Written in 2015 by Mike Safley
and Isaac Alex Huayhuacuri Mamani
Isaac is a storyteller.
Isaac’s mother and father own a few alpacas and they labor daily on land owned by other people in Lari, located in the Colca Valley in Peru. Last year Isaac’s 14-year-old sister developed a tumor in her side and his mother and sister moved near the hospital in Arequipa for his sister to be treated. The mother and father speak Quechua only, are dirt poor and could not afford to feed all 5 of their children. As a result, Isaac and his brother came to live at Casa Chapi at the beginning of the 2014 school year.
Isaac is a slight, introverted 11-year-old boy, in the 6th grade who taught himself to speak Spanish. When he arrived at Casa Chapi, he was behind his grade level at school. But he responded well to his new environment and soon began catching up, displaying a new-found enthusiasm for homework.
Casa Chapi is one of 20 primary schools in the school district that spans the entire Colca Valley. One day the district administrator announced a writing competition. She invited all the kids in the district to submit a story about the people of the village where they live and their Quechua culture.
Isaac decided to enter the competition and began asking his father and their neighbors about how they came to be in the little town of Lari, which is down the road from Casa Chapi, past the Condor Cross, and on the other side of the canyon.
This is Isaac’s story:
The Whale of Ccarhuaccoccha Lagoon
by Isaac Alex Huayhuacuri Mamani
Many years ago, the llamateers of Lari road, the ancient settlers of Caylloma and Espinar, traveled with their llamas that were dressed in different colors and were carrying ornaments with pennants, little bells, and multicolored earrings in their ears. They were the ones who led the way.
They carried products that grew in the area: corn, barley, potatoes, broad beans, quinoa, wheat, “papa liza”, salt, and apples, among other things.
The llamateers dressed in flannel pants and woven ponchos, sandals and “choccotos.” Their travels were continuous over two or three months, though they traveled less in the rainy season. They went through ravines, rivers, snowstorms, lakes and over mountains, and they saw vicuñas, vizcachas (a large kind of hare), “tarucas,” and deer.
In these travels, they carried as food: toasted bread, cheese, potato starch and roasted, salted meat. They arrived at their destination and bartered with Caylloma and Espinar, exchanging roasted, salted meat, potato starch, “chaco”, clay pots, coca, and “llicta.”
In order to barter, they had to travel and pass by the shores of Ccarhuaccoccha Lagoon. The old residents say that they could not pass by the lake alone in certain hours, and that when the llamateers and llamas passed by, the lake colored the llamas’ hooves and the llamateers’ feet turned green…
I learned about Isaac’s story when I first met him at Casa Chapi during the November 2014 Quechua Benefit mission to Peru. He was participating in the three-day Art Camp put on by the Grace Memorial Foundation from Portland, Oregon, in collaboration with the Peruvian Ministry of Culture.
Richard Miller, a five-time veteran of Quechua Benefit missions to Peru, is fluent in Spanish. Together we interviewed Isaac. At the beginning of the interview Isaac seemed a bit timid, although his answers lengthened later. Here is some of what he had to say:
“Do you like Casa Chapi?”
“Yes, very much.”
“Because they teach us values,” says Isaac.
“Didn’t you learn values at the school at Lari?”
“What about in church?”
“Not very much.”
“Which value do you like best?”
“The one about helping other people,” says Isaac.
When passing by the lagoon, its waters made noises like the waves of the sea and the wind. They say that a gigantic whale would come out, and with its enormous mouth, it would eat every llamateer that crossed alone.
The fear was enormous, and the residents were losing heart since they always had to go along the road in pairs or in larger groups of residents. Their fear was so immense that they took another, much longer route to escape death by the whale of Ccarhuaccoccha Lagoon.
One day a young llamaeteer, who was tired of losing many of his family members and countrymen, armed himself with the courage to confront the whale of the lagoon.
For this task, he made a plan and dressed himself in large clay pots, covered his head and feet with llama hides, and carried a knife, big hatchets, and other sharp weapons to destroy the whale.
When the great day to deal with the whale arrived, he called out: “Who is the monstrous whale who ate my beloved countrymen?”
He challenged the whale, saying, “Come! Come! Come now and I will cut off your head because you have you have challenged a man of God!”
Today Isaac loves school, and his favorite class is math. He particularly likes the three hours each week that the class spends in the store his teachers set up in the garage. The kids learn how to count the play money, be customers, the boss, employees, and make change. He says, “Sometimes the kids argue about how much change they should receive.”
When Richard asked him what he wants to be when he grows up Isaac replied,
“I want to be a banker.” When asked why, he said, “Because they control the money.”
Isaac is a key leader of Casa Chapi’s award-winning marching band. He loves to play football, and egg fried rice is his favorite food. Isaac thinks the most important thing that he has learned at Casa Chapi is that once you begin a project you should finish the task.
Soon, noises began to come out of the depths of the lagoon, sounding like the waves of the sea, and the wind blew fiercely.
Then the whale came out of the lagoon. He was big and dark, and had scales like knives, an enormous deformed tail and teeth sharp as a handsaw. When he opened his mouth, the sewer stink was terrible, and he ate the valiant llamateer in one bite.
Once inside the whale’s body, he came out of the pots and took his knives and hatchets to defend himself from the monstrous whale, injuring it internally to save his own life and to take vengeance for the deaths of his friends and countrymen.
The whale, seeing himself injured, dragged himself, turning over and over in pain, to the shores of the lagoon.
The story Isaac wrote won the best story award at Casa Chapi among the 39 students. Next it was submitted to compete against the stories submitted from the 19 other schools in the district. He competed against more than 1,000 students.
The brave llamateer died in the belly of the whale. One day, the residents passed by and found the dead whale, and inside its body, they also found the brave llamateer.
The body of the monstrous whale dried up on the shore of the lagoon, becoming a large rock that you can still see and rest beneath to this day.
In honor of the bravery of the llamateer, the people of that place took the bones of the monstrous whale and built the Chapel of Lloqueta Visuyo.
Needless to say, Isaac also won the writing contest among the 19 other schools. He was happy and a bit amazed. By now Richard and I both realized that we were talking to a talented, wise little guy. We prepared to leave and as I packed up my note pad, Richard asked one last question.
“Isaac,” he said, “if you were made the director of Casa Chapi tomorrow is there anything that you would change?”
“Yes, I would definitely improve it,” he said.
I paused for a moment and sat back in my chair while Richard asked him,
“How would you do that?”
Isaac immediately replied, “I would have more children live here.”
It took a while for Richard and me to compose ourselves. Then I asked Isaac where he would go in the coming year after he completed primary school at Casa Chapi. “I don’t know,” he said with a creased brow.
The staff at Casa Chapi went to work on a better answer to Richard’s question. With the help of the parish priest Padre Marcos, we arranged for Isaac to apply for admission to the esteemed Don Bosco Academy, a Catholic secondary school in Arequipa, for the 2015 school year. On December 12, 2014, Isaac was accepted.
In December of 2019 Isaac graduated from high school. His brother Christian and twin sisters Judith and Lizbeth attend high school in Arequipa. Because of generous people like you, the Mamani family has been transformed.
Isaac’s father dreamed of his children having a better life than he did. His dream has come true because of Quechua Benefit and Casa Chapi supporters. Thank you for your faithfulness to kids like Isaac, Christian, Lizbeth and Judith.