Vagabond Tales: Cellphones And Candy Bars In The Floating Islands Of Peru

There is a running joke amongst Peruvians that when it comes to Lake Titicaca, Peru got the “Titty,” and Bolivia got the “kaka.”

All anatomical and bathroom jokes aside, the world’s highest navigable lake does in fact stretch across the borders of both nations. When read from left to right on a map, it would appear that the Peruvians may have a reason on which to make their case.

My mind didn’t spend too much time dwelling on this, however, as I motored across the placid lake waters for the first time. At 12,500 feet in elevation, even the slightest amount of breeze can create a frigid wind chill, causing me to tug my alpaca wool hat a little tighter over my ears while en route to Las Islas de Uros, the Floating Islands of Peru.

The thought which most occupied my mind as we motored away from the lakeside town of Puno – the Andean version of a seedy port town full of con-artists, liquor dens and ne’er do wells – was just how these islands even float in the first place.

A collection of 44 islands not far off the coastline of Puno, Las Islas de Uros are created from intertwined sections of floating bricks of mud, which are then covered in fresh, dry totora reeds harvested from the shallow parts of the lake. Thatched together in much the same fashion as palm frond draped palapas and tiki bars, the end result are islands no larger than a football field, which provide a home for the native Uro people of the lake.

And here’s the kicker: they even have an anchor to keep them from floating away. Seriously, islands with anchors – who ever would have thought it?

%Gallery-161058%Why, you might ask, would anyone choose to live on floating islands?

The Uro people, native inhabitants of the Lake Titicaca region who were conquered by the Aymara and later the Inca, opted to create floating islands as a defense mechanism in the event their part of the lake ever came under attack. Outside forces invade, pull anchor, move the village elsewhere, problem solved.

While the Uro may have lost their language to the Aymara and were subjected to enslavement by the Inca, a few hundred Uro residents still populate the floating, reed-strewn islands. Despite managing to somewhat maintain their culture, the Uro people inhabiting the floating islands are now being subjected to a new type of invasion generally known as tourism.

Arguably the lifeblood, which keeps the local economy afloat (pun intended), the hordes of tourists who flock to see these floating islands have subjected the remaining Uro people to an entirely new set of challenges.

For one, as more people come ashore to their islands and trample upon the reeds, the islands literally need to be replaced and rebuilt faster than before. Every step you take on one of the islands is accompanied by a loud crunching sound, and you actually sink about three inches into the island whenever you move. As the reeds are broken they are subjected to water and rot, and according to our local guide, the islands need to be “replaced” faster now than ever before.

Then, of course, there is the issue of begging children. Whether in the form of directly asking for money or by trying to sell you something you simply don’t want, for some reason, when a child lives on an island made out of sticks and the daily entertainment consists of a boat wake shaking the entire island, you feel a little more compelled to buy something from them, even though you know promoting child labor is wrong.

I mean, they actually live on an island made of sticks. How much can they really have? They probably take whatever money they make and occasionally venture into Puno for vital supplies such as quinoa grains or a used pair of shoes, right?

Let’s just say it would be nice if this thought were true.

From my perch on a “Uro yacht,” a two-story vessel made entirely out of totora reeds and bedecked in dragon heads like some sort of alpine, Peruvian Viking ship, I was witness to a reality-shattering event, which took place right in front of my eyes.

Having stopped for a lunch break on one of the larger islands, I had spent the last 45 minutes or so watching as traditionally dressed women sold souvenirs to camera-toting tourists and as small children demanded money for taking their photo. Pretty standard stuff, really.

From the number of tourists crunching their way around the island and the number of Nuevo Soles changing hands, it appeared the islanders were doing a pretty brisk business.

Then, in a moment I couldn’t make up if I tried, the island was approached by a wooden boat with a sputtering outboard motor and an oversized yellow sign. From the rush of children and local women headed down towards the water’s edge it was apparent this was a popular boat.

Taking a moment to tie his vessel to a metal stake wedged into the reeds, the floating merchant turned his attention back towards the women and children and indicated he was open for business.

Reaching into the deep pockets of their colorful, vibrantly flowing clothing, the traditionally dressed Uro women of the historic Islas de Uros then proceeded to grab all of their newly acquired fistfuls of cash and promptly spend all of it on …

Inca cola and candy bars!

But wait, that’s not all. Once the women had dutifully purchased no less than 14 liters of cola and about 40 candy bars for their soon-to-be-toothless children, they reached further into their pockets to grab some more money in order to …

recharge their cellphones!

