|Bridge over the Urubamba River. The solid wooden construction withstands the weight of dozens of hikers every day walking along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.|
One state report claims that nearly 50,000 people hike this trail every year, producing an alarming impact on the eco-system. Add to this the systematic slash-and-burn of the forests, and the effect on the region is little short of a natural disaster.
It is estimated that 48% of the area within the Natural Sanctuary has been swept by fires set by visitors within the forest. If this tendency continues, within a few years, the biodiversity of the reserved zone will have been lost forever.
To deal with this situation, a group of nature lovers came up with the Q’ente project, the last hope of salvation for this natural refuge which was once the seat of Peru’s most representative Andean Civilization. The project is a private initiative that has gathered together Cuzco businessmen and intellectuals in a crusade to save the forests and the cultural heritage that was forged here centuries ago.
|Carlos Zavaleta, the legitimate owner of this part of the Sanctuary, looking out across the majestic contours of one of the many pre- Hispanic agricultural terraces at Q’ente.|
The idea is to rescue from oblivion age-old customs and techniques, and to do so, the project’s backers have leased 30 hectares of land belonging to the Q’ente and Santa Rosa de Q’ente plantations, which are owned by the local Zavaleta family. The project has begun to get underway, despite lacking authorization or any legal framework. With total devastation imminent, there is no time to lose.
"My father knew Bingham and was a close friend of (Peruvian archaeologist) Julio C. Tello," said Carlos Zavaleta, representative of the landowners as we stroll across the impressive terracing. "I have grown up in these lands, which have belonged to my family since 1944. The State, however, is trying to undermine our legitimate landowning tenure. We won’t permit it -the law backs us up. Even Unesco is on our side."
Hiram Bingham himself wrote the following about Q’ente in his diary: "We unexpectedly found ourselves in a true wonderland. We were quickly assailed by intense emotions…"
|The camp at Q’ente. Soon, visitors will have a modern Interpretation Center at their service.|
However, the land where once the native forest flourished -"the spectacled bear used to come to feed here," Zavaleta said- is now dominated by the ungainly eucalyptus, whose intrusion has banished the native tree species to remote areas. This is another of the tasks which the project’s backers have proposed: recover the forest replacing the useless and dangerous eucalyptus with local tree species such as intipa, unku, alder and qeuna.
"The Pachamama, the earth goddess, is wise. When Man intervenes without respecting nature, the balance is upset and it is difficult to restore," said Biologist Gustavo Salazar, who is in charge of the project and is a resolute defender of the area’s intangible status as former director of the sanctuary. "The ancients knew that the plants talk to each other, just like the animals do."
To prove it, we began the trek up Huayna Q’ente, the exotic look-out point in the upper reaches of the project area. There we found a couple of intact groves which have survived the adversity, as if awaiting better times before invading once more the now-ravaged lands that were once theirs. Salazar, a leading biologist dedicated to orchid research in the Sanctuary, says that this type of forest allows water to accumulate and is a haven for abundant wildlife.
"In the shade of those alders," says Salazar, pointing to a leafy tree teeming with brightly-colored flowers, "one can find a hundred or more different species. In groves of eucalyptus or other trees that have been introduced into the area, one finds only adversity."
But the people who have designed the project do not plan to limit themselves merely to forestry issues. They have greater ambitions. In Cuzco, Explorandes official Franco Negri, a fervent defender of the project, pointed out other aspects of the venture: "We’re rebuilding the old Zavaleta manor house so that we can provide comfortable lodging for visitors and the general public who enter the Sanctuary through this sector. Our idea is to put together a modern and useful interpretation center.
|Man has substantially modified the original landscape of these mountains. At Q’ente, a project is trying to recover a unique historical area.|
The men in charge of Q’ente have drawn up a project involving environmental education and a social program which will relocate peasant farmers who have illegally settled on the land inside the Sanctuary. The aim is to restore order and prevent the destruction of the more fragile areas. The project also aims to build an orchid growing research and promotion center and draw up a set of coherent policies to ecologically rehabilitate the land within the project area.
But there is more. The backers of the project plan to bring from a flock of llamas especially from the northern Andean valley of the Callejón de Huaylas to reintroduce them into an area which was roamed by their ancestors, but where they have since died out. The idea is to use the llamas as beasts of burden to haul camping gear along the Inca Trail as far as the Machu Picchu ruins.
A lot has been done already, and progress is evident. But officialdom has yet to give the project the green light so that it can operate without obstacles, something which is making the backers lose sleep at night.
Because Q’ente also plans to run a pilot project to recover areas damaged by intensive tourism, so that the model may be used in other parts of Peru. And this is a burning issue here in Cuzco.
The moon sets late in Q’ente, and as the hues of the new day light up the horizon, the surrounding mountains take on an air of renewed beauty, with shades of a bygone era. Man and Nature are ready to tackle a new day. Nothing stops them. And now, nothing will.