Inspired By: Andrea Gentl in the Andes

 
In 2016, photographer Andrea Gentl traveled to the Q'eros community deep in the Andes Mountains — a journey by foot and on horseback into the world of the Q'eros, the "wisdom keepers" of the Andes. What follows is a photo diary from Andrea's travels, a sliver into capturing the raw beauty, community, and love of the Q'eros, a reminder of what makes this world and its diversity so special, so vital.  
Photos and words by Andrea Gentl

 
"This past spring we traveled to one the most remote and special places we have ever been. We trekked by horse and foot high in the Andes Mountains to visit the Q’eros, a community of herders, farmers, weavers, musicians, and spirit healers. “Undiscovered” until the mid 1950’s, they live at 14,500 feet above sea level in the snowcapped Cordillera Vilcanota range of southern Peru - over 2,000 people in fourteen villages spread across many river valleys. According to Hannah Rae Porst of the Willka Yachay Trust, our beautiful leader on the ground in Peru, “The Q’eros are known as the wisdom keepers of the Andes. Considered to be the last Incan community, they strive to preserve and promote their indigenous ethnic and cultural identity. Q’eros live a hardworking life at one with nature: they perform offerings to Pachamama, Mother Earth, and to the Apus, mountain spirits, in exchange for the well-being of their animals, crops and community.”
 

 
The Q’eros practice Anyi, (reciprocity), an understanding of the seamless and dynamic energy exchange between earth, all things, and each other. We set out on our journey with a group of ten people to step away from all outside communication and to immerse ourselves in the community and its ways.
 
After a five hour van ride from sacred mountain Ausangate, we began our six hour trek to the village. We met our Q’eros guides at the end of the road and rode horses through vast empty moonscape valleys under towering crags. They led us to the top of a misty mountain where we stopped to admire a shimmering crystal lake. We continued over rocky expanses and meadows blanketed in tiny violet flowers. As we neared the highest pass at 16,000 feet we saw llamas grazing peacefully and the bones of a few unlucky horses. At the precipice, we dismounted and made our way on foot down slippery mountain pathsthrough a thick, wet fog. As darkness fell we finally reached the floor of the magnificent valley of Qochamoqo. A few stone huts with thatched roofs, lit only by small fires, dotted the landscape. We were led through a low door into one of them to meet the family we would stay with for the next five days.
 

 
As our eyes adjusted to darkness we could make out a few figures amidst the smoke. Two beautiful young girls giggled in the corner. One came and took our hand and led us to a bed they had made for us on the floor. We ducked as we brushed up against animal skins hanging above our heads. We fell, exhausted, into a pile of llama pelts, thick wool blankets, kids and guinea pigs. The youngest daughter, Irica, curled up beside us. We drifted off to sleep that night listening to her breathing and the fire cracking.
 
This intimacy epitomizes our experience in Q’eros. Children took our hands, girls braided our hair; we looked into the eyes of healers, offered our intentions to the sacred mountain and to Pachamama; cried, laughed, and totally succumbed. The Q’eros live in their hearts and they took us there. We traveled through a haze of beauty and light and color like we had never seen and when we came back down that mountain five days later we were forever changed."