Friday, February 8, 2013

Changes: INDEV 402 Update, Jan. 28th

After a two month haitus, Perusing has finally returned, with big news to report.  The following bi-weekly reoport has details:

Dan Root
INDEV 402 Bi-weekly Report
January 28th, 2013

            These past two weeks have resulted in major changes for the future of my time here in Peru.  As I mentioned in previous reports, my project, Caminando con el Apu Pariacaca has been plagued with funding issues for the past months.  In spite of this, it had been assumed that the temporarily suspended project would begin again in February.  On the Wednesday following my last report, however, I learned that further financial complications had arisen and the project would not continue until March at the earliest.  After a brief consultation with WUSC, who had been monitoring my situation, it was decided that I would begin a second placement with a different organization. Thanks to the support of the local WUSC staff, I met with my new supervisor at Peru’s Ministry of Environment (MINAM) that Friday.
            While it was unfortunate that I had to leave Caminando con el Apu Pariacaca before I could carry to completion several of my allotted tasks, I am glad for the chance to gain experience working toward sustainable development from a different perspective.  Having left the manifest uncertainty of the not-for-profit world, I have now been given the opportunity to learn from professionals in the relative security of the public sphere of Peru’s political economy, a move that will allow me to experience development work at both project (GEA) and policy (MINAM) levels.
            I have spent my first week at MINAM becoming acquainted with my new coworkers and tasks.  I will be working in the Centro de Documentación Ambiental, (Environmental Information Center), assisting with various programs that aim to gather and disseminate disparate series of environmental information, particularly with the established SINIA (National System of Environmental Information) and the nascent RETC (Registry of Pollutant Emissions and Transfers).  My first week with MINAM also corresponded with the Ministry’s annual Feria de Confraternidad, a get-to-know-you fair that allows Ministry employees and the public to learn about the various projects, programs and policies being developed by MINAM.  It was an important reminder of the numerous and varied development and sustainability challenges currently facing Peru.
            In our UW coursework, we have often discussed the relationship between the environment and human well-being, focusing on the difficult but necessary task of balancing these factors for long-term sustainability.  In Peru, these challenges are becoming increasing evident as Peruvians continue to lift themselves out of the poverty of the last decades, only to come face to face with serious environmental and sustainability issues that threaten to undo overall improvements to human development, (I’ve written previously about these issues, which most notably include water scarcity, mining issues, and deforestation).  Fortunately, there seems to be a growing awareness of the need to foster sustainable development alternatives, as evidenced by the creation of MINAM in 2008, and by the proliferation of NGOs (like Grupo GEA) that are working to promote sustainable development throughout the country. Regardless of current economic and ecological challenges, many of the Peruvians whom I have met remain optimistic regarding the sustainability of their future.  This optimism may be warranted, given the fact that WWF Global rates Peru as the only country in the world to currently reside within what they call the sustainability “sweetspot”, given their relatively high HDI ranking, and low national ecological footprint.  Given these facts, Peru is, in many ways, a microcosm of global challenges and solutions to sustainable development.  I feel fortunate to be a part of the efforts to overcome Peru’s growing environmental challenges and look forward to observing the ways that private, government, and civil society actors will work to make Peru a global example for sustainable development.

Thanks for reading,

Friday, January 11, 2013

Pictures: Chachapoyas

In my previous post, I talked briefly about my trip to Chachapoyas for the 7th annual National Conference of Rural Community Tourism.  This conference brought together community members and  NGOs from across Peru, providing a forum for discussion of diverse experiences of RTC.

The conference took place in Chachapoyas, the principal city and capital of the northern state of Amazonas.

The conference included cultural demonstrations by community groups from across Peru.

The conference also provided local community tourism organizations with a chance to show off some of their attractions, like the Huancas Canyon.

We also got the chance to visit the regions most impressive attraction, the ruins of Kuelap...

...a visit that included cultural presentations by, and interactions with, a local RCT group.

Finally we arrived at the ruins of the Kuelap fortress, the ancient home of the Chachapoyas, a preColumbian civilazation that rivaled, and was eventually defeated by, the Incas.

Throughout the trip we had the chance to try some unique and delicious amazonian food...

... watch some local artisans hard at work....

... and finish it off with a song and parade.  Here's the Caminando con el Apu Pariacaca delegation.

Thanks for reading,


Wednesday, December 12, 2012

INDEV 401 Update: December 3, 2012

This sixth and final bi-weekly report of the term was submitted after my trip to Chachapoyas.  I'll get some photos up soon.

