We arrived in the far nothern Peruvian city of Cajamarca to begin our stove trek. Thanks to Ed befriending an Aussie guy he met in a hotel in Ecuador I have found myself in a remote community 7 hours rough bus travel on an unpaved road from the nearest large town, a place where they only had a road put in 3 years ago and electricity arrived at Christmas 2004. Remote? Yes. Lovely? Oh yeah. But first things first, Eduardo and I were here to build a stove for the family above. Cecilia (who is the tiniest woman I think I have ever met) and Antero are the parents of 9 children several of whom live with them and with some grandchildren too there are about 10 people living in the house. They have no electricity and until we arrived Cecilia was cooking on 3 rocks and an open fire on the floor - theres no chimney so the smoke just fills the room, covering the walls in soot and grime and just generally smelling bad. For Cecilia this is particularly bad as she spends the most time in there and she said her eyes are always really sore and she gets bad headaches.
So off to work we went. Thank god as part of the tour we had the company of the lovely Mercedes who actually knew how to build a stove and was patient with us slightly useless Sydneysiders. However under his tutelage we got there and before I knew it we were mixing concrete and laying bricks. Eduardo proved to be quite the nifty bricklayer while I became quite a dab hand at filling in all the gaps with concrete and smoothing it all over.
The Family were pretty excited about the whole thing and everyone pitched in. Even this tiny little cutie who busied herself carrying rocks to fill the stove while her even tinier little brother helped wash up the tools when we were done. Over two days we worked and I've got to say it was backbreaking. I dont know how brickies at home with big guts who smoke a packet of fags a day can do it. After the first day I went home and slept for two hours before dinner!
Here is Ed carrying the all important chimmney down the hill from the lodge where we we staying. I am proud to say that we made this too. Though once again I displayed a true city dwellers amazment that you could actually make something useful from some sheets of corrugated iron and some power tools.
Once the stove was completed the family presented us with some rather unusual gifts. Firstly Antero, who looked for all the world like a hardened rural type revealed that he liked to write poetry and then produced a self published book of his work. He then jotted down our names and has promised to write a poem about me, Eduardo and I guess the stove. Then Cecilia and her son after a spot of rushing around handed me a soft cotton bag....after some investigation I discover that the bag contains two live guinea pigs who start squeaking loudly in protest. I gingerly take my "gift" and look up to see Ed has been handed a big sack of spuds (yes...no deluding myself about what the guinea pigs are for!) and Mercedes has a pretty white hen tucked under his arm which is also for us. Below is Cecilia holding one of our guinea pigs which I am ashamed to admit was served up to Ed and Mercedes for lunch the next day. The hen, the other GP and the spuds we offloaded to Mercedes Mum who seem quite chuffed.
The guinea pig thing is quite bizarre - most people keep them in their kitchens which shows how dopey guinea pigs really are living happily so close to the place of their ultimate doom. But although I feel bad that they get eaten they actually have quite a nice life. They dont get eaten til they are over two years old and literally have the run of the place in the meantime. Most people we met have a little nest type thing in the corner of the kithchen and they just run around eating grass and things and squeaking. Though I have to admite it does take a while to get used to sitting in someones kitchen at the table, sipping tea while guinea pigs race around on the floor squeaking and a pair of pink pigs are peering in the door hoping for some food, but hey thats Peru.
But I must say its one of the best things I've done with my time in Sth America and highly recommend the Stove Trek if anyone out there is heading this way. All the details can be found at www.socioadventures.com so go and check it out.