie & I were the first to arrive. Our home stay Papi dropped us off with our Mami, Ruth and we started walking in a dirt / mud road to the main square. Not 15 feet down the road, three police officers made comments or cat calls (in Quechua – the local language), our Mami couldn’t really explain them to us though but it was obvious … and then they kept sneaking glances. Police officers in other countries are much different from here in Canada!
There were very few people in the community when we arrived, but within about 30 minutes, locals started strolling in and filling up the bleachers around the main dance area and stage. Next to arrive were Steve & Andres and then just before the competition started, Andrea & Ed joined us. By this time, the heat was so intense that it was almost unbearable, especially with our regular clothes plus traditional clothes on top.
Local vendors were selling snacks … pastries, homemade ice cream / popsicles. I knew that I shouldn’t be drinking local water, but the refreshing coldness of a popsicle beckoned me! I bought one and thoroughly enjoyed it. And, it didn’t make me sick!
After being there for about an hour, the bleachers were full, the sun was out and the emcees for the day took the stage. If I remember correctly, they spoke mostly in Quechua, but might have thrown a bit of Spanish in now and then. There was music, excitement and an insult competition! Yup, you read that right, an Insult Competition! This competition was a face off between a member from each community. The two would take the stage and each say something and then retort. The competition was in Quechua, so of course, none of us understood, but our guide Andres explained that is was similar to using ‘Yo momma’s so fat’ jokes. Regardless of the fact that we couldn’t understand, it was still quite entertaining and laughter amongst the crowd was contagious!
Once the dance competition started, I bought another popsicle to cool me down and then the rain came … fast and furious and chilly. Just after figuring out how to cover up to stay dry with plastic, the sun would shine and we were all sweltering hot all over again. It was an impossible mixture of overheating, then being chilly, then getting wet and staying chilly.
Between being too hot to move and the rain that arrived so randomly, I decided to only use my little point and shoot Canon Lumix camera instead of my professional Canon 5D MK II. It was also a good choice as I could take video of some of the dancing but also meant that the photos I have to show for my really interesting day are mostly point and shoot and not many super fantastic ones. There were also regular random water balloons being thrown into the crowd and silly string or shaving cream being sprayed everywhere as part of carnival celebrations.
There were about 10 different communities participating in the dance competition. Each troupe composed of boys and girls or men and women adorning traditional attire, but with distinguishing decorations. Some had plants, yarn or other materials as props, or additions to their costumes. Others had large feather wings or flowers in their hair / hats. Each of the communities told a story with their combination of dance performance, music and song. I have to say, the singing was shrill. I am completely open-minded and thoroughly enjoyed the entire day and experience, but the singing, was loud, screaming, high-pitched … much like nails on a chalk board. Now, obviously this is the traditional type of music and locals are used to it, but as foreigners, it was literally hard on the ears. Often we winced, covered our ears or put our hoods up to block even just a little bit of the shrillness.
We watched six or eight communities compete and then our own community of Ccaccaccollo was up and we cheered them on. Each dance was about 10 minutes long and consisted of some kind of story where the men were trying to woo and capture the women. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t and sometimes, the tables turned and the women ended up capturing the men! This was particularly funny to the crowds.
Once Ccaccaccollo had finished, the group of us and our home stay families made our way out of the bleachers and to the square where we had a seat on the cement area in front of the church and waited for our Mami’s to unpack and serve our traditional lunch. While we were waiting a musician with his guitar stopped by our group and asked if he could sing for us. This made some of the locals uncomfortable as they seemed to feel his intentions weren’t genuine, but I thoroughly enjoyed his little show and he spoke a combination of Spanish and English.
Once lunch was ready, the ladies of the community piled our plates high with mixed vegetables, potatoes, quinoa (all locally grown and farmed by the community), as well as meat which was the Peruvian delicacy of Cuy (guinea pig). I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favourite meat to eat, but I did try it and it wasn’t bad. It was small and bony, but the meat was similar to chicken and didn’t have a strong flavour. The turn off for me was that there were still a few hairs on the skin and I just couldn’t get past that.
After lunch, we helped clean up, watched a dance parade in the streets of Taray and then Andres led us out-of-town for a walk across a foot bridge and in to the town of Pisac before bartering for a taxi for six of us up the mountain to return to Ccaccaccollo.
