Peru 1997

See how travelling with a disability just got easier with the Joëlette in action on a trip to Peru, where even the toughest terrain can be conquered with this wonderful invention! Internet publication URL: www.independentliving.org/docs5/Peru1997.html

 

 

Mountains of PeruMountains of PeruMountains of Peru

 

Flag of Peru    Peru 1997    Flag of Peru

It took place here ... Map of Area in Peru.

"I am like a lot of people, I want to live my live intensely. I should live either in my head, or with the physical means I have today. I feel sad when I see people doing nothing with their life, claiming to feel apathetic, because they may miss interesting things or ideas."

This is what Stéphane said, and without him the "Joëlette" and the Handi Cap Evasion Association would not exist today.

Eric, Martine and two other women named Béatrice wished to follow his way of thinking. They had a dream: hiking the Andes Cordillera, hiking higher than the famous Mont Blanc to discover the snow-capped summits of the Cordillera Blanca, which are at a height of more than 5000 meters above sea level. Their dream came true the day they were at the bottom of the Huscaran summit, Peru's highest mountain at 6768 meters above sea level.

Until this time, no one considered it possible or even useful to enable people with disabilities to discover such high paths and summits. Thanks to Handi Cap Evasion we now know it is a possible dream.

Such a trip was not so simple to organize, it had to be very well prepared: seeking partners, financial means, and also a person living in Peru who could organize and arrange the materials needed. We had to find a cameraman as well as six persons that would accompany the four passengers (of the Joëlette) who were well-motivated to live their incredible dream. All this work took several months, not only for the group travelling to Peru, but also for a lot of other persons. The six people who were joining us were chosen because they already knew how to use the "Joëlette", and two women in this group had already hiked on the Huascaran summit. They all had athletic qualities and were fit to hike. 

Beyond the dream, the team wanted to provide humanitarian help (bringing medicines, wheelchairs...). They planned to publish their experience in newspapers, to film a movie, and display an exhibition of photographs.

At Lima's airport, a lot of people were surprised when our team of "Gringos" arrived: meeting tourists with disabilities in wheelchairs in South America is quite unusual. The team stayed a few days in Yungar, near Huarar, in order to get acclimatized to the altitude by developing more red corpuscles in the blood. The team established their first contacts with the Indians living in the village, whose life was organized into routine tasks performed on a daily basis. They only had fun during the village's fair, drinking chicas and beer. When we arrived, the fair had already begun a week earlier, with corridas, dances, fireworks and drums musics.
 

In Yungar, our team was completed with six porters, two mule-drivers and a Peruvian cooker. Roland was our guide; he lived in Peru and knew the country. During these next three weeks, twenty-three persons of different nationalities and cultures would live together and share everything in this common experience. Eric, Martine and the two Béatrices would have to accept a partial loss of their autonomy in order to gain their freedom. They left their wheelchairs and knew that from this moment on, they would have a strong, cooperative relationship with their guides. We were now a real expedition following the Chaqui's tracks (the famous post of the Inca).

Eric was really happy to settle in his "Joëlette". As our hiking progressed, we saw fewer and fewer towns. Martine laughed when she was told about the Bodegas' strange "identifying system": a white flag if there was bread, a red one if there was chica...and a green one if the husband was away. When we arrived at the Jonca Pampa's camp located at 3500 meters above sea level, we then had to wait two days more in order to become acclimatized to the altitude. We then had the opportunity to discover the famous surrounding summits, all being at more than 6000 meters above sea level. When the sun rose, the beauty of the landscapes took one's breath away.

We learned a great deal from our first contacts with the children: "Meeting other people, other cultures, knowing other ways of living, enables one to relativize any kind of disability. The other persons' looking at us is then different: it is an interested, friendly glance, never an unconcerned one".

The Peruvian porters learned how to "use" the "Joëlette", and as they began their first hike, they were quite astonished to be out of breath. Lionel, our cameraman, had to use the recompression chamber to stabilize them.

Our first big journey began in Chavin de Huantar, an archeological site located in the White Cordillera. Chavin was the center of a civilization living in the Andes between 800 BC. and 300 BC. Huge walls can still be seen. We discovered stone-made statues representing different Gods, which were used to frighten the farmers. With our guide, Roland, we visited the underground galleries. We had to leave the "Joëlettes" for a few minutes because they could not fit through a dark and narrow corridor. The Joëlette passengers were carried by men so that they could see the God of Chavin, a stone monolith with a lance shaped head. 

