Wednesday, 19 January 2011


The last leg of the Cusco-Puno corridor is, you guessed it, Puno. My host has organised bus tickets for what turns out to be yet another 8 hour bus ride. We leave early in the morning and do not reach Puno, which is situated on Lago Titicaca ~  the largest lake in South America and at 3,811 m is also the highest lake situated above sea level  located on the border of Peru and Bolivia. At least one of us gets some sleep..

We wander off to the Plaza de Armas ~ there is one in every town in Peru ~ for some lunch ~ I try the local ceviche, my favourite Peruvian dish ~ after which we head to the Puno market, which is a real visual treat. I buy a bag of corn which looks like the ready-to-eat toasted corn kernels stuff that taste like peanuts, but instead it's the cooking kind..oh well. We wander all the way up to the lake until suddenly the weather turns. Everyone packs up in a hurry before they get drenched. We manage to grab a taxi back to our hotel before we get soaked.


In the evening we are invited by Ciro to visit a handicraft assocation called Suri Andino Associacion de Artisanas de Puno .The setup is rather odd in that they keep us waiting outside (well, inside an empty but freezing cold bus) for what feels like an eternity, but eventually we are led into a small back room down an alley where a number of women and men from different communities across the province have gathered to listen to the history of Suri Andino, delivered by Magdina the President of Suri Andino (middle). 

The association started in 2007 with 100 women and received technical assistance from Agro Rural with raw materials, training and marketing (attending regional fairs). They make hats, gloves, jumpers, etc.  Today only 15 women are active in the association, which experienced many teething problems in the beginning but managed to succeed through strong leadership and smart outsourcing ~ they collaborate with 8 other associations ~ to fill large orders.  Today they export to Switzerland, make finger puppets for Britt, communicate via email and transfer knowledge to other women artisans and associations, as is the case during this visit. Mostly, they grapple with quality control, how to better spread management responsibilities and succession planning.  I am impressed with the spirit and tenacity Magdina displays. Clearly having a driving force like her is key to their success.


Another 5 AM wake-up call (yikes) and we tumble out of the hotel and into a share combi (mini van) to Juliaca, the nearest airport about 40 kms up the road from Puno. An unexciting industrial town, we chose not to stay in Juliaca for the night. We are on separate return flights to Lima and say our goodbyes at Juliaca airport. I have a bit of a wait and settle in with a book and a strong Peruvian coffee.

Sunday, 16 January 2011

Cusco-Puno Corridor - Day 2

When I return from my walk to the amazing sacred temple site, the van Mamita is waiting for me as arranged. I bid goodbye to the lovely women of Raqchi and we head off to our first stop, which is only a short distance up the road in San Pedro. 

We bang and bang on the door of a farm house but nobody's home. We are going by the schedule I have been handed by Agro Rural and not too sure where to from here.  I decide to phone Ciro at Agro Rural who manages to convey to me in Spanish that I've got it all mixed up (duh, who made this schedule?) and we should go see this other mob first and return to San Pedro later on in the day. So we head for a place called Marangani (near Sicuani), which is about an hour up the road, to visit an assocation of guinea pig farmers. Hoorah, I get to witness guinea pig farming after all and can only hope the mob will be around ~ according to the schedule we are not expected until early afternoon. 

When we get there, we are greeted at the entry road by the association leader who says he's been waiting for several hours as he was told we'd get there first thing in the morning ~ duh, who made this schedule?  Thankfully, he doesn't seem to fussed and leads us up the road to the association's common quarters where a bunch of women are waiting to speak with me. Out comes my list of Spanish questions and I get a picture of what life is like for this association of guinea pig (cuyes) farmers. 

They are a group of 18 families who received technical assistance from Agro Rural to build sheds to house the guinea pigs, how to feed them (the guinea pigs eat organic alfa alfa, ray grass and other greens that are grown by the farmers) and market them. Both the men and women work in the guinea pig business which means they can stay put in their village and do not have to go elsewhere to generate income. They average production of 50-80 guinea pigs per week, which are sold at local markets, at fairs and the association also has the ability to freeze the guinea pigs. They proudly show off the array of prizes they have won over the past years and socio-economic conditions in the village have improved considerably.

There is no Internet signal in this area and the farmers use mobile phones to communicate with clients and other communities. They would like to export but do have any access to market or marketing knowledge. They would also like to open a restaurant and become more commercial, serving an array of cuy recipes. I am keen to clamp eyes on the actual rodents and we take a tour of the shed where the cuyes are housed. I am amazed at the variety of guinea pigs that are there. The short haired ones look like rodents, the long haired ones almost like cute little dogs.


In the afternoon we do indeed make it back to San Pedro and find the people home. Not that they were actually expecting us. They thought we were coming yesterday! Whatever, I'm there and we are having a chat. Associacion de Productores APROLAC started out in 2003 with some 16 families. Today only 5 families are active. They make yogurt which they sell to the local market. It is a labour intensive process which takes 3-4 hours everyday and this is done on top of their regular jobs as they all work in the community as well as farm. 

The association does not have refrigeration and given their low capacity, their output is relatively low as well. They would like to expand beyond the Cusco-Puno Corridor and get their product to Arequipa but aren't really sure how to go about it. They do not have Internet at home and say that when it works in the community it is too slow to search for new ways to improve their yogurt making technology (they are keen to get Dutch knowledge transfer) and learn much more about marketing. They received initial technical support from Agro Rural but do not have the funds to expand. The best part of this visit is the yogurt, which is super fresh and delicious.

After we leave Aprolac, it is time to drop me off at the bus station. We get back on the road and suddenly the van is turned into public transport. Hang on, didn't I pay a considerable amount to hire the van for private use? Cheeky indeed, but by then people have started piling into the combi and are handing Mamita money for the transport ~ there's no point making a fuss. At one point mamita even puts her hand out to me to pay up and I give her a puzzled look. Ah, no, not you, she apologizes with her toothless grin. 

By the time we get to the bus station I am again the only passenger and mamita gets out with me, pushes her way through hordes of people and helps me buy a ticket. It turns out she'd bought me a ticket for a combi (apparently mini vans arrive an hour faster than the big buses). The van is late and I chat with two women patiently waiting for transport.  When the van finally takes off, I find myself crammed in the back corner. By now it has into quite a long day and I am tired. But not as tired as the woman squeezed in the middle seat next to me, who begins snoring and lowers her head onto my shoulder.  Don't think the bus fare includes being a cushion, so I gently shake her awake. Perhaps I should have let her rest... she ends up babbling all the way back to Cusco.