By Thursday, the Semana Santa (Holy Week) was really ramping up here in Huancayo. On Thursday evening we did the visita de siete iglesias (visit of the seven churches) with our host mom. This entailed walking to all seven Catholic churches in Huancayo and saying a prayer at each one. We started off at 5:30 in the evening stopping at Parroquia Sagrado Corazón de Jesus and then down to a very small church called Santa Teresita. By this time the sun had gone down and the number of other people walking to the churches had grown around us. We then went to the chapel inside the Colegio Salesiano where our host brother had gone to an all-boys primary and high school and where our host mom prefers to go to mass still. Next we went to a sweet little orange church called Capilla Merced which was built in the 1800s. We then walked down to another chapel inside of an all-girls school called Colegio Maria Auxiliadora, which had a long line stretching down the block. By the time we arrived at the Catedral de Huancayo, our sixth and second to last stop, a procession was underway. The priest was giving mass and singing as the procession went around the streets of the plaza, which had been adorned by new and even more intricate alfrombras (carpets) made of sawdust and flower petals. At our final stop, Iglesia Maria Immaculada, Chris picked up a bunch of wheat and quinoa meant to bring abundance to you in the next year. After two hours of quickly walking (at a nearly New York City pace), our host mom took us to get ponche at the place their family always goes after the walk. The ponche is kind of like a malted beverage made from quinoa and beans and topped with sweet eggs cream and a sprinkle of cinnamon. It was warm and delicious to drink on a cold Andean night.
The next morning I went up to our host mom’s kitchen to help make traditional desserts for Good Friday. We made calabaza (squash), arroz con leche, and mazamorra morada. The calabaza was cooked on the stove with a little sugar, cinnamon and vanilla. The seeds were left in and you can choose whether or not you want to crack them open and eat the white seed inside. The arroz con leche is made with small rice called arrozcillo (tiny rice nearly the size of cous cous) that is cooked with the peel of a lime and a cinnamon stick. Both regular and condensed milk are added next with a little bit of vanilla and sugar to taste. Then, once the arrozcillo is cooked through, you put a little bit of sweet, red wine. Finally, we made the mazamorra morada, which is a gelatin-like dessert with fresh and dried fruits mixed in it. To start you boil maiz morada (purple dried corn) with the peel of a pineapple, pears, and peaches. Then you take the liquid out and add flour made from camote (sweet potato) and chuño (dehydrated potato) until it thickens. To finish you add dried apricots and figs that have been soaked in water and a little bit of diced fresh pineapple. All of the desserts were delicious, but I think the arroz con leche was my favorite. Our host mom served grilled trout for lunch, which had been done on a small grill over firewood, with small bowls of each of the desserts we’d made. The whole lunch was delicious!
Bright and early on Saturday morning we headed out to our host dad’s hometown of Paccha. Getting there was a little bit of adventure. There were six of us in all and five of us piled into the backseat of a sedan, while Chris got to ride in front because he’s the tallest (by at least a foot over our host family members I’d say!). We took the car 40 minutes down the valley to Jauja, where we were deposited at the transport terminal. We then piled into another car (same configuration of 5 of us crammed in the back, Chris in front) that took us 30 minutes up into the Andes to the town of Paccha via a rocky dirt road filled with twists and turns and steep drop offs!
We arrived in Paccha, which is consists of a collection of a few homes and crop fields, called chacra, a small school, municipal building, soccer field and a health post. Only three blocks of road is paved right in the middle of “town.” We walked up a hill (very slowly because I think we were close to 11,500 feet above sea level, possibly more) and entered the house. There was a courtyard in the middle with buildings all around, including the kitchen which had a wood-burning hearth. We ate a soup of potatoes with a hard boiled egg for breakfast and then went out to explore the family’s chacra. Next to the house they have planted a mix of corn and potatoes, as well as a more well-maintained potato field. To create the rows in the potato field, the family rents either a machine or a bull with a till to come through to make the furrows for the potato plants. The potato plants had already passed their peak by the time we arrived, and the tops had been cut off so that worms didn’t get down into the potatoes while they continued to mature in the earth. During our short visit, our host family harvested a whole month’s worth of potatoes by hand using an old rusty hoe.
After the family was done in the fields, we went for a walk farther up the hill to see the views and also a small park where there was a carnaval happening. The views of the Mantaro Valley were breathtaking. The rolling hills and mountains just seemed to go on and on. During our walk we also passed a variety of animals like donkeys, cows and sheep. The lady donkeys are given earrings for the festivals and they looked very pretty in them! We returned to the house and ate another lunch of grilled trout with potatoes, packed up and attempted to head home before the rain started. We could hear the thunder rumbling and echoing off the mountains. We waited and waited (for 40 minutes total!) while rain/hail poured down until a car drove through town to take us back down to Jauja. We piled into the car, with our host mom in the far back of the station wagon with two big sacks of harvested goodies, and we headed back down the mountainside. We finally made it home with significantly sunburned necks (despite the long sleeved shirts and hats we had been wearing) and raging headaches from the altitude. All in all, the day was a success and I really enjoyed getting to know Paccha and where our host family comes from.
View of the Mantaro Valley
Finally, Easter Sunday was the grand finale of Semana Santa. Our host family celebrated the occasion by preparing lunch using a traditional Peruvian cooking method called pacchamanca. They dig a hole into the earth and then cover it over with dome of rocks. Years ago people were able to position the rocks perfectly so that they wouldn’t cave into the hole, but today they enlist the help of a couple pieces of iron to keep things in place. The dome is then heated by firewood for a few hours until the rocks on top are white hot. The meal is then cooked inside the hole by the heat of the rocks. Once the rocks are hot enough, they plug up the hole on the front with a bit of earth and move all the white hot rocks off the top of the dome. With a space now opened, the sweet potatoes and potatoes are put down first and then covered with rocks, then corn husks are put down with seasoned pork on top, then more corn husks and rocks, then a whole seasoned chicken, then more corn husks and rocks, then humitas (a corn meal mixture wrapped up in a husk kind of like tamales) are stacked on top, then more rocks and then pasto (long green grasses from the fields), then beans, then more pasto, then plastic sheets (from the bag that was holding the potatoes), then it’s all covered over with dirt and topped off with a cross made of two sticks. The whole thing cooks for a half hour or so and then it’s deconstructed delicately so that the dirt doesn’t fall into the food and so that people don’t burn themselves trying to get the food out of the pit of hot rocks. The food was served as soon as it was retrieved from the pit and we all sat in a big circle around the pacchamancha and ate the spoils with our hands. The family only does this once a year because it’s so much work, but it’s definitely worth it because the food is so delicious! We feel so lucky to have been included in this traditional lunch. What a wonderful way to wrap up a fun and busy Semana Santa!