Patacancha - Authentic Altiplano

Antonio and I headed for Lares Valley to meet the llama trekkers there.  Morning departure from Cuzco was delayed until we could secure our spanish math books.  A later story.  With Chinchero on the way I had to stop to find old acquiantances.  A later story about the weavers of the Andes.  

Leaving Cuzco for Chincheros the elevation drops sharply, followed by a long sloping plane.   It is the altiplano.  At the edge of this plain is the rim of the Urubamba Valley, or Sacred Valley of the Incas.  From Pisac to Ollantaytambo this valley produces abundant foodcrops from its distant heights farmlands.  Potatoes can grow above 15,000 ft with favorable conditions. Chincheros is over 12,000’ elevation. On the edge of this plane we can also find Moray. This is where the Incas developed large terraced depressions far into Pacha Mama to supply many crops. The slope of the altiplano shielded the crops growing in the massive terraces with steps on the walls to aid in reaching the bottom levels of the growing areas. The crops benefitted from the cut in the earth the same way the plants in the creek which cuts through the altiplano grow lush and tall. The altiplano is a place where both wind and sun are abundant.  

Eucalyptus trees can sometimes be the only trees found in many areas. They were introduced many years ago by the landowners. This could have occurred pre Hacienda days. There are accounts of a time when trees were more abundant. So were the llamas. Now the alpacas rule the landscape with some llama remnants soon to be bred into alpacas.


The llamas I met above Patacancha already behave as alpacas. Above Patacancha there were roundly 100 alpacas/alpaca like llamas being herded by one woman. The herd behaved with a sense of panic - espescially when I tried to walk into the herd to learn about them. I was armed with alfalfa grass from the Sacred Valley but they had no sense of connection to a person offering them food. With the llamas in full alpaca behavior mode they had no interest in anything I was offering them, they only looked for their best escape route from my presence.   

The llamas there were not good representatives of llamas. Their intellect could be advanced by carefully catching them and placing them in confinement where they could be educated about coexisting with people.  If they lose their fear of you in particular and people in general, they can advance to learn many things.  It is so much easier, though, to work with the young. It is also easy to turn some of them, including the smart ones, into dangerous llamas. Care must be taken to monitor what the llama is learning. If the llama needs interaction with people it can be a problem animal.  

If the llama does not seek people when sighted, but will allow interaction with people without showing fear, the llama will probably cooperate as much as it can. Some llamas are lazy. Others have fears about different things. Most will cooperate with you if you are reasonable and have a good attitude. Cooperation begets connection.  

The llamas being herded at Patacancha were not the personable characters I knew back home. These would be meat.  I did not think to try to save them. I believe all the llamas I saw this trip to Peru could end up as meat.   I’m still looking for the alternative.  

Alternatives are causing a loss of population in the high Andes. The children attend school locally, usually no more that a four or five mile walk away.  The children are fed a hearty lunch at these remote schools.  Potatoes, rice, milk, tuna, 

chicken, things that will supply them some energy are provided for them in a large bowl.  If you travel to remote areas it is good to have fruit and bread to give to the school.   


The children who go on to high school must live in the cities of the altiplano. These towns may be well under 12,000’ elevation, with much softer living conditions. The children see an alternative to living in remote elevations and do not come back. Many of the old shelters of the high country are abandoned or in disrepair.   Soon only the wind will blow at these places.  

The sun and the wind sculpt the landscape of the high Andes. The people are not immune from the effects of these constants. We gave an Andean couple a ride from their home at treeline to the city of Sicuani.   At only 12,200’ elevation, Sicuani rides a valley at the bottom of many mountains.  I asked the Andean couple if they had children.  Their children were in school at Sicuani. I suspect they are much younger than they appear.  

By their looks I thought they would be approximately my age. The skin of anyone who regularly visits high elevation will show signs of the sun and wind. These present elements constantly dry and color skin exposed to just the light of day.  

The cold of the high country can not be underestimated.  The long nights can be very cold at elevations above 12,000’.  The people are very hardy and strong.  It has also been my experience that if I happen across Andeans with food they always offer some.  It is usually potatoes.  

The potatoes are tended well above the 12,000’ level.  Eventually the cold, the sun, the wind and the remote elevation will transform this inhabited high country into altiplano, with only a road through it to show it has connection with people.  Who knows how long the potatoes will be planted  in these remote places?  Already the llamas are disappearing. Soon the alpacas and the people will stay in the towns and the cities. The wild vicuna will have more territory available.  

 Geo Caldwell