Feeling the love in Yanacancha.

Spending the night with somebody new is always kind of tricky, what with the awkward getting-to-know-you bits. So the day we Heifer folks went to Yanacancha (an hour from Marcopata, Peru) to spend the night in the community, we were lucky to kick things off with a guaranteed ice-breaker: an alpaca mating session at the home of Juan Yanac and Santusa Mamami.

Boy, howdy that did the trick! Despite ensuing cold, wind and rain, nothing could dampen our enthusiasm for this seductively adorable town and its inhabitants.

Our exploration of Heifer’s Alpaca Bio-Diversity Project in High Andean Communities began with this X-rated “empadre” that represents a spectacular leap forward in a real life-and-death matter: the health and well-being of the Alpaca of Yanacancha.

Mr. Commitment: Claudio Pacco.

At an altitude of 14,000+ feet, alpacas are the one and only lifeline of high Andean communities; nothing but a few varieties of potatoes grow here, and precious few animals can survive the cold, wet, wild weather and raggedy thin air. But alpacas, members of the camelid family, can survive and even thrive here, given the right attention – and that guarantees food and income-producing fiber for families that live on the razor’s edge of poverty and malnutrition.

And that is where Claudio Pacco, the Heifer/AMADARES vet/tech comes in. During the first year of this Heifer project, Claudio has visited every one of the 22 communities involved, identifying alpacas house by house, and beginning monthly Heifer workshops to share better breeding and husbandry methods with the breeders.

It’s a complex process, raising good alpacas. The end goal is a healthy animal that will produce fiber that is insanely thick, incredibly fine, and of a uniform color. After years of purging non-white animals from their stock, breeders are using 22 gorgeous Heifer stallions here to bring back black, brown, golden, and butterscotch hues to their herds. But the challenges go far beyond color.

Baby alpacas are born in January in the wet season, so they can easily find pasture, but the next three months are marked by extreme cold, constant wet, and vicious hail. The babies are fragile and can easily develop bacterial diarrhea that will spread through a herd in days and wipe out an entire generation. So much is at risk that from December (before the babies are born) until March, Claudio teaches the breeders to maintain daily contact with the grazing mothers and babies, making sure they are in good health, or quickly receive antibiotics before they can infect others.

Baby dearest...

In the intensive Heifer workshops, breeders are given vet kits with meds; sturdy 6-foot high nets that keep the babies safe from foxes and puma; a variety of good, nutritious seeds to cultivate fertile pastures; and trainings to harvest rainwater and bring water from the glaciers so the alpaca will never go thirsty.

Virginia Huaman, 17, promoter & aspiring vet.

The result? Last January, 60 alpaca babies in this community died (the equivalent of a $60,000 loss). This year, just twelve months into the Heifer program, only 15 died—a 75% reduction. And next year, Claudio believes the losses will be far less – with the help of 18 “promoters” like Virginia and Gabrielle, who are being trained to spread the trainings and mentor others. These unpaid volunteers, 8 of them women, follow Claudio around on his individual visits, learn everything they can from him, and then pass the knowledge on to other breeders in the community.

Gabrielle Quispe and her family (notice the bare feet in 40 degree rain)!

Gabrielle and Remauldo Quispe have so enthusiastically adopted the Heifer trainings that in their herd of 80 alpaca, Gabrielle didn’t lose a single baby this year. With only a third-grade education, Gabrielle is intent upon her children becoming professionals and wants to use her thriving alpaca herd and her beautiful handicrafts (where does she find the time??) to support their education. (I’m still hacked off that I didn’t buy her gorgeous work.)

Why didn't I buy this??

Soup's on ...

By the time dusk fell, we were so cold, wet and altitude-challenged, (while all the villagers were walking around unfazed, in bare sandaled feet) we piled into the kitchen to warm up. Chef Johnny worked his magic in the kitchen with local women and made a gorgeous soup, while we drank tea and showed the children photos of themselves, which delighted them to no end.

