During my Nuffield Travels in Peru I was so lucky to have met Douglas and Marivel Walsh from Cusichaca Trust in Peru and Juan Guillen – a wonderful and knowledgeable Peruvian agronomist. I spent a few days with them exploring the highlands of Peru looking at ancient agricultural systems and techniques as well as discovering many of the “Lost Crops of the Incas”. I will never forget this experience.
Douglas and Marivel already operate alternative cultural tours through Peru and I suggested to them to broaden out to run Agricultural Tours in Peru. The Incas were real masters of horticulture and engineers who built amazing terraces to grow food on and to support mountains. They were amazing plant breeders and we have to thank them for the beloved potatoes and we are only now discovering the remaining wealth of food crops that comes from the mountains of Peru and can be grown in many parts of the world.
So if anyone is interested in visiting Peru – I will highly recommend to really discover local Quechuan people, their traditions and their wealth of food crops. Please let me know and I’ll put you in contact with Douglas and Marivel.
The following is about the Douglas and Marivel’s tour company
PERUVIAN COMMUNITY, CULTURAL AND WILDLIFE TOURS
Pecocuwi was founded in June 2010. It was founded initially with the idea to promote rural areas in places where the NGO, Cusichaca had worked in the past. Specifically the areas include:
• The Patacancha Valley above Ollantaytambo in the Cusco Region.
• The Chicha Soras Valley on the border between the Apurimac and Ayacucho Regions.
• The Sondondo valley in the Ayacucho Region.
We offer a number of organised tours particularly to the Chicha Soras and Sondondo valleys leaving from Cusco, Nazca or Andahuaylas. The tours range from 2 days and one night to 6 days and 5 nights.
THE CHICHA SORAS VALLEY
The Chicha Soras valley has many impressive landscapes. It is located on the border between the Ayacucho and Apurimac Regions – the river being the dividing line. The province of Sucre is on the Ayacucho side of the river whilst the province of Andahuaylas is located on the Apurimac side. This valley can be reached from branch roads off the interoceanic highway between Puquio and Abancay or from the town of Andahuaylas.
The two most important towns in historical terms are Pampachiri in Apurimac and Soras in Ayacucho. There are a multitude of archaeological sites. In Soras the church is constructed using the walls of an Inca temple. Pampachiri was the most important town during the time of the haciendas (major land owners). From the nineteenth century onwards rich coastal families began to take by force Community owned lands in the highlands. In many Andean valleys, such as the Chicha Soras they ended up owning the best lands and exercised political control.
Throughout the valley and on the high pampas there is evidence of great volcanic activity. There are two important volcanoes – Ccarahuasu (see Sondondo valley) and Sotaya located in Pampachiri. From the valley it is possible to see several well defined rock layers formed by previous lava flows. There are also many thermal springs – the best located in the district of Larcay (Ayacucho Region).
The greatest attraction in this area is an enormous stone forest located close to the Community of Llamcama on the highlands of Pampachiri. These stones were formed over 4 million years ago and also have a volcanic origin. The stones are huge and are found in different shapes and colours. You can walk for hours within the stone formations and will always come across something new. There is also a curious hill close by these formations called Pankula, which at first site appears to be made of sand. In another sector called Ayamachay a local family has constructed their home and animal corrals using overhanging sections of the conical stones for their rooves. These structures are known locally as “Smurf Houses”.
Traditional farming practices can be observed in much of the valley including community crop and land rotational systems (Laymes) and the cultivation of associated crops – such as maize with quinoa, kiwicha and broad beans on each of the terraces.
There are a large number of camelids – alpacas, llamas and vicuñas. In general terms this is an area rich in Andean flora and fauna. Pumas still live in steep rocky areas particularly on the Ayacucho side of the valley – though the chances of seeing one are very low.
THE SONDONDO VALLEY
The Sondondo Valley is a beautiful place located in the south of the Ayacucho Region. It can be reached from either of two roads which branch off from the main Inter Oceanic Highway just beyond Puquio on the Nazca to Cusco section. It is now also connected to Ayacucho by a paved road. The first part of the valley forms part of the province of Lucanas. The Sondondo River begins its course in a place called Negro Mayo and together with the Chicha Soras river flows into the river Pampas.
