Quellomayo, Peru


I thank you all for your patience! While the first week on the farm offered the illusion of a summer full of solid routine, my hopes for such were quickly foiled by reality. In spite of a regular wake up from the roosters each dawn, farms are anything but “routine.” They are constantly changing – like the weather, and like the lives of the people working them. This is certainly not new news but I like to think of it as an important reminder – especially for my upcoming journey. Unsurprisingly, life back in the states has been equally un-routine as plans have rapidly morphed and continue to change. As one friend put it: “back and off again – the Amanda Bensel story.”

For this first real blog entry, I think I´ll tell you all a bit about the farm and community I was working in in Peru. Quellomayo is a tiny village located in a deep river valley between two larger (but still small) towns about 4 hours north of Cuzco. (It also happens to be about a 6 hour walk down the Rio Urabamba from MACHU PICCHU, but I´ll save that for another post). Over the past 15 years or so the town has suffered from a series of unfortunate weather events that have seriously undermined the local community and economy. Put briefly, the river flooded much of the town in 1998, forcing an emergency evacuation for the 150 families that lived there. The government provided aid and assistance in planning a relocation for the town higher up the hillside, but only a few families took the offer, and the community never fully re-formed itself. The 1998 flood also took out the train tracks, which used to run all the way from Cuzco through the valley to Quillabamba (the next major town up river). The train was a major part of the local economy: locals used to sell fruit and food to passengers and it also provided cheap transportation and shipment to the urban centers. Without it, the remaining residents are forced to rely upon taxi drivers along a one lane dirt road precariously carved into the hillside which washes out each rain season. In 2009, the river swelled once again and took out much of the buildings that had survived the 1998 flood. Now, about 6 families remain in the original town; others rebuilt up the hillside, and some abandoned it completely.

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Cut to the farm I was working on: Yellow River. My host’s family has lived in the village for several generations (they were evacuees of the 1998 flood). Cuzco educated, Tatiana married a man from the UK and moved there with him while he finished his PHD. In 2009 the couple decided to return to Quellomayo to raise their new daughter through a life farming on the family land. And – to do their part re-forming the community. The region’s agricultural sector has not fully recovered from the physical and social damages caused by the flooding. So Tatiana’s family is leading by example: working hard to organize their fields (aka taming the jungle), making connections for international whole-sales, and developing a solid business model. They hope to inspire others to become better organized as well. And, while the population is still too small for a village school, they are collecting donations for a children’s library to benefit their daughter and the other local children.

Needless to say, I’m pretty happy I fell into a month with this family. They had a whole lot to teach me about their country, community – and  farming! The coffee process is fairly extensive… and rightly deserves it’s own post! (it’ll come sooner this time, I promise).

Until then – off to camp!
– Amanda