After a singing/storytelling/dance fest, we went off to bed in the house of one of the villagers and I wore every piece of clothing I had on: 4 shirts, 2 pairs of pants and leggings, 3 pairs of socks, a down vest, hat and scarf–and I was still cold under about 20 pounds of wool blankets. But miraculously, I slept… only to wake at 5:30 a.m. to dogs barking, roosters crowing, alpacas being led out to pasture, and the smell of fires started for breakfast.

There is nothing that makes you realize how removed most Americans are from the earth, animals, plants, and weather than to spend 2 days in a village in a developing country. You walk away with a whole new level of respect for the dignity, creativity, and incredible work ethic of these people– and for the luxuries of  hot water, flush toilets and yes, heat.

(And this is with nothing to drink....)

But the truth is, I’ll never forget that beautiful night. And the truth that our Yanacancha was never, ever lacking in warmth.

Categories: Animals, Heifer International, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 34 Comments

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34 thoughts on “Feeling the love in Yanacancha.

  1. Laura

    Betty your photography is stunning and prose insightful. Feels like I’m almost in these colorful countries with you! I hope you return changed forever.

    • Thanks, Laura — I’m so glad you’re along for the journey!! Just wait til you see the photos of the Yi people in China — they really give the Andean Highlands folks a run for the money!!

  2. Betty, I enjoy your posts more than pieces on The Travel Channel.

    • Darling Renee — WOW, that is high praise indeed – and whenever I am someplace particularly colorful (which is almost every day) I hear your voice in my head: videos, more videos please!! THANKS for the comment!

  3. I really like the portraits of the people. your photos really capture the culture of the area. Stunning!

  4. I have to admit that first line got me a little nervous….

    your loving husband

    • Darling — if you could see the places where I’m “spending the night” you would just wish me luck and be glad it’s me and not you!! I love you and miss you tons .. wish you were here in Kathmandu with me!!

  5. Betty, those hats are wonderful and I’m sure very functional. Love the alpaca mating video. Interesting that they mate on the ground and not standing. I’m sure nature has a good reason for that. Why do the people you visit look so happy, while we North Americans so gloomy ? Could it be that money isn’t everything and being connected to this world does ? I so love tagging around on your adventures.

    BTW – the “why didn’t I buy that shot” is a broken link for me.

    • Thanks, Sybil — I’ll try to take care of the photo … and YES< the hats are very functional – the rain just runs right off the top and it totally shields their face from the blazing sun. The females drop right down to the ground when they are ready to mate, and the male pops on top and goes at it. Because they mate for about 20-30 minutes, I think the weight of the male would be too much for the female if they remained upright. And YES, it is totally striking how happy many of the people in these developing countries whose lives are so difficult seem to be .. while we are so stressed out, alone and inside… so it does make you wonder!

  6. Ginger O'Neill

    Wow Betty,

    Magnificent pictures and truly remarkable outcomes with the alpacas as a result of Heifer International’s steadfast work and training.

    I love the hats and the wardrobes are dazzling not to mention the these amazing hardy people. Yes, you should have made that purchase.

    Miss ya!


    • I KNOW .. and as my friend Donna always used to say, you only regret the things you don’t buy. It was such a glorious hanging in all my colors… I just don’t need one more thing in my house, as you well know. The time has come to take photos and let it be … acquisition is totally overrated! How much do you love those outfits?? And all the people make them by hand, men and women. They are VERY fancy people!!!

  7. Who else could I open an email from and see a video of alpaca romance? Love it!


  8. cranberry99

    Beautiful, Betty, just beautiful. I look forward to reading your posts!

  9. I dare not say how much I enjoyed the video, but certainly enjoyed this whole
    posting. Great stuff.

  10. You crack me up with the video…”love is in the air” and “I think we’ve seen enough”! Very interesting and I love the hat on you!!