After a wonderful cultural day in the community of Taray with our home stay families from Ccaccaccollo, we walked across a foot bridge and then into the town of Pisac.
I thought that the bridge was for pedestrian traffic only, but quickly found out that the rickety old bridge was used for tuk tuks too. Yikes! Better get out of the way and off the bridge. The river is raging below!
In Pisac, we sat down for coffee and dessert at a cafe and for a breath of civilization after having spent 48 hours in Ccaccaccollo which was a pretty big adjustment for all of us.
After dessert, it was time to head back to our home stay families to tuck into bed for the night. Andres (our G Adventures guide), walked out to the main road and began talking to the taxi drivers to find one who would take all six of us to Ccaccaccollo. It was a bit of a challenge because most of the taxis were cars, not vans. And, most of them were hoping for fares headed to Cusco where they could get return business to Pisac, not to Ccaccaccollo which there would be no chance of getting someone to hire them to come back down. Not to mention that it was night and the road up the mountain was dangerous in the day time!
Andres finally found a driver willing to do the trip. Edward stuffed himself in the front seat where there would be the most room for his long legs. The girls smooshed in the back seat and that left Steve and Andres to hop in the trunk … well, more like the hatchback part, not really a trunk. It was a little like sardines for the next 30-45 minutes around big turns, up steep hills and in the dark. I was glad that I was looking forward and not sitting in the hatchback because it seemed even scarier to think of not being able to see what was in front of you and the height that we were traveling up and up and up!
It very much made me stop and appreciate all of the safety rules we have in Canada that are just not even considered in other countries! Seat belts are almost never worn in Peru. Maybe be a very responsible driver and possibly for children, but generally speaking, most passengers do not wear seat belts. It is quite common for there to be several extra people piled in a car than there are seats for. People ride in the trunks / hatchbacks of cars or on the open back of a half tonne truck without even thinking twice about it. Children sit on adult’s laps, or in the front seat. There are no booster seats or car seats for young ones.
It really makes you think when you start to realize all of the differences and the advances that we have in Canada in comparison.
About 3/4’s of the way up the steep mountain to Ccaccaccollo, we met another taxi coming down the long winding road in the opposite direction. Let me just say I was very thankful to have been on the inside of the road instead of nearing the edge of a cliff. The cars stopped dead in their tracks and then inched by each other nearly scraping paint off the sides of each other’s vehicles. It was incredibly nerve wracking just to see it take place and absolutely amazing that it could be done!
A couple of minutes later, our taxi driver let us off at the community plaza and we all went our separate directions to our homes. I crossed my fingers for him that he wouldn’t meet any further traffic on the way down the mountain because once was enough stress for anyone!
In February 2012, I embarked on an exciting journey to lead nine photo enthusiasts on a photo-tour in Peru. Machu Picchu was one of the main draws for people to participate in this trip, but in the end, many of the travelers were profoundly touched by a deeper experience when we spent three days and nights living with and getting to know families in a community called Ccaccaccollo (caca-coy-yo) which was nestled high in the Andes Mountains in the Sacred Valley of Peru.
While there, we used our photographic talents to capture family photos for the community. While tourists have often snapped photos of these amazing, warm and colourful people, none of those photos ever get returned to the community for them to cherish. What a pleasure it was for us to give them a lasting memory of their family through a photograph. Our group of 10 photo enthusiasts photographed over 60 families in one day, communicating in broken Spanish and hand gestures. It truly was a great learning experience and a fun challenge for all involved.
Now back in Canada, we are working to complete our commitment to the community by sending their printed family photos back to them. These will be the only photographs in their homes and, as you can imagine, they will be received with incredible emotion and cherished for a lifetime.
We invite you to attend our fundraising art show called Peru Through the Lens. The art show will take place on May 10, 2012 from 7-9pm at The Adventure Travel Company, 5552 Kaye Street, Halifax and will feature works of art from all 10 of the photographers who traveled together for this unforgettable experience. We will also have a variety of the family photos on display during the show which continues until May 31st. Our art prints will be sold to raise funds for the Ccaccaccollo community.
