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The Braided Bridges of Peru

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How the Incas keep a 500-year tradition of communication and community alive

This year the Q’eswachaka bridge in Peru, a mind-blowing invention of the Inca peoples was rebuilt. This is the work of highly trained and skilled workers that honor their tradition for the greater part of half a century.

The bridge which is traditionally re-braided each year was not repaired last year due to the COVID pandemic. It fell into some disrepair and actually fell down into the river below. This year the urgency to upkeep the traditional was at an all time high.

Once per year, usually in the month of June, the Quechua-speaking peoples gather at the gorge of the Apurimac River located in the Southern Andes.

The Inca people repair the bridge using natural materials they have diligently harvested. Materials such as sticks and some local vegetation usually hemp fibers are used. These hemp fibers are then twisted and woven to form very strong ropes.

The ropes will subsequently be braided into cables which are then raised on each side of the gorge to serve as the ‘bones’ of the bridge.

Dangerous work!

Expert craftsmen will then go to work weaving the many ropes into the new bridge. The craftsmen begin their arduous task by starting from opposite ends and will meet in the middle.

This bridge is a marvel of ingenuity, is made using grass, straw (hemp) and sticks. It spans an impressive expansive 2.3 miles above the river. It is approximately 118 feet long and will be strong enough to support the needs of a bustling community of people and their animals as it had been for greater than 500 years.

Historically the craftspeople will begin learning this craft from an early age. The tradition is passed from generation to generation and embraced with much pride.

Each household from the four surrounding communities will contribute approximately 230 feet of rope to the bridge project. A true labor of love and community spirit.

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Although there is a ‘modern’ bridge nearby, the proud Incas continue to use, upkeep and renew their tradition each year.

The Q’eswachaka bridge, the pride of the Incas.

A labor of love, tradition, community, and honor. And in keeping with the spirit of community, this hard and dangerous work concludes with a merry-making.