OK, so one of my reasons for coming to this town was to learn and improve my Spanish! But what a wonderful surprise it has been to make friends with a shop-keeper who has an excellent standard of English, here in Ollantaytambo, (The Sacred Valley of Peru). Hoowert and I quickly became very good friends. Because of his ability to converse in English, I have been able to gain a deeper insight into the traditions, beliefs and history of this special town and the country to which its people belong.
Don’t worry, we don’t converse completely in English, we alternate, taking turns to demonstrate our new learning. Sometimes our conversation takes a swift diversion, as Hoowert resorts to his dictionary for a new word or explanation and next we are within a language lesson, discussing the ins and outs of various expressions.
I developed my own idea for improving my conversation skills. Why not interview my Ollantino friends in Spanish? This way I can find out more about their lives and views and at the same time improve in learning the new language. It has been a great benefit to me and in the process friendships have grown deeper.
It turns out that, like many other successful business people in this town, Hoowert trained as a chef. From an early age he set about accumulating years of experience and eventually ran his own restaurant with his partner Pamela. Together they saved constantly until they had enough to rent this shop which is called ‘Mini-Market’ (right next door to Worlds Coffee Café, which you will hear about soon).
Curious as to how he came to have such a good grasp of English compared to others in this trade, Hoowert explained the following to me. ‘It has been difficult! I started learning six years ago when I worked in Lima in a restaurant. My older brother taught me some essential phrases which got me by at first. In school, English was only taught one hour per week and always the same verb ‘To Be’ (Estar) and every year repeated the same. But in 5th year of high school a new opportunity came. It was an American project ‘TAPA’ and we got an English speaking teacher. I made good use of this opportunity. 44 students started with the project but only 3 completed it. Working in a touristic place such as Ollantaytambo, to speak English is very important. I read books in English and used my dictionary to translate.’ It is obvious that Hoowert is still dedicated to improving his ability to understand and speak the language and I find his effort inspiring my own attempt to improve my Spanish.
The first week I arrived in Ollantaytambo, Hoowert invited me to a fiesta in nearby Rumira. He is a traditional dancer tambien. I was fuelled with further questioning. Hoowert’s interest in dancing began when as a child he saw some dancers at a festival. ‘It was beautiful,’ he enthused, ‘full of style and essence. I wanted to do it also. For me it is a strong sentiment! I dance because I believe in Jesus! 50% is faith and 50% is passion for dancing. Throughout the year there are many festivals and for the most important ones I practice with the other dancers sometimes a month beforehand on Saturday and Sunday nights for at least 3 to 4 hours at a time.’
Another of Hoowert’s passions is his love of history and traditions of Peru. ‘The history of my country is beautiful!’ he tells me. Hoowert has fond childhood memories of the Inca culture but he feels that in the last 10 years there have been many changes resulting in the dwindling of the old customs. He is also interested in the politics and has studied the transition of Inca rule to Spanish power and eventual Independence of Peru in 1821. ‘It is important to have your own conclusions,’ he tells me. ‘In recent years our economy has improved. There are better laws and ideas and terrorism is being dealt with. I often ask myself, what is the evolution for Peru? And how can things improve for our people?’ I suggest that such concerns are those of a natural leader of community or perhaps a country. Hoowert blushes momentarily but then confirms my thoughts further as he explains that while in high school he formed a small group of friends in order to discuss the ways in which the problems of the people could be addressed, problems such as education, money and corruption.
This preoccupation has led Hoowert to write a book. ‘I am still developing my ideas,’ he explains, ‘but in the future I hope to complete it and get it published.’ Hoowert also has an interest in engineering and is currently toying with the idea of a professional qualification in either this or perhaps to study law. Engineering is connected with his desire to go to Japan one day (Japanese cars such as Hyundai are very popular in Peru). I encourage him to study law as perhaps this will sit more nicely with his other preoccupation of influencing change for Peru.
Returning to my original curiosity of his love of Peruvian history and culture, I ask what significance Machu Picchu holds for him. Hoowert explains that Machu Picchu represents the magnificence of the Incan Empire. ‘It is also our Peruvian identity,’ he explains as many people outside of Peru know little else about this abundant land. ‘For many people it also means business,’ he continues, ‘ but it is also a mystical place, as to this day there is no proven explanation for the engineering and construction of the stones. It is regarded as an unearthly work of other worlds. For me it is a spiritual place and I am proud to have come from this culture. I love all things of my country!’
I am curious as to what other world heritage site Hoowert would one day like to visit. The answer should be obvious to me. ‘The pyramids!’ he replies. ‘It is a much older culture but perhaps one that is most similar to that of the Inca’s. It is possible that the hieroglyphics can explain more of the past. Many of the links to the Inca past have been destroyed and lost. The Egyptian history would be magnificent to study,’ he concludes.
This is not the end of our discussion. I often visit Hoowert in the evenings to discover more about Peru and Ollantaytambo in particular. I hope to share more of these stories with you in the near future.
Hoowert’s Mini Market is between the Plaza De Armas and the bridge en route to the train station.
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