Posts Tagged With: Mining in Peru

Deep Thoughts About Peru…

thinker

Fourteen years ago, I went to Peru, visited Machu Picchu, Cusco and Lima, and figured I’d seen the country.

Machu Pichu

Machu Picchu… check!

Last year, going back to Peru with Heifer, I realized what a boneheaded assumption that was. For one thing, the country has changed radically since 1999. Lima’s population is now approaching 9 million and the city is far more glamorous and glittery than it was back then, although the slums on the outskirts of Lima stretch for miles and are truly grim.

RivasMoney photo from Wikipedia.

RivasMoney photo from Wikipedia.

Despite the country’s huge economic advances (no Latin American or Caribbean economy grew faster than Peru’s from 2001 to 2011) over 30% of Peruvians are still poor — and the struggle to survive is concentrated in the sierra (highlands) and the selva (Amazonian jungle) where Heifer works.Coming up to Chillcapata

While Peru is beautiful in almost every conceivable way…

Gorgeous Lake Titicaca

Gorgeous Lake Titicaca

…this country twice the size of Texas is packed with copper, gold and zinc, ripe for mining. And its climate poses a bit of an agricultural challenge, to say the least.andres

In the sierra, it’s difficult to raise much of anything except potatoes…

A million hours of work to create an arable plot of land.

A million hours of work went into building terraces to create arable land at 10,000 feet.

….and just about the only animals that can survive the altitude and cold are sturdy llama and alpaca.On the road to Chillcapata

The people who live in the highlands, where I spent most of my time wheezing for breath at 8-12,000 feet, are mostly indigenous and are now embroiled in an epic battle to save their beloved mountains from rapacious mining interests (that also threaten to destroy the jungles).

Pasco City is right on top of this ugly open mine.

Pasco City is right on top of this ugly open mine.

They are hard-working, proud, creative and fiercely independent people. chillcapata mama

…and I have so much respect for Heifer working with those communities to help them make a living on the land.

17-year old Rebecca Yanac keeps the breeding records for the family's alpaca herd.

17-year old Rebecca Yanac keeps the breeding records for her family’s alpaca herd.

I usually never like to go back anyplace (there are too many new places to see) but I reckon I’ll be going back to Peru soon. mom & baby

For one thing, I’ve got a new god-daughter there.

Leidy Melisa Arpasi Calle (before I cut her braids & became her godmother)

Leidy Melisa Arpasi Calle (before I cut her braids & became her godmother)

And I’ve got some other important people I need to check on, too.little oneTo read my previous blogs on Peru (including explicit alpaca lovemaking– and the story of my new god-daughter) check these links:

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/03/29/bienvenidos-a-peru/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/03/30/just-sitting-around-knitting-and-changing-the-world/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/02/showered-with-flowers/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/04/my-cinderella-story/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/09/edith-piaf-in-the-andes/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/12/what-i-ate-in-peru/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/15/feeling-the-love-in-yanacancha/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/18/a-fiber-primer-for-yarnheads-2/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/20/guinea-pigs-not-just-for-breakfast-anymore/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/23/ive-got-friends-in-high-places/

https://heifer12x12.com/2012/04/26/never-can-say-goodbye/crafts

Categories: Heifer International, Peru, Philanthropy, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , | 19 Comments

I’ve got friends in high places.

Up until now, I’ve spent a lot of time swooning over the alpaca, while paying precious little attention to its camelid cousin, the llama. So in my last blog about Peru (boo hoo!) I’m aiming to rectify the matter.

The llama doesn’t get much respect in many places in Peru– it’s the shaggy, blue-collar cousin of everybody’s favorite cuddle-bug, the alpaca, and the irresistible, Audrey Hepburn-channeling vicuna.

How can you compete with the ever-elegant vicuna?

But in reality, the llama is a working class hero – capable of carrying 35 kilograms of potatoes on its back, trudging long distances without breaking a sweat or requiring too much water, reproducing without drama, and providing tons of meat when it’s required to make the ultimate sacrifice.

To see the best llamas the world has to offer, we traveled to one of the worst cities I’ve ever seen: Pasco, Peru. Heifer’s charismatic country director, Alfredo Garcia, insisted I go to Cerro de Pasco (at 14,200 feet, one of the highest cities in the world) because he wanted me to see firsthand the destruction that mining has wrought …and boy, did I. The irony is that the countryside around Pasco is staggeringly beautiful, reminding me of nothing so much as Paradise Valley, Montana. 

Glorious Iscaycocha, which is Quechua for “land of two lakes.”

Yet when you enter Pasco City, you understand the meaning of “Something evil this way comes.” The mine isn’t near the city, it has consumed the heart of the city in a huge, gaping hole oozing rusty rainbows of effluents pooling into foul, oil-slicked ponds, billows of suspicious fumes, and enormous, variegated hills of toxic mine tailings. It’s a monstrous cavity in the maw of the drab, gray, cold city.