Funds raised will be funneled through Planeterra, a not-for-profit organization, to directly support the community of Ccaccaccollo. Planeterra is the leader in this community helping families preserve the ancient craft of weaving, handing it down to their children and self-creating important and valuable employment income for the entire community. Through our donations we are helping to create sustainable opportunities for the community so their traditions, language and way of life can be preserved.
Thank you to our wonderful sponsors – I hope you will drop by their websites to see what they have to offer.
After supper, Kristie and I headed on our trek to the outhouse, in the dark … brushed our teeth, in the dark and then came back to get ready for bed.
As I was cleaning off my bed, I moved my camera bag and something scurried away. (I just shivered thinking about it). Ah! I jumped back and gasped realizing at seeing it a second time that it was a large spider.
I’m not a fan of spiders to begin with, but something about finding a big one on your bed in another country is even scarier. Kristie, also happens to be scared of spiders, so we were a great team!
We got the flashlight out and looked around the floor, no luck. I continued very slowly clearing all of my belongings off my bed … one at a time. I checked and dumped each one of them out and set them aside. Then, on to my camera bag. I talked myself through it … ‘Ok, I’m going to pick up my bag and move it to the floor.’ … ‘Then I’m going to slowly take off each of the blankets on the bed and check every single one.’
So, I did. I moved my camera bag and EWWWWWW! There it was again … scurried away and I couldn’t see where it went. Now there was nothing left on my bed though except for blankets.
I have a muddy dirty shoe in one hand, a pounding heart and a spider in my bed!
I got brave enough to shake the corner of the blanket with my shoe. Are you kidding me? I certainly wasn’t going to use my hand.
Poof! There’s our spider again, this time running across the floor. Eight legs carry them pretty fast!
I reached for my dirty sneaker, aimed and SMACK!
Oh wait, that wasn’t just a smack I heard … a loud ripping noise too. What was that?
Yup, sure enough, when I bent over to smack the spider with my shoe I completely lost the ass of my pajama pants! I would be mortified if the pants had been tight and I split them because I was bursting out of them, but that was not the case! These pjs were baggy flannel pants. They were no where near too tight. I guess they must have just been worn out because they ripped about 12 inches.
I double and triple checked to make sure that the spider was clearly dead. Sorry to all of you animal lovers out there, but there will be no live spiders in my room (that I am aware of)!
Now that the spider is officially dead and I have air conditioning for my ass … we were able to laugh about it all. Really? I split my pants while killing a spider? It still makes me laugh.
Next I had to take off each of five blankets on my bed and shake them off. Success! No spiders that I’m aware of in my bed, or in my room. Yes, I am sitting on my bed while writing this … not quite sure how I’m going to survive lights out though!
My second squatting experience was at our second homestay in Ccaccaccollo. In the main square they have outhouses with toilets, but after one of the guys in our group could barely go in it, I decided I wouldn’t even check it out.
When we got to our Mami’s house, Kristie was the first one to check out our bano (washroom). One of the little boys showed her where it was. She came back to report it was a squatter. Needless to say, I didn’t rush to go! She also said that the door didn’t seem to stay shut very well, so we made an agreement to go to the outhouse in pairs.
Just before supper, I decided that it was time. By this time it was dark and had been raining so it was incredibly mucky and slippery on the way there. We shared a flashlight, slowly made our way to the outhouse and took turns. I was surprised to find a small garbage can and toilet paper! There’s always something positive to be found, right? Once again, I balanced on the foot spots and coaxed myself to pee. Yes, I missed again. Oops. Narrowly missing my own foot this time. Pause, readjust … I actually think I got it this time! YAY! Remember, all of this done in the dark with only a flashlight.
Success! I had managed to not cover myself in pee. That’s a big accomplishment.
I should also say that it really isn’t that bad, after you get over yourself. We are very lucky to have all of the modern things in our lives that we do. I certainly appreciate my toilet at home a lot more, but really, as long as the outhouse is as clean as an outhouse can be, what’s the difference? You are only going there to defecate! All in all, our homestay’s outhouse was pretty clean, so I’m not complaining, just explaining how different it is.
Since I’ve already written about the Diva Cup and Traveler’s diaherrea, I might as well just tell you that I’ve now also been able to muster up the courage to also do a #2 in the outhouse. No need to go into great detail, but staying in a place like this for three days, you can’t hold it the whole time! Once I convinced myself that it was ‘ok’, it actually wasn’t so bad. Good news is that I didn’t miss on that one!
