We arrived in Patacancha, in all its muckiness, amidst much celebrations. People everywhere were dressed in colourful clothing. The men in poncho shawls and tossled hats and the women, the women, worthy of paragraphs that escape me.
‘Beautiful people,’ these were the words Alex repeated over and over and for days afterwards. I stepped my dainty ballerina shoes from the motorbike into the slippery mud of Patacancha. Like a ninny, I held fast to Maria, to make my way up the slight incline towards the culmination of festivities. I realised I was in scant supply of clothing. A ‘jumper,’ that Irish thing other folk know as ‘woolly’ sweater, would have been a huge advantage, that and an anorak and a hefty pair of gloves.
We were singular in our attire amongst this Andean clad community. It was quite a spectacle. Little children bounced with joy on a nearby trampoline. There were stalls for various things like throwing and chancing your arm at winning a prize. There were vendors selling hot food of skewered meat and spicy rice, biscuits and the like of scones. Alex treated us to the lot. Everything hot was welcome.
The main events were taking place in an open area alongside perhaps what could have been a football field. A solitary animal lingered there whilst the ‘Beautiful People Of Patacancha’ aligned to cheer their teams at ‘Tug Of War’.
What a sight! First of all I was impeded by the colourful display, particularly of the women and many with their babies peeping from the wrappings of materials bound to their backs. Every part of their attire was woven red and white with intimate threads of blues and yellows and probably every colour of the rainbow. I never felt able to explain the look of it. They amazed my senses thoroughly. Even when seeing one of them individually in the town of Ollantaytambo, I realised I had a laziness within me as a writer, to comprehend what I was actually seeing.
Weaving is a heritage of these Andean people, handed down from their Inca ancestors and perhaps even earlier dominions. I just gazed and gazed in complete distraction. Women heaved and hoed as they tried to out-do the other team. It was amusing. There was not much struggle. In one big ‘go’ the other side ran their counterparts over the line. It was not so when it came to the men’s competition.
I stayed with Maria, whilst Alex wandered around and mingled with folk he was acquainted with. I spied a log fire underneath a stone and went to heat my ankles for a few moments. The men were about to start their competition and the atmosphere was getting livelier.
Maria and I positioned ourselves nearer to the activity. We were in the thick things. As intrigued as I was about the appearance of the people, it was probable that I was spied in much the same way by some of this community. A woman spoke to me in Quechua. I didn’t know what she was saying but I provided the little bit of Quechua that I knew by way of greeting. She had much more to say. Maria explained in Spanish. ‘She wants to know if you would like her baby.’ I laughed. But in reality I was shocked. ‘No queries?’ Maria enquired. ‘No!’ I replied. Seriously, this woman was offering me her baby. I had not anticipated ever being asked this question.
Maria explained that, with the existence of ‘not-for-profit’ organisations in the locality it was not uncommon for these Andean communities to realise that they could benefit from assistance of ‘foreigners’ such as myself, to take care of the financial requirements of their many children.
I came face to face with reality in that moment. I had read a little about the state of things in Peru before my travels. I knew there was an element of traditional life that was alive and well in more rural parts. Whilst much of these traditions were worthy of protection from the invasion of what could be perceived as ‘aggressive western principles’, it was deemed by government and outsiders alike, that there is need for better education, particularly with regards to the affairs of sex and the empowerment of women to be in a position to have a say in their reproductive abilities.
The men beside us heaved and heaved and at one point it looked as if the other side would have the advantage. The slippery mud created much challenge to both sides. Women screeched and winced in fever pitch for their winning teams. One woman joined her strength to pulling the sweater of the end man. A child was beckoned to place a stone behind the footing of one of the men to anchor him in the mud. Every attempt was made presumably, by both sides, to secure the win. There was a momentary standstill followed by a hefty heave which saw our side swoop the win. In that moment we were thrown in every direction. I almost landed on the most padded part of my anatomy in the mud. Maria saved me.
Alex soon appeared by our sides and was eager to get going on the motorbike back to Ollantaytambo, as it would not be long before the mountains would claim the darkness of the night.
©Caroline Cunningham Author Of Wild Star Landing (Blog)