Traveling Light in the Andes

 /   /  By Emma Birches
Stone Soup Magazine
September/October 2005

By Canyon Woodward, Illustrated by Jean Hope Sack

“Will you look at that?” I said, tugging on Mom’s sleeve and pointing down from the balcony at the lady walking in through the gate, being helped by Jose Luiz and his siblings. “If ever there was a typical American tourist! She must have at least eight suitcases. Jose Luiz is too kind. She should have to carry her own things if she’s going to bring all of that stuff. That is just ridiculous!”

“Oh my gosh! She doesn’t belong in a hostel, she needs a three-room hotel suite!” agreed my thirteen-year-old sister, Summer. We watched the lady walk towards her room, with her bags preceding her.

Just the other day my own family had made the long train ride to Ollantaytambo, Peru, in the sacred valley of the Incas. The mountains of the Andes towered high around us, the ancient city of Machu Picchu lying far to the east. Also tumbling through the valley was the wild Urabamba River, its raging waters swelled by recent rains. We considered ourselves fortunate to run across this warm and friendly hostel run by Jose Luiz and his family. I was also excited that we might visit a Quechua village higher in the Andes and see the beautiful weavings we had heard so much about.

*          *          *

Janet, tired from her long trip, greeted Jose Luiz and his little sister Pamela with a happy heart, thinking of the last time she had seen them. It had been at least a year. Pamela was only four then, and Eva had just given birth to their third son, Core. Jose Luiz and his sister helped Janet to unload her suitcases as the rest of the Pinado Bara family showed up. She was delighted as all of them but the very youngest came up to hug her and help with the luggage. Walking up the familiar cobblestone street towards the hostel, Janet smiled to herself.

Traveling Light in the Andes woman with several luggages

Janet, tired from her long trip, greeted Jose Luiz and his little sister Pamela with a happy heart

As she carried two of her suitcases across the grassy courtyard towards the stairway, Janet couldn’t help but notice an American family on the balcony outside their room.

That must be a wealthy family, she thought to herself. You’ve got to have a lot of money to travel with five people outside the U.S. Their only girl was running around in shorts. She probably goes into town like that too, Janet thought. This is definitely their first time in this kind of place. They should know how offensive it is for a girl to have her legs completely exposed like that.

Then she climbed up the steps and disappeared into her room not too far away, leaving her suitcases just outside the door.

*          *          *

“Do you mind?” Dad said, trying to step over the suitcases that were lying right in the way, blocking the stairs. He tripped over one and tumbled to the deck. “Could you move your bags?” he snapped, throwing a dark look into her room, then spun around and marched down the stairs with my brother, Nick, trailing after him. As we were getting ready to go to the village of Huilloc, I saw Jose Luiz pick up Janet’s bags and carry them into his house.

Our hike up to the small Quechua village turned out to be a lot longer than we had bargained for. Mudslides loosed by the torrential rains had blocked the narrow cliff-hanging road high up in the Andes. Otherwise we could have gotten within a mile of the village in a van that the hostel owvned. After an exhausting uphill climb we finally entered the village with Jose Luiz as our guide. The first thing we saw was six weavers dressed in the colors of their village, working away in their yards, children running, playing and shouting all around them.

“This is Huilloc,” said Jose Luiz in his nearly perfect English. “I think you will all have fun exploring around here. The people are very friendly. I’m going to go down to the river and get some water. I’ll come find you in a couple of hours. Good?”

“Yeah, that’ll be great, thanks so much,” answered my mom as Jose Luiz lifted Nick off of his shoulders. “We really want to see the women working on the weavings, so you’ll probably find us wherever anybody is doing that.” My mom smiled, looking around. Then we all turned back towards the village.

Traveling Light in the Andes living in the countryside

As I sat in front of one of the looms, my gaze strayed to the weaver’s hands

“Adios!” I said in my limited Spanish as we departed. As we neared one of the huts I noticed several roosters walking on the thatched roof, pecking away for a meal of delicious bugs.

“I’d like to go for a little hike further up the mountain,” said Summer, to my utter dismay.

“That’s fine, just as long as you don’t force us to go with you,” I said, not wanting to walk any longer on my aching legs.

