Posted by: Jessie Kwak | October 15, 2009

Wherein we meet Flor.

We made it to Celendín on Monday afternoon, where we were greeted with an unexpected overnight stay. We’d hoped to make it on to Leymabamba that evening, but found that our only option was a S/.300 ride in a private car. Hardly worth it when we could stay the night and take the bus for only S/.35 each.

Celendín was a nice enough sort of place: small, relaxed. I was feeling like just staying in the hotel and writing, but we’d read about a small waterfall near a town called Pilco and Rob wanted to check it out. It was on the website of a local hospedaje where we had unsuccessfully looked for a room, so we returned to the dueña to ask directions.

We had asked directions from several other people, none of whom knew what we were talking about. We were told about waterfalls in nearly every other part of the countryside, but Pilco? No. Definitely not.

The dueña of the hospedaje told us very detailed directions, so we decided to take a car to Pilco and see what we could find. Along the way at least four people, including our cab driver, told us about very nice waterfalls near Jose Galvez, and though they all wracked their brains they could come up with no knowledge of Pilco waterfalls.

I was about to give up and go to José Galvez, and though I pressed for simpler options (can’t we just climb to that little chapel up there?) Rob would not be dissuaded. Pilco it was.

We drove up to the village—so far the directions we had been given were correct. The taxi driver got out at the green house the dueña had mentioned and talked to the señora there. Were there waterfalls nearby? he asked. She shook her head and pursed out her lips in a “no.” She called to a neighbor. No waterfalls.

We shrugged. No worries, I told the driver. We’ll just walk down the road back to Celendín, taking photos as we go. But no sooner than we were out of sight Rob dashed into a field. “She said it was to the right, didn’t she?” I was worried about tramping through people’s fields. “At least we know they don’t have guns,” Rob reassured me.

It was beautiful there so high above the city. The eucalyptus trees march in a single file as windbreaks edging the fields, their bark peeling off in long strips, their dried leaves crunching underfoot. They smell fresh and faintly herbal, their fragrance potent on the wind. Some of the fields look recently tilled, but most are still fallow for the winter months. Ghosts of corn stalks rustle like paper in the wind.

Rows of agave between fields

Rows of agave between fields

It was here that we met Flor Sanchez Guaycochella. We saw her first in a grove of eucalyptus, tending her horses. At first we paid her no attention, but when it became clear that our paths were going to cross I steeled myself. I was already nervous about trespassing, and I had no idea how people would react to us. No idea if she would even speak Spanish.

“Buenas tardes,” I said, and I asked her about the waterfalls. Were there any around here? She nodded in a vague way, as though humoring me. “Sí,” she said. She said she was going the same way, and that we should go together.

And so we went, a tiny old woman sun-browned and dried, her impish face a leathery mess of wrinkles, her brown eyes sparkling, her teeth all rimmed with silver. She wore a brilliant blue sweater and a skirt of deep blood red over neon pink felt petticoats, and a wide white sombrero. Her legs were bare, and on her feet only a worn pair of black laced shoes.

We passed by a field being plowed by a man and two oxen: they’re planting potatoes, Flor told us. I told her that my father was a farmer of corn and wheat. She raised an eyebrow. No potatoes?

Sowing potatoes.

Sowing potatoes.

The people in the field knew her and called out greetings. One old man raised his hat to us. “Flor, where did you find the gringos?” She motioned back the direction we had come. “And what are they doing?” he asked. She shrugged. “Just walking.”

What were we doing? We had started wondering that ourselves as we followed Flor dutifully, lured by the promise of waterfalls, but beginning to suspect that she may just be taking us along for the company.

At the top of a steep hill we rested; she spread out her shawl for us and invited us to sit on it. We do, and we talk of familial things. My age. When we got married. How many children she has.

She’s surprised at my age. “I thought you were twelve or thirteen!” she laughs, slapping me on the back. “So young!” She teases Rob. “How are you here with such a pretty girl?” I find her spanish very difficult to understand—slurred and cut short, the vowels crushed and elongated like ovals. The “o” becomes a “u.” I assume that Quechua is her first language.

After the rest we help her secure a pair of corrugated metal sheets on the barren walls of a house in construction. The two sheets join a scattering of plastic sacks as the only protection these fragile walls have against the rain. She says they’ve been working on the house for two weeks (she holds up both hands with all her fingers spread wide). Progress seems rapid so far—hopefully they’ll get the roof on before the heavy rains come.

She sends Rob up the ladder and coaches him as he positions the sheet. When he comes back down she looks at him approvingly. “You weren’t scared?” she asks. He answers no, and she grins. “You’re a good gringo. That’s why you’ve got such a pretty girl!”

Flor, Jessie, and Flor's horses

Flor, Jessie, and Flor's horses

She takes us through short cuts until we reach her street. She asks us if we’ll spend the night—she rents rooms—and we tell her no, we already have a room rented in town. She asks for a photo of us as a remembrance, and invites us back the next morning.

We go to the photo center and make prints of a few photos we think she’ll like, and return the next morning to give them to her. Her hands are covered in flour dough, but she takes them, smiling.

I’m wondering what parts of this story she’ll tell to friends to have them rolling on the floor laughing—just as we’ll do, as well. Will our parts be the same, or will we have separate moments of hilarity, each unknown to the other?




  1. nice!

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