Food and Exercise

By Ian

In Peru, it seems like the sport that the culture centralizes is ‘futbol’ or soccer. During our stay in Cusco and even during some of the bus rides we have seen many soccer fields with lots of athletes, families, and kids playing. I think sports can provide hope for a lot of young people. It brings people together, gives people purpose, builds character, and community. This I speak from experience, and as a result has become a large and important part of my life.

One of the questions I had for myself for going on this “eco mission” trip was how I was going to hold myself accountable to staying fit. Coaches at college have always stressed the importance of doing right both in, and out of the gym, eating healthy and getting rest too. When I am at my best with this, I can do better work.

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Can Conservation and Development Coexist?

Imagine a small Peruvian farming community where people still live as their ancestors have for countless generations. Now imagine the change that would come from placing a busy international airport directly next to this town. Each morning, instead of farm animals welcoming the sun, it is jumbo jets full of international tourists.

How would you feel if you lived in this town?

How would your personal personal health and traditions change?

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These are the questions facing the people of Chinchero, the ancient Andean community that our team recently visited.

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Our experience in Chinchero was one of traditional weaving, impressive Incan ruins, and the wild ambience of the Andes mountains. If we were to return to Chinchero in a few years, our tourist experience will be much different, but more importantly, by this time, the people who live here will know what it means to sacrifice for their country. The fate of Chinchero’s residents is just one example that cuts at the heart of the vexing question facing the developing world in the 21st century: Progress, but at what cost?

As the Forest Online team journeys through Peru this January, the questionable value of progress is recurrent. We face this question again and again, as like most developing countries around the world, Peru is undergoing rapid industrialization and modernization. In particular, the near universal desire of Peruvians for progress, i.e., economic growth and development, is being answered with new dams, highways, and the loss of natural species and ecosystems to new farms and communities. The benefits of Peru’s progress are often great for the majority of its citizens–better health, wealth, and the many other benefits that come from living a modern 21st century lifestyle. On the flip side, as economists often say, “there is no free lunch.”

Someone must pay for this progress.

In many cases, that “someone” is poor communities, minorities, and the many other species we share the planet with.

Recently Cleared Jungle, Matto Grasso, Brazil.Recently Cleared Jungle, Matto Grasso, Brazil.Carlos Perez
Brazilian rainforest converted to agricultural plantation. Carlos Perez

This story of Peru’s progress is being replayed over and over across developing Asia, Africa, and Latin America. As a scientist and conservationist, I’ve seen this consistent reality as I travel to the earth’s last forest frontiers. Witnessing these changes unfold firsthand via rainforest destruction and species loss is heartbreaking. At the same time, I am not interested in relegating nations or people to permanent poverty. They want to live how we do in the United States.

Who can blame them?

I often wonder, is there no better way? Must we destroy all that is wild and beautiful so that one of earth’s species can live better? Must progress trump the multitude of values intact ecosystems and ancient cultures provide?

Rubber Tapping, Brazilian Amazon.Thomas J. Müller
Rubber tapper who depends on intact forests to live. Robert Muller.

Ideally, we can find a middle path where development and conservation coexist and mutually benefit each other. This outcome is not impossible.

In fact, we see the middle path being played out around the world. For example, in Costa Rica, a vast eco-tourism industry has lead to national prosperity and increased protection of its tropical forests. And in Mexico, local governments are paying poor farmers to preserve their forests to protect national water supplies. Yet, in many cases we must be honest and accept that a middle path may not exist. Some places must be left undeveloped to maintain their natural integrity and other places must be destroyed for the urgent needs of people.

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In cases where win-win outcomes are not possible, the question becomes how to decide the fate of species and people? What are the variables we should consider? How do we place a value on species and cultures that may be lost in our pursuit of progress? Who should decide? As we journey deeper into the Amazon these questions will increasingly confront our team through the lens of local people with names and children to feed. With species that are among the last of their kind. And through wild rainforests that are extremely rare and only increasingly so.

In short, the true cost of progress–and whether it is worthwhile–will be continually in our faces, in our hearts, and in our minds. We look forward to continue examining this question as a class. I trust we will all get closer to an individual understanding of the true cost of progress. Our answers may be too late to find a better solution for Chinchero, but perhaps some day down the line we will have learned from this journey–and it will allow us to play a part in advancing true progress.

And per the design of the course, we believe this learning can lead to personal action, and that our stories can be a powerful force to change the world.

The Selfie-Stick Wars

By Lucy Benson and Elizabeth Mann

CAUTION! The following post contains photographic information that could be frightening, disturbing, or even applicable to viewers like you. Thank you!

