It’s not where you go, It’s who you are with

Early on a Tuesday morning, 10 families gathered at the school yard in Cuncani, for the meeting of tourism project. In this meeting, NC explained the requirements and responsibilities of each family to promote the tourism circuit in the community. Although it can be long process until the community to receives many visitors, families are eager to prepare their homes and provide a good service to attract tourists in the near future. The family of Sr. Sergio and Sra. Ricardina is not an exception. He is one of the local partners of our sustainable homes and tourism project. Today I would like to tell a little bit about my visit at the house in Sra. Ricardina and Sr. Sergio this week and share some great experiences of staying in the community.

[4:30 pm] Visiting the house and taking photos

As I arrived at the door, Sr. Sergio, Sra. Ricardina and their three children, Alex (14 years old), Jessica (12 years old) and Rolando (10 years old), welcomed me into their home. After putting my bags on my bed, I decided to teach the children how to take photos since all three kids seemed to be interested in my camera. First, I took a photo of Rolando to show them how to do it. After that, I asked Rolando to take a photo of Jessica, and then Jessica to take a photo of Alex. Lastly, Alex took a photo of me. Although they struggled to take good photos at first, their photography skills improved over time.

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[5:00 pm] Soccer Time!

At around 5 pm, Jessica went to pasture the sheep. The two boys and I were in the yard, and naturally we picked up a ball and start playing soccer. It was me against the two brothers (Alex and Rolando). We all enjoyed playing soccer but the condition was far from being good. I was wearing my hiking boots, there were many rocks, bumps and slopes, and more than anything, we were playing at the altitude of almost 4000 m. Although we only played for 20 ~ 30 min, I was exhausted and needed to call the game off… By the way, the boys won by 5-4. Afterwards, I showed them some soccer juggling tricks. They were eager to learn and spend almost an hour practicing doing a neck stall (where you control the ball behind the neck). It was great idea since it gave me some time to rest.

[6:30 pm] Homework & Cooking

After playing soccer, the kids started to do their homework. Having nothing to do, I went to Kitchen to spend some time with Sra. Ricardina and Sr. Sergio. Although Sra. Ricardina only spoke Quechua, my ‘Quechua phrase book’ made us have a good/fun time. I picked a sentence from the book and try to say in Quechua to see if she would understand (I believe I pronounced the words properly more than 70 % of the time).

As the children finished their homework, they joined us and it became like a little Quechua class. At the same time, I taught them some Japanese as they were interested in my language. During this time, we found that there were some words that have a meaning in both Quechua and Japanese. For example, ‘ku-chi’ means a ‘pig’ in Quechua, while it means a ‘mouth’ in Japanese. Also, ‘ma-ki’ signifies a ‘hand’ in Quechua, and ‘firewoods’ in Japan. It was great way for both of us to share our culture and language.

[7:00 pm] Dinner and tik-tak-toe

When the food was ready, we all gathered around the table and started to eat. The dinner was rice with vegetables and variety of potatoes grown in their land. It was delicious! I forgot the name of the dish, but they said it was one of the typical plates they have in their community.

As we finished eating, I asked the kids if they wanted to play a simple game of tik-tak-toe. For the first 10 minutes, we took turns playing. However, since no one wanted to wait, we decided to arrange some rules and made it so that all of us can play at the same time. We expanded the grid and set the rule that one needs to have four of their marks in a row to win. I was not sure how it would work but it turned out to be a very interesting game. Although we did not count how many times each of us won, I believe Alex won the most. We all enjoyed ourselves!

[8:00 pm] Bed Time

People in Cuncani go bed at around 8pm since they need to wake up at 5:30 am every day. I’m always excited to sleep at Cuncani since I am used to going bed much later time. Even though the temperature of Cuncani can get very low at the night, a comfortable bed and layers of blankets keeps me warm during the night.

[5:30 am] Morning

As the outside starts to get brighter, every one of the family member wakes up and starts preparing for their day. Sra. Ricardina made breakfast for everyone. This day, Sr. Sergio needed to go to the farm to cultivate the land (Yapui), which he said it would take him 2 hours to get to. Alex and Jessica left the house by 6:30 am to hop on the truck from Cuncani to their secondary school in Lares. The person who has most relaxing time in the morning is Rolando, who only needed to leave the house at around 8 am to go to primary school in Cuncani. I woke up at around 6 am and left the house at 6:45 am to the school for the meeting at 7 am at the school yard. It was a pleasure for me to stay at their house.

I always enjoy staying with families in Cuncani. It is a great opportunity for me to be out of a city, relax, enjoy beautiful scenery, and experience the life in Andes (weaving, cooking, agriculture etc.) But more than anything, the delightful part of the visit is to get to know the people and spend time together. Surrounded with a welcoming environment and sharing our lives and cultures is what makes my visit to Cuncani so special. It is not where you go, it is who you are with that makes your visit memorable. I believe this human exchange is something not many tours can offer. The tourism circuit NC is currently promoting is not only to allow the families to increase their income, but also aims to enrich both visitors and local families’ lives by this valuable human exchange.



