In this tiny town, it has been quite the wild week. Not a day has gone by without an increased heart rate. Anja hired someone to complete all the maintenance—a job I’ve grown to appreciate and even enjoy—so our jobs vary each day. On Tuesday, our first day back, we spent all four hours of the morning moving hay. Two of us carried armfuls of the scratchy, invasive stuff through a wet patch and up a small hill to a large truck, where Naman received it and packed it into the back. We tried ropes to compact it, but only Naman’s force was reliable. It took 2.5 hours to stuff the truck, then we three lay on top of the hay, at least 30 feet off the ground, while the truck’s owner drove us down to Occupampa. Of course, the ride was slightly terrifying, but I’ve experienced worse transportation (motorbikes in Vietnam). Next, we spent 1.5 hours unloading the hay into a small room next to the horses’ stables. Again, Naman received the loads and compacted it into the corner with enough space on one side that one particularly mischievous horse, Martin, could not nab extra. We ended the job at 11:58, all of us relieved that we would not need to move hay hopefully ever again. Our clothes hoarded enough hay in every crevice that we have been constantly reminded of the job since.
On Wednesday, we hoped for a nicer job. Instead, we (now four of us) received an assignment on par with the hay: shoveling the poop pile into that same truck. This required more strength and seemed more systematic, so I preferred it, but we were also entirely in the sun and the truck was high and deep enough that we could not simply shovel the poop directly; we needed to fill either a wheelbarrow or a tarp and transfer it. But alas, within the first thirty minutes, our biggest and strongest comrade complained of something in his eye, and when no DIY methods worked to get it out, he left us and (eventually) travelled to Puno to see an opthamologist (but had to wait until 5 pm for relief). So, the three of us that remained did our best to complete the task, but ultimately we were too ill-equipped and too few to succeed. Luckily, the day was not all bad—it was Santiago’s (the co-owner) birthday, so we all ate lunch together and indulged in tres leche cake for dessert.
The next day, we all expected to repeat this job, but because we would not be able to complete it, we welcomed a much better task instead: leading the horses, one by one, away from the field and back. Because their herd tendencies are so strong, this is important to build both independence and trust. Of the four that we led, two (the mares) had very little issue and two (Martin, a stallion, and Wichyflor, a 1.5-year-old) felt nervous and whinnied or stopped constantly on the walk. While leading Wichyflor, a small and challenging child also showed up and attempted to help us, which only exacerbated Wichy’s confusion. But the exercise ultimately worked because that evening, the horses followed us to their stables without issue. A bit later in the morning, I helped Anja and another volunteer to measure and feed de-worming medicine to the horses. That also worked; their poop the next day had plenty of worms in it. Yum.
Friday, a volunteer informed Naman and I at breakfast that we would again be moving hay, but a different and allegedly worse kind. Dread sunk in and we climbed inside the truck expecting misery. But when we reached the bottom of a bumpy hill and the truck’s driver managed to turn it around, we saw nothing but two medium-sized piles of what looked like straw. Once we learned the carrying method for this material—bunching it together and holding it with rope—we loaded the truck in under an hour. But before that, while we all stood watching, a mouse scurried from the pile and the driver chased after it to catch it in his hat. “Ratón!” he grinned. Then he put his hat back on with the mouse inside, still smiling, and left. We still don’t know what happened after that, or why it happened at all. When we finished, we had a bit of time to waste on a lovely view until we were driven back to the casa, where we unloaded the straw with tarps. Like the first few days of the week, it was certainly physical/manual labor, but I appreciated the system and did not mind the work at all.
