An early start, a 3.5 hour drive, and another few hundred feet above the already high elevation of Cusco we get to Ocongate; capital of the Quispicanchi Province, south-east of Cusco. Closer to the epic mountain of Ausangate, whose snow peaked tops can be seen from Cusco on a clear day, and whose energy flows through the Cusco valley. The air is clear, bright, and thin, and altitude symptoms start within an hour or so of being here - for me a banging headache, and much worse for the other's in our party - who have recently travelled from closer to sea-level. I thought I was used to the Altitude! but even another 100m more makes a big difference at this height.
We have come to visit one of the many thousands of communities around the high Andes of Peru, who make their living from Alpaca heading. Peru has the highest numbers of Alpacas of any country in the world, and the soft fiber can be attributed to the intense cold at this high altitude, making their fur finer and more insulating and warm.
It is October, and the start of the Alpaca Shearing Season. We are here to witness the very first of around 4,000 alpacas that will be sheared over the next few months. Other local communities come together to help each other with this massive task. But it really all starts with an offering to the spirit of Pachamama, Mother Earth - using the sacred Coca leaves (which are also a natural remedy for the symptoms of being at high altitude), giving thanks and a hope that it will be a successful and abundant season. We all make Kintu's - the offering of 3 Coca leaves, held together - for ourselves to then chew on - and to hand out to others.
Please see the next post to see me shearing an Alpaca!