Living in a Quechua community

posted in: Peru | 56

The best things in your travels always occur, when you leave the beaten path, when you don’t know what to expect to happen. It was always the same for us in our round the world trip. These are the moments, which always give you unforgettable and unique experience.

When we were Cusco, apart from Machu Picchu and other Inca ruins, we wanted to see how Quechua communities live their life between the Andes. Most people in Peru have Quechua origins, but the majority of them were Hispanicized and only small part of these people live as their ancestors. In Cusco we were hosted by Willy (a local Couchsurfer) who really cares about the history of Quechua people, he speaks their language and he can share many stories and legends with you.

When we told him our intention, he recommended us to go to Patacancha, a small community in the Andes, just a few hours from Ollantaytambo, one of the famous Inca villages. We knew from Willy that public transport is available only a couple of times per week, so we would probably have to find our own way to get there.

In Ollantaytambo, after buying some sugar, bread and fruit as present for the people in the community, we looked around asking for transport. There wasn’t any public transport that day, only local taxis offering you a trip for fees that we could not permit. So what to do then? We asked a local policeman, and he told us that in just a few minutes a car from the local council would go up there, as they go once in a month to bring food and medicine to the small communities. We asked for a lift and naturally offered help in the delivery of the boxes. Unbelievable, but it seemed that we arrived on the perfect day!

We got on the jeep, and quickly left civilization behind, as we started to climb the steep dirt roads, which were in awful conditions. After an hour and a half, we arrived in Huilloc, the first community on the road. There was already a van there with the doctor from Ollantaytambo who was also on his monthly visit. What we saw there, it really blew us away! All the women (not a single man) and children of the tribe were waiting there, all dressed in their typical, colorful traditional clothes. Looking at all these people in these bright colors gave us an indescribably delightful sensation. You can see people wearing these clothes in Cusco and other places for the tourists, but here they really still wear them as part of their local tradition.

Quechua women waiting in Huilloc

While we were helping there, most of the kids came to us, while the mothers stayed in their place, although many of them smiled at us. We took a lot of pictures, especially with the children who were really interested in our camera, all of them wanted to appear in some of the shots. We laughed a lot with them, though we had to use gestures to communicate, because these kids (like most of the people in these tribes) speak only a couple of words in Spanish, they only speak the local Quechua language. There was a group of little girls, who were especially friendly with us, they let us held them in our arms and smiled at us the whole time.

Playing with little Quechua girls

The women were just patiently waiting for their turn to get their portion of milk and flour, talking among each other and some of them making clothes of wool. They don’t buy any raw material for their clothes, but use animal skin and natural dyes.

Quechua woman making clothes from wool

We had some time then to have a chat with the local doctor, who explained us that these communities are really poor. As the weather conditions are rather harsh here (high altitude, cold temperature and little sunshine), they can basically cultivate potatoes and herd sheep. We were so impressed by seeing these people in the 21st century living so isolated from the rest of the civilization, keeping their language, local costumes and clothing!

Having left Huilloc, it took a couple of hours to get to Patacancha. When we arrived, we didn’t see anyone around, but soon appeared Juan, who was some kind of a local chief. After helping with the delivery of the boxes of milk and flour, Juan took us to his place. He is one of the few people in the community who speaks really good Spanish.

Food delivery for the Quechua

Juan, his wife, Elena and three children live in a house built by him. Before, Juan and Elena lived in a much smaller house, in which everything was in the same room. In one part there was the fireplace, and on the other side there were the beds and under the beds place for the animals (dogs and guinea pigs). Juan referred to this time as “our life in a family with our animals”. When his first son, Alberto, was born, they started to build a bigger house just next to it. Now there former house serves as only kitchen, where we spent many hours cooking near the fire.

Cooking with a family in Patacancha

We needed many blankets, as the nights are crazily cold up there. It really made us feel puzzled to see that in spite of the cold, they don’t wear socks or stockings. Even the smallest children have their skin burnt on their face because of the cold and the sun, so as the skin on their feet. We felt some shame for them, but it is their local culture, and we have to respect it.

Little Quechua girl in Huilloc

We had a really marvelous time with the family. When we arrived, Juan was alone at home, as the rest of the family was out in the mountains herding their sheep and cows. We went to look for them to the other end of the village, and we also looked around a bit. The eldest brother Alberto (who also spoke Spanish), a really smart kid, was much more mature than you would expect from a boy of his age. He cooked without help, while he took care of his little brother and sister at the same time. We prepared a delicious potato soup with vegetables, and the hot dish gave us a lot of satisfaction in the cold of the night.

