Peru: The World Expeditions project improving lives in Peru

A tarpaulin separates the home's sleeping quarters from its living space. Rickety timber bench seats and a table have been pushed up against a wall opposite the entrance, a storage cupboard stands beside them; cups hang from hooks on the wall. A naked light bulb dangles from the ceiling.

In the far corner, timber cuttings and dried alpaca dung fuel the home's crude earthen stove, where aluminium cooking pots boil home-grown potatoes, corn, quinoa and beans over an open flame. With no flue or exhaust fan, and without even a hole in the roof to funnel smoke from the room, soot blackens the walls and roof.

As in many houses in the village of Huilloc, home to some 200 families in Peru's Patacancha Valley, 15 kilometres north of the Sacred Valley town of Ollantaytambo, domesticated guinea pigs scramble around on the dirt floor inside the house. Even when the door is left open, they remain inside. They are not treated as pets, however, but as livestock to be fattened for mealtimes.

"But only for special occasions," says Miguel, my guide during an overnight stay in Huilloc.

A 30-year-old bachelor shares the house with his mother. It's unusual to be single here at such a ripe old age and Fausto's marital status is a source of fun for some of the younger girls in the room.

"He's an old single man," one says, chuckling.

But today Fausto's luck has turned, for he has been chosen by Huilloc's village councillors to be the next recipient of a flued stove that will reduce cooking times and improve health conditions.

The process of swapping rural Peru's toxic open stoves for safer, more efficient closed ones began in 2015 under the patronage of government charity Caritas Cusco. Thus far, more than 1000 stoves have been installed across the country, with Australia's World Expeditions providing funding for the labour and materials used in Huilloc, where the adventure tour operator employs villagers as cooks and porters on treks in and around the Sacred Valley.

Priority is given to those who contribute most to community projects.

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Prior recipients offer their services to tradesman, Leoncio Ttito Huallparttupa, who has been contracted to install the stove. A while back, Leoncio was gifted a new stove in his village home, three hours by bus and truck from Huilloc. After helping fit it, he later travelled to Guatemala to study and then eventually started his own installation business.

The stove's mud-brick foundations had already been laid before we'd entered the house. Next, a layer of mortar that Fausto had pre-prepared is added, mixing moistened dirt, sand and manure with straw and guinea pig hair. Iron grates are then laid above the hearth, with kiln-fired bricks placed on top of the foundations as incubators.

Leoncio works fast, partly so the mortar doesn't set before he's laid the bricks, but also because he has two other stoves to install in Huilloc before the day is over. After the bricks are laid, a metal oven fitting as many as six guinea pigs, each requiring just 45 minutes to roast, is positioned in place and a hole is cut through the bamboo roof for the flue. With the flue in place, and with mortar caked around its base to prevent skin burns, Leoncio and Fausto test fire the oven for smoking.

Satisfied that there is no leakage, Fausto stands back and admires his new kitchen appliance. What, I ask him, does he plan on cooking first?

"Cuy," he replies. Guinea pig.

It's an occasion worth celebrating.

TRIP NOTES

Mark Daffey travelled to Peru courtesy of LATAM and World Expeditions.

MORE

traveller.com.au/peru

visitperu.com

FLY

LATAM flies non-stop from Melbourne three times a week and with one stop from  Sydney to Santiago seven times a week, with connections to Cusco in Peru. In 2019, it will increase its service between Melbourne and Santiago to five flights a week.  See latam.com

TOUR

World Expeditions' four-day Huilloc Village Healthy Cook Stove Project tour from Cusco costs $1090.  Departures from March to December. See worldexpeditions.com 

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