There is plenty to enjoy. The archaeological site of Caniche in the town of Andamarca has been declared a Cultural Heritage of the Nation. It was built by the Rukanas Civilization but was also occupied by the Wari and Inca populations later on. The Rukanas was a local civilization which became allied to the Chanca Nation. The Chankas were the main rival to the Incas before the arrival of the Spanish. The Wari civilization controlled the largest Empire in South America before the Incas. Their Empire lasted from about the 8th to the 13th Centuries and at its height its territories extended from Lambayeque in the north to Arequipa in the south and included part of the jungle in Cusco. Their capital was at Huari close to Ayacucho. The Incas controlled an even larger Empire in the hundred or so years before the Spanish invasion. Their capital was in Cusco and their influence extended to parts of the territories currently belonging to Ecuador and Colombia in the north to Chile, Argentina and Bolivia in the south.
For most people the highlight of a visit to the Sondondo valley are the condors. There is a very large population of condors close to the village of Mayobamba in the district of Chipao. It is usual to see around 20 birds flying in formations and circling close to a lookout point every morning between 7 a.m. and 9 a.m.
The Sondondo valley is one of the best places to see the scissor dance, which has been declared as a Cultural Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO for its ancient roots and its symbolic value.
The local families have maintained their terraced agricultural systems perfectly for around 1,000 years. Prehispanic civilizations built close to a million hectares of terraces in Peru. These structures have many advantages including: an efficient use of water, a massive reduction in soil erosion, protection against frosts and increased yields. The farmers continue to cultivate their terraces today and maintenance is carried out during traditional festive periods. Water management practices are very efficient and every August the district of Carmen Salcedo organises a famous Water Festival (Yaku Raymi). Similar fiestas are also organised in the districts of Cabana Sur, Aucara and Chipao between September and October.
A large plantation of Puya de Raimondi plants is also found in the district of Chipao. These impressive plants are found only in a few places in the Andes of Peru and Bolivia. They live for around 100 years before producing an enormous stalk which produces flowers only once before the plant dies. The Puyas are included on the Red List of Plants in danger of extinction published by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).
The Ccarahuasu volcano is the most important natural Deity (Apu) for most of the Ayacucho, Apurimac and Huancavelica Regions. It is visible from many points within the Sondondo valley. It has an altitude of over 5,200m and is the most important source of water for both the Sondondo and Chicha Soras valleys.
The Sondondo valley has also been host to a number of historical episodes. Although there is debate surrounding the issue it is probable that the Inca Huascar was killed in Andamarca in 1532 after losing in battle against the army of his brother Atahualpa, who was the last Inca before the Spanish Conquest. His remains were thrown into the Yanamayo River. This event is reenacted in Andamarca every August.
The famous chronicler, Felipe Guaman Poma de Ayala was born in the village of Sondondo which is located within the district of Cabana. He lived there as a child for several years. It is possible to visit the home where he is said to have lived.
In addition to running organised tours to these valleys Pecocuwi also promotes other forms of tourism including:
These days many travellers are not so interested in conventional tourism. For those visitors with time available and interested in sharing the daily life of rural families in the Highlands of Peru Pecocuwi is able to arrange stays in local homes within the Sondondo valley and in the Patacancha valley.
In such cases individual programs can be designed according to the wishes of the client mixing opportunities to participate in agricultural activities and traditional Andean customs with visits to some of the many attractions with local guides. Activities could include helping to rehabilitate agricultural terraces, going out with the Yaku alcalde (Water authority) to help with water distribution, sowing, harvesting and other agricultural activities, milking cows, making cheeses, learning the scissor dance, participating in offerings to Mother Earth, helping with weavings etc.
There are many universities and even schools interested in their students experiencing different cultures. Pecocuwi is able to organise tours and community visits for such groups with a focus on the Andean Culture.
Pecocuwi can organize long term stays for individuals or groups interested in working as volunteers in different disciplines. The type of position sought could vary from the construction of toilets for schools to work as dentists or doctors through to participation in agricultural activities
Pecocuwi also offers traditional tourism packages in and around Cusco and Nazca.
Pecocuwi is also able to help in the organization of individual packages for people or groups with particular interests. Help could include recommending and/or reserving hotels, purchase of train or bus tickets, the organization of private or group tours. Pecocuwi can recommend and organize visits to places outside the usual tourist circuits.