Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Farming in the Peruvian mountains, getting abandoned there

Greetings from Cusco! I got caught in the rain on the way back to my hostel from a museum, so I stepped into an internet cafe to post an update. 
I got back from WWOOFing at Hacienda Ccapacca, a small farm wayyy out in the mountains, sort of near Cusco on Saturday night. 
First, if you don't know what WWOOF is, it stands for  world wide opportunities on organic farms. It's a website that enables travelers and farmers alike. Travelers can volunteer and get free meals and housing while farmers get extra help on the farm. It's a great way to travel and to see more than just touristic spots. What you do is pay for a membership for countries separately, then you can see a list of participating farms. There are other similar websites such as WorkAway and Help X that are equally, if not more helpful for travelers. 
Anyway, I found my hacienda on the WWOOF Peru website and left a little over two weeks ago at 5am in a cramped van from Cusco. From Cusco I went to Curahausi and from Curahausi to Antilla and from Antilla, to the farm. It was about 6 or 7 hours of riding in a van piled high with everything from roofing (which I had to sit on and around) to bread, to two other gringos (going to the same farm). I feel the need to mention here that this road is all of three years old. Before that, there was only a walking and horse trail from Curahausi. Imagine going huckleberry picking (Idahoans) on a National Forest road near the Snake River Canyon, but in a bus so full of people that you have to stand (happened on the way back). Not a horrible road, by Forest Service standards, but a pretty horrible vehicle (on the way back we had to stop at multiple creeks to get water because it was overheating). 
Anyway, we were let out and pointed toward the farm, where we were greeted by another volunteer who was leaving in the morning. He showed us around and explained how the farm worked, while the owner just sort of grunted a hello before walking out to the garden for awhile. Then she briefly asked our names before she gave us a poop talk, explaining that if our shit was hard, we'd be shitting in the woods for two weeks and that each time we used her toilet, we'd scrub it thoroughly. This woman was no-nonsense personified. She seemed like a bit of a crazy old mountain woman who I could peacefully coexist with in mostly-silence for a couple weeks, but, unfortunately (or fortunately?), she left the farm the next day (a pistol on her hip and ten gallon hat on her head), never to return again  (well, supposedly in one week).
So, I was left with a chacra (field) of habas (beans) and one of potatoes, a large garden, five goats, four chickens, two dogs, four cats, and two 21 year old boys from Virginia. Technically, the Peruvian farm hand, Raul, was there with us making sure we did our job, but we saw him three times the first week and a half we were there. The owner of the farm informed us before she left that he would be cooking for us (wwoofers were not allowed to use the stove) and staying with us, but he didn't really. So, for two weeks, more or less, the boys and I weeded in the garden during the day, after taking care of the goats and chickens. We cooked whatever food we could find in the house in garden, and played cards and watched the sunsets every night, which were incredible as we had a view of the second highest mountain of Peru. There was no bread, no meat, no fruit, no milk, and only a few eggs. She had a lot of leeks, a lot of stinging nettle (?), carrots, cabbage, etc. We had a campstove, no oven, so that was also a challenge. The owner was a vegan chef at some point and we actually found her cookbook, but we didn't have a lot of the ingredients. We ended up frying potatoes and making bean burgers a lot. We also made fried leek rings, which were delicious, chewed a lot of coca leaves, and ate oatmeal every morning. It wasn't too bad at all, although we got into the habit of spending our days in the fields talking about all of the things we couldn't eat. 
As the only volunteer who spoke much Spanish, I assumed the role of interpreter, which sometimes worked and sometimes didn't, as Quechua was also thrown into the mix and farm vocabulary is not my strong suit. Still, talking with Raul, I learned how to say farm related things  like to harvest, to weed, to plant, the goats got out again and destroyed everything, etc. 
The neighbor came over once in the morning to borrow some tools and proceeded to force us to go to his house and drink chicha (fermented corn alcohol) at 10 in the morning, which was better than weeding and more interesting, as we got to watch them building a house. Another neighbor came by a lot and asked us questions and drank beer with us and Raul one night (we convinced Raul to go to Antilla and get us beer). His name was Olympio and he was fun--much more talkative than Raul, who seemed to prefer to be left alone. 
One day a pig with five piglets came onto our property and got into EVERYthing. We chased it with a pellet gun we found until Olympio showed us his homemade slingshot, which was much more effective. The pigs kept returning though, a few times a day. Then, Raul came back and we all chased and surrounded them and Raul roped the mama. Speaking of mama, everyone calls girls or women mama, mami, or mamacita here, same thing with men and papa. Anyway, we finally got the pig and piglets, which Raul said belonged to a community somewhere nearby. No one really has fences or anything, so animals just go wherever, which somehow works. 
The last few days we were there, Raul came back and stayed with us. Every five days of work we got two days off, so we took a day off and asked Raul about going to Antilla. He said it was an hour's hike from the farm, so we decided to go into town and get some much-discussed fruit, bread, and eggs. Long story short, Raul's understanding of time and distance and the lung capacity of Americans at 4,000 meters was nada. It took us three hours and lots of asking people, some of whom only spoke Quechua, to find the town. Once there, we ran into another gringo who was headed to the farm. If we hadn't found him, he never would have found the farm.
This whole time we'd thought the owner would be coming back any day, because she just went to Cusco to get some treatment for something. But every time I asked Raul, something had changed and she still wasn't returning. Anyway, she never did come back, so I guess I'll never know if she was mad about the fact that we used her stove (she had a sign on it that said you touch, you go), or that the pigs got so many potatoes, or that the goats ate her beat tree, or that we ate almost everything in her pantry. 
 Overall, it was a crazy experience in an unbelieveably beautiful place--so beautiful that nothing else mattered, really. Here's a picture from the farm's site (no camera still, but I'll steal pictures from the Virginians). 


  1. Thank you for your stories! I am planning my WWOOFing trip and this shows me one way that it could turnout!

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