The New Gastronome
10,005 Km Away
Into The Peruvian Sierra Andina
by Valeria Musso
by Valeria Musso
They say that when you leave on a journey, you know what you leave behind, but you do not know what you will find. Before leaving the summer and the Italian coasts this July, my mind had never realistically succeeded in pushing itself so far, and neither so high up.
Unconsciously, I find myself in a place where the only horizon is the one designed by the soft peaks of the Peruvian Sierra Andina, and the most satisfying taste is that of a warm potato soup. I was surrounded by mountains so special to be called Apu, and so powerful and majestic to be considered almost divine, not human, but simply natural agents.
For centuries, these populations have fought the cold and the low pressure to find in this apparently hostile nature, hospitality and adobe. This warrior spirit highlights from the first moment how life up there is so fascinatingly different from yours and mine. But forty-four days are enough to transform all this diversity, into pure normality. Practicing Spanish and conversing in Quechua with farmers and the peasant communities has now become part of my daily life; it is fascinating to be part of aggregates of families who know each other, help each other, and work collaboratively with one another and for one another. Their houses make up pretty villages that look like terracotta; not industrially made of reinforced concrete, but handcrafted with a mixture of clay, sand and straw dried in the sun.
“The persistent red landscape, given by the color of clay, is only interrupted only by the bright, contrasting colors of the women’s garments…”
The roads exist only because they are made of soil, quickly transforming into clumpy mud as soon as some drops of rain nourish the dry ground. The mud annoys me as I walk, but I notice that this does not bother the farmers who cross it every day, wearing their sandals. The persistent red landscape, given by the color of clay, is only interrupted only by the bright, contrasting colors of the women’s garments: blue skirts and bright pink sweaters, purple leg warmers with white hats.
Dogs run freely and calmly along the roads, even though I can sense their need for a few more strokes and a little more affection. Meeting pigs that rest undisturbed on the road is now a habit, as well as encountering groups of sheep and oxen who scatter home a bit stressed and hungry while the sun is setting.
I find my heart melting at the sight of the sleeping children, who are carried around in colored sheets by their mothers, who have skillfully tied the sheet around their necks and have backs so strong they can hold them for miles. I worry about the full and delicate cheeks of their children, exposed for too long with no protection to the hot and strong rays of the sun, which for this reason are now burned and irritated. In their dark and sleepy eyes, I find the same features of the thoughtful women who sit down to offer them the first meal of the day, and capture the first moments of warmth after a freezing August night.
“The women work the land, the children take care of transporting the most docile animals after spending the morning at school, and it is not surprising to find them performing even the hardest jobs in their homes..”
It seems that the technology has only managed to touch the lives of the people who live in this place, but not possess it completely. The oxen are the protagonists in the fields as a workforce; the mules are still stressed to transport the tools and food needed for sustenance during the long day of work.
The women work the land, the children take care of transporting the most docile animals after spending the morning at school, and it is not surprising to find them performing even the hardest jobs in their homes, like slaughtering a sheep and making its mantle bare hand.
I like to think that the rhythm of their days is unmistakably connected with that of the nature that surrounds them: their awakening coincides with the first rays of the sun, while their rest begins as soon as the darkness has overwhelmed the day and the stars conquered the sky. The only thing I am left with is the amazement of having found, at ten thousand and five hundred kilometers far from home, the respect and the most sincere devotion to work, alongside spontaneous gestures, humble smiles, awareness in words and laughter and tenderness in looks. This is while you are returning back to your daily life and taking a moment to reflect. You realize the value of the moments you have experienced, the intensity of the emotions you have felt, and the strength of the memories that will be treasures forever.