During these days we could also get some insight into the life of the community. Alberto and Juan explained things about their daily routine, for example the rules for the clothes they have to wear (different colors have different meanings) or what they study at school (mainly practical things). During those days there was a huge argument in the community, since two youngsters had escaped a few days ago from the tribe and they had an accident. The mothers were shouting between each other, blaming the other for the things that happened. They had an everlasting gathering in which tried to do justice, without too much success as we heard.

Throughout the time we spent in Patacancha, we had the chance to participate in all kinds of activities done by the locals, while we were dressed in their beautiful clothes. We helped in the selection of the all sorts of potatoes.

Potato selection in Patacancha

There are really many kinds, which differ in shape and color, and they cut them differently and use them for different purposes. We have never seen so many different types of potatoes! We also helped in herding sheep. Rachele, being the main shepherd, almost lost a part of the pack, as the sheep escaped uphill. Elena just arrived in time to get them back, and we laughed a lot at the incident.

The newest shepherd of Patacancha

The rest of the time we played with the kids, Madaline, the little girl was especially fond of Gábor. She spent a lot of time in his arms, she even fell asleep sitting on his lap.

Playing with a Quechua girl in Patacancha

We had the chance to meet some of the older women in the tribe, for example Elena’s mother was always smiling at us, even though we couldn’t communicate with words.

Old Quechua woman in Patacancha

The time we spent in Patacancha, this little Quechua community, was a real heart-warming experience. We enjoyed taking part of their everyday life. The time goes really slow there, they live with very little, and when Alberto told us that once he would like to go to Ollantaytambo, it made us also understand that the world for them ends more or less where the farthest house of the tribe is. Nevertheless, they seemed happy, and made us feel welcome in their life. We hope to go back there one day to see if Alberto, this clever little fellow, becomes the new chief of the tribe and to see if Madaline grows up to be such a beautiful woman as she is now as a little girl…

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56 Responses

  1. What a wonderful experience to get off the beaten path and see how the Quechua’s live. Westerners can learn a lot from these people since they live minimally. Beautiful pictures!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks Mig for your comment! It was really unforgettable experience, we dream about being there every now and then. Quechua people living with so little, but they open their house, their life for you.

  2. Beautiful photos and a beautiful story! I hope to go there some day and now that I´m not so far away I have no more excuse! Great website btw. happy that I am that it´s in English… My Spanish is not good enough yet! Keep up the good work!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks Milene! I hope you can get to spend some time with the Quechua people! We just started to add English content to our blog to attract more readers like you:)

  3. Beautiful story. I’ve been to Peru many times since 2007, living in Cusco twice. Its my favorite country in the world.

    Happy to read about your positive experience!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks Mica! It was one of the most beautiful experiences we had during our round the world trip. Beautiful landscape, mystery and really nice people! We really hope to get back there one day!

  4. beautiful photography. i am touched to see how much love and light there is there. wow. how long did you stay there? we loved our time with the quechua in the jungles of ecuador. soooo nice to meet you guys. looking forward to seeing you more and more online. gabi

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks Gabi! It was only a few days, but next time we would like to go back there for more! Ecuador is also on our list, we could not get there in our last South American trip. I am glad to be in touch with you guys! Gabor

  5. Stunning. What beautiful pictures and what an incredible experience. I have traveled a lot but not so much recently. You are inspiring me!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks for the really kind comment, it is always an honor when someone feels inspired by our stories! Being with the Quechua people was a really heart-warming experience, we still dream about it often.

  6. Very colorful photos!

  7. Love the beautiful photos! I hope I have a chance to visit Peru!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      I am glad that you liked our photos! Yeah, we can highly recommend you to visit Peru, such a beautiful country!

  8. Wonderful story and great pics :)

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks, we are so glad that you liked our story and pictures!

  9. I am so happy to read this story from Ultimate Blog Challenge! I love your story. I love being able to see native people. I was able to in Mexico. I loved seeing their lifestyles. You were very detailed about your story and it was so interesting.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Jill, I am so glad that you appreciated our story, and I am also happy that you had some nice experience with native people!

  10. Great post! I always love to get great insights into different cultures. Thanks.

  11. Very nice story and I do love the portraits and pics you’ve got there! Beautiful!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      It was really an amazing experience to be with these people, the photos reflect our emotions.

  12. No that is off the beaten path! What an adventure, this would be something you shant forget very quickly. Thanks for linking up with us to #SundayTraveler.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      I agree with you, we still dream about this place every now and then. We really would like to get back there once with the hope that things haven’t changed!