Out from the depths of one of their six clothing layers came small, portable cellphones, and all the mothers proceeded to add more credit to their pre-paid accounts.

Somewhat deflated, I boarded a separate wooden boat back towards Puno, excited to have experienced such a culturally unique corner of the world, but somewhat disappointed that even here in the middle of Lake Titicaca on islands floating somewhere between ocean and sky, the far-reaching tentacles of modernity had turned it into a place eerily similar to everywhere else.

Want more travel stories? Read the rest of the “Vagabond Tales” over here.

Want a beautiful night sky? Go to the Isle of Sark

Few things are as beautiful and awe-inspiring as the sky on a clear, dark night. The problem is, most of us live in cities or towns and the lights blot out all but the brightest stars and planets.

The Isle of Sark, one of the Channel Islands, has decided to become the place to go for skygazers. Early this year it was named the world’s first Dark Sky Island by the International Dark-Sky Association. The little island, with a population of only about 600, decided to put itself on the map by altering their lighting to reduce what astronomers call “light pollution”. It helped that there are no streetlights, cars, or paved roads on Sark.

The Isle of Sark hopes “astro-tourism” will bring the local economy a big boost, especially during the winter. The island has been promoting tourism for some time. Being a small and somewhat remote member of the Channel Islands, it provides an experience most visitors to Europe miss. It offers some rugged hiking, caves, and a beautiful 17th century mansion. The dark skies, however, are what will really give the Isle of Sark a chance to stand out among the tough competition for tourists.

Of course this isn’t the only remote spot with dark skies. Twelve years ago I visited Isla del Sol on the Bolivian side of Lake Titicaca. Like the Isle of Sark, there was no public lighting or cars. In fact, there was no electricity at all. At night it was so dark I needed a flashlight to keep from getting lost on my way to the outhouse. The starry sky was the most brilliant I’ve ever seen and I’ve never forgotten it. Has anyone out there been to Isla del Sol more recently? Is it still that dark at night?

Photo courtesy Forest Wander, which has lots of beautiful free nature photography.

Five easy ways be a philanthropic traveler

Voluntourism is the newest warm fuzzy of the travel industry. Under ideal circumstances, it’s a sustainable, experiential way to see the world and give back at the same time. Whether you’re helping to build a new school or clearing a trail, a working holiday is, for some, the best possible expenditure of disposable income.

But there’s the rub. Along with multitudinous other factors that make voluntourism a dicey concept, it doesn’t come cheap. Some organized volunteer holidays cost as much as a luxury vacation or adventure trip of the same length. That’s great if you can afford both the time and expense, but many of us don’t have that option.

The good news? You can still be a philanthropic traveler regardless of your income, physical ability, educational background, or destination. Below, five easy ways to make a difference on every trip.

1. Donate.
Clothing, shoes, school supplies, basic medical supplies (Neosporin, aspirin, antidiarrheals, bandages), food (fresh fruit and dry goods such as rice, flour, or beans are often good choices, depending upon where you’re traveling; avoid processed foods and candy).

In regard to donations, I’ve found it’s best to do a bit of research beforehand (even if it just involves talking to some fellow travelers or travel operators in the region, or locals). You don’t want to inadvertently cause offense or shame by giving freebies; on the other hand, don’t be put off if you’re asked to help if you can. Some reputable outfitters may request that clients donate any unwanted items of clothing at the trip’s end. These items significantly help local communities (especially children) or the families of contracted staff such as porters or cooks. Donating gently used clothing and shoes is also a greener way to travel.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Visions Service Adventures]Ask–tour operators, guides, community leaders–before donating medical items, even if they’re OTC; ditto food. Guidebooks, travel articles, and local travel literature often note what items are in short supply in specific destinations.

For example, when I did a farmstay on a remote island on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, my guidebook suggested I bring fresh fruit for my host family, as residents could only purchase it on the mainland. The farm patriarch also let me know at the end of my visit that any clothing donations for his children would be greatly appreciated. Depending upon your cultural and/or economic background, such a request may appear brazen or appallingly rude. Coming from a humble man whose entire family had welcomed me into their single-room home, fed me, and treated me as one of their own (rather than just a fast source of income), it was a request I was only too happy to honor.