Real disaster struck early Saturday morning. I have gotten up before six every day this week so I can read (Anna Karenina, which is a very fitting book as a lot of it describes farming life) and recharge my introverted self. So, when Anja asked if Naman and I could do the morning shift on Saturday, which entails feeding both sets of horses at 6 am and leading the Occupampa group to the field, I thought no problem. When we got to the Occupampa field, not all horses cooperated at once and we had to take them in pairs. But Merlin, the youngest and the halterless, did not immediately go in the field. When we managed to get the rest of the horses inside and I went to get Nefertiti, Merlin’s mother, to coax him in, I saw a horrifying sight at the other end of the field: Merlin, Wichyflor, and Venezia all grazing together with no proper fence in sight. For reference, their fencing consists of metal poles strung together with electric wire; a bit flimsy, but when the electricity is on, it does the trick. My first thought was that Wichyflor had kicked the fence down, and I immediately panicked. As I got closer, I saw that the entire back half of the fence was on the ground, but the front half stood; the remaining four horses grazed there and did not notice the lack of containment, but I worried about what would happen if they merely glanced in that direction (luckily, food takes up most of their brain space so they are not often perceptive). After running to grab Venezia and Wichyflor, I threw their ropes at Naman so he could hold on to them while I fixed the fence. Except there were no metal poles. They must be lost in this insanely tall grass, I thought. “I can’t find any fucking poles!” I told Naman, wild-eyed. Remembering the old location of the field, where they had grazed up until a week ago and where three wooden poles still stood, I leapt over a small hill and extracted the poles, running back to the field. But they would not stay standing and I could not both tighten the electric wire around them and make them stable, so I ran back to Naman.
“I don’t know what to do!” I exclaimed for the millionth time. “We need to put the horses back!” He, meanwhile, seemed unfazed. We barely managed to grab all the horses (four of them; three were expected to follow) and lead them back to their home base field, but not without a lot of coaxing and pulling (which is forbidden here, but I was in distress and the horses were too confused to listen to me without some push). Then, we again tried to build the fence with the wooden posts, but it was doomed to fail. Finally, around 7:45, with all the horses safely in the home base field and the doors to the extra food shut, we walked the fifteen minutes back to the casa in shame (me) and fatigue (Naman) to tell Anja. Our comrades sat at the breakfast table, tranquilo as ever, and we rushed past, only sharing bits and pieces of the problem, so we could get to Anja.
When we explained everything, she said, “There were no poles? Ah, then they were stolen.” Stolen. Naman had suggested it back at Occupampa, but I thought it had surely been one of the horses and we were too lacking in perfect vision to find them. But alas, the poles have been stolen before, and we had been too sleepy-eyed to notice the lack of half the fence when we originally put them in. We (I) had spent nearly two hours panicking over something in which we had no role. Relief. But of course, it was not yet over. Anja blessedly told us to eat some breakfast, then instructed one of us to stay and do the maintenance at Occupampa and the other to meet her in Puno (a 25-minute colectivo ride away) so she could buy more poles and send them back with us. After some discussion, I volunteered to do the maintenance because I craved the physical effort after such chaos and because I constantly miss running (I ran once here, for ten minutes, and it was not worth it at this ridiculous altitude) and any tiring physical activity makes me think about running less often. I finished in less than two hours, Naman returned with the poles twenty minutes after that, we repaired the fence, led all the horses inside the freshly fenced field, and returned to the casa by 1 pm, gratefully, for a large quinoa/vegetable/eggs lunch.
Sunday, we kayaked. Which is a lot more difficult than I remembered. I thought I had been building arm strength with all this labor, but kayaking is only arms, and without help from my other muscles, mine are pretty useless. Our guide, a friend of Anja’s, gave us a three-hour tour of some mysterious Lake Titicaca sites, including two sets of giant green-tinted rocks with an eerie history. According to him, locals avoid the area because the rocks themselves are native to an area 40 kilometers away and no one knows how they could have ended up on an island in the lake. At certain times of the month, at night, the rocks are said to emit a green glow and even, in some cases, to activate a portal to perhaps another world. On Google Earth, if one connects all three sets of the giant rocks, it forms a perfect triangle (I have not verified this). He also told us a lot about his spiritual involvement, mostly in alternative (to western religion) spiritualities in tune with nature, the cosmos, and energies. Before certain ceremonies (including but certainly not limited to ayahuasca), he makes sure people are prepared physically, mentally, and spiritually. A huge part of it, he says, is to simply do good. This I could get behind. The rock portals and other new-age-veering theories, I’m still undecided.