Dan Root
INDEV 401 Bi-weekly Report
December 3, 2012

Last week, I accompanied my coworkers on a trip to Chachapoyas, a city in the northern Amazonas region of Peru.  The impetus for this trip was the sixth annual national rural community tourism (RCT) conference, which took place over a three days period, bringing together RCT associations from all over Peru.  During this conference, I had the opportunity learn about RCT experiences taking place within an incredible variety of cultural and environmental backdrops, from the ecologically rich Amazon rainforest, to the austere mountain deserts of the central highlands, to the peculiar and colorful floating villages on Lake Titicaca.  Together, it was a poignant reminder of the incredible diversity of natural and cultural riches that can be found in a single country.
            The conference also provided me with an opportunity to reflect once more on the role that tourism can (or cannot) play in protecting these diverse permutations of human experience.  In a previous report, I discussed the ways in which RCT can provide a layer of economic protection to those aspects of human well-being that are often ignored when evaluating ‘development’ projects from a simple economic cost-benefit analysis.  I also posed a question regarding tourism and authenticity in cultural practices, roughly: does a cultural practice inevitably lose intrinsic value when it is transformed from an ‘authentic’ form of cultural practice into to just another special feature of a touristic product?
            At first glance, it does seem that unique cultural practices, based in centuries of expressive tradition, lose some sort of ‘authenticity value’ when transformed from pure manifestations of cultural expression to featured selling points for potential tour packages. This view encapsulates my immediate thinking upon hearing the words ‘tourism’ and ‘authenticity’ together in a sentence for the first time. It may be, however, that by fetishizing a naive concept of immutable authenticity, such a response fails to consider the true, dynamic functionality of many cultural practices. Traditional cultural practices cannot be understood as static activities whose forms remain fixed through time, regardless of internal and external influences.  As societies grow and change, so too do iterations of cultural practice, which respond as necessary to the needs and desires of their patrimonial cultures.
Recently, as has been the case throughout history, many unique, beautiful, and meaningful traditional practices, unable to adapt to the exigencies of a changing world, have been swept aside by the often banal and always growing monolith of capitalism’s ‘global society’.  Through RCT, which gives traditional cultural manifestations a tangible market value, cultural practices can adapt, (as they have for centuries), in order to continue as a vibrant part of that society, subsisting and thriving within a protective market niche.  Also, by instilling a tangible market value into cultural practices, RCT is often returning such practices to their utilitarian roots.  Many traditional practices that seem to modern observers to be pure examples of cultural expression, e.g. singing and storytelling, have traditionally been sustained, in part, because of important functional roles, in this example, as a form of recorded history and a means of spreading important information.  When one considers these facts, ‘authentic tourism’ may not seem like such a paradox after all.
To examine this question from an international development perspective, it may be useful to refer to the development theories of the ever-wise Amartya Sen, who argues that ‘development’ is fundamentally about freedom.  At stake in this case is the freedom of rural communities to determine the fates of their own traditional practices.  Through capacity building projects like that of GEA, communities are given tools to determine for themselves how exactly tourism will be managed, what elements will and will not be included, and ultimately, whether or not they personally want aspects of their culture to be made available as a tourist ‘product’.   
However beautiful, priceless, or irreplaceable a ‘pure’ traditional culture may seem, it is important to remember that the communities which guard over such practices are much more than interesting anthropological case studies.  They are, rather, communities of real people, confronting real problems in a really difficult world.  Ultimately, communities themselves should be deciding whether or not to embrace RCT.  Philosophical debate may continue, but if the diverse and impressive showing at the national RCT conference in Chachapoyas was any indicator, communities from throughout Peru have effectively chosen their own answer to this question, responding with an emphatic and wholehearted ‘yes’.

Thanks for reading


Thursday, November 29, 2012

Photos: Huaraz

A few weeks ago, some friends and I headed out for a long weekend in and around the city of Huaraz.  There, we spent three days exploring lakes, forests, and ancient temples in the Cordillera Blanca, the highest mountain range in the world outside of the Himalayas.  Here are some photo highlights:

These pictures were taken from the roof of our hotel in Huaraz. If you look closely, you can see the impressive peaks of the cordillera blanca rising up to the east of the town.

After a day spent exploring the city of Huaraz and acclimatizing ourselves to the thin mountain air, we set out on a trip to the Chavín de Huántar archaeological site.  On the way, our bus stopped at lake Querococha, shown here.

After a stunning drive through the mountains, our bus finally arrived at Chavín de Huántar, an ancient temple built by the Chavín, a technologically advanced pre-Incan culture which dominated this part of the world until around 300 BC.

The following day, we set out once more into the mountains on a visit to Huascarán National Park.  On the way, we visited the Yungay cemetery, built to commemorate the 25,000 who died in a 1970 Yungay avalanche, which wiped out the entire town.

 This sobering yet beautiful monument presents an amazing view of rebuilt Yungay and the surrounding countryside, including an impressive view of the cordillera negra, the smaller, yet no less beautiful mountain range which lies to the west of Huaraz.

Continuing from Yungay, we eventually abandoned the drivers whom we had contracted in Huaraz, (since, as it turns out, they didn't have permission to enter the park), and set off on foot into Huascaran National Park.

Forsaking the road, we set forth into the jungle...

Finally, we arrived at beautiful lake Llanganuco...

 ...were we finished off our journey with a lunch of roasted cuy, or guinea pig.  Actually, it does taste a lot like chicken.

And that was more or less the trip.  The following day we bused back to Lima in time for work on Monday morning.

Thanks for reading,