Coporaque is a small village located about five miles down an unpaved road outside of Chivay, the gateway city to the popular Colca Canyon (reached via Arequipa or Puno). Coporaque sits near the Colca River and is surrounded by a very picturesque range of hills laden with agricultural terraces (some of which are Incaic) and green fields filled with crops and grazing cattle. The town is new to the developing world where a majority of the locals still dress in the traditional, colorful fashion of their ancestors and only recently (in the past decade) acquired electricity and (in the past three years) proper piping to carry water to the town from the mountains above. For the past five years, Vivencial Turismo (Community Tourism) has become an increasingly more popular means of promoting sustainable tourism in small villages, such as Coporaque, throughout Peru. Vivencial Turismo provides tourists the opportunity to experience a day in the shoes of a local, visiting the host’s community and home while partaking in some of their traditional daily activities; something I very recently had the chance to familiarize myself with.
My host was Josefina and she is mother to three children; an eight-year-old boy and two daughters, 16 and 20 years. I unfortunately did not get to meet her husband as he was out on a temporary construction job on the other side of Chivay as well as her 16-year-old daughter who is currently studying in Arequipa. Josefina was born and raised in Coporaque, and lived in Arequipa between the ages of 13 to 20 where she completed her primary and secondary schooling while working. Josefina and her family have been hosting tourists for about two years now, which has provided her family another significant source of income; something that more recently has become a necessity in the small village where trading among neighbors and living off of your own land is traditionally practiced. Josefina and her family live in a very simple, adobe house situated a few blocks from the main plaza of Coporaque. Her house is a constant work in progress and she tells me they have recently built the archway leading into her front yard, have added on two rooms and a fully equipped bathroom in the backyard where visitors are housed (beforehand she could only offer day visits, but now can offer overnights), and has built a proper stove and counter space in her kitchen area which was once just a few tables pushed together. The main house, where the family sleeps, has two bedrooms and one large front room which combine both the kitchen and dining space. Josefina’s son, who is passionate about animals, is part of the reason they have so many creatures roaming their propert;y two dogs, a sheep, a cat and her three kittens, about 15+ cuys (guinea pigs; a traditional cuisine eaten during special occasions) and a chicken used for fighting against those owned by members of nearby communities (a common pastime for some).
My visit began early in the morning, around 7:30 and lasted until just past noon. Both Josefina and her eldest, Sandra, picked me up from my hotel in Chivay. Immediately I knew I had seen Sandra before, how impossible it sounded at the moment, but I could not pinpoint where exactly. Just a few miles down the road, while dropping Sandra off at work, I realized where it was we had met. Sandra works at the well-known Mamayacchi Lodge in Coporaque, where all Colca Canyon tours stop for a buffet lunch and where I had done the same just a month earlier when initially visiting the valley. Josefina actually worked at the lodge for 10 years as well, recently quitting upon hiring her daughter since someone needed to stay home and tend to the daily chores and youngest child. Upon arrival to their house, I was welcomed with a cup of delicious, homegrown herb tea to sip on while Josefina prepped her son for school (school is from 8:45-2:00). She filled his lunchbox with white rice, a fried egg, juice and a banana and rushed him out the door since he was already running late.
With the youngest off to school, we could now begin the outdoor chores, starting with the horses. We walked to where their two horses were stowed away overnight and then tied them in a nearby field so they could graze for the day. Their horses come in handy with certain fieldwork tasks and they have now begun renting them to a local horseback riding company that provides guided tours of the valley. When the horses were taken care of, we set off on the 45-minute walking journey to where the family cows were left grazing among the green fields. I’m not so certain a map could be created to show the path we had taken in search of their cows since we climbed over small rock fences, zigzagged through the wheat and corn fields, and took many not-so-marked paths to get there.
When we finally arrived, we were greeted by the anxious mooing of cows ready to be milked. This was a remarkable experience for me since it was the first time I had ever milked a cow. I’m convinced that milking a cow takes true talent. I was struggling to produce squirts of milk from the cows’ utters while Josefina was impressively filling liters in no time! We (mostly Josefina) accumulated about 18 liters of milk from two cows, which we then carried over to the main road side where the milk is collected daily by one of the Peruvian milk companies, Laive.
As of about a year, the local milk companies collect milk from the small villages on a daily basis and pay about 17 Peruvian Soles per 20 liter container handed off. After the milk collection, we continued to herd all five of their cows to a different farm land (about a 30-minute task), where the cows could continue to graze for the day.
Upon completing these few tasks, it was already almost noon. Time seemed to fly while out in the field. We trekked our way back to Josefina’s house where I was invited to some delicious homemade apple juice; a great and refreshing way to complete my tour before saying our goodbyes. In just a few hours, I had made a great connection with my host mom and had learned so much about their culture and basic way of life. This experience is recommend for anyone interested in an intimate cultural interaction; and although the hosts only speak Spanish, an interpreter for any non-Spanish speaker can easily be arranged.