2.Volunteer…for free
Voluntourism is something you can do yourself, assuming you ask permission when appropriate, and act in accordance with local and cultural mores (Behave Yourself! The Essential Guide to International Etiquette is an entertaining and informative book I recommend for all travelers). Whether you pick up trash on a beach, offer to work reception at a locally-owned backpacker’s for a few hours or days, or teach useful foreign language phrases to children, you’re giving back to that community.

I realize how colonialist this may sound, but the fact is, English speakers are in great demand worldwide. Even in the most impoverished countries or regions, locals who speak English (or French, Italian, German, etc.), no matter how rudimentary, can find employment or offer their services as guides, taxi drivers, hostel employees, or translators. Fluency in a foreign language(s) gives them an advantage in a competitive market. Think about it. It’s never a bad thing to learn a language other than your own, no matter who you are, where you live, or how much money you make.

3. Buy local handicrafts and food
Just like shopping your farmers market back home, buying local supports a local economy, and usually eliminates the need for a middle-man. A bonus: many specific destinations all over the world are famed for their food, textiles, woodcarving, pottery, etc.. Every time I look at certain items in my home–no matter how inexpensive they may be—I’m reminded of the adventures and experiences that led to their purchase.

4. Immerse yourself
You don’t need to “go native,” but the best travel experiences usually entail a certain amount of surrender to a place or culture. Learn a few key phrases in the local language or dialect; treat the people–even if they’re urbanites in an industrialized nation–with respect and observe their rules or customs when appropriate; be a gracious traveler or guest. Your actions may not provide monetary or physical relief, but giving back isn’t always about what’s tangible.

5. Reduce your footprint.
It’s impossible not to have a carbon footprint, and as recreational travelers, that impact increases exponentially. But there’s no need to eradicate “frivolous” travel; indeed, experiencing other cultures and sharing our own helps foster tolerance and empathy. Rather, we should be mindful travelers, and do our best to conserve natural resources and preserve the integrity of the places we visit. Just as with camping, leave a place better than you found it. Even if the locals aren’t putting these philosophies into practice, there’s no reason you can’t.

[Photo credits: schoolchildren, Flickr user A.K.M.Ali hossain;vendor, Laurel Miller]

A pilgrim in Peru: Part Five, going to Racchi, Tipon, Pikillacta, and off the tourist trail

After croissants and café con leche in the elegant restaurant of Inkaterrra La Casona, looking onto the hotel-home’s green and graceful interior courtyard, I met Manuel in the sitting room. He had been infectiously smiling and enthusiastic every day, but today there was a special gleam in his eye. “Hola, Don! Que tal? Today we have a very wonderful journey planned: We are moving even further into the past, into the pre-Inca world. You will see places not many tourists see.”

We drove east from Cusco toward Lake Titicaca, and for me, this already induced the frisson of exploring virgin territory. Even though the road was a well-paved thoroughfare that clearly carried thousands of travelers, most tourists confine their Sacred Valley explorations to the region between Pisac and Ollantaytambo. Driving toward Lake Titicaca, we were moving beyond Pisac and away from the tourist trail.

Our destination was Racchi, about 70 miles southeast of Cusco. John drove us through more spectacular scenery: the blue-gray Vilcanota River ribboning through yellow-green grasslands patchworked with deep green crops, all framed by snowcapped mountains; mud-brick, terra cotta-roofed houses dotted the landscape and little boys in woven caps shooshed bushel-burdened donkeys along the side of the road.
Racchi itself was a revelation. This expansive 20-acre site includes the remains of agricultural terraces, storehouses, walls, baths, a jailhouse, a lake, and the impressive centerpiece, the Temple of Wiracocha, the Inca’s great creator-god. The temple is represented by nine towering rectangular columns, each more than 20 feet high and four feet wide. Built of polished stone on the bottom and mud brick atop the stone, the columns have a distinct earthen color and a shape unlike any other Inca monuments. These attributes imbued the place with a feeling of singular age and significance, and as I walked around the stark ruins, I felt immersed in their desolation and purity, as if I were stepping further and further into the ancient heart of Peru.

That feeling continued at the two other ruins we visited that day. Tipon was a vast grass-and-water complex of broad green terraces and burbling canals and aqueducts. Like Moray, Manuel said, this site – irrigated by water brought from a distant spring by an ingenious network of canals — had been used as an experimental laboratory for the cultivation of different crops. It may also have been, Manuel added, a place to worship the water gods. Wiracocha, water gods. I was beginning to get a sense that the Incas had been surrounded by sanctity – in the fields they worked, the water they drank, the sun that warmed them, the mountains they moved through.