[Visitors] Community Life at 4000 Metres: a Sociologist’s Experience.

By Dave Holmes

The village of Cuncani, which is four hours to the north-east of Cusco, was once the centre of the Incan Empire. We were here to support the NGO Nexos Comunitarios (NC) and understand how remote Cuncani is by hiking the paths linking it to larger towns. First impressions are of a rustic settlement with several houses dotted along the floor of a beautiful highland valley. A school, which is one of the most recently-built buildings, is found right at the beginning of the village where the road ends. The inhabitants of the community wear brightly coloured hats and tunics. We were greeted by Saturnina who is the local coordinator for NC.

NC has been operating in Cuncani since 2013, working alongside locals on various projects to support the community. Currently as part of the Sustainable Homes project, they are implementing composting toilets, a greenhouse and a chicken coop. As well as these projects, the village has become more connected to the national network, with partial electricity in the last decade, telecommunication services and the previously mentioned school are all key examples of development in the region.

Despite these changes, Cuncani is still very isolated. There is only one track connecting it to the nearest settlement Lares, which has a medical post, hot springs and other amenities. Many children who attend secondary school have to walk to and stay in other towns from Monday to Friday and return to Cuncani over rough and mountainous terrain for the weekends. It is not only the students who have arduous days, any kind of health or municipal issues have to be done elsewhere too. When the only regular transport is once a week on market day, opportunities to use regional services are severely limited and walking is the most common way to get from A to B.

This is where our trip’s goal becomes clearer. Our aim was to hike to Urubamba, the nearest moderately sized town, and thus truly understand the effort involved and experience what locals have to do many times a year. Our journey on foot began from the end of the road to Cuncani, going over a 4800 metres pass on the way. We had the help of pack llamas and planned to stay the night after crossing the highest point.

The route is a delight to the eyes, the variety of fauna and flora is truly incredible and this is without even mentioning the sweeping views of the Andes. From rivers winding down valleys where llamas and alpaca graze on the lush grass to lofty glacial mountains with huge birds circling the peaks, the experience is truly a feast for the senses. We passed beautiful mountain lakes, high wooded slopes and stunning valley meadows with trout filled rivers meandering through boulder fields and trees. However, all this beauty did not distract us from the effort involved.

Climbing up and over a pass is always strenuous. When the air gets thinner, it becomes very hard work due to shortness of breath, headaches and nausea. Even with the help of llamas and not carrying full packs, our progress was slow and cumbersome. This was partly to be expected as we were not as acclimatized as the locals but it still surprised me that what took us 2 days, the locals could do in just a few hours of fast walking. They were extremely agile over the ground and carried heavy loads with no modern rucksacks or footwear, just a cloth tied over their shoulders and sandals on their feet.

During the walk I had some time to get to know the residents of Cuncani and I was impressed with their friendliness. They were quick to help and understood our needs for breaks, photos and questions. One person I spoke to helped me understand how the community operates and gave me a little insight into their lives. I learnt about issues facing the community, its form of governance and family customs. The time I shared with them has left a strong memory and I know I will return to build upon this connection and experience their home and lives once more.

If you want to support NC efforts, please consider making a donation to the Sustainable Homes Project and follow their work on social media.

[Work in Progress] First Official Group Trip to Cuncani!

Credits: Kenji Misawa

If you google Cuncani-Peru, you will find out that the community is recognized as a good destination for camp and to do trails in the High-Andes in Cusco. Indeed, Cuncani is a beautiful destination for it. However, Cuncani does not receive the benefits they deserve. This is the reason that for a year, we have been talking to some families of the community on whether or not to start an Experiential Tourist Circuit . Although, we were began the planning in January we decided to work with them and support them in the implementation of their own Experiential Tourism circuit and it is finally ready!

This October 23rd and 24th, we expect to have a small group of tourists visiting the community. Despite the fact, that individual tourists have done the tour already, this is the first time we are organizing a group trip to the community. Besides all the interesting activities included in the circuit, these dates are special as well, as it will be the celebration of the “Siembra” season of the potato! This important event is called: Yapuy. The tradition of Yapuy has been maintained since the time of the Incas . Yapuy is an opportunity to appreciate the physical strength of the Andean men.

Saturnina mostrando papas por Miguel Arreátegui
Credits: Miguel Arreátegui
Señores trabajando en Yapuy, uno saltando por Jorge Carrillo
Credits: Jorge Carrillo

You can find information of this first group trip to Cuncani, here (in Spanish). If you are visiting Cusco these days or if you have friends/family that are, feel free to share it.

This is the beginning of what we expect to be a genuine opportunity for the economy of the community of Cuncani and a good opportunity to prove that tourism is good to combat poverty only when local communities are really included.