Who Is Your Porter?

Image From Mi Chacra - Porter's preparing load
Image From Mi Chacra – Porter’s preparing load

Last week Detour watched “Mi Chacra,” a documentary set in a small farming village in southern Peru. The film follows one man from planting season to harvest, and depicts some of his time as a porter on the Inca Trail.

Captivated more by the beauty of this man’s life than the stunning footage of all these places Detour sends people (which was also super cool), I was surprised to hear how conflicted Feliciano was regarding the Quechua life he had grown into and the pressure he felt to change that for his son.  I left unsure whether this was because his culture had told him that this life was “lesser than” or if his was an internal pressure to provide the “best” for his son. Maybe a bit of both.

This prompted a bit of research. Initially, I wanted to uncover the true nature of being a porter on the Inca trail. How much have the relatively recent protections improved conditions? What laws are in place and how are they regulated?  What are own provider’s porter policies? And though this is still important to me (check back in a week), I also stumbled on this very interesting case studies review that discusses literacy development with indigenous communities. Kind of out there — but many of the studies focused on the Quechua culture within Peruvian society.

In thumbing through, I realized there is very much an acknowledged pressure for Quechua peasants to adopt “linguistic and cultural patterns” in order to gain positive social status. In fact, “the current social trend [in 1996] suggests that those who stay in the rural spaces [where Feliciano lived] are losers; that they only stay because they have failed in trying to migrate” (Chirinos, p. 255). With a history of being treated as second-class citizens, Feliciano’s internal struggle begins to make more sense.

However, in trying to offer a better quality of life for his son, I wonder what will be lost. Living in Montana with a strong background in ranching and farming, self-sufficiency and hard work are significant values for many that live here. I watched this small, close-knit community come together to work their land and I was envious. I often feel we’ve lost a sense of community in much of the U.S. For being such a diverse country we still operate under very ethnocentric views. And we’ve gotten so far away from our food sources that we have to teach our children that carrots do not come from the supermarket, but come from the earth.

I watched Feliciano’s life on screen and believed there is much we (Westerner’s) could learn from the small, farming Quechua communities in rural Peru. In general, you should see the film. And if you are planning an Inca Trail trek, take some time to get to know your guides and porters. They are as much a part of the ancient trail as the stone itself.