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Since its declaration as a new UNESCO Wonder of the World, Machu Picchu has seen a sharp increase of visitors as well as price. This increase in price is preventing most Peruvians from attending their own national park. This raises concern because these parks depend on the support of both westerners and Peruvian natives. If Peruvians do not feel that they have a relationship with national parks such as Machu Picchu or other environmental protection agencies, including portions of the rainforest, it would hardly be surprising if they allowed miners to demolish their lands.

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Due to the trampling feet of thousands of tourists each day, officials at Machu Picchu are debating whether or not to close a substantial portion of the site. This would no longer allow guests to have an interactive experience with the ruins; instead the tourists would only be permitted to view Machu Picchu from hundreds of feet away. In our opinion, this would subtract from the magic and emotion that Machu Picchu can provide, but it would be beneficial as it would save this historical site from damage. What is your opinion of the closure, and the massive crowds which can be seen at most historical sites? Please write in the comment section below, we would love to hear from you.

Here is our experience:

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More from Machu Picchu

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photo by Sami

JASON:

Coming from a family of outdoors enthusiasts who love to hike, I have gotten to see many amazing sights in nature growing up.  However, the hike up the Intipunku, or Puerta del Sol, trail at Machu Picchu was absolutely the most breathtaking hike I have ever gone on.  The weather changed quickly as we rose to the top, with clouds rushing up out of the valley.  When the view was clear, we could slowly see Machu Picchu getting farther and farther away from us as the air became more refreshing.

Though the hike was a little tiring because of the high altitude, the view of Machu Picchu and the surrounding valley from the top were unbeatable.  We were able to take some time for personal reflection among the clouds, lush vegetation, and ancient ruins – and we could not be more thankful for that.

IAN: 

Getting up at 4:30 is never easy, yet knowing the good to that is to come is enough to pull you straight up to your feet. The plan is to ride a bus to the mountains of Machu Picchu, and that is exactly what we did.

Our first stop was to a town called “Ojanta y Tambo” which translates to “a town to relax and enjoy”. We walked around for a short while to study the architecture, and learned that the town was built for the Incas to have a place to relax amidst their advents.

Shortly after we boarded a train that would streamline us to our final destination. During the ride, it was brought to our attention by Dr. Scullion to notice the ascending of trees up the side of mountains. We learned that the trees were migrating up the side as a result of climate change. Who would have thought trees to be so intelligent?

When we arrived to Machu Picchu, we didn’t hesitate to begin the ascent to the top where we could see the “Sun Gate”. We were all reminded of the challenges of hiking in the altitude. Once we got to the top though, it was all worth it. There might be some merit to the saying that the best view is from the top.

Upon descending there were still a few landmarks that could be seen.

We were guided through the maze of many of of the ruins in the mountains. Amidst the ruins was a temple called “The Temple of Condor,” Giovanna explained that the Condor, or vulture is representative of raising the soul and spirit to the celestial realm. There was once a time when the condors flew freely in the mountains. And now, they have been hunted for the value of their feathers which are thought to have powerful energetic properties.

Peru In Panorama: Cusco to Machu Picchu

Lacking the expertise of the many photographers in the forest online, I’ve armed myself with only an iPhone to record my trip. To my surprise, I’ve captured many more scenes in more detail than I had initially anticipated. One of my favorite tools has been the panoramic feature, allowing me to immerse the viewer slighltly more to these incredible scenes which all forms of media hopelessly fail to represent.

Cusco, the Sacred Valley, Chinchero, Moray, and Machu Picchu in panoramic:

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The First Few Days

Text by Ian, photos by Sami

Life ain’t always sweet: a first cup of coffee in Peru
After being on a plane for the bulk of the past day or so, there was definitely an eagerness to do something to get myself moving. We flew from Washington, to El Salvador, to Cusco Peru, where we were met with hospitality. The group had gone to a local restaurant called “Organic Green” where we had a mind ful lunch filled with local and fresh ingredients so that we could touch base with our goals.

The daylight showed a busy Cusco, with plenty of people going about their lives, children playing soccer, and the hustle of the street vendors. However, the night life revealed something different.

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I went running around town that night and it became clear to me rather quickly that this was an entirely different fish tank than any other I had swam in, before. My eyes were met with things that made me realize that perhaps this experience was not going to be a colorful bead to add to a bracelet.

Traveling can provide an opportunity to see things with a fresh perspective. And although Peru is captivating with vast, colorful, and mountainous landscapes, its life struggles are still very real. Among these struggles include poverty, that we often turn a blind eye to in our modern and “civilized” world. Reading about it is one thing, seeing it and feeling it is something else entirely.

