The road ends at S****. The Hacienda Hualango lies over the next ridge. It would be quite close if there were a road – but there isn’t – and getting over the ridge is a 1500 foot climb. The slopes are near vertical, and the trail is harrowing. By horse it takes close to three hours. Hualango lies two-thirds of the way down the next valley.
Like S****, the Hacienda Hualango is a remnant of the agrarian reform. Once part of the immense Hacienda Marcamachay, its owners were amongst the region’s most powerful families, One was a cabinet members, another secretary to the nation’s president. Family lore says it took fifteen days to walk the estate’s borders. But with the reform almost all of the hacienda’s land passed into the hands of its resident peasants. The landlords were able to keep only a small reserve, part of which became the Hacienda Hualango, today owned by Javier Valera and his wife, Lourdes Barrantes. What the agrarian reform began, the war between Shining Path and the State finished. Just on Santa Luisa, the Valeras were forced to flee. Their story follows:
One day in the early 1990s Javier and a friend went deer hunting on the slopes below Hualango. On route they stopped briefly at the house of a peasant friend, by the name of Pelayo. Rather than invite them in, as normally they would have expected, he shoed them away, a behavior both odd and discourteous. What they did not know was that the night before Shining Path guerrillas had attacked the police post in Sitacocha town, some four hours away. The attack had failed and the guerrillas had fled, splitting into two small groups. Two of the guerrillas were hiding at Pelayo’s.
A few hours later, while swimming in the river at the valley bottom, they spied Pelayo and his family coming down the
trail, hands behind their heads, followed by the two guerillas. Both carried automatic rifles. Pointing their weapons at Javier and his friend, they ordered them out of the river. One of the two was a man, with a long black beard and an Ayacucho accent (Ayacucho was the birthplace of the Shining Path.) They later learned his nom de guerre was Richard or Hugo, and he was the regional military commander of the Shining Path. The other was a woman whom Javier recognized, a graduate of the Cajabamba normal school and assistant to a local dentist who had treated his wife. Not long before she had gone underground. Now known by the name Camarada Patty, she had gained a reputation for bravery — and brutality.
It was the bearded man who spoke, drawing from his pocke
t what appeared to be a list, “You are el abuelo (the grandfather, Javier’s nickname from youth). We know you have an arsenal on your estate, and you are a hated landlord. Today you will die.” But one of the peasants protested, “He is a good man, with a family, what will his wife, Lourdes Barrantes, do if he is dead?” To Javier’s surprise, the bearded man seemed startled. “You are married to Camarada Lourdes?” He lowered his rifle. “Then no one will die today.”
They returned to Pelayo’s house. Pelayo slaughtered a turkey and served them lunch and they spent the afternoon talking. Hugo-Richard-Bearded Man harangued them with
Shining Path ideology but also spoke of his own background. He was the son of a rich hacendado from Ayacucho, a man who had beat his peasants, and his wife – Hugo’s mother – and Hugo. For Javier it was this that had made him a guerrilla. The group even posed for a picture. Javier wishes he knew what he did with it.
In the mid 1970s Lourdes had been an archeology student at the University of Trujillo. It was a time of political ferment, when the military dictatorship that had ruled Peru since 1968 was floundering. There was a nation-wide curfew, and
political expression, particularly leftist expression, was being repressed. Most of her student friends were leftists, of various shades and persuasions. She herself was a member one of Peru’s Maoist parties, Patria Roja. She remembers participating in street demonstrations and being tear gassed.
Toward the end of the decade the students had organized a sociology convention at the University, bringing together delegates from all over the country. The government banned the convention, but the students met anyway, and their discussions were as politicized as the government had feared. Everyone was tense and wary. At one session the delegate from Ayacucho called for an armed insurrection. It was too much for the fearful students, who voted to expel him. All expected he would be arrested – or worse, but Lourdes helped him find a place to hide and then a ride back to Ayacucho – avoiding police surveillance. The student she had helped was Hugo-Richard-the bearded man. A decade later it saved her husband’s life.
The experience was too much for them both. Soon thereafter they moved with their children to the capital, Lima, where they remained for eight years. Local peasants, encouraged (or compelled) by the guerrillas, soon occupied the hacienda’s remaining land. The estate house was sacked, what was of use stolen, and the building fell into ruins. When the couple returned, early in the new millennium, they found the Hualango all but destroyed, the estate house in ruins.
Rebuilding the farm would never have been easy. The land is
steep, arid, and rocky. Agriculture is impossible without irrigation, and the only water comes from a stream, bursting from the base of the hill-side, two kilometers up the valley. But the lack of a road makes it even harder.. Everything has to be brought in – and out – by donkey. Javier estimates he needs about a thousand baked clay tiles to repair the estate-house roof. A donkey can carry 20-30 tiles. That’s 30 to 40 donkey trips just to rebuild the roof! The Hacienda S**** has electricity, produced by a generator, and will soon be connected to the national electrical grid. But there are no plans to bring the grid to the next valley, i.e., to Hualango. To run a generator at Hualango gasoline would have to be brought in by pack animal – prohibitively expensive. But the estate house is far less important than the fields.
Javier has given over much of the land to the handful of peasant families in the area who
work for him as sharecroppers. He provides the land, seeds, and fertilizers, and they farm, handing over half of the harvest. That way both sides have an incentive to produce. Other lands he reserves for himself. He has a heard of some 50 to 60 goats and will soon be producing cheese. He has a small orchard producing avocados, for which there is a solid market, and hopes eventually to plant over a thousand trees. Recently he started raising honey bees. Flowering shrubs in the woods beyond the estate house are bees-heaven. He has four hives now, each producing on average 30 kilos of honey twice a year. Honey sells for about ten dollars a kilo. That’s $600/hive/year. He hopes some day to have as many as 30 hives. To make all this possible he has built a reservoir and put in spray-irrigation, maximizing the efficiency of his scarce supply of water.
I spent a wonderful three days at Hualango, cleaning the irrigation ditch (Sidling along it at one point where the drop was about a near vertical thirty feet and the trail only 3-4 inches wide – terrifying but easier than it looked), pouring over Javier’s collection of fossils, pre-Columbian potsherds, admiring his “arsenal,” which included an old rilfe manufactured in my wife’s home town of Springfield, MA, and shivering at the tarantulas and centipedes pinned to his wall. We even found a hat band for my new straw hat. One of the peasants killed a coral snake and Javier skinned it. Lunch and dinner every day was goat, prepared one way or another. They had slaughtered a goat in my honor and as there were only five of us it lasted the entire week-end. The fresh flat bread, made from whole-wheat flower and cooked in the ashes in the wood stove, was delicious.