Magical Meeting While Llama Trekking in Peru
It can be tiring and tiresome hiking at nearly 14,000 feet; every 10 steps or so, I had to stop in an attempt to catch my breath. While the scenery was spectacular, I felt frustrated by the effects of the altitude.
I pulled off my daypack, dropped my hiking poles, and sunk down on the damp grass with relief. I gratefully breathed the fresh mountain air. The soft gray mist that had descended that morning muffled sound and created stillness across the verdant countryside. A small herd of dirty sheep milled about a watering hole below. A mud-brick house with a straw roof sat to my left, the door propped open in spite of the fact that it appeared no one was home. I listened to my heart beat.
A couple of dogs barked, and I turned around to see a stout Quechua woman dressed in colorful traditional garb approaching. The deep red of her dress stood out vividly against the green of the pasture she was crossing. A small pack of dogs bobbed and wove around her.
She greeted me in Quechua and sat down to keep me company. Her dogs nestled protectively around her.
After a few attempts to communicate in Spanish, I realized that she could understand me, but she could only speak Quechua. And, of course, I can’t speak or understand a word of Quechua. For a moment, a wave of frustration at my own ineptness washed over me. I was curious about her life in the Peruvian Andes. And, I am sure she was curious about me. We were a study in contrasts—the big city girl with her high-tech hiking gear and the Quechua woman still living according to the ancient ways of the Incas.
I unzipped my daypack and pulled out a small plastic bag of coca leaves. When I offered it to her, she chose three leaves and put the rest in a pocket in her skirt. She fanned out the three leaves between her thumb and forefinger. Then, she gently blew on the leaves to share the gift with the Pachamama—mother earth—before placing them in her mouth to chew.
We sat like that for awhile—surreptitiously studying each other, her dogs shifting restlessly from time to time, just breathing. It felt magical—this meeting of distinctly different cultures, distinctly different people. I had never expected anything like this to happen in my life, and maybe neither had she.
In the distance, Marco appeared as he crested a hill. His call to me broke the spell. The woman slowly got up and ambled to her home to resume her daily chores as Marco reached me.
I got up, slipped on my daypack, and grabbed my hiking poles. An hour later, I summited the 14,000-foot Ipsaycocha Pass.