Day 50 – The mountain grown Quinoa of Lluvica

Day 50 – The mountain grown Quinoa of Lluvica

Of this town of 60 families about 12 reside there full time.  Others live in Uyuni and Chile – where they work in the informal economy of Calama, an inland mining town.  Chile has open migration laws and it’s easy for the Bolivian children to attend school college and their parents to have work and a safe, dignified life there.  Year ago, Chile granted amnesty for the thousands of Bolivian migrants living within its borders and many took advantage of that, but not all.  Some, like Miguelina’s daughter, did not want to mix her Bolivian identity with Chile so she travels back and forth across the border in a semi-clandestine way, overstaying her visits to Chile where she lives full time as an undocumented immigrant.  Even so, she enjoys a good quality of le with steady work, a house, healthcare and children in public high school and college.


Miguelina of Lluvica – wiht her mountain grown quinoa and the salt flats in the distance.

Miguelina, a 75 year old, robust quinoa farmer and our host, remembers walking with her father and his llama trains as a young child.  Usually three families would leave together – the dad and some children and about 50 llamas in total, laden with blocks of salt and sacks of quinoa for trade for fruits and other goods.  There was no currency in those days.  They simply traded, picking up different products on the way there and back.  It would be a three week journey and the children would sleep out under the stars with their dads, eating dried llama meat (charkey) and ground toasted quinoa (pito).  A highly nutritious combination of proteins and minerals which made for a very healthy, balanced diet.

Miguelina would wear handmade alpaca sandals made by her dad.  He would tan hides by soaking them in mud a few days and then fashion the sandals from the skin, putting three layers for a sole – which was slippery when climbing rocks!  Their clothes were woven or knit of alpaca hair.  Women wore dark woven skirts with heavy woven shawls and men wore white woven pants and heavy wool ponchos.  None wore socks or tights, even when the temperatures ducked down below freezing.  Our feet neve got cold explained Miguelina.

Miguelina remembers trading the quinoa for pears and other delicious fruits which would be brought back to the community.  Other times her father would travel east to Argentina, trading quinoa and salt for flour and tubs, bowls, dishes, utensils and other hard goods and manufactured items.  Tupiza, Bolivia trade to the south would bring in corn.  Every direction had their goods and season when the trades would happen.


Lluvica farmers disucss what sustianbility means to them in our talking stick workshop.

Today, the people of Lluvica still maintain their llama herds – but use them more for food than travel.  Burros help carry harvested quinoa and grain down the mountains today, they can carry more than the delicate llamas and are easier to tether and work with.

The mountain quinoa is grown in a different way than the plains quinoa.  Since there is no tractor, there is no reason to remove the stones and boulders that litter the mountainsides – the quinoa is simply planted around them.  The soil is made up more of course pebbles than sand and sits firmly on the mountainsides.  The mineral content here is so high that the first time quinoa is planted in a new area, about half of the crop is lost because the strong minerals “burn’ the plant – providing so much nutrition that it is overwhelmed and turns yellow.  The second year, the soil is left open to rest and the following year, he soiled is ready for a robust crop.  The quinoa grows well here   It does not have the effects of the drought and insects like the quinoa of the plains has. The natural pest control method of fumigating with tola smoke in the early morning is effective.  On the average the community produces 44 tons of quinoa a year.

Hand grown quinoa is hard work.  The fields are a two hour walk (or 20 min. drive) from the tiny mountainside town nestled in a crease of the Cordillera Real mountains range where a natural spring flows and apple and pear trees grow. To prepare the solid, steep mountainside plots of three to nine acres are hand hoed with surface soils scraped up into long rows in preparation for the spring planting in September.  Families often camp out at their mountain fields for weeks getting the soil ready.  The weeds are left to decompose and llamas and vicunas roam the plots depositing their rich manure.  Tractors on the other hand, can till three acres of quinoa in just a few hours.

Unlike other quinoa growing communities who keep their llamas out for several nights in a row, Lluvica llamas are brought in each night and kept corralled up.  With herds ranging from 60 to 100 llamas, this is a lot of work.  The Andean puma however is a predator of the llamas, and will attack unprotected herds at night.


The troublesome Islancha plant – what is is?

What is Islancho?

But even more bothersome than the llama is the islancho plant – an plant that recently appeared in the area most likely brought about by grazing llamas who ate the plant and defecated its seeds in the quinoa fields.  This small ground plant has purple flowers like a potato plant, deep roots and spread via rhizomes – deep underground roots.  It affects the soil making it impossible to grow quinoa here.  Though local agronomists have bene alerted to the menace of this plant, – there are now at least 10 acres of unusable land due to he impact of this plant and now that it’s established, its spreading even faster.  However, there has been little research done as to why the plant is affecting this region like this.  Or even to more scientifically identify the plant. Interestingly, I observed this plant growing alongside quinoa in other regions without any noticeable ill effect.  In addition farmer’s from other regions recognize the plant but do not consider it anything more than an annoying weed.


The Mountain Quinoa Kitchen

Mountain quinoa is carefully hand harvested, mature seed heads selected as they come into ripeness, some with variances of weeks – from the same plant.  The quinoa kitchen is just as carefully calculated and used.  Varieties such as the yellow Toledo, rose-white are used in soups.  The rosy Irampo is used for pisanqu’allo – a quinoa rice-like dish of toasted, boiled grains.  Black volcanic rocks called kalapari –  known for their high carbon content are heated in fires and used to toast quinoa and give a special flavor to thinly sliced llama meats.  In addition a finer soil, the pojera, is also used for quinoa toasting and preparation. The saruna is a deep stone bowl that is used to thresh the quinoa – to step on the quinoa and separate the seed from the chaff.