We wandered alone through the terraced past and I had the impression that I was walking over a time-bridge, to a place rocky and green and smelling of fresh mountain water. Then a family appeared in rough woven clothes; they were calling and laughing to each other, the children hopping merrily on the ancient walls. A mirage?

Manuel whistled and said in a gentle voice that they should respect the walls and not play on them. The patriarch, splendid in a gray and green poncho, nodded gravely and they moved on.

Our journey climaxed at Pikillacta, a site built by the Wari empire, an advanced civilization that had been the dominant power in the central and northern highlands of Peru from about 500 to 1000 AD. Along with the contemporaneous and equally powerful Tiwanaku tribe, Manuel said, the Wari laid the cultural foundations for the Inca empire.

These ruins were the rawest yet and very much a work in progress. “Maybe only 5 percent of this site has been cleared and cleaned,” Manuel said; “there is still so much to discover. But this is good,” he continued, nodding at a distant knot of workers with a small smile. “I have been coming here for 16 years and this is the first time I’ve seen government workers here. More archaeologists are becoming interested not just in the Incas but in other cultures that lived here too. And more foreign universities and countries are helping with the excavations; this is what we need, and this will lead to our own government getting involved as well.”

Evidence of the excavations was everywhere. Near the entrance to the site a sign read, “Zona de Trabajo. Prohibido el Ingreso.” We could see workers with towels covering their heads and necks digging on a distant hill, and nearer, modern archaeological tools scattered in the shade of a wall, wood scaffolding bordering a paved pathway, and wooden props that had been set to keep a long, intricately pieced rock wall upright.

In one hut-like chamber we could clearly see the remains of an elegant rock floor and ragged swatches of white plaster on what had once been a gypsum-covered adobe wall. Suddenly I felt a sliver of what Hiram Bingham must have felt when he stumbled on Machu Picchu, and I could begin to understand what drives explorers and archaeologists to hack and stumble through swamp and jungle, to sift and sluice under a relentless sun – this sense of connection with a distant culture. I had no idea what feet had slipped across that white rock floor, what hands had brushed that age-worn wall, what joys and tears, despairs and dreams had taken seed and blossomed here. But still I felt a mortal, human, bond – that rock and clay called to me, pulled at something deep within. Part of me wanted to stay and sit under that thatch; part of me sits there still.

But life must be lived in the present, and we moved from the 7th century ruins to a 21st century home-cum-restaurant specializing in cuy, or guinea pig. This local delicacy was baked in a backyard oven to a crisp and served with its little paws splayed, its snout snouting and sharp teeth gritting, accompanied by noodles, potatoes, and beer. Lots of beer. The World Cup semifinals were being played, with Uruguay upholding the honor of South America, and the restaurant owner genially agreed to accommodate his guests by hauling his prized set out of his living room and laboriously connecting it to an Incan trail-like network of wires and cables, so that we could enact another semi-religious rite while eating our cuy: watching futbol on a grainy TV.

After our guinea pig gourmandizing, we set off toward Cusco and my final afternoon in the Sacred Valley. On the way we passed a roadside roof tile-making facility we’d seen earlier in the day, and Manuel said something quickly to John, who smiled and made a swift U-turn. Suddenly we were veering off the paved road onto a dusty driveway. We bumped and bounced past a mud-brick home and a wary grandmother perched on a porch and rolled to a stop at the edge of the tile-maker’s lot.

Typical of the hospitality we had received throughout the trip, rather than being alarmed or perturbed by the site of a gringo and his guide striding across his work site, the tile-maker welcomed us with a broad smile. When Manuel explained that I had been admiring the roof tiles throughout the Sacred Valley and wanted to understand firsthand how they were made, he beckoned me over to his workplace. There, surrounded by a growing gaggle of kids, he proceeded to demonstrate how he mixed, dried, wet and then fashioned the mud that became the terra cotta tiles, and how he smoothed them into just the right shape, making sure there were no bubbles that could crack later, and then carefully placed the semi-rounded tile in the sun to dry. Soon he was draping an apron over my neck and inviting me to plunge my hands into the muddy mound; with his help and the giggling encouragements of the kids, I shaped and smoothed a tile, gingerly separated it from the mold and placed it in the line of tiles that would eventually end up crowning some happy family’s home.

