Tuesday, May 22, 2012

Spitting Llamas

I have just arrived back in Cusco after a five day trek through the Calca district of Peru.  Unlike our last trek, which was focused on wilderness and ruins, this week we experienced current Andean culture.  Instead of passing through remote wilderness and seeing ancient Kichwa ruins, we saw traditional festivals, towns and dress.  During this trek, my three favorite activities were catching llamas and alpacas, preforming an exotic Andean ritual, and experiencing a local festival and fiesta. 

After being dropped off at the start of our trek in the village of Huaran, the first things I noticed were the alpacas.  These animals are a common relative of the llamas and look almost identical.  As I looked upon herds of these exotic mammals grazing in their stone corrals, Joel, our guide, told me that it is a difficult challenge to try to catch them.  It took up until the second day of five, but I soon was able to sneak up upon the alpacas and grab them!  On the third day, I got my llamas and alpacas confused.  There are two reasons why one should not catch a llama.  First off, they are bigger than alpacas and, secondly, they are capable of catapulting spit balls.  I snuck up on a llama that I, at the time, mistook for an alpaca.  I soon realized my mistake.  Luckily, I turned my head just in time for an incoming spit projectile.  My parents and Joel laughed.  All over the back of my baseball cap, entangled in my hair, and covering my backpack was llama spit.  So, afterwards, I caught sheep and alpacas but I learned my lesson with llamas!

Pack of Llamas

The main Andean god is named the Pachamama, which translates into English as mother earth.  Pachamama and the Andean spirits live up high in the mountains and when we crossed passes we had to be respectful of their presence.  Once, as we looked over the earth from Huilquikasa pass, Joel taught us an Andean ritual to honor Pachamama who gives us clothes, life, shelter, happiness, and food.  As a sacrifice, we all had to carry one or more beautiful rocks to the pass.  With our stones and some traditional coca leaves, we walked to the highest point on the ridge.  With the coca leaves in hand, we all stood upon the knife edge ridge.  Then, with three wishes in our minds, we thanked Pachamama and the spirt of the surrounding mountains, Chicon, Colque Cruz, Pituceri, and Suruceri.  We put our three Coca leaves on the ridge to symbolize the underworld, the earth, and the heavens.  On top of these, we put the rocks we had carried from below.  I also gave the Pachamama a bracelet that I had made.  Joel commended me and said that when farmers preform this ritual, they sometimes leave their best fruits for the gods.  I loved learning about a new religion and getting a peak into the Andean world.

On our third night, we found ourselves camping next to a relaxing hot springs.  Here, locals (and occasionally some tourists) take a break from their current work, be it trekking or farming.  For the next two days, we would be walking uphill along a popular road with many other tourists.  All of us were secretly dreading the upcoming days, when we noticed a sign on the hot springs bathroom.  The sign displayed that the next day would be the anniversary of Lares, a small town twenty minutes walk from the hot springs.  A grand festival would be taking place.  In the middle of beautiful markets would be dancing and celebration.  We asked Joel if many tourists would be there.  He soundly shook his head, no.  The three of us exchanged glances.  We asked if we could change the itinerary to visit the festival, stay an extra night at the hot springs, and drive to Cusco on what would be the fifth day of the trek.  Joel thought it was a great idea!  So, it was decided that for the next two days we would relax in the hot springs, visit the town, and skip two days of uphill trekking!

During the festival, we enjoyed and experienced much amazing culture.  The first event was the traditional folk dancing.  As we watched, dances were preformed by locals from age five through adulthood.  These dances were preformed to remember the ancient Kichwa culture.  They demonstrated farming and many other traditions unknown to us.  The children looked so happy and proud of their culture while they preformed dances older than the wind. 


Also, in the town, the three of us passed many interesting markets.  These sold all kinds of beautiful handicrafts and traditional foods.  As we perused the market, we saw Peru’s 108 types of corn.  Some were purple, others grey, yellow, or brown.  Peru also has more then six hundred types of potatoes.  Some were twisted, lumpy, round, yellow, purple, brown, or white. 

Natural Dyes

Finally, we visited the last section of the festival.  Here, competitions took place where judges chose the best sheep, alpaca, llama, bull, and guinea pig.  We walked passed ladies in traditional attire and loud animals.  It was so crowded and interesting, that we could not take our eyes off the intriguing animals.  Finally, tired and content, we returned to the hot springs after a day of culture.


I loved the five day trek and was interested in the culture I experienced.   It was fun catching alpacas (and llamas) with Joel and preforming the traditional ritual on the mountain pass.  I also liked the hot springs and the festival and was glad to skip two days of up hill trekking.  Our homecoming is in four days and I can’t wait!

Mauro (the Cook),  Me, Caesar (the Muleteer)

Thank you for reading Rohan Geographic!


  1. Phew! What a year! I'm tired just thinking about it. Enjoy your homecoming!

  2. Is it my imagination, or did you grow a foot taller this year?! Safe travels home, Rohan. Your own bed will be sweet!