Connection & Sustainable Entrepreneurial Growth in Peru
About an hour outside of Cusco in a mountain town called Chinchero, we turn off the highway and begin down a dirt road. Roland tells us we’re almost there. He starts to explain the significance of decorations on the roofs, the lake we see out the window, the nearby mountains.
This is one of my favorite parts of any of the trips I’ve led in my time with Under30Experiences. I know what’s coming, but the 15 travelers in the group have no idea.
About twelve or so minutes down the road, the bus hits a big bump, and we see a small crowd of people just ahead. Everyone is flustered by the bump, but not me! I knew it was there. And the driver forgets every time!
Rolly is telling us what to bring with us and what we can leave on the bus. But I’ve all but tuned him out.
If I were building an “All-Star Trip” made up of my favorite days on every U30X trip I’ve been on, this is the first day I'd add to the roster.
The bus slows to a crawl, and the small crowd of people is now a very clear collection of individuals. All of them in beautiful hand-made clothing. The women with intricately decorated red coats, beautiful round hats, and flowing knit skirts. The men with colorful knit hats falling down their backs, masterfully woven vests, and their nicest wool slacks rolled to just above the ankle.
I’m proudly wearing my vest, hand-woven by one of the women in the community, and my knit hat that I got for my birthday straight off the head of one of the community leaders.
I’ve told everyone how much I love today. They’ve told me to be careful not to overhype it.
"You can’t overhype it."
As the doors open, we hear drum beats and wooden flute melodies. Everyone (besides the flute player) is singing.
There’s a line of women waiting by the door to the bus with flower necklaces, just waiting for us to disembark.
As soon as we do, there are flowers around our necks, flower petals sprinkled on our heads, huge warm hugs coming from all directions, someone grabs a hand and we’re dancing. I can’t remember when I’ve felt such love from a stranger.
You’d think I’d be used to it by now. But no. Literally every time we arrive, I’m overwhelmed by this warmth, the warmth of human contact, of real connection. It’s the warmest welcome there is.
Who are these people?
This is K’intuy de Ocutuan. You could call it community outreach. You could call it cultural exchange. I call it family.
The first time they formally hosted a group was this past May, when Under30Experiences did our first ever Inca Trail trip. The next 15 times they hosted groups were the next 15 Under30Experiences groups that came to Perú.
This is a community that lives in the mountains outside of Cusco. They grow their own food and make their own tools. They weave stories into clothing and blankets made with alpaca and sheep wool that they naturally dye themselves. This is a community with centuries old traditions that are still very much alive.
What do we do there?
The short answer: Connect.
We get a glimpse into the lives of the people of Ocutuan. We learn about the crazy variety of potatoes they can grow, the different colors of quinoa and corn, all the different roots and vegetables they grow. We learn about the 7 year crop rotation they use to keep the soil fresh and the natural pest control methods they employ.
We’re shown their handmade tools, and learn what each one is for and how it’s made. We get a taste of what a day in the fields looks like. Sometimes harvesting oats, sometimes potatoes, sometimes pulling bulls and plows, sometimes cooking potatoes.
We get to hug llamas!!!
We literally go from farm to table, and have an amazing lunch.
We get to see how these amazing garments and blankets are made. We see how they wash the wool with roots, how they spin it into thread while they dance, which plants make which colored dyes. We learn how long it takes to finish each particular item.
And then we get a chance to pick out some really meaningful gifts to purchase and take home.
How often do you return from a trip, hand someone a present, and tell them that you danced with the woman who made it?
When can you say that the bracelet on your hand was made by a 5 year old girl who jumped on your back and made you spin around in circles until you’re too dizzy to stand?
How many garments have you owned and known the name of the actual person who made it?
What’s in it for them?
For one, income.
Many of the families survive on the food they grow and the items they make and sell. But it’s both difficult and costly for them to transport their goods to Cusco, a much more populated area, in order to sell them. Some of the families have saved up for years to send one of their daughters to learn english, so she can lead the presentations.
Second, entrepreneurial growth.
We may have been the first group they hosted, but it’s not just Under30Experiences anymore. This is an entrepreneurial endeavor that we’ve been fortunate enough to be a part of at the ground floor. The idea is for this to be a sustainable practice for them, not just dependent on Under30Experiences groups.
You gotta start somewhere, and luckily for us, we were that somewhere. Ideally, they continue to grow this project and they get to regularly host tourists from all over who come to experience what’s happening in Ocutuan.
Lastly, and most definitely, connection! They’re just as excited to hang out with us as we are to hang out with them. It’s so beautiful to how proud they are of their traditions, of their animals, of their goods. There’s so much genuine laughter, real connection, dancing, singing, and playing.
Do they make money off of our visits? Sure!
Do we get epic llama selfies and unique souvenirs? You betcha!
But it’s so much more than that.
We get to have an incredibly warm, raw, cultural experience, while they get to work out what it means to host a group. We’re not just showing up and buying their goods. They don’t even put out their merchandise until the very end.
We get to help them lay the foundation for this project to grow sustainably, and continue to support this unbelievable community.
It seems like every time we leave, the group is in awe of our friends in Ocutuan. Of how happy they can be, with what seems like “so little.” Of the amount of work that goes into their meals, their clothing, their goods.
Of the amount of love someone can show a stranger.
Learn more about our sustainability initatives here.