  13. Beautiful story. I love the fact that you’ve really experienced their way of life. To stay with a local family and blend in their everyday life is completely enriching experience. Love your photos too. Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      I am so glad that you liked our story and photos! You are right, it was really an enriching experience to live with this family and the whole community.

  14. What a wonderful story! How long did you stay there and how did you get back to Cusco?

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Teresa, we could just stay for a few days, I wish we could have been there more time! It’s difficult only to get to Ollantaytambo, we shared local transport with an American journalist/photographer to get there. From Ollantaytambo tu Cusco there is public transport available. Thanks for your comment!

  15. Thank yo for sharing just a little bit into the lives of such a fascinating culture. And BEAUTIFUL photos.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks Nicole! We really appreciate your comment!

  16. Wow what a wonderful read, thank you :)

  17. Oh my gosh, what incredible pictures, and what an amazing experience – thanks so much for sharing! :)

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Emma, thanks for your kind comment! So glad that you loved pictures!

  18. what a great experience, when you get to know some local people it always enriches your travels and makes you really appreciate what you have and what you take for granted. keep the posts coming… :)

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks very much! What we loved the most in our round the world trip was spending time with local people. Moreover, now back from that journey, we still want that to be the “motto” of our blog, having local experiences, meeting local people.

  19. This seems like a really amazing experience and definitely the way I hope I find myself traveling in the future! The photography is gorgeous too! Thanks for linking up to the #SundayTraveler! :)

    • Rachele & Gábor

      It was really one of the most awesome experiences we had in South America. Thanks Ashley, I am glad you liked our post and the pictures!

  20. This is an incredibly beautiful and moving post. I’m sure this experience will stay with you forever. I really love to see the photographs of the smiling faces; even without the basics that many of us call necessities (socks and shoes for example) the community seems very happy – something many of us could learn from. This was a really interesting read, so glad I found your site via #SundayTraveler

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Travis, thanks very much for your kind comment! We are so happy that you found our post moving, we are still moved when we think back to those days we spent with this people. We really wish to go back there one day, and we just hope to find everything more or less unchanged!

  21. Gorgeous photos, congrats! Looks like a fantastic experience. Lovely and moving post. Good luck!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      It was a very emotional experience for us too. Two years later, we still feel moved if we think back. Thanks for the comment!

  22. What a great experience! I love when opportunities like this come up – you could have taken every ‘authentic’ guided tour you could find and not learned as much.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      We agree absolutely Jess, when you dare to get off the beaten path, that’s when usually magic happens. Thanks for the comment!

  23. Wow this is such a fabulous post… really getting of the beaten track and getting to know local culture is just the best part of travel.The colourful attire is mesmerising! What an insightful stay that must have been.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks for your kind comment! Being there was one of the most heart-warming experiences we had on the road. We still dream about that place!

  24. What an amazing experience! I love how colorful their clothing is. It’s such an eye opening experience when you truly get to be involved in such a different culture than your own. That’s definitely an adventure to cherish and remember for a long time. Lovely photos and really cute kids!

    • Rachele & Gábor

      You are right, it was a memorable experience both for our minds and our heart. We quite often think about those days we spent there!

  25. Cristina

    Hi guys! Wow, thanks a lot for sharing the experience… I felt as if I was there, while I was reading it! I was wondering if I could speak to you via email at some point. I am planning to travel to South America to study the quechua language and write a book about languages acquisition by immersion. Could we get in touch so that I can ask you a few questions, if that’s alright? My email address is . Looking forward to hearing for you, Cristina

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks Cristina for your comment! Of course we can talk via mail, your project seems super interesting!

  26. What an incredible experience, to go off the beaten track and to be treated with such warmth by complete strangers. Coming from a world were we have access to a wealth of technology and a desire to travel further and further afield it is heart-warming to hear that there are people still content with life and only have a desire to see what is actually in front of them – sometimes I would whether we have lost the true meaning of things when we want so much constantly. :)

    • Rachele & Gábor

      I loved your comment so much! I agree with what you say about our modern society, and spending times with people like this actually makes you think about re-evaluating your own life! Thanks so much for your words!

  27. Just love your pictures and article. What a great experience you had. I hope you don’t mind my sharing them with my followers. Great work.

    • Rachele & Gábor

      Thanks so much for your comment! We are really glad that you shared this with your followers!:)

  28. You made me miss Peru so much when I looked at these photos

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