By Tammy Leland, Co-Founder and International Program Director
Twenty years ago, I walked into the sleepy village of Chinchero in Peru’s Sacred Valley of the Incas. The streets were quiet and paved in Inca stones. The whitewashed adobe walls had faded over time, but as I walked on the stones my mind began to wander, imagining I was an Incan princess heading to my home to prepare chica (local corn beer) for the upcoming festival. The sun was warm, the air still and a small child quietly approached me holding out postcards, finger puppets and small woven bracelets for sale. He said his name was Alex and asked if I wanted to meet his family. I said yes.
This September, I returned to Chinchero as I have every year for 20 years for the patron saint festival of Natividad. I return to see the family of Paulino and Vilma, who I now call my mama and papa. Their daughter, Roxana, now 22, was 2 when I first met her and soon after became her godmother. Roxana and I have shared moments of much laughter, tears, and friendship. Her brothers, Raul and Franklin, have always been there with me, dancing, singing, playing soccer and now playing with their children. Their youngest daughter was born when I was there and soon became another little Roxana. Coming to Chinchero was like being home… but this September I had the biggest surprise of all.
Paulino and Vilma Quillahuaman Llancay have been very close friends of mine for about 20 years. They are the joyful parents of this amazing family. Paulino picked me up in Cuzco immediately when I called. He showed up not looking a day older than the day I met him — big smile on his face and the welcoming hug I always looked forward to after a year away. I jumped in his truck and he threw a beautifully decorated envelope on my lap. Looking over at him in confusion, I catch a small grin on his face as he glances away from my befuddled look.
“Wow, who is getting married?” I say. I see the invitation inside is some sort of wedding invite. Pulling out the card further, I read, “We cordially invite you to share in the 25th Silver Wedding Ceremony of Paulino and Vilma.” My heart started to pound and I burst out laughing with joy. This couple has been one of the most loving couples I know and now a 25th year remarriage. “When…” I start to ask, wondering how will I make it back to Peru this year for the ceremony, something I would not miss (nor would they let me). “In two days,” replies Paulino and just like that, I was going to be a part of the wedding.
In one day, I would be hosting Crooked Trails travelers in Chinchero for the festival. They would arrive to come dance and celebrate the Patron Saint of Natividad. They would watch dancers from all over the country come to show off their latest dress and their dances. They would walk with us in the processions; drink chica, dance hand in hand with the family and stay out late watching the elaborate Burning Man-style fireworks.
The following day, Crooked Trails travelers would join Paulino, Vilma, their family and friends in the ancient Inca temple in the center of Chinchero and participate in the 25th Silver Wedding Ceremony on my dear friends. We would give hugs and smiles after they pronounce them man and wife, we would throw confetti and we would dance and drink until 4:00 AM.
And that is exactly what we did.
Staying with Paulino & Vilma’s family in Chinchero is a highlight for every Crooked Trails traveler who passes through the Sacred Valley. You can be a part of the family too – get in touch to let us connect you with a stay in Chinchero on your journey in Peru!
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