By: Emily Radek, Marketing and Communication Intern
Ascending into the mountains, about 4,000 feet higher in altitude than Ollantaytambo, you reach Huilloc-Alto. The drive is long enough to sit and enjoy the views from the car window. Once you reach Huilloc, a twisty road continues farther up the steep mountain slope. Huilloc Alto is one of our partner tourism cooperatives located in the small community of Huilloc. ‘Alto’ references the group living in the higher portion of Huilloc, as it stands at 13,000 feet above sea level. As you look out the window on the steep drive up, the bright green mountains stretch out in front of your eyes. As the clouds move, the ice peaks are revealed, enormous and stunning. It’s hard to wrap your head around how gorgeous the landscape is here.
The mountainside is spotted with a community of homes, a simple fútbol field on the flattest part of the steep slope, a couple small fields growing crops like potatoes, carrots and corn, as well as some donkeys, sheep, and pigs. There are about 250 people living above the town of Huilloc in this community. Your gaze from the community descends down the valley to see the main town of Huilloc. There is one preschool up on the mountain. Once the kids are older, they must make the long walk down the mountain to go to the main town, or even down to Ollantaytambo, to continue schooling.
Josefina, the secretary of the cooperative, says she loves living here. “I like the land, the production, and the freedom,” she explained, “there are no problems with living here.” She described the climate as “not too hot, or too cold.” Josefina and her husband, Genaro, are raising their four children in the community. She mentioned her favorite part about living here is “the environment and the livestock.” It is important for their family, and all families in the community, to depend on the environment to sustain their lives through food, shelter, and other resources.
Although the community tries to live independently from external resources, families still need an income to support their children’s schooling, and provide other things like medication or materials to upkeep their homes. Genaro works as a porter for the tourists hiking the Inca Trail; a common job for the men from Huilloc, as well as the other rural communities in the Sacred Valley. Other men work in tourism down in the town of Ollantaytambo. Josefina brings an income to her family through her work with Awamaki selling her craft and participating in tours that visit the community. The tours that visit Huilloc-Alto are mainly Andean and Artisan Overnights. Visitors are able to spend the night with a host family, even Josefina’s, and learn about weaving and medicinal plants, go on hikes with the compañeras, and integrate themselves into the Andean lifestyle. The artisans are always so excited to share their culture with the tourists. Josefina says her favorite parts of the tours are “the pachamanca, teaching people how to weave, and meeting and working with the tourists.” At the end of the overnight, all of the women are able to sell their own products to the visitors.
As a rural community, Huilloc has their own local government. They have their own president and board, as well as their own type of police enforcement called Rondas Campesinas. The community is relatively self-sufficient when it comes to providing their own food and resources for their community. Tourism through Awamaki has provided the families with more opportunities for earning supplemental income. Awamaki has provided the women with many capacity-building workshops encompassing business training and self-esteem building. The women have begun to seek more employment and have gained professional skills, allowing them to use their skills learned with Awamaki in their own ways.
The people living in Huilloc-Alto are strong and adaptable. Living at very high altitude with frigid night temperatures, working hard everyday with livestock, farming, and practicing their crafts, their adaptability is incredible. As a break from work, the community members have their own hobbies, activities, and pastimes like spending time with their friends. When the men are not working, they play fútbol. They have four teams, and Phaqcha (Quechua for ‘cascade’), is the best team this year. Genaro told us, excitement in his eyes, that he plays forward for Phaqcha and has scored the most goals for his team this year.
Huilloc is a beautiful community filled with kind and generous people. A trip to Huilloc-Alto will fill your heart with an appreciation for the people and the amazing landscape they live in.