Last night was fairly quiet at the Cloud Forest Hostel. Only about 6 of us for dinner (including Patrick and myself), and not much else to speak of. But tonight, we had a massive crowd (most of which was YABFTG — yet another big French tour group), and an impressive traditional dance show, from a group of local little village girls. I guess that even here in Chugchilán, Friday night's a big one.
At one of the villages that we stopped in, during this morning's hike through the Cañon del Colca, we found the famous "museum of local life", which is run by a charming and extravagently-dressed Quechuan lady called Victoria. Most people in the village only speak Quechua, but Victoria also speaks Spanish, in order to communicate with her gringo visitors. She gave us a cute and interesting tour of her little museum, which is just one room in her house, that she's filled with the little artefacts of daily life around here. She's one hell of an entrepeneur.
Our three-day tour of the Salar de Uyuni began with lots of salt this morning, and it continued at lunchtime with lots of cacti (that's plural for cactus!). We visited "Isla Incahuasi" (lit: "Inca House Island", with "huasi" being "house" in Quechua), an island in the middle of the salt flats, which is completely covered in cacti. The Incas planted them there during their heyday, to mark the island as a place to take shelter and to set up camp, when making the journey across the salt. And in the wet season (Nov-Apr), when the entire salt flat gets flooded with about 50cm of water, this place really is an island.
On the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, they speak Quechua — just like in Cusco, and in most of the highlands of Peru — the language of the Incas. But here on the Bolivian side, they speak Aymara, the language of the altiplano ("high plains"). Apparently, the lake is not just the border between two countries. It's also the border between two languages, and between the two ancient cultures behind them. Looks like I won't be needing my Quechua phrasebook anymore (not that it helped, anyway — Quechua is downright impossible to learn).
Huayno is a traditional Quechuan style of music and of dance in the Cusco area. The music has a lot of guitar and high-pitched singing, and the dance has a lot of foot-stamping and stiff-leggedness. This afternoon, Abram — who conducted a salsa lesson with us last Friday — taught us Amigos students this strange, difficult, and surprisingly tiring dance. Good bit of fun for a Friday afternoon, but it seems more like a stand-up comic routine than an actual, romantic folk dance.
Cusco is the heartland of the ancient Incan Empire, and of the Quechuan race; and as such, the majority of people in the Cusco area still speak Quechua as their native tongue. When I got a taxi across town today, my driver decided to share a bit of basic Quechua with me. It's a bloody hard language, and I couldn't really remember any of the phrases he taught me. But at least he was trying to teach me, and I was trying to learn.