Calca, our favorite place in the Sacred Valley

Calca is a tipical Andean town 2300 metres high, about 1 hr drive from Cusco. As in other small places in the Andes, people here still wear their traditional dresses and follow hundreds of years old customs. We loved walking around the town and admiring the women’s skirts and men’s nicely decorated hats, most of them a tone of red so there’s no way you can miss them. We felt amused at the sight of the mamachas (Andean women) wearing their big traditional skirts and then a white top hat above their long black braided hair. We found out the habit of wearing that hat came with the Spanish men, but the women here liked it so much they kept it. To us it was hilarious to see them wearing a man hat, but to them it’s just “fashion”. Many of them know it’s a European thing, but are surprised to hear it was the men wearing them there, not the women.


“The” colorful blanket

The other thing characteristic to the Andean people is the colorful blanket they always carry on their back. It’s used especially by women for carrying everything from goods bought from the market to food brought in town to be sold, to wood, to food for the animals, to babies and toddlers. Who needs a dozen different backpacks, bags and baby stroller when you have one that’s good for all? Not to mention it can be used to cover yourself when you’re cold, to sit on it while having a picnic, to use it as a skirt when you’re bored of your other clothes, to use it as a towel after an inopinate bath in a waterfall… and so so many other things one needs only to use one’s creativity to discover. Boca and I were talking about maybe swapping our backpack for one of those multi-purpose blankets. In the end… why not?:)

What we see the women using the blanket most for here is carrying their babies. Sometimes you see a small head sticking out, other times you can just tell it’s a baby by the shape of the blanket on the mother’s back. We’ve seen almost no baby stroller since we’re here and most of these women are unaware of the existence of such wonders. They carry their babies on their backs not only while walking in town, but also while working. Many of the mamachas who work in the market have to stand for 10 hours a day, and as if that’s not tiring enough, they have the babies on their backs almost the whole time. The even more impressive thing is these are not just newborns, but even 3-4 years old kids. We were talking about how great this is for the baby, feeling always so safe near the mother’s heart, and for the relationship mother – child, but at the same time how difficult it must be for these women.

We always stare at them in admiration and wonder how many European ladies would be able to do this even for one day. Chances are not many. We as Europeans don’t think about it at all and so easily take things for granted… the stroller has been around for so long, it’s in all the shops and it’s affordable … yet so many women out there in the world have never even seen one before. Carmen told us of the time when she worked with refugees from Somalia. Mothers there carry their children in exactly the same way and for them it’s maybe even worse, as African women are so tiny and frail, while the babies are big and heavy. Plus, it’s not like they have one child and do this for 2-3 years, but most women there have 6-7 children and basically end up carrying extra kgs on their backs all the time! When they saw the stroller in America they begged Carmen to get them “some of those things”.

Again such a big lesson on taking things for granted.


Why we liked Calca

We loved Calca so much because of its family-like and very relaxed atmosphere. People talked to us for no reason, strangers said Bon provecho (Enjoy your meal) when passing by our table, mamachas and papachas were very happy to see us going back to their place… We so easily felt at home, it was incredible.

We loved how people in the Sacred Valley addressed each other with sweet names and used diminutives for pretty much everything. It’s very easy to do as you just have to add “ita” or “ito” to a word and it becomes “little” something… So chicha becomes chichita, vaso becomes vasito, mama becomes mamita and papa becomes papito. It’s a delight hearing them say these words, as they also change their tone a bit, as if they’re talking to a child. So much carino (affection) they display, it’s incredible. Not once I walked out of a shop smiling after a mamita had told me she didn’t have what I was looking “Oh no, ja no hay, preciosita… talvez al frente, ellos tienen. Bien, senorita linda?” (Oh no, I don’t have it anymore, precious… maybe in front, they might have it. Is that ok, beautiful lady?). Where else in the world have I been called “precious one” while buying groceries? Errr… nowhere.

The other reason we loved Calca so much was the lack of tourists. There is literally nothing touristic in Calca (for now at least, but unfortunately they’re working on turning it into the touristic place many of the small Peruvian towns have already become) so we’d go for days without seeing a foreigner. In fact during our entire stay there we only saw foreigners once – they approached us and asked if we were volunteers. As it turns out they were, and when they heard we were just visiting they were really surprised: “Tourists in Calca???”.

That’s because they didn’t know we were not really tourists, but… travelers and explorers.


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