We are a novelty in Andahuaylas. As we walk the streets, there are whispers, and non-whispers, of “Gringos!” or “Miren a los gringuitos!” (Look at the little gringos!) Some say it as a sort of greeting: “Gringo!” We did catch sight of one fair-skinned person one evening, and we saw two more on the road to Sondor, but there are clearly not many here. One day in the market as Leticia was buying vegetables, the woman at the nieghboring stand said to Zeke “Iman sutiyki?” We’ve taken some Quechua classes, and so Zeke knew this means “What is your name?”, and he answered accordingly. The woman was so surprised that she burst out laughing, got the attention of the woman at the stand next to her, and repeated the question, and Zeke obligingly answered. They were both still laughing as we got out of earshot.
Our seven-year-old copy of Lonely Planet refers to the “long, rough road to Ayacucho” and says this region is for hard-core travelers only. This is less true now than it was in 2010, as the main roads have been paved, and many of the connections take about half the time they used to. Our trip to Andahuaylas took only three hours, but those were three long hours, as our the driver of the van we were in was prone to trying to pass big trucks on blind corners, tailgate small vehicles in attempts to get them to pull over, and generally scare the bejeebers out of us on these twisty roads with hundreds of feet of drop off to the side. Leticia took to asking him (OK, sometimes yelling at him) to slow down, take it easy, and it seemed other passengers were in agreement – one dodgy bit of gamesmanship had the whole van yelling at him. So we arrived, found a hostal, and found our first meal.
We stayed for six days, exhausting most of the eating options in town. The two best things about our time in Andahuaylas were
a) the Hostal Cruz del Sur, a basic place (we paid 60 soles total, about $19, for two double rooms without bathrooms) with a nice courtyard, wonderfully friendly owners, a place to wash and hang laundry, and, importantly, a kitchen we could use, and
b) the trip we made out to Sondor, a complex of ruins left by the Chankas, a group that was defeated and subsumed (sort of) by the Incas in the 1400s. It was a lovely spot.
Being the only gringos around meant having conversations with lots of people. We came back from a walk to a farther part of the ruins to find Zeke, who had gotten ahead of us, in conversation (mostly in Spanish, but a little in Quechua) with a whole group of folks up for the day. It was Good Friday, and there was a holiday atmosphere. Peruvians, especially in the countryside, have been so friendly. We chatted with so many, some local, some tourists from Lima and other parts of Peru. On the way out, we came up upon a band, a group of dancers, a video cameraman, and Anna already pulled into the dancing. Zeke was shy, but the rest of us all danced, I with a young woman with a “Flor de Pacucha” sash on her dress. We have seen these programs on televisions at markets (where the DVDs are being sold) – there’s usually a band, the dancers, and incredible scenery in the background. It pleases me that soon we may also be seen in the background of one of these.
After some good cheap (and vegetarian!) food bought from women sitting outside the ruins, we walked several miles back to Laguna Pacucha, a lovely lake with lots of folks enjoying a day off, and eventually caught a van back to Andahuaylas.
We had several other good walks around town. Most fun was the variety of animals met along the road, both in and out of town. Dogs (of course, but not aggressive), a few cats, lots of cows, pigs, sheep, and chickens, a few ducks and geese.
And onward to Ayacucho…