Overview: Andes Region of Peru
Most highlands farming communities rest at the base of towering, unstable mountains and are replete with evidence of past avalanches and earthquakes. The most recent seismic shift, however, may be demographic. Young adults are leaving the Peruvian highlands at a fast rate to seek better education and job opportunities in big cities, such as Lima. The loss of youth has sparked concerns that the highlands may soon become a dependent population of the very young and the aged — with fields gone fallow and communities in disrepair.
For the past 1,000 years life has changed little in the Peruvian highlands. Isolated villages, unreachable by motorized vehicles, remain frozen in time. In remote Andean hamlets, without electricity, plumbing or appliances, days still are measured by the sun.
Before dawn, men, women and children begin long days of water hauling, farming, and hustling about steep pathways, carrying loads of kindling, potatoes or tools on their backs. Accompanied by a burro or a llama, it’s not uncommon for people to walk hours to tend to distant farm plots (chacras) or deliver hand-spun alpaca wool to market.
Most highlands residents are Catholic, with a faith informed by pre-Incan rituals. Quechua culture places great importance on community and mutual help (ayni). The social system is based on reciprocity: You help your neighbors, and they do something for you in return.
Like their ancestors, the farmers of the Peruvian highlands invent and repair their own tools and prepare meals from grain they have harvested and animals they have raised and butchered. Resourcefulness and hard work, however, have yet to break the shackles of poverty.