Today we left Ollantaytambo and headed to our homestays in Ccaccaccollo. We stopped at a lovely produce market in Urubamba to pick up $10 Soles each of fresh fruits and veggies to give to our families.
Kristie and I got:
5 onions, 1 cucumber, a bunch of garlic, a bunch of cilantro, carrots, red pepper ($10 Soles)
1 avocado, 3 or 4 apples, 2 mangoes ($10.50 Soles)
All of this for less than $10 US
We then drove for about an hour before turning off the main very winedy, hilly road onto a very winedy, steep dirt road made for only one car at a time. Everyone was a little on edge (literally) as we drove up the mountain. Our driver was great and got us there safely though.
When we arrived, we were greeted by a few lovely women, a couple of kids and men. They welcomed us (translated by our G Adventures guide, Andres) with a beautiful message explaining that they were happy to have us, they welcome us and hope we will feel at home. They are very glad to have us and have awaited our arrival as much as they would any family member. It was really quite lovely and touching.
Each of us then got to meet our Mami (mummy) who greeted us with a hug and beautiful freshly picked flowers … even for the boys! Funny to watch the men in our group receive flowers, the looks on their faces … they really had no idea what to do with them.
Our Mami is Heedia. My understanding is that she lives quite a long ways away, so we are staying with her son, Pedro & wife Fransica and their children, Norberto, HabbyMeil and Deanna. There is also a lovely lady named Ruth who has a daughter named Melissa and I think her husband is Miguel. We’re really not quite sure how everyone is related, we might have the husband’s and wives switched, but it is clear that everyone is family.
Heedia showed us to our room in the home. It is upstairs in the family home. It has two beds with lots and lots of Alpaca blankets to keep us warm at night. It has low ceilings, a small door, wood floor and a couple of windows. It is simple, but clean.
The bad news is, the bathroom is outdoors and is a little bit of a walk to get to.
We had a bit of time to settle in before lunch. Ruth came to get us for lunch that was a lovely quinoa soup with sheep to start and then potatoes and rice as the main meal. They cook with a lot of cilantro here and everything seems to have good flavor. Lori and Monika also joined us for lunch because their Mami was in Cusco for the day.
After lunch we had time to look and touch Francisca’s hand made crafts. She showed us sweaters, scarves, hats, mittens, purses, dolls … the list goes on. These are all hand made and are really beautiful. I decided on a couple of scarves and a hat that totaled $140 Soles (or about $50 US).
Heedia then dressed us up in traditional attire. Get ready for this … as she was tying my skirt on she asked if I had a bambino (child) in my belly. I was a little hurt, but here it is quite a blessing to be pregnant, not offensive like if you asked someone that at home! And, just to be clear, the answer is no … no bambino in my belly! And here I thought I had lost some weight on this trip!
We all met in the main square dressed in traditional attire and headed out for a beautiful evening walk on some of the hills and trails. There were stunning views. It is amazing how high up in the mountains we are. Even more amazing is that they farm so much of the land. They work so hard and walk so far every day! As we went on this walk, the women were carrying a few of our small things as well as their children or grandchildren and spinning yarn or knitting as they walk. They do this all while balancing on small foot paths with sheer drops and erosion on the paths from rain and landslides. Me, I had to be extra careful with every single step!
We walked back to our homes at around 6:30pm and it just started to rain a little bit as we got home. Now, at 9pm it is pouring here.
We were called for supper at 8pm. We had cream of corn soup, cauliflower with an egg and corn crust and rice. Almost all of their food is grown right here in this community. We ended the evening with a mint tea (moonya) … fresh mint that is … it was picked while we were out on our walk this evening! It was very soothing, but made my nose run like a faucet. I have a cold that I’m battling. Hoping mint tea will fix me right up!
The funniest thing about supper time is that almost the whole family was there, the TV was on and the movie Terminator was on. It was fully in English with Spanish sub-titles. When the young boys saw it, they were very excited. Seems they had seen it before!
Now we tucked away in bed, listening to the rain and trying to stay warm. Hoping tomorrow brings sunshine (or clouds) as we have family photos to take!