The kids in the village were very friendly, but a little bit shy when it came to having their pictures taken. The rest of the afternoon was spent exploring Huilloc. We met a lot of very kind families, but what fascinated me the most were their wooden looms. One end of the loom had been driven into the ground, while the other end of the loom rested in the weaver’s lap. The weavings produced were more beautiful than I ever could have imagined. They contained a rich array of colors from deep purple all the way to bright yellow, each one as appealing as the next. As I sat in front of one of the looms, my gaze strayed to the weaver’s hands. They moved with what seemed impossible speed over the fabric, but without losing the precision of decades of practice. Before we left we bought two small weavings, one that had been made by an elder in the village who looked about sixty.

The hike down from the village was a lot of fun thanks to Jose Luiz’s great humor and knowledge of the plants and birds. I noticed one plant as we hiked that seemed very common in this region: it was an ugly purplish green and had heart-shaped leaves. When I asked him about it later, he showed me that it was edible. I tried a leaf and scrunched up my face as the bitter juices squirted out onto my tongue, but once the first shock was gone it seemed almost sweet.

*          *          *

As Janet opened her door she thought of how rude that wealthy family had been to her when she had barely arrived with her luggage. But as she looked into the courtyard she saw an unexpected sight. There was this same family washing their clothes by hand in a couple of buckets and hanging them out to dry in the warm morning sun.

“I’m going into town with Yuditt for a while,” she heard the girl calling to her dad. “We’ll be back in time for lunch.” The girl turned to leave.

“Summer, wait one second, honey,” her mom said, coming out of the room. “You can’t go out dressed like that. Put on long pants or a dress please, it’s bad manners to walk around in shorts in the rural villages.”

As a few more days passed Janet came to see other little things that made her realize that this family might not be quite as rich and out of touch as she had first assumed. She noticed they never went to eat out, that a lot of their meals consisted of just bread and jelly bought from the local shop, and the Pinado Bara children seemed to enjoy having more kids their age around and really took to the family.

“”Yuditt has asked us to her fifteenth birthday party,” Summer said, walking into the bedroom.

“Her fifteenth birthday!” Mom exclaimed. “That’s such a special time for a girl. What an honor for her to ask us.”

It ended up that we all went, and had a great time. There was lively music and everyone was in good spirits.

The next morning I was playing soccer in the courtyard with my brother, Nick. Around noon we saw Jose Luiz coming in the gate. Behind him were six Quechua women, each carrying more weavings than I thought possible. Janet came out into the middle of the courtyard and greeted them with outstretched arms. After talking for a few minutes in Quechua, they sat down on the grass and started displaying their weavings.

Jose Luiz was just leaving but my dad caught him and asked, “What are they doing over there?” pointing in the direction of Janet and the Quechua women.

Jose Luiz answered, “I thought you knew. Janet buys weavings from the Quechua to sell in her shop back in Texas.”

I was very surprised to hear this but I still thought Janet had to be doing something bad. “I bet she rips them off, doesn’t she?” I asked Jose Luiz.

“No, no, no. She buys them for almost twice what they are willing to sell them for. She gives them a very good deal.” When we told Mom about this she was just as shocked as I was.

“But she still doesn’t need all of those suitcases,” I said critically. “Even if she does buy their weavings she doesn’t have to have all of that luggage. I wonder what’s in them. Probably just a bunch of food and makeup and stuff.”

My parents didn’t say anything. They knew I was probably right and there wasn’t much they could say. We went out and watched the end of the exchange as the sun shone down on the weavings. Their elegant beauty was brought out even more. Jose Luiz reappeared, carrying many big bundles of clothing. He gave the clothing to the six women who thanked Janet graciously. After the women had gone, Mom went up to Jose Luiz and asked him where all the clothes had come from.

He answered simply. “Janet always brings clothes for the children.” He looked at our disbelieving faces. “Why do you think she was lugging all of those suitcases around with her?”

Traveling Light in the Andes Canyon Woodward

Canyon Woodward, 12
Franklin, North Carolina

Traveling Light in the Andes Jean Hope Sack

Jean Hope Sack, 13
Eureka, California

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