Pitumarca Municipality, Chachocomani Village

After an early morning breakfast, the team headed back to Pitumarca Municipality to meet the engineer. We were given a village to visit and two engineering students to help guide us.  The new village was named Chachocomani and was a 50 minute drive up a side canyon to a point where the road  ended at the base of the mountains at 13, 550 feet in elevation.  We started hiking up the valley past alpacas and llamas, past two small villages, each with water systems similar to what we are planning. Braden had a sore lower back so he hung behind with Brian to look at the water systems in these first two villages.

It took us about two hours of walking to reach the village of Chachocomani at 15,260 feet in elevation.  This village is comprised of 5 families who herd alpacas.  Each family lives in a stone walled hut with grass roof.  Each house has a stone wall corral for the alpacas. The village is surrounded by peaks that I estimate to be 18,000 to 19,000 feet high and partially snow covered.  It had snowed a lot two weeks ago in the village and the mountains still had remnants.

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We then hiked to the first water source, where they currently dip their buckets in a shallow pool amongst the rocks.  The pool was maybe 4 ft in diameter and two feet deep. Not a very good water source but it’s the closest one to the village.  We grabbed a sample.  The villagers complain of stomach issues and diarrhea and suspect it is the water they drink.  We then proceeded to the source they wanted us to use for the new system.  It’s located in the middle of the valley but was a series of small pools with iron red colored water and high banks alongside.  Not a great option either.  We asked to see the spring up another 500 feet above the valley.

Hiking at these elevations makes the heart pound a bit and you don’t want to go too fast or one runs out of air and stands panting for a while.  We reached the spring at 15,885 feet in elevation according to the GPS.  It is a boggy,  tundra-like green area between the mountains and had several small steams running out of the grass.  A very promising spring.  Bryce sampled the spring water by filling a small sample bottle for analysis later.  We will test for E Coli when we are back at the hotel.  We also measured one small rivelet for flow rate. Lacking a shovel or pick, we may have to return to cut a trench and measure the full flow.

For some reason we felt we hadn’t hiked high enough and decided to check out the area above the spring to see if there was a lake or some water above.  We hiked to 16, 070 feet and found nothing but a flat depression above the spring.  What a view.  We could now look out over the northern pass to Ayungate Peak which is glaciated and somewhere around 6300 meters high.  Bryce then proceeded downhill along the trail leading to the village, measuring the distance along the way. It’s about one and a half kilometers from the spring to the village.

The village president, Ivan Espinoza Leon, a quechua man, met us there and we asked him a series of questions about the population and the health of the community.  He explained that one local man had died in the past few years due to stomach ailments and people here are afraid to drink the water as they get sick a lot.

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We headed back down the mountain to meet Brian and Braden at the car.  It was an adventure filled day of hiking and doing the best we could to measure the feasibility of a water system for the village.  It’s a long ways off the road and high up in the Andes to reach the village and the spring.  We will visit three more villages tomorrow that are closer to the road system for comparison.

As we made our way back to town, we were greeted by Pitumarca villagers celebrating and parading around in Inca costumes and playing music, a foosball tournament and many quechua women all dressed up in their finest.

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–Jim