November 1st of each year is a national holiday here in Peru. The holiday is known as All Saint’s Day (Día de Todos los Santos) and was established to celebrate all Catholic Saint’s known and unknown. During my two years working in Yuracoto/Caraz, I never really saw any traditions or customs associated with the holiday other than the fact that the schools, municipalities, and other businesses closed down. However, this year I had the opportunity to take part in some traditional customs by traveling to the town of Huashao to visit the host-family of a former Peace Corps Perú Volunteer who is back in Áncash completing her Ph.D. research.
And so, yesterday morning, at 9 A.M., the 3 of us hopped on a combi from Huaráz to Yungay, and then took a colectivo (car) from Yungay up to the beautiful town of Huashao at the foot of the beautiful Mount Huascarán, the tallest snow-capped mountain in Perú. Once we arrived, we were quickly introduced to everyone, kids, adults, and dogs alike. Being a fairly rural zone, the family all spoke Spanish as well as Quechua, the indigenous language of the Sierra of Áncash. It was nice to be able to use the little Quechua I know to greet the family and make some funny comments. Anyways, after all of the introductions, we got to work. You see, for many families in Áncash, a typical celebration for el Día de Todos los Santos is to gather as a family (extended and all) and make lots of bread! In fact, this host-family ONLY makes bread on November 1st and not at any other time of the year.
When we arrived at the house, the process was already underway, but there were still plenty of opportunities to observe, help, and of course eat lots of the delicious bread. In fact, as soon as we arrived, we were gifted some freshly baked cachanga, a type of flatbread popular here in the mountains. While the oven was located outside, most of the dough preparation was being performed inside the kitchen. And when I say we were making bread, it wasn’t just a few pieces of bread, it was hundreds of pieces of bread.
But, we were not just going to bake and eat bread all day (even though I personally would have been fine with that since bread is delicious). We also took advantage of the oven to make some delicious Pollo al Horno (oven-roasted chicken) for a large, familial lunch. And might I say, the chicken was absolutely delicious.
After lunch, we decided to walk over to a small grassy area to play with the all the kids (if we had stayed seated at the house, I think we all would have fallen into food comas). At the park, I played some soccer and then broke out my frisbee, which was a huge hit with everyone. We played for about 1.5 hours before heading back to the house to rejoin the bread-making extravaganza. Now, upon returning, we decided it was time to make our own special bread; pizza. We had bought all the ingredients and prepared the dough in advance, and so, surrounded curious host-family members (mostly kids), we got to work on the pizza. My job was quite simple; shred the cheese. We opted for a mix of Mozzarella cheese and queso fresco, the typical cheese sold in wheels all over the Sierra of Áncash. In terms of toppings, we went with salami and chorizo.
We expected the pizzas to take about 10 minutes to cook, however, the oven ended up being really hot (we thought possibly around 600F), and so the pizzas cooked in about 3 minutes. The edges of the crust got quite burnt and had to be removed, but the rest of the pizza remained uncharred. Unfortunately, I forgot to take a photo of the cooked pizzas, but I can assure you they were Top Chef-worthy, especially since all 3 pizzas were eaten in a matter of 15 minutes by everyone in attendance.
After the pizzas were enjoyed by all, we moved onto the last bread-making chapter for the day: the creation of muñecas and wawas. For many religious holidays in Perú, such as Día de Todos los Santos or Carnaval, it is customary to mold bread into different forms: a woman, a child, a llama, etc. I like to think of it as bread art or bread sculptures. Anyways, everyone was given a ball of dough and set to the task of creating their bread art. The host-family went the traditional route, creating some beautiful and elaborate sierra women holding their babies.
I, however, decided to branch out a bit from the norm and decided to first create a cobra, and then a lizard. Those who know me well, shouldn’t be too surprised.
The black dough is used for added decoration and is made by rubbing dough in the blacked bottoms of pots & pans. I think my cobra turned out quite well considering it was my first foray into bread art. My friends and one of the host-kids also went down the creative route, creating an Inti/Killa (sun & moon), an osito (bear), and a culebra (snake).
Shortly after our bread-creations emerged from the oven, it was, unfortunately, time to leave. We thanked everyone for the hospitality, gathered up our creations as well as the fresh bread we had each been gifted, gave our goodbyes, and then hopped in a car to make our way back down the mountain. Overall, I had an absolutely incredible time visiting Huashao and I was so, so, so glad to be able to partake in such a fun custom. Since I’ll be around Perú until next August todavía, I’m hoping I will get another opportunity to make some more bread and partake in lots more traditions before I leave.Before we left, I managed to take one last photo with my bread creations in front of Mount Huascarán.
Until next time,