DAY 29 – Saying Goodbye

DAY 29 – Saying Goodbye

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Tamara taking photos from the ruins of the Spanish mill.

It’s time to move on from Salinas to Quillacas this afternoon.  It is always a bittersweet moment when we transition from one quinoa growing town to the next.  Each has its own distinct personality and ways of being.  Once you are in its rhythm, it’s hard to leave, sort of like trying to get out of a rip tide at the seaside.  Once you are in the vibe of the town, so many opportunities and surprises start opening up.  We had to decline invitations to community celebrations next week, invitations to visit new places, invitations to present at local organizations, create more programs, film more events, participate in community ceremony.  It is always sad.  It makes me want to divide myself into a million pieces so I can be everywhere at once.

Our memories of Salinas lay in the humor and kindness of its people.  Always a smile and hello from strangers we pass in the street, our growing community of plaza market sellers whom we visit regularly to eat lunch with, interview, or chat about the day’s events. Our caseras (sellers) who provide fresh cucumbers, tomatoes, eggs and goodies for our home kitchen.  And our host Alex and the Technical University of Oruro, who made their research center available to us – giving us space to explore, write, cook and help out on reforestation projects.

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Me and my daughter, my research companion.

I think of the people we have met and budding friendships: Gladys Mayorga – the regional consejal who exports local quinoa throughout South America; Abad Huayllani – the lawyer from Santa Cruz, who also doubles as a quinoa farmer and now as Mallku in a one-year position as the region’s indigenous leader. Eloy Ignacio Mamani – a quiet quinoa farmer living in the tiny community of Soloja; Liboria Perez who cooks delicious soups for sale in her wheel barrel food cart – peanut soup, quinoa soup, llama caldo (broth) and more! Plus she toasts and grounds her quinoa into a delicious pito – a powdered, edible form of the grain.

And I think of my 13-year-old daughter’s bold act of citizen empowerment.  Noting the lack of flowers in the main plaza – while villagers all had lovely flower gardens at their homes – she wrote a letter to the town mayor in and English and Spanish asking him to plant flowers and suggesting he ask people volunteer their own flowers form their gardens if he did not have the funds to pay for flowers himself.

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Florinda Consales – instrumental in helping to make the Salinas research site a success.

Our memories also lie in the amazing beauty and resources of this tiny colonial town located under the watchful snow-capped slopes of the Thunupa volcano at the edge of the Uyuni salt flats (Salinas – means “salty” in Spanish).  The ruins of the 500 year old Spanish grain mill, the naturally carbonated mineral water springs, the volcanic soils and crunchy lava stones, and the wild emus and vicunas that glide across the vast pampas of tola bushes and tall, stiff, grasses.

Finally we are grateful to the friendship of Florinda Cansales – whom I had met in 2015 when she was the indigenous leader, Mama Mallku, of the region.  Florinda has been instrumental in making our stay and research her so successful.  She works in local education development, farming quinoa and raising sheep and llamas on her ancestral lands – taking a break from the high-profile city life she was living two years ago.  Together we hope to develop a direct-sale, heritage quinoa project with the women of her community of Otuyo.  We will continue to keep in touch…

So, it is with bittersweet thoughts we get ready for the day – a final walk out to the flooded salt flats, a final lunch in the plaza, and the women’s sustainability workshop I will deliver this afternoon with our host, the local hospital.  Then it’s on the bus – and off to Quillacas, a looming hillside community, an hour away – the site of a colonial miracle and within view of the supposed location of Atlantis – the lost undersea community of long ago.

Day 35 – Research in Quillacas

Day 35 – Research in Quillacas

Women`s meeting at Quillacas.

Women`s meeting at Quillacas.

Now that school is back in session, it has been much easier to do my research.  Here at Quillacas, we quickly aranged an impromptu meeting of women quinoa growers and the Dirigentes Originarios. 

Quillacas High School seniors, survey administrators.

Quillacas High School seniors, survey administrators.

I also was able to meet with the high school seniors and teach them to administer my circels of sustainability surveys.  The students surveyed over 57 community members in just 10 days!  I donated 300Bs to their end of the year school trip as a thank-you for their good work.

Photo in heading: My “office” at Ester’s house in Quillacas.  Thank you Ester!

Day 35 – Jatun de Quillacas

Day 35 – Jatun de Quillacas

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

The church and the mountain the Guacho climbed in Quillacas.

     In the colonial era, Quillacas was founded May 20, 1501 by Juan Pio Choqueticlla and confirmed by the judge, Jose de la Vega Lavarada who visited the area and confirmed the measurement of the land and its ownership.   Prior to colonial rule, Quillacas was the center of the Federation of Quillacus Aranaque located on the southern side of Lake Poopo. It was divided into two ecological zones, Haranaya and Kusisaya.

 

View of Quillacas quinoa fields awaiting spring planting extending to the far shores of Lake Poopo in the distance.

View of Quillacas quinoa fields awaiting spring planting extending to the far shores of Lake Poopo in the distance.

           Besides its vast acreage of quinoa fields that extend far across the altiplano, Quillacas is also known for its church, the Sanctuary of Quillacas. The (now written) oral history states that in the 17th century, an Argentinean businessman traveling to an international trade fair with a herd of mules for sale, settled down for a short nap. When the guacho awoke, his mules were nowhere to be found! Desperately he looked everywhere for them, finally climbing Saint Juan Mallcu Mountain. They were nowhere to be seen. Crying, the forlorn mad began to descend the mountain. He came across an old man who said, “Don’t cry, my son! You will find what you seek.” Sure enough around the next turn, the guacho found his herd of mules happily drinking from an oasis of water (however there is no water in this area). He was so happy that he climbed up the mountain to thank the old man. Much to his surprise, when he returned to where the old man w, he found instead the image of a crucified Christ. He thought for sure this was a miracle. The gaucho could not sleep without dreaming of the crucified Christ. Years later he returned and built the Sanctuary of Christ of Quillacas right on that spot (the church marker has the date as 1873).

            Today people come from around the world for the healing powers of the church, kneeling in processions across the stone courtyard, circling the cross. It is said that a few years ago, a crippled boy came and after dragging himself around the rough stone courtyard path three times, he later returned being able to fully walk on his own again. Such is the power of Christ of Quillacas!