Alison Wanders // Of Roasted Guinea Pig and Goodbyes

Students and teachers of Pomatales.

Since returning from Bolivia, life in Ollanta has been relatively relaxing (I guess anything can be considered relaxing, though, after you drive through roads with broken glass, boulders, and people rioting!). While it may seem like Claire and I have simply been hiking and taking in the sights of the Sacred Valley for the past two months (not entirely false), we have also been volunteering in a rural community, Pomatales, teaching English at the local elementary school. On the surface this may sound like a typical teaching experience, but the location of the school made it pretty unbelievable.

Goodbye ceremony with my first graders carrying the school flag

To get to Pomatales, we hopped in a Colectivo headed for Urubamba/Cusco. After about 8km, we were dropped at a small bridge for the town of Pachar. At this point, we sat and waited for one of the three teachers to come pick us up on a moto. Once on the moto, we drove about 30 minutes up through the Andes on unpaved roads to finally arrive in the tiny town of Pomatales. At first we thought our transit was a pain in the ass . . . then we started asking where our students lived and how they got to school.

Second- and sixth-grade boys with their mugs before their school-provided breakfast.

Elisban, one of my sixth grade boys, walked everyday from the town of Soccma, which sits an hour and a half further up the mountains. Beltran, an adorable fourth grader, walked every day from the small town of Rayan, which is so high above Pomatales, it takes him three and a half hours to make the uphill hike back home every afternoon. I soon learned that the majority of the students of Pomatales make similar treks through the mountains every day, but they just think of it as their walk to school.

Beltran, a fourth grader, who hikes 3.5 hours every day to get home from school!

Unfortunately, because of the commute and various duties these young kids are expected to complete for their parents, many students did not attend school regularly. On market days especially, we were lucky if 25 of the total 40 students were present. Claire and I quickly stopped complaining about our commute and really anything else.

Everyone wanted a good-bye photo!

With our time in Ollanta coming to a close, last Monday we had to tell the teachers and students of Pomatales that Wednesday would be our last day. When we showed up on Wednesday, we walked into a “Despedidia,” or a good-bye party for us. All of the students lined up based on grade, and to start the party students came forward and recited poems in Quechua and castellano. After the recitations, each and every student individually came forward to thank us, give us flowers and hand-written cards, and give Claire and I both a big hug. Everything about this was heart warming and made me want to stay. It only got worse when the teachers began to ask the students if they wanted us to stay, to which the students responded by yelling and begging us to stay. Talk about pulling at your heart strings!

Davis, a first-grader, poses for the camera before giving me flowers and saying thank you.

After we left Pomatales, touched by the fact that they threw us a goodbye party and gave us so many beautiful flowers, we ran into the mother of a sixth grade student, Luis. Luis’s mom told us that he had been very upset we didn’t have a proper goodbye party because there was no food. A week later, Luis and his mom came to Ollanta, and brought a full lunch to properly say goodbye. Such a great kid.

Luis and his mother outside of the Inca church ruins.

The funny part is the meal was cuy. Now, Claire and I have been doing whatever it takes to avoid eating the much-loved Peruvian delight that is guinea pig. In this situation, there was just no way out of it. We sat down and each ate half of a cuy. To be honest, it wasn’t half bad. Once you ignore the full rodent sitting on your plate – four little legs and all, similar to how a full fish would be served – it tasted like a strange mix of chicken and pork.

After the goodbye meal, Luis and his mom took us to ruins that are rumored to be the site of an ancient Inca church. My stomach may have felt a little weird by the end of the day, but spending this time with Luis and his mother, and seeing how grateful they were that Claire and I had come to help Pomatales was truly amazing.

Views in Salineras.

Having finished teaching in Pomatales, with little time left in Ollanta, Claire and I decided to finally hike the very touristy Moray, Maras, Salineras trail. Almost all tours through the Sacred Valley make a stop at these three cities before arriving at Machu Picchu. The easy way to do the hike is to start at the Moray Terraces and hike downhill through the town of Maras to the Salineras Salt Pans.

Moray Terraces, i.e. evidence of ancient alien technology.

Feeling young and athletic, we decided to hike uphill in the opposite direction and hike back down, 24km in total. The Salineras Salt Pans are just about a 30-minute hike from the road where you get dropped off in Colectivo. To enter the site it costs 7 soles. From here, it is an hour to the town of Maras, which we just walked through, and another hour to Moray Terraces. To enter Moray it will cost you another 10 soles, unless you are Claire and I who are desperately trying to hang on to our college days and entered as students for 5 soles.

Another view of the Moray Terraces.

Moray was absolutely unreal. The absurd precision and perfection of the circular terraces is mind blowing. I may or may not have left Moray Terraces with a newfound belief in aliens. I just don’t understand how the Incas or anyone other than aliens could have created such perfection. [Editor’s note: I totally agree. Ancient alien technology is/was definitely a thing.] Moray was definitely worth the price of admission, but if you are looking to save some money, I’d say you can skip the Salineras.

Aside from tear-jerking goodbyes and a newfound belief in aliens, I have been prepping for Bolivia. Hope you’ve all enjoyed Peru, and next time I check in I’ll be coming from somewhere (could be anywhere) in Bolivia!

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