Until now we have had the opportunity to discover and travel through the beautiful places that separate the city of La Paz and the so-called centre of the universe, Cusco. Thousands of kilometers to cover and thousands of experiences to live. Each experience is different, each meter covered is different from the one before. There are always surprises, both positive and negative.
Well, to travel walking gives you a completely different view of the reality of the places from the one you could get when travelling by another mean of transport. The changes are more progressive, you can see how landscapes and the people gradually evolve. Furthermore it is almost impossible not to have an interaction with all the things that surround you, natural as well as human. You are one more element in the picture, you cannot hide or disappear. You have to scan the territory meter by meter and merge into it.
The walker, because he is so much in contact with the territory, creates a special interaction with the environment surrounding him. These relations have different two way repercussions. After all this time spent walking, we have noticed that there is a relation between the walker and the natural environment and vice versa, but also a relation between the walker and the population and vice versa.
|In front of Ausungate, the fourth highes peak in Peru at 6,372 meters (20,906 feet).|
During these two and a half months we could see how much the environment conditioned us. The mountain imposes upon you the rules and the only thing you can do is comply with them. A walker needs to be prepared for any contingency, needs to have adequate equipment to endure the rain, the unbearable humidity of the yungas and the coldness on the plateaus. A walker has to be aware of his or her physical and psychological limits, but also needs the knowledge to go, or not, beyond the limits and to withstand the conditions imposed by nature.
In Vilcabamba walking at the foot of the Salkantay we camped in the Inca Canal, Inca ruins to which a visit is highly recommended. They are located in the middle of the yunga, in a very humid environment. The humidity is almost 80%, which allows the growth of a very exuberant vegetation and made our life slightly more difficult. Once in the cove (or pass), the coldness of the wind left us with almost numb hands and lips.
|On an Inca trail.|
One’s mere presence in an environment will have an impact on that environment. The walker should be aware that he is a simple spectator and nothing should change after his passage. We set ourselves not to leave any trace of our presence: picking up all the rubbish we generated, trying not to destroy the routes and the slopes, not to pull up plants and neither hunt nor fish (it is not necessary).
On the other hand, we have to point out the complexity of the relation between the walker or tourist and the local population and its activities. What is happening when, in a same area, agencies, hundreds of tourists with their own guides, cooks, skinners and their mules and the local inhabitants are interacting?
In the valley of Corani we met a person that had a very precise idea about the effects tourism has on his life. This man opened our eyes to a reality hidden by the overcrowded touristic circuits.
This man had his herd of llamas and alpacas, like the majority of the people living in the hamlets surrounding Corani. The problem he faces is that touristic activity has, indirectly, had a negative repercussion on him and on his daily life: during the periods of large crowds he has to face a lack of grass for his herds. In fact the excessive quantity of mules used by the agencies during their tours (we saw in average three mules per tourist) devastates the grass and damages the paths in the area where he lives. The people in these areas see how tourism passes through their villages without bringing any type of benefit rather, even worse, how it provokes losses. For inhabitants this results in a very complicated situation where finding a balance between tourism and local life is almost impossible.
|Skilled walker: Sending a text message while crossing the river.|
It is important to take into account that in the Andean mountains, due to lack of plant cover and overgrazing, the problems of erosion affects more than 60% of the agricultural land in the region. If we add to all these factors the practice of aggressive tourism, the consequence is an irreversible impact on the territory.
The position of this man was understandable. In fact, he informed us that during the next meeting of the community the topic of tourism will be discussed and they are considering the idea of forbidding access to visitors. We were really surprised by this decision and discussed with him the different options, where the tourist is responsible for his acts on the territory, such as the application of the “eco-tax.” This could be reinvested in the improvements of the paths and in solutions to reduce the erosion, but also limit the influx of visitors or the use of animals in the valley. In this way the community will have the final word.
This same day we saw the other side of the coin. Josue has a shop in the small village of Vilouya. In his opinion the village should benefit from the passage of tourists, building small accommodations, some restaurants or only charging kind of an eco-tax for the mules that graze on its field. In an area where tourism starts to grow, however, it is important to find a balance in order not to lose local authenticity, and avoid massive tourism completely changing the lifestyle in the area.
On the other hand, in the places more isolated from the large crowds, we could experience a very different reality. A lot of these people work as mule drivers and they see the tourist influx as a big opportunity for revenue. We, for example, had the opportunity to drink a mate, the (Andean infusion) at the place of several local people, watching how the rain spreads its water through the pampa and they even expressed their interest in working with us in the future.
It is also necessary to take into consideration that an significant portion of the local people considers tourism as a reality very far away from their daily life. These people work at rearing and cultivating basic products. There is no approach, not even the intention, to work with tourists. These areas do not suffer from overcrowding and they do not see any of its repercussion, neither positive nor negative. These people have been cultivating the chacras, the local name for fields, for several generations. The land gives them everything they need, and, grouped in communities, they get everything they require for their life in the harsh Andean valleys.
In the area of the Carabaya Cordillera we met many of these communities where from time to time they see a tourist. The first question that probably comes to their mind is: what are they doing here? They’re lost! When you have spent all your life in one place you can make the ‘mistake’ of not valuing the area where you live in. We met several people that were very surprised to hear that we were walking through their region just to immerse ourselves in its beauty. The simple fact of having contact with people from other regions, with another opinion and view on what they have been seeing during their whole life, can give you another perspective on the reality that surrounds you. This allows you to develop new values and concepts which are very important for your personal development and, linked to it, the one of your community.
|In Peru’s high jungle.|
Tourism has a very important repercussion on society and on the environment where it exists, but it is, above all, up to the tourist, walker, to make sure that its repercussion is minimum or as environmentally friendly as possible. It is necessary for each tourist to have a responsible behavior in order for the relationship between visitors and inhabitants to be the most profitable for both parts.
See pictures from Alejandro and Josep as they reach Peru’s coast in the blog Hoja del Viento (in Catalán).