    • It takes a LOT to pull off that hat (and I don’t think we have it) but the people really wanted to see us in it .. so I had no choice!! Thanks for your comment, Sherry!!

  11. teresa hart

    Wow, didn’t think I’d see x-rated video on this site, really sweet and gentle looking so I guess it’s ok, PG-rated really. What truly lovely people, and the children are so pretty…I’m going to make a donation again. You can tell any silly detractors that when we followers of your blog see what great things you are showing us with your reports, it makes us want to help and support heifer programs…That should be a duh, really, but some people just don’t get it…Keep the good stuff coming.

    • The people are SO pretty in Peru — they look very Asian (and being in the Himalayas now, the similarity is really striking) .. but I’m SO happy you’re going to donate to Heifer!! THANK YOU TERESA!! I am so grateful and believe me, these programs really do make a huge difference in the lives of the people. Gabrielle alone could probably run a country, if you gave her half a chance!!! xoxox B

  12. Susan

    you in the hat is a keeper – glorious photos, and I’ll never think of Barry White the same way again!

    • I’ll never think of alpaca in the same way again — the way that one guy kept blowing air in and out of his cheeks — it was quite memorable, and I’m so happy I thought to whip out my i-phone and record … now if only I knew how to put a soundtrack on it!!! THANKS, Susan!!

  13. Fantastic post! “He’s the Barry White of alpalcas.” Indeed. I love the work that Heifer is doing, and I love your writing. Keep it up!

    • Thanks SO much JM … it’s been quite a journey so far, and I’m only 1/3 of the way there! So happy you’re following and I’m following YOU on the reviews of Jesus Christ Superstar!! xoxoxo b

  14. Who knew boring sex was so funny to watch?! Had fun showing off your narrating skills to my coworkers, although the 12 countries in 12 months concept threw everyone for a loop at first. Eventually, they sort of accepted it and moved on, as they often do when I’m just too American. I also really enjoy the videos so keep posting more!

    • Ember – I love that you shared this with your co-workers, but yeah — I can imagine they didn’t quite get the 12 countries concept… I’m not entirely sure I do either!! I’m taking more videos now .. stay tuned!! Miss you in Nepal, honey!!

  15. Anonymous

    I agree with Renee about enjoying this more then the travel channel. You are so wonderful at capturing the spirit and soul of these people in your photographs. The fact that they are able to receive and pass on the wonderful education [As I said before]. It is so wonderful to read something that is hopeful and uplifting. I look forward to hearing about your new venture.

    • Anonymous

      This is Deb Palmer here!! Ha!! I see my last comment said anonymous, although I work on being that way!!

    • Wow, THANKS so much for the comment, Debby! I have fallen in love with the people in every country I’ve been to, and as I’m now in Nepal, having come from China — I can’t WAIT to post about what I’ve seen in these two countries .. it’s really amazing!!

  16. Betty, how exactly do the people of Yanacancha turn the alpaca fleece into income? Are they selling the fiber, or the finished products, and to whom?

    Thanks for another enlightening post. I love traveling the world with you.

  17. Can I pay you to ask me questions that my NEXT post will answer?? I love that you are so thoughtful, you actually think through the whole process… which is why YOU are such a wonderful writer! I love having you along for the journey (and all my blogging friends) since sometimes I have to admit, it gets
    a little bit lonely out here!! Namaste (as they say everywhere here in Nepal) … B

  18. Martha

    I had a good laugh at your description of sleeping in the village. Counting the number of blankets on a bed became our clue for how chilly the night was apt to get wherever it was we were sleeping that night. Sometimes there were so many blankets it was impossible to turn over under the weight of them all. Alpaca blankets are the best of all. I am loving every word of these wonderful Peruvian posts that take me back to an unforgettable time in my life. “There is nothing that makes you realize how far most Americans are removed…” — so true, so true!

  19. Pingback: Heifer 12 x 12 Peru Round-Up | Heifer Blog

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