Subsistence farmers living between 12,000 and 15,000 feet in elevation, the Q’ero live in tiny remote villages that stay cold all year long. In these harsh and remote highlands, little has changed about daily life for five hundred years.
Traditionally the Q’ero build their small one-room homes of dry-stacked field stone. Thatch roofs are supported by tree poles they must carry long distances. The floor is packed dirt covered with dry grasses. The family sleeps on sheepskins on the dirt floor with wool blankets to cover them from the constant cold. All the family possessions might fill one wheelbarrow.
As subsistence farmers, Q’ero communities are vulnerable to starvation from crop failures due to droughts, excessive rainfall, and potato diseases. Families and village groups grow a variety of potatoes and other tubers across the steep mountains, in small plots used only once every seven years. Potatoes and tubers are harvested and stored inside naturally cold huts in order to create a year’s supply of food.
Cooking & Food
Food is cooked indoors on little fires with no chimney, filling the hut with smoke. Since villages lie above the timberline, firewood must be carried many hours on one’s back from the cloud forest below. They boil potatoes for a thin soup or roast potatoes directly on coal with dried llama dung to supplement the precious wood fuel. A cluster of roasted potatoes is served on a woven cloth. The family sits on the ground, peels the small potatoes in their hands, and eats them plain.