By Lisa McClendon Sims
As you may have seen on TripAdvisor, Alpaca Expeditions is rated #1 for Outdoor Activities in Cusco with well over 4,000 reviews, a reputation which we continue to work very hard to maintain. Our goal is that your adventures with us appear seamless, but there is much going on behind the scenes that keep ”The Green Machine” (as we affectionately refer to ourselves) in top working condition.
Alpaca Expeditions owner, Raul Ccolque, is a native of the Cusco region, having grown up in a small village outside of the city. His introduction into tourism was as a porter – in Quechua, the native language of the Inca, they were called “chaskis”, as they ran from place to place with messages and goods along the thousands of kilometers of footpaths of the enormous Inca Empire. When you hike the Inca Trail with us, the porters are an integral part of your trip. Because pack animals are not allowed on most of the Inca Trail, someone has to carry all of the gear – everything from tents and sleeping bags to the cooking utensils and food which will be consumed by the group along the way. With generation upon generation of adaptation to the high-altitude climate, our chaskis/porters have developed an incredible capacity to do the work at our high altitude that you might find difficult. You will find on The Inca Trail that they will soar past you, carrying all your gear, and get the campsite set up for you before you even arrive. Our porters are imperative to keeping everything working smoothly.
Historically, due to their inability to speak Spanish (let alone English – remember, these people are descendants of the indigenous Inca), they have not received ideal treatment from companies who use their services along The Inca Trail. The have frequently been taken advantage of and mistreated as second-class citizens.
Alpaca Expeditions has been a leader in the movement to improve the quality of life for our porters. Not only do we make sure that they have proper shoes, clothes and other gear for their time while they are working with us, we have gone to the villages where they still eke out a living as subsistence farmers, coaxing potatoes out of the soil and herding alpacas and llamas. In the past, in various villages we have brought in teachers to educate their children, brought them school supplies and even computers to increase their opportunity to move into the 21st century, should they so desire.
Our most recent social project to benefit the families of our porters was on August 19th, 2018 when we brought in a team comprised of a dentist and his assistants to tend to the dental hygiene of the villagers. Our crew left Cusco before the sun came up, to start the 3½ hour drive to the village of Choquekancha, an hour or so beyond Lares. Our team consisted of a few of Alpaca’s office staff and guides as well as Dr. Joshuar Blanco, DDS, from Centro Odontologico -Blanco y Obregon in Cusco. He and his assistants, Betzabe Checya, Lorena Lazo and Lizel Ibarra, all graduates from the Universidad Andino, Cusco, donated their time and expertise to bring to the villagers a rare opportunity to receive dental attention in the comfort of their own village.
A slit of bright orange appeared at the horizon part way into our journey as the sun rose over the high Andes. The magnificent views along the way of the misted mountains, alpacas and llamas grazing, and numerous stops along the way to wait for animals to move along so that our van could get through. We drove through Pisaq, Calca and Lares and eventually drove into the little plaza where we were prepared to set up tented-rooms to act as consultation and treatment areas, but we were pleased to find a part-time medical building which worked perfectly.
These country folk (we call them campesinos) are poor, but they are proud and one thing they have is plenty of food, since they are farmers and weavers. We weren’t expecting it, but they prepared a feast for us for breakfast (and another feast for a late lunch, after we had completed our mission!) Not only do they consider this an act of hospitality, it is also an act of “ayni”, an excellent example of “reciprocity”, one of the key concepts in the Andes – you never take something without you give something in return.
First of all, the dental assistants held a little class, right there in the plaza, surrounded by the gorgeous mountains that these people call “home”. They taught how to brush teeth properly and how often, using a plastic skull to demonstrate. They talked about what is good for teeth and what causes damage, then quizzed the group afterwards, giving dental-oriented prizes for correct answers.
The little boys were all wearing their traditional ponchos, and when we were ready to start the consultations, they flew across the plaza like a cloud of orange butterflies, each vying for a space in the line to meet with the dental staff. The girls were a little more shy, but we made sure to make it all fair, taking the first 2 boys and first 2 girls inside for the first treatments, and proceeding in that manner.
Alpaca donated the dental supplies and each person received a sturdy cup, filled with a tube of toothpaste, toothbrush and a bar of soap. They clutched them to their chests as if they were treasure.
We took the younger children first, then the teenagers, then the pregnant women. Adults were last.
Over the next several hours there were 105 fillings made, 220 fluoride treatments, 100 varnishes, and 35 teeth extracted.
All in all, we saw 220 patients. The mayor of the town extended profuse thanks to everyone who donated their time and service, and rewarded us with another feast as the village ladies laid out their wares for sale – produce that they had grown themselves or brought in from the nearest market town. After all, it was market day!
In the end, everyone had smiles on their faces. One very tired dentist and his three assistants boarded the bus, as well as the support staff as we wound our way through the mountains and watched the sun set, arriving back in Cusco around 7PM.
Alpaca Expeditions is so proud to be a part of these social projects – and we want to thank everyone that chooses our company to arrange their treks. It is because of the income generated by our trekkers that we are able to assist in these social projects. So THANK YOU for helping to make a difference in the lives of these beautiful mountain people, the families of our porters.