Suddenly, the Andean sky has closed, gripped by numerous black clouds that cross as if they wanted to release all their fury. From afar comes the sound of the first thunder, which rumbles over this cold spot located more than 4,000 meters high. Lightning also breaks from the horizon, dimly for now. People here know what is coming …

“Turn off all cell phones, please,” says more than one of the inhabitants of the Quispillaqta community.

The operation is immediate because, when heaven and earth are electrified, the spark of a call can be deadly. But the ecosystem this afternoon consoles: the Qinwacucho lagoon (in Quechua, a corner of the queñuales) begins to emerge through some lomas populated with ichu, an Andean plant typical of the area, such as the queñual. The hills seem to caress the sky.

The thunder continues, although for a reason perhaps hidden in the bowels of this sky, when we reach the foot of the ccocha (lagoon, in Quechua) the silence has returned and the raindrops are only small and scattered. There is no downpour that interrupts the tribute to water, to land, to the environment. They will be thankful for what they have achieved, for several years, the sisters Magdalena and Marcela Machaca and the Bartolomé Aripaylla Association (ABA), founded by them: that the vital liquid is not lacking even when the rains are scarce or when the neighboring snowy peaks, such as the Portuguesa and the Qasa volcano no longer have perpetual ice on their impossible peaks.

“The last ones have dried up, with the acceleration of climate change they disappeared,” explains Magdalena. What ABA and these sisters did was courageous and persistent. Since the mid-1990s (and despite the fact that these serene fields were then hit by the violence unleashed by the Maoist group Shining Path), they set out to rescue an ancient technique that is now called sowing and harvesting water and that is it has literally become providential.

As Magdalena tells us, “it consists of storing rainwater in dry natural glasses, covering them with stones and clay, or with the ichu typical of this area.” This same lagoon, where some high Andean birds now roam, such as wild ducks and one they call uququ, was not here a few years ago. It was, strictly speaking, created by the peasants. In the beginning there was a hollow, perhaps with a little rainwater. What they did was build stone and clay dikes, so that the empowered does not spread over the Andean slopes, but rather infiltrates the subsoil and recharges the aquifer. “We do not put anything on the floor, if we put clay there, we would waterproof it and it would not filter,” Magdalena explains precisely.

Since they created the first lagoon, called Apacheta, in 1994, they have invented 120 more that produce no less than 15 million cubic meters of water per year for the Cachi and Pampas basins. It is practically not missing all year round, even if rainfall is poor in December, January, February and March.

The companions of the women accompany them playing the charanguito, a traditional instrument. Pilar Celi

The uququs continue to flutter and more birds have come to Qinwacucho. As if they wanted to listen to a young woman who sings with supreme sweetness … Hatun qucha patachapi / uchuychalla yana / puyo hatarinray / tiyarinray paralla paranampaq .. (On the edge of a large lagoon / a small black cloud / it rises and rises again / it is for it to rain / for the rain to come …). Doing these rituals is not just necessary. It’s essential. The whole odyssey carried out by the sisters Machaca and ABA cannot be understood without them. For this lagoon and all the others they have created to exist, they had to ask permission, or dialogue, with the apus.

An apu is a mountain, the lagoon itself, or a place that is considered sacred in the Andean world. “God is implored, with the Apu one talks,” says Marcela. “And he is even scolded when there is an accident or lightning that kills cattle. He is told ‘have I not shared the coca? Have I been an individualist? What have I missed you? why are you doing this?'”. From an urban vision, it seems difficult to understand it. But for the people of the Andes it is completely real.

With the apu one speaks, even in dreams, and is offered affection. And you can’t create a lagoon without your final permission. “That for us is central. We have to come to terms with the deity on the site. If they do not want, it is not done, ”says Marcela. That is why we are here, with the songs in Quechua, and with a colored blanket where numerous offerings have been placed. Flowers, papayas, pineapples, grapes, peaches, placed in groups of two. A bottle of pisco that is circulating in a small glass, so you can have that liquor in honor of the mamaccocha, and something fundamental: coca leaves. You must take them with both hands, look at the sky and the lagoon and blow them out. Then, some words, in Quechua or in Spanish, that come from your soul.

Gustavo Solano, a Costa Rican who is director of the Binational Water Sowing and Harvesting Project, which is part of the Euroclimate Program of the European Union, also does it. He has also promoted that this technique be taken to the province of Guanacaste, in his land, where five similar lagoons have been built to neutralize severe droughts. “It is not just about making a hollow, a dam. It is about seeing water as a person, as a living being. It is to understand the cultural and spiritual background that exists ”, he maintains.

What they did was build stone and clay dikes, so that the empowered does not spread over the Andean slopes, but rather infiltrates the subsoil and recharges the aquifer

The young woman continues singing in Quechua, with a soft melancholy. Her name is Jeanette Rejas and she is said to invent her verses while looking at the lagoon. Maybe the apus help her. Further down, perhaps some 3,500 meters above sea level, and where the ichu is no longer abundant, a kind of creek flows. On it is a medium-sized plant with large leaves; Crystalline water runs smoothly at his feet, seeming to bring a message from the peaks. “It causes humidity so that the water begins to flow,” says Magdalena.

The putaqa, in fact, has the essential quality of making the water emerge where you sow it. It is wild but, as it produces such a magical consequence, the peasants have learned to plant it in strategic places so that, from the parts where the lagoons are to these low parts, the aquifer is supplied, the water table is loaded. Thus, a whole system is created that fills the earth’s veins through several successive steps: accumulation of water in natural gullies, which are surrounded by stone and clay dikes; channels that direct the torrent downwards, so that it does not overflow; and planted with putaqas along the route. With all this, waste is avoided.

Magdalena, who like Marcela is an agricultural engineer, says that once, to verify the power of the plant, they planted it in the courtyard of an office located in Unión Potrero, a populated center that is part of Quispillaqta and the Chuschi district (department of Ayacucho). Water gushed out even in neighboring rooms. “The lagoons replace the function of the missing snow-capped mountains,” emphasizes Magdalena. If in addition the rain begins to become scarce, there are rituals to call it. One is to collect a little water in a container and spray it over the puna. Another, to make the children sing in Quechua; and another is to scourge the image of San Isidro Labrador.

They are in front of Tapaccocha (nest of water), another created lagoon. This, like several others, has one more ingredient: in its depths trout of the rainbow species live, with which it also provides food, very proteinic, to the communities that are located nearby, where sight is lost through the hills , the clouds and the almost infinite horizon. In Qinwacucho, they are eaten with Andean potatoes cooked before the ritual and when the thunder comes. Wisdom of yesterday and today. At the end, after blowing the coca and reciting what comes from inside, an unstoppable hailstorm comes that seems to throw a rain of white stones on top of it. “Fortunately,” says Samuel Flores, another quispillaqtino, “because if the storm came, we could not have thanked.” Nature and the Apus have been generous to us.

“This is what is called a specific national contribution (NDC, for its acronym in English),” says Solano, referring to the contributions that Peru has committed to give as part of its fight against climate change, following the Paris Agreement. The greatest contribution, in addition, may be defending these aquifers, these mountains and these beds.

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