DAY 49 – The soccer championship of Puerto Lluvica

DAY 49 – The soccer championship of Puerto Lluvica

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Game over. The Puerto Lluvica soccer field at dusk.

The salt flats were still flooded from the rain two weeks ago and could not be crossed by bus.  It is amazing how quickly the ancient sea that once was the salt flats can re-create itself so quickly and maintain that memory of what it once was for so long.  It’s as if the ghost spirit of the sea exists in the salt and lays resting, waiting for that single rain drop to bring it back.  So to get to Lluvica, the far away mountain-grown quinoa community at the edge of the Bolivia/Chilean border, we needed to take the rickety old local bus around the salt flats – a three hour drive past huge coral formations, salty seas and vast desert lands dotted with wild vicuna herds.

Quinoa grower and agronomist, Monica Cayo had invited us to Lluvica.  When meeting with Jancito in what seemed like years ago at the APQUISA quinoa growers cooperative headquarters in Challapata, he had mentioned Monica’s name.  I spent weeks trying to hunt her down – finally our paths crossed at a SOPROQI meeting in Uyuni.  We exchanged information and when a spare moment opened after our Anzaldo visit in the valleys, I jumped at the opportunity to travel back up to the highlands and come out to Lluvica and see the last outpost of truly traditional quinoa growing in Bolivia.

Historically quinoa was grown on mountainsides while llama herds grazed on the tola bushes in the plains below.  But with the introduction of tractors and semi-mechanized production, farmers moved their fields down to the flat plains – tractors could not work in the mountains it was too steep for them.  But the people of Lluvica maintained their mountain growing traditions and hand produced tons of hand grown, organic quinoa each year.  This quinoa – the same Royal Quinoa varieties of kaslala and Toledo, chimirir and white quinoa real of the plains – is mixed with the plains quinoa and sold in the world markets as simply “white, red or black” quinoa.  I suspected that this hand grown mountain quinoa has value in its production and should be purchased separately at a price of $.25 more per pound to the farmers and sold to consumers as a premium, hand grown, organic mountain quinoa at $1.00 more a pound.  Bu I needed to see it to be sure.

Traveling to Lluvica to meet Monica and her community will help me to understand better what Mountain Grown quinoa was and to document its production and properties.  We stayed with Monica’s aunt, Tia Miguelina, her husband and visiting daughter and granddaughter from Chile.  The bus does not go to LLuvica – the road is too narrow, long, bumpy and hardly anyone lives there anymore. So Tio met us in his SUV at the regional soccer Championships taking place at Puerto LLuvica and drove us the 45 minute route home late at night, after all had finished celebrating the annual event.

The soccer championship included teams from all the neighboring towns around the salt flats – San Juan, Chuvica, Santiago, Cholque K, Lluvica and more.  They had been paired off in showdown matches all day and now it was down to the final four teams.  After a few hours of high speed soccer played in the blowing altiplano sands at the edge of the salt flats, the Team Bolivar from Gladys’ community, Chuvica were declared the winners. Celebrations ensued including a guest appearance by the parish priest from Uyuni who opened the town church for a misa – with songs in Spanish Quechua, he guided the 30 or so people present through the mass and communion.  Then folklore music was played on pan flutes and llama skin drums.  Two tola bonfires were lit and people danced about the fires in slow circles.  A group of tourists who were staying in the salt hotels on the outskirts of town joined in the celebrations much to the towns folks humor.  The sight of a large gangly blond haired male in dreads decked out n various forms of Bolivian artesenia – sweaters, ponchos and chewing cocoa – arms flailing and heals kicking to the beat of the drum – will quickly attract a cluster of laughing Bolivians who enjoy the wild antics that are so different from their quiet, communal way of celebrating.

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The winding rutted road to Lluvica…

After the traditional dancing and torchlight parade through the cold windy adobe village, we settled into the “local” or town meeting hall where a young electronic band from the city of Potosi was set up with was of speakers.  The 5-piece ensemble quickly donned matching uniforms tight pants, leather jackets, mirrored aviator sunglasses and began in choreographed unison to sway and belt out the popular cumbias for all to dance to.  The music was deafening, the base drum latterly shaking the windows and doors of the packed room.  Grandmothers, teens, some with babies, and all in between were there to watch the band.  This was not a dancing crowd.  Beer and cocktails were passed around and people left and returned milling around the dark village visiting with family and friends, all in the for the long weekend before school started that Monday – kids back from college in Oruro, work in Uyuni and migrants returning from Chile for the summer holidays.  It was a warm, friendly festive time.

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