Ayacucho welcomes us with genuine excitement. The sky of Huamanga clears and a vast blue sheet with gray bubbles on the outside emerges. Clear sign that the rain and thunder will take time to catch up with us after we arrive. It is my first visit to the land of altarpieces and spicy puca. It is the early hours of December 8 and I see it as vital as any other city in the endless process of reactivation in times of pandemic.
Hit to tourism in figures
During 2020, according to official figures, the productive activity of Ayacucho contracted -12.8%, due to the negative results of the mining and hydrocarbon sectors (-34.8%), transportation and storage (24.6%), trade (-16.4%) and construction (14.7%).
Regarding the flow of travelers, in domestic tourism a negative variation was observed from 2,367,924 tourists in 2019 to 855,708 during 2020.
Likewise, the arrival of foreigners to accommodation establishments went from 11,030 tourists to 4,454 in 2020, which meant a collapse of 59.6%, according to Mincetur. So far this year, the most up-to-date data -to June- specifies that only 757 foreign guests have arrived at Ayacucho.
Juan Carlos Huamán, our guide on the tour, reminds us that long before the onslaught of the coronavirus, Ayacucho traveled a journey to establish itself as a sought-after tourist destination, since it spent several years in the shadow of terrorism.
Gradually more travelers have been attracted, although curbing the stigmas around the ideology of their countrymen takes time to heal. In addition, he says that to revive tourism it was also necessary to end the bad elements in power that preferred to feed their pockets instead of working to redeem the true feeling of Ayacucho: that of resistance and freedom.
Product of the cultural heritage of his parents, Faustino Flores took the reins of Hilos y Colores for a couple of decades to bring Ayacucho fabrics to the whole world.
Located in the Covadonga neighborhood of Huamanga, Hilos y Colores -also headed by Mercedes Yauri, Faustino’s wife- works in partnership with an average of 32 communities, providing work for up to 800 mothers, who are in charge of the handmade embroidery for the scarves, belts, bags, ponchos, chullos and other required garments -made with cotton and wool from alpacas and sheep- by companies in the European and American market.
“We know the entire production chain because here we give color to the thread. We do the design, finishing and quality control. From here it comes out ready for export, ”Flores comments for this newspaper.
With the arrival of the pandemic, they recognize that they have been fortunate enough to successfully anchor in the virtual market, which allowed their production not to contract or to stop generating employment, to the point that 80% of what is made in that address goes for export.
“The communities have continued working because our clients have been renewing themselves. We work, especially with rural mothers under a focus of inclusion, empowerment and leadership ”, he adds.
During the pandemic, it even adapted the first floor of its enclosure to turn it into a popular dining room, thanks to the support of the Provincial Municipality of Huamanga. There, Faustino proudly says that dishes are offered from S / 3, so that the economy of the population in general, and especially of people who come from the communities and work in the plant, is not affected.
It is not just any day in Quina. 197 years of the Battle of Ayacucho are commemorated, and the local holiday does not usually go unnoticed. Under the din of the sunny festive afternoon, Don Vidal Contreras takes the time to share his success story as those present begin to let themselves be carried away by the rhythm of the huaynos.
Contreras has been working with crafts for 38 years. Despite the fact that a long time ago he suffered an accident that left half his body paralyzed, he never gave up earning his bread making ceramics – of various scales – on the traditions and monuments of his homeland.
“Before, especially at this time, there was a lot of demand. Now little by little it is rising. It can even be enough to eat, ”he says, while resting on his sleepy arm a couple of memories that he wraps around his left flank.
Don Vidal says that prior to COVID-19 They depended at all on his handicraft store, but with the pause of commercial activities typical of the confinement, he had to search the farm for a new sustenance for his home, specifically, farming corn and potatoes.
Apart from the savings and the days in the farm, he has still been able to continue standing because he received just this year one of the bonds granted by the Government.
“In this life everything is possible. It is not that I have thought of doing nothing by not improving. Half of my body has been paralyzed, but I’m still doing it (in reference to his work as a craftsman) ”, Contreras sentence.
The potato route
The morning of December 10 was the coldest in my brief stay in Ayacucho, but it was a visit that was going to be worth it. At just over 3,630 meters above sea level, the town of Condorccocha, where an alliance between farmers and high-end chefs was created to bring the Peruvian potato to international palates.
Edilberto Soto welcomes us with a feast of cheeses, native potatoes, chapla bread and a very hot broth to counteract the soroche. As the minutes pass, the fog dissipates and the green fields contrast as far as the eye can see.
“We are not only a value chain, but also a great brotherhood,” says Soto, who has been appointed as guardian of the native potato in that area.
Through Tiyapuy, an octagon-free snack brand, Soto and up to 150 small farmers seek to validate the native potato.
In projections of our host, by 2022 it is expected to have 300 producers and by 2024 to reach 1,500 to supply more to the production plant, located in Chorrillos (Lima).
“Tiyapuy -translated from Quechua as” has it all “- is going to revolutionize the lives of thousands of Ayacucho farmers. And, over time, we hope to reach other regions because this is a venture from the field to international markets, “he says.
Soto emphasizes that, regarding the local market, Tiyapuy It has reached all supermarkets and supermarkets, and even 40% of capital warehouses, so that we learn to value our culinary wealth, given that, out of 5,000 species of potatoes in the world, Peru has 3,250 varieties. On the potato route we find 910 varieties, from yellow meat potatoes, to blue, white and red; as well as dozens of mashuas, ocas and ollucos.
“It is difficult for us to reconnect with our roots, as happened with quinoa 15 years ago”, questions Edilberto, but he is confident in the impact that Tiyapuy can cause, a brand that has received the support of great chefs such as Gaston Acurio.
Hands on, always
Leonor Salvatierra is a long-lived woman we meet at the end of the journey. Specifically, in the surroundings of the Puyas de Raimondi de Manallasacc Forest, a few minutes from Condorccocha.
The woman in question puts a stop to her herding routine, and even lets us try our luck in throwing stones with her sling to herd cattle.
Salvatierra lives in the town of Sachabamba, and details that merchants usually pay her between S / 200 to S / 300 for each lamb. She acknowledges that now she was forced to raise the price due to the health situation, and together with her husband they live from the money that their children send them from the capital, as well as from Pension 65, in addition to working on the farm when the situation demands it.
The heritage of sculptures and altarpieces
Édgar Gálvez learned from his father – Julio Gálvez, an excellent sculptor from Ayacucho recognized on more than one occasion by the State – the art on stone. Don Julio died in times of pandemic and did not have the farewell that a standard bearer of cultural wealth deserves, but Édgar did his best to keep the memory of his mentor intact. To date, he seeks to sow the art of stone carving in the young talents of Huamanga who want to continue with the legacy of Don Julio.
Donato Ramos and his son Arturo, for their part, carry the essence of the altarpiece in their hands, and have managed to position their creations at local and international fairs and competitions. With their workshop they seek to share their talent with the new generations so that this manifestation of cultural syncretism in our country is not lost. “
14 million 369,718 internal tourists traveled during 2020. A year earlier, the figure was 48 million 575,226 travelers.