The Post-Glacier Andes

Global warming-induced glacial melt is expected to eventually threaten the water supply of 80 million people in the Andes. I talked to some young people in Cuzco who are going to be around to see this happen:

Across the Andes, people are preparing for the coming increase in scarcity. Mira-Salama’s World Bank project used a three-pronged approach to climate change adaptation.

First, knowledge generation: creating climate models and trying to predict the impact of glacier retreat on important crops. They also installed high-altitude ready weather monitoring equipment in the mountains of Bolivia, Peru, Ecuador, and Colombia. And finally, the Bank tried to help with “on the ground adaptation” in select Andean communities.

“We’re working with farmers [in the Santa Teresa region of Cuzco] in showcasing better irrigation practices that are more water efficient, working with them in organizing them in water associations so that they can irrigate with pre-defined schedules, working with them in finding more climate-resilient crop varieties […] and also increasing the diversity of their crops,” Mira-Salama said.

Not all communities will have World Bank help facing glacier retreat, though. As future leaders, AYP students will have to build a viable future for their communities in a glacier-parched world.

“We need to start now to make people aware of what’s going to happen, that there’s not going to be water,” Karina Jimenez Suma of Ollantaytambo said.

One idea: plant more Queyña and Chachacoma trees, which are native to the area and do not rely heavily on water.

“We can have a campaign to plant more trees in our communities, avoid wasting water, and do more sprinkle irrigation. You see very little of that [in Ollantaytambo], only a few people know about it. I think sprinkle irrigation is one of the things that can help not use much water,” Jimenez said.

Some possible solutions are more outlandish. One Chilean geologist is exploring strategies to artificially reduce glacier melting or even create new human-made glaciers.

More, including climate changes already underway, how to help from the United States, and the first completely melted glacier, at Generation Progress.

02/26/2014 // Morning Hike // Pampallacta, Peru


At the Potato Park, about 14,000 feet up. Went on a walk to get a cell phone signal. The rock piles mark the border between the village of Pampallacta and nearby Chawaytire.


02/14/2014 // Qachun Waqachi Raymi // Chawaytire, Peru

qachun waqachi

The Potato Park is using Valentine’s Day to revive and adapt an Andean tradition. Young men demonstrate their value as potential husbands by preparing a potential field for sowing, and young women show their ability and tenderness as wives by deftly peeling a really bulbous and bumpy potato. Elders in the community judge each contest.

The Road To Machu Picchu, Traveled On The Backs Of Its Builders

The Inca Trail is the most popular hike in Peru. Four days, several hundred dollars, and limited space: tourists typically have to book months and months in advance to secure their spot on the trek to Machu Picchu. The memories, insights, and photos that hikers take from the trip are made possible by the group of local porters who carry most of their stuff, set up their camp, cook their meals, wash their dishes.

I hiked the trail in November 2013 with two friends. We had a great time, but were disturbed in a variety of ways by the inequality of the situation. My friend Gustav and I wrote about one facet, the colonial roots of the current porter system:

In 1552, Dominican friar and human rights advocate Bartolomé de las Casas wrote, “[Spanish settlers] used natives like pack animals. They have sores on their shoulders and backs, like much-abused beasts.”

Las Casas and his supporters inspired the Spanish crown to issue the New Laws, which outlawed the encomienda forced-labor system and forbade the “lading of Indians.” Although these laws were widely ignored, they reflected Spanish authorities’ uneasiness with using people as beasts of burden.

Five centuries later, Peru passed the Porter’s Law. The 2001 legislation limited loads on the trail to 20 kilograms (about 45 pounds), set a minimum wage of roughly $16 per day and required tour companies to provide porters with adequate food and clothing. A 2012 article in La Republica found that the law is routinely flouted, with porters sometimes forced to carry up to 40kg.

The whole thing at Seattle Globalist.

02/09/2014 // Pan Flutes // Puno, Peru

candelaria 3

Virgen de la Candelaria festival in Puno, Peru. Dedicated to the patron saint of Puno, Peru, a region where Christianity took hold especially strongly in the early years after Spanish conquest–the region’s Aymara population had always chafed under Inca rule and eagerly adopted the religion of their enemy’s enemy.

02/09/2014 // Virgen de la Candelaria Festival // Puno, Peru


Days of drinking and dancing in costumes like these to celebrate the patron saint of Puno, Peru.

Peru Gears Up For Coke Conflict

Peru was the top cocaine producer in the world back in the 1980s, and recently returned to reclaim the title. The Andean nation is trying to push coca crops back out of the country, using many of the same methods it did in the 1980s. It could be violent:

“If the government finally decides to implement eradication in the Valley of Apurimac-Ene, it will be really a challenging issue to tackle,” head of the Center for the Investigation of Drugs and Human Rights in Lima Ricardo Soberon told Generation Progress. “I think that the conflict will increase between producers, peasants, armed forces, Shining Path, you name it.”

There are early signs pointing in that direction. According to a report in Peruvian newspaper La Republica, remnants of the Shining Path, the brutal Maoist guerrilla group that ravaged the country in the 1980s and 1990s, have begun to organize coca growers to confront Peruvian drug police.

The United States provided about $100 million to Peru’s eradication efforts in 2013. A U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) shows Peru’s increased counternarcotics budget, police system reforms, and modest reductions in coca production.

Soberon argues that there’s nothing to celebrate. “Eradication, as a matter of policy, has been a failure,” Soberon said. “The crops always are replaced.”

The movement of production in response to eradication efforts has been called the “balloon effect,” after the way air in a balloon moves when it is squeezed in someone’s hand. A recent article in the New Yorker reported that a plantation half the size of Long Island could meet the entire world’s demand for cocaine.

The rest, including how other American nations are handling drugs differently, at Generation Progress.

01/17/2014 // Pedestrian // Patacancha, Peru


A story behind this one. Driving through the high Andes in the middle of nowhere, well above 4000m. Out the window is nothing but lush green mountaintops, grazing sheep and llamas, and rolling mists that occasionally block the view of everything else. Like something out of Lord of the Rings.

I tried to take a picture of the mist, in the foolish belief that it would appear as more than just white emptiness on a camera. It was only after I looked at the picture on my computer that I saw I had caught this woman, just chillin’, as we zipped by. This was an hour drive out from Patacancha, a tiny mountain community an hour drive out from Ollantaytambo, a touristy village which is two hours driving from metropolitan Cuzco, itself two miles above sea level in the Andes. The woman standing on the side of the mountain road, just minding her business, just as I would on an big city street corner, struck me as a reminder of how remote Andean lives are. (Depending on your frame of reference for “remote”…)

12/24/2013 // Chocolatada // Coya, Peru

chocolatada adults

The Christmas eve hot chocolate event described here.

12/24/2013 // Chocolatada // Coya, Peru


A Christmas tradition in the Cuzco area is cooking a massive vat of hot chocolate and inviting kids to come with their cups to partake. This is at Kausay Wasi, an affordable and well-run health clinic in Cuzco’s Sacred Valley. They also have Quechua-speaking health professionals, a big deal in a region where many people don’t speak Spanish. The clinic was also giving out toys–many families from Andean agricultural towns have little cash income to buy them. I volunteered to take photos.