We spent Father’s Day in the community where many of our Peruvian friends grew-up, Cachiccata. We have been involved with this 280 person village for about 4 years now, and have truly grown to love the land and the people. The leadership in Cachiccata has asked for help on several development projects; it’s been incredibly rewarding to have been able to coordinate resources and volunteers to help the community with a few of those. The 2 room community schoolhouse is now equip with a computer lab, full of laptops and desktops donated by Travis’ former employer, along with educational software in Spanish that was donated by the company who makes that material. We have sent a few groups of medical students down to do volunteer work, as well as raised money to sponsor a little boy’s surgery.
Formerly, most of the boys and men in Cachiccata worked as porters on the Inca Trail, a job that until recently was totally unregulated and allowed most large tour operators to abuse their employees because there weren’t any better job prospects. Farming has become increasingly difficult, as the water channel in the community, built during Inca times and dating back ~500 years, is no longer functional and much of the land is now unusable. It is not an uncommon story to hear about 14 year old boys carrying packs and equipment in excess of 50kg , barefoot, along the Inca Trail for tourists who have every luxury while trekking. Meanwhile, to cut costs, the big tour operators refused to provide food or tents for its porters on the 4 day journey to Machu Picchu. Our good friend, Klever, was one of those little boys.
He’s told us how he used to just sob the whole way, shivering in the cold at night, while the tourists ate, drank, and slept in warmth. Thankfully, an advocacy group worked hard to establish very basic human rights that now exist for the porters. Incidentally, the woman who founded this advocacy NGO is the same woman who approached us for help with the Hogar Materno (the birthing center) in the Sacred Valley.
That said, portering the Inca Trail for wealthy international companies is just a way for people to get by during the high season. The tour companies are prospering, but the porters are making just enough to stay afloat and feed their families. Cachiccata is a unique community because the young people have organized themselves and recognized that their land has MANY Inca remains, is now a popular trekking site, and if they established their own company, there’d be no need to work for peanuts for HUGELY profitable international companies on the already overburdened Inca Trail. They have partnered with 4 similar communities in different regions of Peru to form a company called CHASKI, which intends to basically cut out the middle man and allow the communities whose land is most impacted by tourism to at least benefit from it. It beats being the bottom rung of the tourist industry when, afterall, it’s not only the hard labor of these men, but their land as well that make this kind of adventure travel possible. And so few of the large tour operators give anything back.
The most recent project for the improvement of Cachiccata is the creation of a botanical garden. It’s a reforestation project and the community is looking for people to donate $5 per tree to be planted in Cachiccata. The botanical garden is one way to raise money for the community, encourage reforestation, beautify the barren areas, etc. On Father’s Day, a large group of community members gathered and planted the first 100 trees. It was a cute Father’s Day activity, and Jackson had a good time playing in the dirt, planting trees with Daddy, and being loved on by all the Cachiccata kids.
The other day, our friend Klever told us that a group of our friends from Cachiccata had gotten together and decided they want to give us a piece of land in the community on which they’d like to help us build a small house. WOW. We are extremely honored, and considering coming back down next spring to do this. The land is from Klever’s family, which owns quite a bit of mountainside land. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I can’t think of a neater place to be a rural doc. It’s not exactly in the cards for us for awhile, but it would be really incredible to come down here and have a house to live in when we do.
On another, semi amusing note, we are partners in a llama project. The llamas serve 2 purposes: 1) tourists like them, so they’re good for promoting the Cachiccata trek and 2) they’re mildly useful, although dumb as rocks, and can carry packs and equipment needed for the treks. So, we fronted a small (small to us…the going rate is $70/llama) amount of money along with several other community members for Cachiccata to purchase the llamas. Well, apparently 4 of the 11 llamas have been picked off by a PUMA that lives in the mountains here!! How sad, but slightly amusing in a sick sort of way. Llamas are a huge pain in the neck in many ways, and SO freaking dumb. I can just picture them trying to spit the puma away.
This is “downtown” Cachiccatta:
The big struggle for Cachiccata and communities like it is the tug between developing / improving the quality of life and losing their culture / becoming totally dependent on tourism. There’s a fine line there, and who’s to say when it’s been crossed. On the one hand, there’s no question health and hygiene have been drastically improved with development and other recent projects, including the 30 new compost toilets scattered throughout the community that were built by volunteers. Then again, what is the incentive to “preserve culture and way of life” when that life is a million times harder? Why be a farmer anymore when you can work in tourism, make more money, have more time with your family, etc.? Then again, we have seen the addition of electricity to many houses in the community over the last 4 years, and just recently, Klever’s own family bought a television. We all know the outcome when MTV comes to town…
Trav and I have talked a lot lately about development versus preservation because the community’s latest idea is to create an adventure lodge in Cachiccata. They want to create a hub for outdoor adventures that would start with ~10 bungalows, wher
e people could stay, and they community would have kayaks, mountain bikes, horses, etc. for rent. Pretty much any outdoor activity you can imagine is possible in Cachiccata. This could be an incredible thing for the people in Cachiccata, some of whom don’t have enough to feed their families. It is sure to be incredibly transforming force. One of the partners in the lodge would be the community itself, thus preventing future developers / international tour operators from buying land in Cachiccata and building their own enterprises. Several investors from France, Chile and the US have already made offers on land in the community but have thus far been unsuccessful at closing the deals. The lodge would at least ensure that the community retain ownership and control of its land, and should they choose to develop it, it would be a community-wide decision.
Who knows if people will continue to speak Quechua, or perhaps generations to come will only bother to learn Spanish and English. I worry that little by little, their traditions will be lost, their culture watered down, their land turned into an outdoor amusement park for tourists seeking off-the-beaten-path adventures. On the flip side, who the hell are we to tell them what’s best for their community in the long-run?! Who are we, with TV’s in our home, clean water, plenty to eat, warm clothes to wear, to tell them to slow down with the development projects because infusing too much money too quickly might do harm?! It’s a complicated issue, and a hot topic among anthropologists, but it’s always discussed so theoretically. Harvard professors drinking cappuccinos and discussing what a shame it is that these communities were exposed to tourism and gave up little pieces of their culture to stave off poverty.
It’s so depressing that tourism and cultural preservation cannot truly coexist. And I don’t count the cheesy places where people have begun wearing traditional clothes again because the tourists enjoy it - it makes for better pictures. It is a very sad inevitability that development will eventually equal loss of tradition. I hope that can be minimized, and that whatever negative impact tourism will have on Cachiccata, the benefit will be more significant in the eyes of the individual community members 20+ years from now. Only time will tell.
This is our family crossing the bridge to Cachiccatta. We’re celebrating Jax turning 1 year old this Saturday in the community with Gramma (my mother in law), who got here today! Will post after the weekend’s festivities and our 4th trip to Machu Picchu on Monday.
The Jaxman in his new hat (a gift from Klever and Lily):