August 29, 2008
We might as well start with the best thing on the trip, in terms of Kathy and I being witness to Andes tradition. While visiting Tommy's town (as I've mentioned before, the Peace Corp frowns on naming the actual town) we got to attend a local wedding. It was a three day affair, with a Catholic mass one day, the wedding the next and the reception on Sunday. We peeked in on the mass on Friday and as I turned around to leave I saw two of the "wedding singers" just arriving and asked to take their photo:
Great faces and pose. As soon as I took the photo they each held out their hand and I gladly gave them one Sole each (about 33 cents each).
Kathy bought a Peruvian dress for the occasion and two of the women at our B&B helped Kathy with the fitting. Here she is (below) with our fave girl Berta (pronounced Bare-tah) who was incredibly shy (we think she had a crush on Tommy). A beautiful mountain girl:
Berta is wearing a collagua style hat. The Andes Mountain women wear this style and another, called the Cabana, which you will see plenty of at the wedding reception. Although the women of Tommy's town don't wear the bulging derby style, I can't wait to show you that one, but that will be later.
Here we are entering the reception area which was easy to find. We simply followed the sound of the music and we arrived behind the church (see in background) and as we stepped inside, Tommy gave me some advice: "Dad, do not decline anything they give you and watch out for the half-hour handshake." I looked at him funny, but he just smiled and we waded into the party:
The party was in full swing as we entered and it was here Kathy and I realized how much the locals love Thomas Charles. He stopped to talk with almost everyone and they all said heartily, "Que tal Tomas?!" He, in turn, talked to them in their native tongue, which is Quechua, and even though he's not fluent in this difficult language, they love him for trying.
The women of this region are the true caretakers of tradition and tribal style as you can clearly see from this photo (above), taken in the center of the party. The hat, at left, is a cabana, and all of the women are loyal to the age-old colorful dresses and shawls and headgear. The men, well, let's take a look at los hombres. . .
The hats are great, but these guys could be in Mexico, or even Cave Creek. Still, I sure dig that gold hatband, middle, right. You'll see more of that style at the bullfights, when we go there.
Our party was seated inside a long room that had religious decorations on one wall, and Donald Duck on the other. You can just make out Donald Duck's face and hand just over the top of my hat. And, yes, the guy at the end of the table is dozing off from having too much fun.
After we were served a delicious soup and main dish, we came out onto the patio and I stood in line to take a lock of the father-of-the-bride's hair. Evidently, it's an age old custom. I was a bit nervous as I stepped up and took the scissors and grabbed a lock of the poor dad's butchered hair (he was quite trashed and kept weaving with his eyes closed). After I cut the lock, I placed the hairs, and a ten-Sole-bill in a basket and I was immediately handed a huge glass of chicha (a mountain concoction), a shot of pisco sour and a beer. I remembered Tommy's advice and drained the shot and attempted to do the same with the chicha (above) but it was too much for me. Tommy said something to the guy, at left, and he set down a pitcher he was carrying and essentially drained my Chicha Barrel. Ha. I thanked him profusely.
Someone else handed me a ceremonial bag of cocoa leaves and I reached in and took several and put them in my mouth and started chewing. Everyone here chews cocoa leaves and drinks cocoa tea, which is quite nice. And, they are a bit perturbed that cocoa leaves have gotten thrown in with cocaine, which is an entirely different process. Still, I seem to remember someone in the seventies referring to the nose candy as "Peruvian Marching Powder." Ha.
Meanwhile, the band was getting set to crank up (check out the harp!) and Kathy got ready to boogie!
A mountain woman grabbed Kathy's hand and they plunged into the circle of dancers and did the local version of the country swing, which I have a hunch is a tad older than our version:
While Kathy was getting down, Tomas introduced me to more of the locals:
This very nice guy, who, I think Tommy told me is known for plowing the straightest furrows in the area, well, he gushed about our boy and the job he's doing in their town. It wasn't long after this, that I finally got a version of the half-hour handshake, which is what happens when some of the guys drink chicha for three days, start shaking your hand and talking a mile a minute, and they never let go. You just stand there, kind of shaking your head and agreeing with them until they pass out or, decide to go shake someone else's hand. Or both.
Once again, notice how dignified the women are, how they adhere to the local traditions of dress. Now look at the party crashers over the wall with their baseball caps. Ouch!
But, it's coming like a freight train. The globalization of urban dress, I mean. It's already infected the nearest town, with running shoes, baseball caps, fannie packs and sports jerseys. It's a crying shame, but I feel so privileged to have witnessed a bit of old style tradition high up in the Andes.
One of the reasons for this unique holdout, is that the outside world didn't reach here until 1970. The local museum in Tommy's town, shows an airplane belonging to two U.S. adventurers who flew over the canyon in 1929 and were stunned to see a thriving civilization down below. Supposedly, the canyon wasn't on any European or American maps at that time (1929!).
After the road arrived, a group of Polish guys came in the 1980s and filmed the whole canyon, went back home and posted the photos on the internet and the rush to see Colca Canyon was on.
It's only a matter of time before these clothing styles are gone for good. Sigh. Better make plans to see it soon. I'm sure glad we did.
By the way, today is a milestone. I just finished my 7,000th sketch on my quest to draw 10,000 bad drawings. Amazing. And, yes, I am very Andes influenced at the moment.
"We celebrate tradition because all of the odds are against it."
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