There were more treasures and grace notes to come. The next morning’s itinerary called for “free time in Cusco” before my mid-day departure for Lima, but Manuel rearranged his schedule and conscripted his benevolent, beaming father, who had recently retired from a career as a tour driver, to take us on an impromptu excursion to some of the city’s grand cathedrals and museums, the astonishing stones of the temple-fortress of Saqsaywaman just outside the city, and a heartening wildlife sanctuary called the Santuario Animal de Ccochahuasi, whose passionate founder proudly showed us a magnificent condor that was being nursed back to health there.

But when I recall this pilgrimage, Manuel — himself one of the principal treasures of the trip — guides me back to that afternoon among the ruins and the roof tiles, when I felt a first sliver of the explorer’s heart-quickening connection, that shiver of spanning time in the touch of cool white stone and the brush of gypsum line, and when a family of roof tile-makers opened their heart and art to me for a timeless half hour of their lives.

On that afternoon, this pilgrim found his way. Roof tiles are made from clay and in many ancient cultures it is said that men are made from clay too. I believe this is so, for I know I left a piece of me in the Sacred Valley of Peru.

A pilgrim in Peru: Part One, Arriving in Peru

A pilgrim in Peru: Part Two, visiting Moray, Pisaq and Ollantaytambo
A pilgrim in Peru: Part Three, arriving in Machu Picchu
A pilgrim in Peru: Part Four, visiting Machu Picchu at sunrise
Related: How to hike the Inca Trail

This trip was hosted by both LAN and Geographic Expeditions, but the opinions, joy, and amazement concerning the people and sunrise in Peru are purely my own. LAN Airlines recently celebrated the inauguration of its four-days-a-week nonstop service between San Francisco and Lima. LAN’s non-stop service to Lima with next morning connection to Cusco can help maximize your time in the Sacred Valley. Geographic Expeditions, a San Francisco-based adventure travel company offers overland tours, treks, walks, and expeditionary voyages around the world. GeoEx’s web site provides a wealth of information on its varied Peru tours.

Where I stayed:
In Urubamba: Sol & Luna
In Aguas Calientes: Inkaterra Machu Picchu Pueblo Hotel
In Cusco: Inkaterra La Casona

Peruvian adventure travel and agritourism on Lake Titicaca’s Isla Amantani

While I sat at the table with her young son, Ayun, I watched Imeliana Calcin stuff wood into the stove. Although she’d greeted me at the boat dock in a skirt and faded t-shirt, she’d changed as soon as we arrived at her family’s tiny adobe house. Now, clad in the intricately-embroidered white blouse and headscarf for which the women of Isla Amantani are famed, she was preparing sopa de quinoa for our lunch.

I was on the Peruvian side of Lake Titicaca, the
unfortunately-named, highest commercially navigable lake in the world. Amantani, like neighboring Isla Taquile, is a small, natural island (not to be confused with the famous, totora reed “Floating Islands” elsewhere on the lake) populated solely by subsistence farmers like the Calcin’s.

Since the mid-eighties, agritourism has helped provide income to the islanders. Visitors stay in modest guest rooms, or share a dwelling with families, joining meals and even helping with seasonal crop harvests, if they so desire. The islanders hold frequent dances to provide visitors a chance to interact with the communities, and learn more about Amantani’s culture.

Otherwise, there’s no other real tourism infrastructure on Amantani-no restaurants, bars, or shops, although the locals sell their embroidery at the dock. The farmstays are arranged by tour operators in the lakeside city of Puno, or through adventure travel agencies such Northern California’s Bio Bio Expeditions, the company I booked with.

The residents of Amantani and Taquile speak Quechua, the language used by various cultural groups throughout South America. The islanders, however, are more closely related to the Aymara people of the Altiplano of the Central Andes. The approximately 800 residents eke out an existence by growing quinoa, trigo (emmer wheat), corn, potatoes, and oca (a type of sweet potato); and raising sheep, chickens, pigs, alpacas, and cuy (guinea pigs, a typical indigenous dish throughout Peru). They make a mild, salty queso fresco from the milk of their cows, and sun-dry part of their potato crop to make chũno, which can be reconstituted in soups and stews for sustenance throughout the harsh winter.
I first heard about the island the previous year, while running Chilean Patagonia’s wild Futaleufu River on a Bio Bio trip.

