Thursday, August 11, 1988

Machu Picchu: Hiking the Inca Trail (photos)


We hiked the fabled Inca Trail to Machu Picchu with a forest fire hot on our heels. Every August, the campesinos set fire to their fields to enrich the soil, to send smoke to the clouds to make rain; every August the selva burns. Wildfires. 

Macchu-Picchu with smoke from massive fires
Peru has a policy of not putting out fires, not because they believe in a natural burn system, but because they don't have high altitude fire fighting planes, or chemicals to combat the forest fires. It's an attitude, a way of life.

Peru is famous for its corrupt government officials. Those in charge of the national monument either don't care, or can't enforce the no-burn policy in the park. Officials also say there's no money to fight forest fires. Canadian and French officials happened to be in Peru at the time of the fire and they put pressure on the Peruvians to do something about it. This, after 17 days of letting the fire burn up one watershed and down another. 

Huailabamba shrouded in smoke

When cloud forest habitats are destroyed, they don't regenerate. The Peruvian  cloud forests are rapidly disappearing due to increased colonization which follows after the selva burns. The rare and exotic plants will eventually be replaced by ichu grass for livestock. Meanwhile, the erosion will be tremendous.

The Andes are unbelievably steep. When the first rains come in September and October, torrents of muddy water will turn the Urubamba river into a conveyor belt of lost soil. Though many of the ancient Incan terraces are still used, sustenance farming at altitudes of 8,000 to 12,000 feet isn't easy. Also the rare plant and animal species are threatened by burning practices. 

The surviving rare spectacled bears, pumas—already threatened species lose their habitat. It's been dubbed an ecological disaster by the Peruvian Civil Defense Committee whose job is to protect the Sanctuary.

The thing is, this catastrophe happens year after year. This year's fire destroyed over 7,000 acres in 17 days and when we left Peru it was still burning. Soon, there will be no more cloud forest left. Each ridge, each valley supports different species—different and unique ecosystems. Every fire destroys and endangers species already on the brink of extinction.

Unless national and international pressure is put on the Department of Civil Defense, the burning will continue, even though it's illegal to burn within the Sanctuary. They have laws to protect the Sanctuary. They just don't see  the need to enforce them.

Of course, politically speaking, Peru is one hell of a hot spot these days. The leftist-Maoist Sendero Luminoso, the conservative APRA and other extremist political factions are splitting the country apart. Inflation is rampant—1500% in two months. There are food shortages. Black market powdered milk smuggled in from Ecuador was selling well. Food prices have doubled in six weeks. Those in power continue to gain wealth through these misfortunes. It's a matter of time before civil war and a distinct possibility of a military takeover.

The other sad news is the fabled Inca Trail is utterly trashed. The trail, a major tourist attraction is used primarily by Europeans. Since the 1986 bombing of the tourist train of Machu Picchu, few North Americans are traveling in Peru. The Inca Trail is the filthiest trail I've ever hiked. Toilet paper, plastic cans, Bluet gas canisters. All us first world folks are responsible for this mess. The latrine of Peru.

In a village nearby, there is a festival. The endangered condor, the symbol of the indios rides the bull of Spain to victory—will the Peruvians ever be free of the yoke of imperialism?
Mo & Paco, the Alpaca at Machu Picchu © John Oliver Simon 1988

Me & Paco, the itchy alpaca, el major poeta de la ciodad perdida. What you can't see  in the photo is that he's wagging his lips in ecstasy, I found the resident lawnmower's sweet spot.


Note Bene: I transcribed these journal entries in 1988 - 1990, hence the variable dates. (I'm moving them all to 1988, journal entry date, not transcription/revision date). We were in South America during the summer of 1988. I was trying to publish these stories, or at least find a home for them. I've a vague recollection of the Machu Picchu piece being published in The Paper. 

I was readying several of these Peru pieces pieces for an anthology, House on Via Gombito: Writing by North American Women Abroad. I also wrote Bill Truesdale, the editor for New RIvers Press, St. Paul, MN, a rather zany letter about my travels across the USSR. He took the letter, and not the stories. 

After an incredible journey through South America, John Oliver Simon broke up with me, left me for a young blonde former student of his, and it took me nearly a decade to recover from the horror of it all. Going to the USSR in 1989 was my salvation—and still John was trying to reel me back in. Or maybe he was doing the AA thing, in his case, the SA 12-step thing, atoning for his wrongdoings. By that point, I wouldn't even give him the time of day. Ironically, we managed to heal the gap nearly 35 years later. So it's fitting that these pieces finally get to see daylight, after languishing in darkness for so long.   —Maureen Hurley 2/26/2014

I've very few photos transcribed over to the electronic medium, another project. Here are three small albums.

Machu Picchu

2/2017 I finally scanned the rest of my South America photos, I still need to process, and upload them to Google Photos. If all goes well, the links above will work, but Google killed off Picasa, and left orphans all over the place. A nightmare for me, as I lost all my album prose, identifying people and places. To add insult to injury the photo albums also lost their creation dates, they were moved to the last edit date of the photo.

1 comment:

Equipo Imperios said...

Salkantay Trek is the alternative to the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu was recently named among the 25 best Treks in the World, by National Geographic Adventure Travel Magazine.