Cusco

November 16, 2008 at 12:29 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

I had a great trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu with three friends from Dartmouth. We all arrived on a Thursday and spent two days adjusting to the higher altitude and exploring the city. Cusco is definitely the most commercial of the cities I’ve visited in Peru (outside of Lima) which has its good and its bad. On the plus side, there are lots of artesania shops where you can find wool and alpaca products and great jewelry, and there are lots of good restaurants which gave me a nice break from the food in site. On the down side, you can’t be two minutes in a public place without someone interrupting whatever you are doing to try to sell you something. I had several instances where people tried to overcharge me for things, and I’m guessing it usually works. Between poor Spanish speaking skills, and trivial price changes on things that already seem ‘cheap’, most tourists either don’t notice or don’t care if they are charged a few extra soles. It got a bit frustrating, but otherwise it was an exceptional trip.

Early Saturday morning (4am early) we were bussed out of Cusco to kilometer 82 which marks the beginning of the traditional Inca Trail. I believe its around a 45 kilometer trip (around 28 miles) which is usually done over the course of four days. Unfortunately there was a transportation strike scheduled for our last day so we had to squeeze four days of hiking into three to be able to cover all the ground and get to Machu Picchu in time to get back out to Cusco. The trail is a restored and maintained version of what the Incas used to travel back and forth between MP and Cusco. It was mostly stones and a good mix of up down and flat. We started off at 8500 feet, by the middle of day two we were up to 13,800 feet, and headed back down to Machu Picchu at 7900 feet. The company we used, Enigma, was great and our guide was incredible. The four of us were a little quicker than the rest of our group (we were 10 in total) so during the day we would move ahead on our own, and then at meal breaks and when we would stop for camp we would regroup with the rest. We ran into very few other trekkers on the trail which I think was in part due to our timing (its the off-season) and in part due to the regulations the government puts on how many tourists can enter the park at a time. Trekking through the Andes is breathtaking and the changes in vegetation and climate as you change altitude was really incredible. By the end of the trek it almost felt like we were in the jungle.

On the last day we had to get up at 4am to make it to Machu Picchu by 11am, and hiking up to the Sun Gate when you can finally look out over the ruins was the way to go. As we made our way down to the ruins we passed lots of tourists who had arrived via train that day and had showered, put on makeup and jewelry, even brushed their hair! We were on day three of being sweaty and smelly. Two of my friends had plastic bags wrapped around their feet because their hiking boots got wet in a downpour. I was left with my black Microsoft shirt that says geek in binary code and a pair of black leggings; everything else was dirty or wet. Another friend had accidentally (or possibly purposely) brought her dad’s long underwear so was wearing what looked like a long white tunic over black leggings. We were a rag-tag bunch, but felt like we had really earned the experience, and were lucky enough to get a beautiful sunny morning to explore the ruins.

We were then bussed down to the local town called Aguas Calientes, where we paid a visit to the local hot springs. We took the train back to Cusco and arrived at 1am, exhausted and ready for sleep. We had the whole next day free in Cusco because we had been planning on still being on the trail. My friends made me go to a nice hotel where they forced me to drink expensive wine and eat expensive cheese (then they paid for it). It was great! And it was the perfect way to relax and wind down after a long and arduous hike. We spent the rest of the day exploring a neighborhood called San Blas, and then headed to a local pub to watch election results. We stayed up long enough to see Obama clinch the win, and then I was the only one who made it late enough to see his awesome speech. I spent a good part of the night in tears (happy tears) and woke up the next morning with a puffy face and a hope-filled heart.

Cusco Pictures

November 10, 2008 at 4:43 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

As I mentioned in the last post, I just got back from a great trip to Cusco and Machu Picchu. I just put pics up and a recap is soon to follow…..

http://picasaweb.google.com/danielle.howard/Cusco

October

November 8, 2008 at 8:53 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Apologies to all my faithful blog followers. It has been a very busy few months between trips to Lima for work, artisan fairs, workshops, applying to grad school, and most recently an incredible visit to Cuzco. First things first, all is well with the artisan association. I know I left off at a bit of a cliff hanger. Somehow over the last six weeks, I have managed to make lemons out of lemonade and turn all that conflict into something good.

A few days after writing that last entry back in September, I called an meeting with the official and unofficial leaders of the group to discuss the issues the association was facing. Visibly upset, I detailed my fears about conflict tearing the association apart and my disappointment about putting so much time and heart into a group that appeared to be on the brink of disaster. I had tried everything, and I was running out of solutions. The artisans were nervous about my behavior; they are used to a gregarious gringa who always has a smile on her face, and had rarely seen me in such a solemn mood. They laughed when I voiced my concerns and waved them off. Apparently, the group faces this sort of conflict every year. Last year it got so bad that they took their products out of the store and went on strike, refusing to turn products into the museum. “This is nothing,” they told me, patted me on the back and sent me on my way.

So, maybe I overreacted. Shortly afterwards, the museum management took drastic measures to try to resolve the inter-association conflict. They took a lot of responsibilities away from the artisans (including working at the store and running the quality control checks) in an abrupt way with very little communication about their motives. I suppose the museum, having worked with the association for over five years, got tired of the bickering and disagreements, but their actions seemed more like punishments than solutions. While I suppose some of the immediate issues were resolved, as a result a big rift has developed between the museum and the association.

Upon seeing this rift, I jumped at the chance to urge the association to establish itself as a separate entity from the museum. Whereas before I could barely get the group to stay in the same room long enough to have any real discussion, since the changes implemented by the museum the group has bonded together with a common goal of becoming more independent. The last few weeks have served as a self-esteem, leadership, and business plan workshop all rolled into one, as the artisans took offense to the museum’s attempts to punish and control them, and to make decisions regarding their business without taking the opinions of the artisans into account. They now meet more frequently, have better communication regarding upcoming events and fairs, and have even petitioned the municipality for a space in town to establish an office and display some of their work. I have been out of town a lot lately for artisan fairs, a Volunteer Advisory Committee meeting, and to guest star at diversity day at training (as the Jew), and much of this progress has been made in my absence. This is the best early Hannukah present I could ask for. Until very recently I have had to push hard to make advances here with the association, and it seems that finally they have taken the responsibility into their own hands.

We are currently finishing up a month-long workshop with a company called Strategia, which was contracted by Backus, a beer distributor. Backus has been working with small communities of artisans as part of their social development program and Tucume was lucky enough to receive their help. The workshops have covered everything from teamwork to cost analysis to planning your business, and it has been a great experience being able to take part in the workshops. The consultants come during the week to give their workshops, and then at night and on weekends I have worked with the artisans to put what they have been learning into practice. We are winding down the last workshop, and then will pull everything together next week to develop concrete business plans for some of the artisans. I myself am learning a ton, and, having lived here for a year am able to serve as a liaison between the consultants and the artisans to make most efficient use of the knowledge of the former and the experiences of the latter.

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