I was really impressed by Bio Bio’s genuine regard for preserving the ecological and cultural integrity of their host countries. After learning of my interest in agritourism, Peruvian guide Piero Vellutino told me about Amantani, and suggested I visit the following summer, during the dry season. Piero-whose family is famed for their whitewater expeditions and first ascents- is National Peruvian Kayaking Champion, and an all-around badass. He and his wife, Patty, are also the Peruvian base outfitter for Bio Bio. Their company, Terra Explorer Peru, is based in Cusco, and together, the companies offer customized cultural extension trips such as cooking classes and market tours, because, Piero explains, “that’s what makes places special and distinct from one another. Water is the same everywhere.”

I booked a trip with Bio Bio to run the Apurimac River and walk the Inca Trail, then added two days on Amantani-which has excellent sea kayaking, and plenty of walking trails. Due to time constraint, I was unable to sea kayak, and instead opted to focus on food. That’s how I ended up in Imeliana’s kitchen (which also happened to be her famiy’s dining and living room, as well as bedroom). Ayun and I snacked on choclo, boiled native corn harvested that morning by his father, Esmael. When he’s not tending to his crops, Esmael can be found down by the boat dock selling blended fruit juices from a collapsible table. Entrepreneurial spirit is a necessity to support his and Imeliana’s six children, but they were genuinely sweet, gracious hosts who made me feel a part of the family.

The Calcin’s live in Colquercachi community, the largest on the tiny island. Through sign language and rudimentary Spanish on both our parts, Imeliana taught me how to prepare the soup, and described typical meals- primarily some type of grain-based soup or stew, rice and boiled potatoes, and corn. When lunch was served-brothy soup augmented with greens, potato, carrot, and onion, accompanied by fried queso fresco, and sliced cucumbers and tomatoes- several of the children straggled in from school to pick up their lunch. Imeliana portioned their meals onto aluminum plates, wrapped them in cloth, tying the ends into a handle, and sent them on their way with a dazzling smile. The meal concluded with muňa tea, a mint-like herb prized for it’s medicinal properties.

After lunch, I hiked to Pachatata, the highest point on the desolate, nine-kilometer island. I passed women harvesting potatoes in brick-red dirt fields, and men carrying sheaves of trigo upon their shoulders. At the “summit,” there is a small temple used for private rituals and feast days. Spread out beneath me in all directions lay terraced farm plots, divided by low rock walls. Far across the lake, the snow-covered Bolivian Andes were visible. Amantani is wild, and lonely, and emblematic of a way of life that-for better or for worse- has changed little in thousands of years. It’s not a luxury holiday, but it’s a rich experience that helps preserve a globally vanishing way of life.

If you visit Amantani or Taquile, it is appropriate to bring a house gift such as fresh fruit, which is difficult to find on the island, or staples such as rice, sugar, or flour. Donated clothing for the island’s children is also appreciated.

LAN offers flights from Lima to Juliaca, which shares an airport with Puno (one hour by minibus). Alternatively, you can take a coach from Arequipa or Cuzco (five and six hours, respectively). If you’re traveling alone to Puno by bus, be sure to book a trip that gets in at a reasonable hour. I ended up arriving at 4am, and the Puno bus station (or any bus station, really) isn’t somewhere you want to be, alone, at that hour.

Sopa de Quinoa
Quinoa has been cultivated in the Andes since approximately 3,000 BC. It has a mild, nutty flavor, and is a complete protein (meaning it has all the essential amino acids). Substitute it for couscous or rice in soups and salads, or as an accompaniment to meat or vegetarian dishes. This recipe is actually one I obtained from a dairy I visited in Ecuador; it differs from Imeliana’s in that it contains…dairy. But it’s so unbelievably delicious, especially when made with pasture-raised eggs, and good-quality milk, butter, and cheese, that I had to include it.

Recipe courtesy of chef Jose Maria Pumisacho, Hacienda Zuleta

Serves four

2 cups quinoa
6 cups water
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
2 scallions, white part only, sliced
1/3 cup heavy cream
½ cup of milk
yolks of two large eggs
½ cup of grated, semi-firm cheese that melts well, such as Gruyere
Salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Put water into a stockpot, and bring to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer, add quinoa, and cover the pot, stirring occasionally. Cook quinoa for approximately one- to one-and a half hours, or until the grains are soft.
While quinoa is cooking heat an eight-inch frying pan over medium heat, add butter, and when butter is melted, add onions and cook until transparent. When quinoa is ready, add onions and half of the milk to the quinoa and bring to a boil for five minutes, then reduce heat and let simmer.

While quinoa mixture is simmering, add egg yolks, the remaining milk, cream, and cheese in a blender, and process for one minute. Add this mixture to the soup right before serving, and stir it into the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.