Cerro is the mining company plumbing for riches here in copper, zinc, gold and silver, and it employs most of Pasco City’s residents. It’s hard to imagine anyone choosing to live here or, god forbid, raise children in this toxic waste dump, but my Heifer translator Rosaluz Salazar assured me that having a job in the mines is a coveted position in Peru, something that kids from the countryside aspire to.

From here to the unimaginable mines?

Which makes the work Heifer is doing, supporting the tradition of raising llamas in 800 families in 13 agricultural communities around Pasco so critically important. We visited Iscaycocha, a community of 60 people who are part of this Heifer/FODESA project to celebrate a community greenhouse, witness a Passing on the Gift ceremony, and adore some spectacular llamas.

Don’t hate me because I’m beautiful … hate me for all my many, many awards.

The day was chilly and looked like rain, but when we walked into the 1-year old greenhouse it was toasty warm as Luis Basilio Ramirez and his wife Yaqueline Mesa greeted us. The greenhouse was built by members of the community, with Heifer providing materials and FODESA (a local NGO that’s been working here for 17 years) giving technical advice. It was placed at the Ramirez house because its proximity to the road means all the families can easily come for the robust harvests, and because Yaqueline, crippled in a car accident three years ago, was seriously depressed and needed something to grow. That’s just the kind of close-knit, caring communities that Heifer tends to create (“The projects teach us brotherhood,” one participant said simply.) 

Yaqueline Mesa Ramirez in the community greenhouse.

Now Yaqueline waters, plants, and oversees the organic garden that provides lettuce, tomatoes, beets, cauliflower, carrots, coriander, cilantro, cabbage, radishes and fava beans to family & neighbors who literally have never had vegetables in their diets before. (At 14,000 feet, there is no growing season without a greenhouse.) And those vegetables taste particularly beautiful with the llama meat that Heifer has helped these breeders to produce, promote, market and sell.

Fresh, nutritious fava beans .. yummmm!

For years, llama meat (like llamas themselves) was considered dirty, and vastly inferior to alpaca. But these prime breeders of Pasco are producing such high-protein, low cholesterol, super-clean meat with their award-winning llamas, they have quadrupled its price– and their business plan (written with a Heifer advisor) is to market their llama meat regionally and nationally, with specialties like llama burgers, llama sausage and llama hot dogs winning over dubious hearts & stomachs.

Do the best breeders come to resemble their llamas?

As we watched a third generation of really spectacular Heifer llamas being passed on from one Iscaycocha family to another, the sun came out, candy was thrown to celebrate, and the mining and environmental degradation of nearby Pasco City felt a million miles away. Where God willing, it will stay.

A gift for giving…

Goodbye for now, beautiful Peru!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Hunger, Peru, Photography, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 27 Comments

Bienvenidos a Peru!

Heading across Lake Titicaca

First, a bit of a disclaimer: this is your unapologetically turistica introduction to the beautiful land of Peru!

Right now I don’t quite have the perspective or internet bandwidth to post about all the deeply moving stories I’ve experienced so far in this amazing country. So I’m just going to give you the view from 15,000 feet .. which is approximately how high I am today in Pasco City, the highest city in Peru. (And yes, that is the sound of my heart pounding, trying to pump oxygen to my brain.)

Peru is severely beautiful .. with miles of ocean shoreline and the Andes (sierra) and the jungle (selva). It’s bordered by Ecuador, Colombia, Brazil, Bolivia, and Chile and is packed with silver, gold, copper and zinc – making it well-nigh irresistible to mining interests that never saw a mountain they didn’t want to level.

Although the country’s economy has improved dramatically over the past decade, the indigenous people in the Highlands (where Heifer does most of its work) are still overwhelmingly poor, ferociously independent, and definitely know how to rock a hat.  

In the center of Marcopata, we saw a statue that pretty much captures the Highland spirit. The bull represents the Spaniards who colonized Peru. The condor tied to its back is the indigenous people, who claw and fight to be released from bondage – literally drawing blood.

These proud descendants of the Inca Empire are going to need every shred of that irrepressible spirit today to resist the triple threat of mining companies, urbanization, and climate change. Almost one-third of the country’s 30 million inhabitants now lives in Lima, yet you know it must kill something inside these proud people to leave their mountains and ancient traditions to descend to the arid pull of the city.

Heifer’s projects are mostly in the high central plateau, where it is developing programs that support the Highlanders’ traditional pursuits of raising alpaca and llama, growing potatoes, and making handicrafts – working with communities to make these pursuits economically viable, entrepreneurial, and sustainable.

Which means that more children can grow up with a future in the countryside they love, and preserve the land and traditions that are under siege. 

I can’t wait to share those stories… just as soon as I can breathe properly again. It’s gonna be epic!

Categories: Agriculture, Animals, Heifer International, Hunger, Peru, Photography, Poverty, Travel | Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 20 Comments

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