Continue reading “The First Few Days”

Machu Picchu Updates Coming Soon!

Machu Piccu (Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)
Machu Piccu (Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)

The Forest Online Team had an amazing day exploring one of the world’s greatest wonders, Machu Picchu.

(Photo Credit : Luke FIsher)
(Photo Credit : Luke Fisher)

Stay tuned for updates as we take you through our long and winding trip through the Inca Trail from the Urubamba Valley to the “big mountain.”

(Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)
Machu Picchu This Way ! (Photo Credit: Luke Fisher)

 

 

Traditional Weaving and Community with Balcon del Inka

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Lucy Benson (second from the left) and Danielle Fatzinger (second from the right) with two women from Balcon del Inka. Photo by Jason Scullion.

In the Sacred Valley outside Cusco, 14 Quechuan women of the town of Chinchero run El Balcón del Inka, an association of textile artisans that have formed a partnership with local tour guides. They demonstrate traditional processes of creating woven textiles, including spinning and naturally dying both alpaca and sheep yarn.

The women of Balcón del Inka come from 13 different families within the community. They formed the association seven years ago when they recognized the increased tourism to Cusco and the Sacred Valley as a business opportunity.  Each of the women sells their products individually within the on-site group market.

The philosophy of working together comes from the age old belief in ayni, or “I will help you now because you will help me later.”

Upon arriving on site, the class took some time to admire the Inca ruins of the palace of Tupac Yupanqui, Inca ruler and son of the famed Pachacuteq. From there, we went up a slope to the welcoming sound of the women singing a traditional Quechuan song.

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Photo by Lucy Benson.

The demonstration of the process of weaving was detailed, educational, and funny. The class sat in amazement as white, handspun thread was dyed using plants and bugs from the surrounding area. Cochinilla, a small bug found on prickly pear leaves, can be used to make 24 different colors, including red, pink, orange, and purple.

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Photo by Elizabeth Mann.
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Photo by Elizabeth Mann.

The patterns used on their products include universal weaving patterns as well as patterns from their community. They also add woven borders to many products, which is a technique not found in other communities.

The women started learning to weave around the age of 7 by making belts and bracelets. By the age of 15 or 16, they can make table runners and other more advanced products. In their community, women are the ones that weave, but in other communities, both men and women participate in the weaving.

The same system of teaching is used today with children that wish to learn, but as a result of increase global influences and the resulting rapid modernization, many children do not wish to learn.

Unfortunately, disinterest amongst the younger generation is not the only threat to the cultural traditions of the women of Chinchero. Over the next seven years, an international airport will be constructed in the town that will likely lead to further industrial development, disruptive air traffic, and sound pollution.

We asked the women about their feelings surrounding the construction of the airport. The women’s responses expressed concern about negative environmental impacts that could affect their connection to the land, their families’ farms, and their sources of material for dying.

The threats facing El Balcón del Inka mirror those facing native communities throughout Peru and the larger Andean region. Pressures of a globalizing economy often demand a lifestyle incompatible with traditional cultures and livelihoods, which forces many people to adapt in order to survive.

Seeing the traditional weaving techniques showed us how strong, creative, and resilient the people are in native communities. Given the current and coming threats to their lifestyle, we find ourselves concerned about their fate and agitated at the way Western ideas of modernization and development are often imposed on communities like Chinchero.

Perceptions of street vendors

As a tourist, one of the things you always keep in mind is buying souvenirs for your loved ones. I am not an exception to that.

While at one of the tourist attractions, El Cristo Blanco, I couldn’t resist to take a look at some of the merchandise found at the site. A group of street vendors were sitting next to the site, offering their beautifully crafted souvenirs to the tourists. I settled for one of the vendors, an old but friendly lady.

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This wasn’t the first time I have seen vendors of this nature taking to the streets to sell their merchandise. Since our arrival at Cusco, I have noticed a great number of vendors casually sitting on the street, selling their products to hungry tourists; a sight that is equally beautiful and depressing.

I was curious to know where the merchandise originated. I asked the lady, and her response was quite surprising to me. As it turns out, most the merchandise sold by these street vendors is made by the vendors themselves. This includes bracelets, wooden flutes, and knitted goods, among many others.

However, I noticed that among these items, you can also find very detailed replicas of statues that represent the culture and religion of Cusco. I asked the lady if she or her family had sculptured these items, but her answer was no.

It so happens that these replicas are factory made, and the vendors buy them to resell them. The lady added that most of these factories are owned by either family members or friends of the family, rather than a multi-national corporation.

Learning the source of these items made me feel more at ease with the idea of buying souvenirs from street vendors—and being a tourist.

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