One man mentioned that the blood of victims sacrificed on this stone streamed down the face of this God.
Those were agonizing times, and men used to make their peace with Nature. After going outside again, we saw an alcapas herd.

After the cactus-bordered trail of San Pédro Cactus, we went ahead and saw beautiful and varied landscapes: narrow gorges, eucalyptus forests, and quenual-lined lagoons. Quenuals are trees without bark, which grow until about 4000 meters above sea level. We walked 200 kilometers, at around 4000 meters altitude, until we met another culture: the descendants of the Inca people, and of the Spanish conquistadors.
The language of Blanche de Castille was spoken there, but so was the Indian language called "Quechua", which our porters translated for us.

We were then on the paths leading to the sky...and from this moment on for us, it was a question of having athletic and human experience. We met farmers families who then left to cultivate their lands. The men carry a wooden plough on their shoulders, the women spin wool, and the kids go on ahead of them to take care of the herds.

There were sheep, goats and of course many-coloured pigs. The farmers' families gave us smiles and said some words to us, and allowed us to take some pictures of them. The kids were curious about everything and it was easier to speak with them than with their parents.

The Peruvians are quite excellent walkers at any age. Our Peruvian friends wore "Yankee" sandals made from tires, and walked with agility on the stones. They trotted along more than they walked!

Women were heavy loaded: in their many-coloured "mantas" tied up around their shoulders, they carried their babies, but also merchandise to sell at the market. We understood how difficult the farmer's life can be:
the soil was too hard to be ploughed, therefore they had to use a crowbar. The ground was as hard as stone and shaped like blocks, which had to be broken with pickaxes; this could take many days. The irrigation system enabled the farmers to cultivate corn and potatoes at 4000 meters above sea level. All this was possible thanks to the communal organization inherited from the Inca.

Our caravan had become particularly close knit, and succeeded in getting over the Punta San Bartolome (4510 meters) and the Porta Cuelo pass (4750 meters). We had to brave marshes, where it seemed even the donkeys felt in difficulty, and our "Joëlettes" were slowed by stone blocks. We also had to brave the rain and cold weather, not to mention the altitude. But as we arrived at the top, it was such a wonderful sight to see the Andes Condor flying above us, soaring with his three meter wingspan!

We had a good rest every night, either in the tent or around the wood fire. Camping so close to the sky was not really comfortable, but we forgot about our discomfort thanks to Pascal's harmonica and songs. There were starry nights on occasion, but it was uncommon at the beginning of the rainy season.

Travelling through different villages gave the townspeople unexpected encounters: in Huantar, the villagers stopped working to look at our strange caravan. In Huari the pupils were holding a demonstration against Ecuador and stopped when they saw us. They subsequently joined us in our journey to Purhay Lake, and stayed with us the whole afternoon.

The highest altitude on the road we were travelling on was located at Chacas, a little village in the centre of the Andes Cordillera. The people at Mato Grosso, an Italian non-governmental organization, welcomed us. This organization was in charge of some important activities for the Andes' farmers: they maintained the hospital, training center, weaving shop, cabinet making, ironwork, farming...We gave medicines collected in France, as well as wheelchairs, to the Chacas hospital. We felt a strong emotional moment with the hospital employees.

For two days we lived with all the farmers, who came to celebrate Father Hugo, who had founded Mato Grosso.
We heard typical songs and watched the local dances: ponchos and shawls dancing together, tambourines, flutes, flowered dresses. Our Gringos tested their strength by rope-pulling against a Peruvian team, and the crowd supported them, shouting: "Franceses! Franceses!".

We were really impressed by the crowd's fervour, who sang about a priest who had recently been killed by drug traffickers.
We were filled with admiration for these hundreds of persons, sharing their meal without becoming impatient or nervous. Rice wasn't wasted: these farmers knew the value of this food.

Meeting such people was an opportunity for us to keep in mind the priceless importance of a simple glass of water, a piece of bread, or a smile.

As Beatrice said: "We'll never forget the fantastic landscapes, all the smiles we received everywhere, and the wonderful spirit of our Gringos team".

You know, it's so great to make your dreams come true, after you've thought about them all your life.

 

Group of Peruvians in colourful costumesUsing the Joelette among the mountains of Peru

 

 

In Quechua language, the word "experience" can be translated as: "mature heart" or "taking place in the memory"...

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