Today we got up early to do our day two of acclimatisation. A half day walk and a visit to the village of Atuen was on the menu. We took a 4×4 minibus over the newly built road that connects Leymebamba to Atuen and then further to Chikibamba.
A few years ago, Rene, Esther’s dad, still had to hike and take the horses there for a full day that now is a bumpy drive of roughly two hours. Progress is unstoppable…. For the villagers who live mainly from growing organic potatoes, it is a hard life up here, where it is almost always windy, rainy and cold. The population is shrinking despite the new road making transportation easier.
We visited the health clinic and Ricky checked a few things. Solar panels were working so important medicines could be kept refrigerated.
This is a basic outpost for the most urgent medical care in the area. A small hospital bed and visitation room, simple, but so important for the people here. Hatun Runa, the US based charity we are traveling with, has been working for over a decade in remote villages in the Northeastern Andes of Peru like they did here in Atuen. Even small donations can do great good in Peru.
Same goes for the Atuen school. A new kindergarden is being built and while the old school building will continue housing the kids up to grade six.
After that, very few go onto higher schools, as they would need to do so in Leymebamba. Not all kids of the village go to school at all. A number are needed by their parents in the fields and therefore only get a very basic education at most.
The elementary school teacher is called Narca and does what she can to help and teach the kids there but the limitations of doing so are everpresent. 16 children aged three to 13 share one class room all on different levels and with different needs and only one teacher to help them. Local mothers take turns in cooking a warm meal for lunch which is often the only warm meal the kids are getting. What a luxury world we have for our children in the US and Europe, and we still complain about so many things. Visiting here puts things into perspective real quick.
We brought the school some supplies, books, childrens educational toys and Ricky, Harry and Chris proceeded to open a very large wrapped box that was delivered there without many instructions.
It turns out that it was a solar energy storage system. In the adjacent room we found many solar panels and mounts. Narca gave us a piece of paper that calls for a list of local things the villagers need to provide (like sand, wood and labor) in order for the government dept. of mining to send an engineer on site to install the solar system. The villagers are supposed to build a hut to house the transformer. The system is supposed to deliver enough energy for the school and the new kindergarden which is being built next door. If this is a genuine good will from the government of Peru to better the situation in remote villages, or is designed to sway the villagers to agree to open their land for mining is not clear to us at this point in time. Mining is the big cash cow here and those companies are insatiable for new land to be opened up.
Unfortunately in Peru while the villages own the right to work on the surface of the land, the government owns all the soil underneath. Often a cause for big disputes as the mines are never underground mines but surface mines eating up huge chunks of land to mine for silver and copper.
Behind the old school, Leslie showed us some rectangular holes in the ground, about seven feet deep with steps leading down to them. This was an ancient Inka settlement, the ruins of houses still hidden underneath many of the small mounds of earth around us.
The rectangular chambers were designed on a little stream, that could be diverted to fill two pools with clear water. According to ancient stories, a wounded Inka king was nursed back to heath here for two years. We searched and found still a number of pottery shards most likely dating back to that time.
After saying farewell to Narca, we started our hike to two remote lakes straight into the hills. Despite all odds, the sun came out and transformed this arid land into a magical hobbit land.
Our hike was supposed to last 40 minutes , which turned into two hours and 40 minutes – one way ;-))) Nevertheless we could not have wished for a better day to get used to the high altitude. Atuen lies at 3.450 meters above sea level and we hiked some more up.
We had a beautiful lunch in a wind protected area on the lake shore, taking in the grandiose views. Not a single tourist in sight.
Just our small group and some cows.
Having noticed that we took a circular route to get here, we took a more straight one back and arrived at the car a bit exhausted but perfectly happy. What a wonderful day !
Now the only thing left was to pack our bags that were going on the pack horses in the morning to Los Chilchos. Difficult decisions…. for some of us ;o))