It was just another day for the Maras salt farmers, but for me, it was a solid hike at 10,300 feet. As I walked through a small Andean village to get to a trail head, beautiful scenery was met with the aberrant dichotomy of social distress. One moment I was basking in the surrounding landscape, speckled with corn fields, green mountaintops, and cob homes; the next, my gait slammed to a screeching halt as I encountered a woman wailing in Spanish, her husband and she engaging in an explosive argument. The therapist in me wanted to assist her, as it sounded like she was in danger. But for all I knew, she was the provoker, and what could I really do anyway? Enter a stranger’s house and pretend I was the tourist police? Probably not a good idea – in any country. I walked on and felt helpless as I heard her fusillade of rage and pain fade into the distance.
I continued my hike up to a vista that revealed much of the Sacred Valley, just below Maras, a Quechua salt farming site. The salt is harvested from squares plots that beautifully contour the side of the mountain. This “salinera” utilizes a sophisticated, ancient Incan aqueduct system. Each terraced square is fed by one saline stream coming directly out of the earth; and the salty stream continues down the mountain, lining the red diatomaceous earth with white streaks.
As I sat on a perched rock (pictured) to check out the salty mountain and the view of the valley, I soon became a spectacle to a male villager passing by. “De donde eres? Y donde está tu esposo?”, he asked. There you have it, two of the most important questions a campesino can ask a woman:
“Where are you from?” And… “Where is your husband?”
“No lo tengo”, I answered jovially.
The salt farmer couldn’t comprehend why I didn’t have a husband, nor why I would intentionally hike alone. He continued to ask me questions with great consternation, as well as appeared perplexed by my answers. I didn’t have a husband and I was happy? How could this be? He scratched his adorable wrinkled face and continued down the jagged trail.
I love men to the ends of the earth and also love traveling alone through foreign countries. Having a husband is not my primary goal in life, as it was for most women in the 1950’s and still is for Andean subsistence farmers. Don’t get me wrong, the idea of having one life partner sounds wonderful – albeit a little unrealistic – and having someone take over my camera’s precarious self-timer situation would make it a double-win.
Traveling as a single, Caucasian lady is both an educational and a peculiar experience at times, especially when one is meandering through subsistence agriculture-based communities. One day I am resting in beautiful accommodations, reading about post-modern feminism and the shapeshifting relationship models of American culture. The next day I am conversing with an old Peruvian farmer, who asks me why I don’t have a husband while gripping the heavy farming tool slung over his shoulder. Life never ceases to have a trenchant sense of humor.
I have traveled with boyfriends and without, and neither experience is “better”. And, there is something especially sacred and vulnerably authentic about wandering the planet alone. These moments have taught me to really savor solitude and revel in the beauty that is community, lovership, and culture. Life is both perplexing and beautiful and we never know what tomorrow will bring. Enjoy the ride!