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Hello from 13,000 feet up in the Andes

Hola y buenas dias de las montanas hermosas del Andes Peruvianas! Prospero Nuevo Ano!

I am here in the rarefied air of the Sacred Valley of Peru near Cusco and will write more when I ´m home. But there ´s a rare opportunity to get on the only PC here in the hotel because I ´ve opted out of going for Chinese food with the group. We ´ve had virtually no down time to write, but when I ´m home I ´ll tell you the most interesting parts of this incredible adventure.

Today we visited a tiny village called Huilloch at 13,000 feet in the Andes, a place untouched by tourism that my friend Van knows. They are as fascinated by us as we are by them. They dress in native, homemade clothes, colorful wool skirts and unique inverted hats. The Peruvian government brought them rudimentary electricity 3 years ago, taking them from the 17th century to the 19th, and then, in an explicable move the village elders are unhappy with, threw them into the 21st century by bringing them the Internet in a central location in the village.

The female head of the village women ´s arts association (they make crafts and clothing by hand to sell) invited us into her home. Isabel, her daughter Virginia, and her baby Jefferson live with Virginia ´s husband and his mother, and two others, in a mud hut, one of the nicest in the village, that is half the size of my master bathroom. These are the poorest people I have ever met.

Twenty guinea pigs live under the small bed that sleeps two (the others sleep elsewhere, and there ´s a small fire in the corner somewhat vented to the outside). They speak Quetchwan rather than Spanish and only Van speaks rudimentary Quetchwan. He told them in los Estados Unidos, we name guinea pigs and never eat them. They thought that was hilarious.

The children are healthy and strong with strong white teeth, unlike the children in town (and at the Sunflower Orphanage we are here serving) who all have snotty noses, blackened teeth, and stunted growth. That ´s because the children of Huilloch are far from civilization and processed food, and the water they drink is mineralized stream water. I met and photographed a 120 year old woman wearing ancient Incan gold rings she found in her childhood that, if sold (she has no idea), would probably support the village for a year! She is one of three in the village! She chews on coca leaves all day (the plant that cocained is derived from) and is without teeth, but she is lucid and funny and walks on her own with a stick.

We played soccer against the women and girls of the village in a muddy field full of puddles. Even with their wool skirts and flipflops that flew off when they ´d kick the ball, they absolutely schooled us in their native sport. Emma and I both nearly scored once, but the score, in the end, was downright embarrassing.

I just received my laundry from a very poor local woman who took 1 1/2 days to do it by hand (for $3! don ´t worry, I paid her more), and none of it is folded, so I am off to complete that task. I will tell you more when I return next week about the phenomenal, heart breaking, life changing experience my daughter and I and some GSG readers have had here. And I will post photos, including one of the 120 year old village elder.

I hope that all your dreams come true in 2010! Much love,

Robyn

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