People of the High Andes

When I got the invite to hike to the hot springs and visit with a few of the local community people I said, “yes please, sign me up!”

We jumped into a collectivo and shuffled off to the 3 hour drive to Lares. Our final stop was high up in the Andes Mountains where life seemed to be lived as if it were the 1800’s.

Now dark, we walked through pathways leading to each house and one man in the group shouted out a greeting in Quechua. They don’t speak Spanish here, they speak only their native Quechua language.

Since I do not yet speak Quechua, this experience was going to be all about observation and gratitude.

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Soon a woman named Barbara hears our call and steps out of the shadowy darkness to greet us. She leads us to what I thought was going to be our sleeping quarters and she opens a heavy wooden door.

I can see a little lamb head peeking out! I thought, “oh gosh, we are sleeping with the animals tonight. Okay, cool!”

But I was wrong. She was taking us to her kitchen where there were all kinds of sweet animals in the sitting area.

Inside, she turns on a small light and I can see a dirt floor, an old wood table, some rough cut benches and a mud cook stove with a small fire pit at the bottom. She had already prepared us dinner – hot tea, potato soup and their traditional roasted maiz (dried corn, roasted to perfection).

She sat on a small step stool in front of the cook stove to continue fueling the fire with a combination of wood and dried cow dung.

I looked around and noticed a pair of cows feet hanging by a wire from the ceiling and I am not really sure why. I thought maybe they were hanging there to dry perhaps for soup? I had seen the same thing at another place so this still remains a mystery for now.

Barbara chatted, laughed and giggled as she was waiting on us. It was difficult to know her age, she could be in her sixties, and yet, she could very well be eighty.

She had so much joy and innocence radiating from her, it was a pleasure sitting inside her beautiful space.

There was still so much youthfulness about her and it seems that she had never lost that special childlike innocence that most of us in the ‘civilized’ world forget how to access.

It was a great reminder not to take life so seriously, not offer attention or thought/energy to things that ultimately do not matter.

And it was a great example of how the quality of our thoughts radiate through our eyes, our face and our actions.

This woman didn’t care if I thought her place was clean enough, she was happy to share it with me!

She doesn’t know about judgment from others or that anyone may think or live differently than her, she just is.

She opened her doors and welcomed us in with open arms and a beautiful smile with no expectations, worry or fear about what we might think.

I can only imagine how much energy we would have on reserve if we didn’t use it thinking of things that don’t matter?!

From her small stool, she reaches over and gingerly pets one of the lambs on its face. The lamb responds and nuzzles into her and licks her face all over.

Her laughter and joy were so sweet!

It was time to retreat to our sleeping quarters.

As I took a step out of the kitchen something had suddenly stopped me in my tracks. It took me a moment to realize I had just hit my head on the 4’8 door frame! Ouch!

They all laughed and checked to see if I was okay.

In the morning, we woke about 5:30am with the sun. Barbara was already up and cooking on the mud stove.

She prepared for us a hot tea, more maiz and a cooked egg. After I finished eating she waved for me to follow her outside (and all were watching to see if I would hit my head again).

Outside, she opened a bag and slipped this thing over my head that turned out to be a traditional native skirt. She ties it around my waist and slips something else over my head, a shawl.

She giggles as she places a hat on my head.

We both laugh at this gringo in native clothing and I asked her to join in a photo so she shyly agreed.

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We offered her bread and sugar, two things that cost money and are welcomed as great gifts. We thanked her for her generosity and we headed back into the mountains for our final destination, the hot springs.You can read about how a seventy year old man kicked my butt hiking through these mountains by clicking here and about the little boy with only one sock by clicking here.

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