Our next stop is Raqchi, an eco-tourism spot popular for its archeological dig. It is quite a long drive from San Salvador and we stop for lunch before we make the trek to Raqchi. Ciro takes us to his favourite fried pork restaurant. Not my thing so I opt for the only other item on the menu ~ chicken soup, which turns out to be a very large bowl indeed, sporting the biggest chicken leg I have ever seen and I struggle to make my way through it. It appears I've made the right choice as my MIMDES host gets violently ill that night ~ apparently eating greasy food on one's first day in Cusco while adjusting to the altitude is a lethal combination !
We get to Raqchi quite late in the afternoon and the women have been waiting for us since 3:00 PM. We apologise for our late arrival and have a quick chat with the women. Raqchi runs an eco-tourism assocation and the women promise to come see me later for an extended chat.
I am a bit confused as to what is happening but as it turns out, I am the only one staying overnight in this eco tourism resort, whilst the rest of the gang heads back to Cusco (a 2.5 hr car ride). I will be visiting other associations in the area the next day before heading back and we have to find a driver that can take me around.
We get back on the road and drive to San Pedro to sort my transport. The only thing available is an overpriced minivan ~ normally used to ferry locals up and down the highway ~ owned by a toothless mamita who does not speak a word of English, but my choices are limited (none actually), so we settle on a price and pickup time in the morning.
By the time we get back to Raqchi it is pitch black and it is with some trepidation that I say goodbye to the gang. I enter the guesthouse and my host comes in to set the table for dinner with beautifully colourful ceramic plates for me and her kids. Am afflicted by the altitude and a bit pale around the edges. I can't stomach much other than a bit of dry bread and cheese. Pity really as she has put together a nice meal and her kids tuck in heartily. In between giggles they tell me about their school and what they want to be when they grow up ~ the 12-year old boy wants to be a chef and maybe enter the tourism business. The 10-year old girl wants to be a doctor. Later on another son ambles in, he is about 15 and speaks a tiny bit of English. He too wants to enter the business.
After dinner there is a knock on the door and one by one the women file into my reasonable spacious room. They strike down on the floor and soon the room is awash with colour, talk and laughter. I pull out my Spanish questions and amazingly we manage to communicate between the women speaking Quechua, my simplistic Spanish and the tiny bit of English translation from the eldest son.
There are 13 families in the Raqchi eco-tourism association (known as turismo vivencial in Spanish) and a total of 4 different homes to stay (the women have a rotation system for bookings). A stay costs $35 which includes dinner and breakfast. The association was assisted by the Cusco-Puno Corridor funding, receiving technical assistance to build kitchens, bathrooms and furnishing guest quarters. An Internet cafe was also set up in the Raqchi village square as part of the Cusco-Puno Corridor project.
There are other eco-tourism destinations along the Cusco-Puno Corridor and the women rely on agents in Cusco and Puno for client bookings. They do not use the Internet themselves and when I ask why they just laugh and say it is for the young people, who like to use it for their homework. When they can, that is, as I am told that the signal has been down for over a month and nobody is rushing to fix it. Perhaps by the next generation Raqchi will be able to make its own bookings.
The families complement their income selling handicrafts and ceramics ~ many sell the beautiful dishes I've been eating off, which have unique family designs. Life has improved significantly for these villagers now that they have a reasonably steady income. They are now able to afford better nutrition ~ creating better health conditions ~ school uniforms and supplies for their childre. Some are even able to afford costly tertiary education for their children.
Conditions remain 'primitive' ~ or at least by western standards ~ the bathroom is walking distance from the room but it is dark at night and one could easily stumble over the various steps. There is no hot water for showering despite the assurance that the contraption hooked into the fuse box will deliver. But the bed is comfy and cozy with piles of blankets for a cold night in the mountains. We discuss their desire to get solar panels on their homes for consistent power and hot water. It would reduce their footprint and enhance the eco-tourism experience ~ what a treat talking to these switched on women.
The next morning there is a knock on the door at 7:00 AM and breakfast is brought in. The kids are heading off to school and drop by to kiss me goodbye. I chat with the women in the courtyard while they wash dishes and spin their yarn. They tell me I should go to the square and see the ruins, which will take about 45 minutes. It will only cost 10 soles. I can't imagine I'll be there all that long but nod and stroll into the square and onwards through a small lane into the open field and wow....
Raqchi is home to an ancient temple of the Inka, Wiraqocha Temple. There in front of me, in all its glory, are the huge remains of the walls, buildings and stones of a simply stunning archeological site, which for most of my visit I have all to myself. Not visible from the road and entirely unexpected having arrived on dark, I am awe struck by the sacred beauty of Raqchi and my previous night's reluctance to stay here turns to gratitude for this magical gift.