Every time we cross over a bridge we may not realize what lies behind this structure. But the all the generations of Quehue in southern Peru know what is required to build and maintain a year-round destination away from crowded ruins in Cusco. This is the Q’eswachaka suspension bridge.
Thin fibers holding ancient heritage
The picture of a buff-colored bridge in the middle of a remote land puzzle your mind and captivates your heart. The serious you wonder about safety even as the intrepid you crave a new trip to South America. After a long flight from home to Lima, one more trip in the Andean skies to Cusco, and almost 3 hours in a van by the Lucre and Pomacanchi lagoons, you get off of all those vehicles and use your feet to step in Q’eswachaca, the legendary prehispanic piece of engineering.
Qoya ichu, the Quechua name of the grass, is the foundation of the twisted fibers of the structure. They are thin and small bushes witnessing the eternal solemnity of the mountain in the highest lands but once the sun is the closest, the ichu is ready to be part of a new tradition in Q’eswachaka.
A ritual of renaissance
Once a year, men and women of the community of Quehue honor their ancestors by taking over the 4-day duty started by ancient Peruvians many generations ago. Day one, women take the paths to the cold lands of dry ichu grass and select those who will be part of their daily transport with a saw. Each woman use their both hands to twist the thin fibers into 40 ropes under the constant supervision of the foreman, the engineer and bridge master. There is no electricity, so their fingers must be faster than the dance of the sun over the sky.
Day two, guiding ropes are set up by men to connect both sides of the canyon using the old bridge as a base. The color contrast of the new and shiny ropes and the darker tones of the old ones is the ultimate symbol of this renaissance. At the end of the day, the old threads are cut off and the Apurimac river in the bottom of the canyon receives it as a treasure. Day three, the arms and hands of male villagers are ready to stretch, twist and pull with their unstoppable hands. These magical hands are used to making magic when using the secrets of seeds to grow food, but now they embroider the main ropes, just as steel cables, for the underpart and the handrail. Dozens of men stretching the former thin ichu, all of them pulling together to achieve a strong rope. Once the sun is over their heads, the last main rope is done. However, there is no time to waste, so vertical ropes are tied with the indications of the master and the bridge slightly takes its final shape.
Day four, the villagers celebrate the success of the rebuilding. Elders thank Mother Earth for her blessings. Adults make all the arrangements the village require for the party. Visitors enjoy the privilege of sharing such an merry time. Children watch the bridge and prepare themselves for the upcoming years in Q’eswachaka.