Morning mist clears over the Q’ero village of Esparilla, one of three villages that compose Marcachaya community.

Morning mist clears over the Q’ero village of Esparilla, one of three villages that compose Marcachaya community.

Guillermo’s Vision

Guillermo Pauccar Calcina is 32-years-old, soft-spoken, with penetrating dark brown eyes and cropped black hair. He is a Q’ero indigenous man whose lineage dates to Pre-Incan times. Anthropologists at the Universidad San Antonio Abad in Cusco refer to the Q’ero as the last of the Incas. And, Guillermo has a vision.

As the outside world encroaches on his remote homeland, he found a way to protect his people’s way of life and the environment.

“Not all Q’ero want to live in Cusco,” he told me in October 2015 when I last visited his village of Esparilla. “Some of us love this land deeply and will never leave. This is our heritage. It is who we are. These stones and streams are as much a part of me as my blood and bones.”

Guillermo is a thoughtful man. He pauses to think and then continues.

“Q’ero leave because life is very hard here. They want to earn money so they can buy clothes instead of spinning alpaca wool and weaving traditional outfits. If there were a way for them to make money here, most would stay.”

He is not unaware that civilization spreads fast, even to remote areas of Peru, like Q’ero territory. Perhaps it will not get there soon, but modernization will eventually reach everywhere in Peru. He points to little blue plastic flags that government surveyors placed in a line along a hillside. These are the markers for the first dirt roads that will cut across the landscape into a once unspoiled and unknown territory.  

“Within four to five years, bulldozers will scrape scars into our sacred mountains. It starts with these makers. Then come trails for workers, followed by equipment. We have no way to stop it. We must adapt.” He says.

Guillermo leads the way trailed by an Andean packhorse.

Guillermo leads the way trailed by an Andean packhorse.

Government sponsored vandalism like this is possible because Q’ero territory is not a recognized tribal region. The Peruvian government operates under rules of its own. The intention of the government is to bring all indigenous people into the twenty-first century, whether they want to or not. The real reason, however, is so that international corporations gain easier access to Peru’s rich stores of natural resources.

Guillermo’s intention is to keep his village as natural as possible. He knows he cannot stop all corporate and government sponsored environmental destruction. But with a realistic, workable plan, he hopes to insulate his village from the worst of modernization.  

His vision is to build an ecolodge where visitors could stay, learn Andean wisdom, discover the value of medicinal plants, and unwind from the hectic modern world. Instead of destroying his culture, he sees the new dirt road as an opportunity to preserve Q’ero culture.

 

Trek to AntiPukara

On November 2, 2016, we set out from Esparilla in the first hour of morning. The sky is hazy with wisps of clouds touching the ground. The heavier gear including tents went in the dark hours before dawn on two other horses. Two Q’ero helpers would set up a base camp ahead of us.

Besides Guillermo and myself, I invited the British photographer and filmmaker, Andy Marsh, to join us. Andy took the footage presented in the short video on the website of Guillermo’s interview at Antipukara.

Esparilla is set on a plateau around a lagoon that is full of water only during the rainy season. Rocky crags jut up across the rolling landscape, and grass-covered mountains rise up to 16,000 feet forming a wall behind the village. Waterfalls cascade over cliffs at the southeastern edge of the village, and below the plateau, the land drops off at a sixty-degree angle.

British photographer and filmmaker, Andy Marsh, shows digital images to two Q'ero children.

British photographer and filmmaker, Andy Marsh, shows digital images to two Q’ero children.

Ancient alpaca and llama trails form a network of pathways. Guillermo chooses the best path for the day’s trek downhill to Marcachaya and beyond, to AntiPukara.

As we pass beyond the village, grazing alpaca and llamas dot the landscape blending cream, brown, and black on a canvas of neutral tones and emerald. The seasonal rains have started, and the grass greens overnight. Tiny white and yellow wild flowers find root holds where rocks edge land and grass. Clouds drift wide like bed sheets draping the valley below in soft white.

We continue for another four hours, edging downhill all the way to Marcachaya, once the main village Guillermo’s community of Q’ero. The going is relatively easy. The lower elevation is refreshing, almost intoxicating after weeks at high altitude.

Past Marcachaya, we walk another hour through an ancient subtropical moist forest. A dazzling variety of deciduous trees draped in vivid green, and bright red bromeliads form a tunnel of vegetation over handing the trail. It becomes greener as we descend. Around us, dry, treeless mountains are brushed by clouds. Below uncharted cloud forests go on forever. A river cuts through the hills and forest running east towards Brazil.

The Ruins of AntiPukara

The trail narrows and from every side springs gush making it wet and slippery. We squeeze around water soaked branches, and thin tree trunks covered in moss, orchids, and more bromeliads, all bound together by a lacework of vines. The remains of ancient stonework are everywhere. Guillermo calls AntiPukara the “new Machu Picchu.”

Unlike at higher altitudes in the Andes where stones and ruins stand noble and free, here the extensive system of ruins is impossible to see because lush plant growth has taken over so not a single structure is free of vegetation.

View from above AntiPukara.

View from above AntiPukara.

As we emerge from the dense undergrowth, Guillermo points to a summit to our left. He describes it as the site of the Chanca fortress, a fiercely independent pre-Incan civilization. We soon leave the trees and vines behind and climb higher. From a ridge, the Andean mountains drop off towards the east in sharp crested hills and deep valleys. Dense fog crawls up the Amazonian cloud forests filling the valleys like troughs of milk.

The sun is setting, and Guillermo has just enough time to point out two possible sites for the ecolodge. One nestles against a thick growth of a small forest. The other is on a plateau overlooking the valley and sheltered from behind by sepia hills with smooth rounded tops.

We sit side-by-side, silent for the moment. I gaze into the distance, contemplating the future of the Q’ero and this once mysterious way of life.

How will Guillermo’s village transition? Will they prosper and survive? Will they thrive or fail? It’s too early to tell. But, one thing is sure. With our help, the Q’ero will build the project they set out to accomplish.

Guillermo

Answers to Common Questions:

  • What is the vision for the Antipukara Ecolodge? The vision is a residential training and healing center where others can learn Andean Earth-based wisdom and heal themselves from the stress-induced illnesses of postmodern living.
  • Where is Antipukara located? The Q’ero, under the direction of Guillermo Pauccar Flores, have chosen a location that was the last stronghold of Inka Pauccar. It is located south of Cusco in a remote region bordered by cloud forests and high Andean mountains.
  • What is the anticipated timeline? Because of its remoteness and difficult terrain, we are working on a 10-year timeline divided into three phases.
  • How can others get involved? We will organize opportunities to visit the site in 2017. Work-study opportunities will be available in 2018. Your donation will greatly help cover expenses for workers, supplies, and building materials.

 

AntiPukara Timeline_new

How You Can Help:

  • Phase I requires $6,000 for tools and food, and to pay local workers. Because of the remote area, Q’ero workers will camp on site.
  • Phase II requires $18,000 for the restoration of ruined Incan walls, upgrading trails, and construction of the main buildings’ foundation.
  • Phase III is for construction of the main buildings. The greatest costs will occur at this phase. We will publish the architectural design and updated plan as soon as possible.

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Sincere thanks to Andy Marsh for his impressive photography and the video interview with Guillermo.
See more of his work here.