Traces of tourism at the Peru glacier are more than footprints

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It’s not a landfill, but Peru’s Huascarán National Park. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

Pastoruri Glacier in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has gone through many different cycles. In the 1980s and well into the 1990s, in was a prime spot for tourism. Easily accessible in spite of its altitude above 5,000 meters, groups of skiers, backpackers, and high school spring breakers flocked to the icefields. In 2001, the glacier at Pastoruri gained nationwide attention when the peasant community, claiming ownership of the surrounding territories, seized control over the national park entrance. And this year, as it has been explained elsewhere on GlacierHub, whatever’s left of the dwindling glacier became central to the Huascarán National Park’s Route of Climate Change initiative. Anyone traveling here can see the newest cycle, one not dominated by people but of their trash.

We leave early from the community headquarters. Our vehicle is the community truck, which on other occasions may be used as transportation for people, animals, heavy gear, tools, and construction materials. But on this day its wooden truck body is destined to carry the leftovers from tourists: plastic bottles, napkins, candy-bar wrappings, banana peels, and all sorts of unimaginable stuff that was only of temporary use to the visitors.

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Collection of garbage near the Pastoruri glacier and roads occurs about once a week. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

The presence of garbage, the plastic bags used by people to slide down the glacier, and the general wear and tear of the ice by the visitors combined with the global warming trends to produce heavy retreat of the Pastoruri glacier. It is no longer permitted to step onto the glacier as it once was. Even though tourism has been mostly reduced since its heydays some thirty years ago, tourists still bring items of plastic and other non-recyclable materials to the altitudes. Part of the compromise that followed the legal settlement between the Catac peasant community and the Huascarán National Park is the maintenance of the touristic services at Pastoruri. Central to this is the collection of garbage at the site and along the road. Ideally, this happens once every week.

After a short stop at the community petrol station we follow the paved road for a few miles before reaching the junction, where the dirt road will gradually ascend towards Pastoruri. The old truck struggles a bit, but moves steady as we climb. We pick up another man who will help us on the way. He makes his living here in the altitudes herding animals, making cheese, and combining these activities with salaried labor in the main town.

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Peru’s Cordillera Blanca has been a popular tourist spot since the 1980s. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

After a two hour drive we reach the desolate parking lot at Pastoruri. We have come before the tourists will arrive. Outside the main tourism days round Easter and on Peru’s July 28 national holiday, only two or three minibuses with tourists will come here each day. After a brief talk with the locals staying here who make a living by providing services and food for the visitors, we begin our task. One by one, the old oil barrels now serving as garbage bins are emptied onto the truck. Some of the barrels seem to have been here for as long as tourists have come, leaking questionable juices from the rusty bottoms.

We then descend, making stops by tourist sites along the way: the ancient cave paintings, Pumapashimin lake, Pumapampa mountain, and the park entrance at Carpa. On our way we pick up a few people, filling up the last spots in our vehicle. One last passenger jumps into the truck body, but this is preferable to the long walk to the town.

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Peasant communities and the government of Peru have been in a legal dispute over who owns the area. (photo: Mattias Borg Rasmussen)

Back in Catac we have ascend once more, as the winding dirt road leads us past the old headquarters of the large estate whose owners, before the agrarian reforms, used to claim ownership over land and people. The truck drives past cultivated fields of cereals and potatoes before we reach our final destination. And thus, with a view to some of the most iconic peaks in the Andes ends the journey of touristic trash, tying the vanishing glaciers to flows of goods and people.

This guest post was written by Danish anthropologist Mattias Borg Rasmussen.  If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

Photo Friday: Highland communities in Ancash, Peru

Anthropologist Kate Dunbar wrote her dissertation on highland communities in Peru’s Ancash region. The glaciers in this area are important sources of drinking and irrigation water for these villages as well as myriad downstream users.

Photo Friday highlights photo essays and collections from areas with glaciers. If you have photos you’d like to share, let us know in the comments, by Twitter @glacierhub or email us at glacierhub@gmail.com.

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If a glacier melts on a mountain, does anyone hear it?

In June 2014 the two of us—an anthropologist and an experimental musician, both from Peru– visited Quelccaya, a large glacier high in the Andes. We wanted to record the sounds of its ice as it melted. This trip formed part of our ongoing collaborative project. We are interested establishing new approaches to questions of climate change. The field recordings that we have included in this post present a sonic narration of our encounter with this glacier. They were made with a variety of low- and hi-fi digital and analog recording devices.

Our recordings begin by presenting the soundscape of the back of an open-top cargo truck moving through the Andean landscape. These sounds were recorded during our trip, many hours long, on dusty dirt roads to the community of Phinaya about 80 miles from the city of Cusco.

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Once in Phinaya, we continued to the southwest section of the glacier, where a large, unnamed lake has recently formed. In 2004, this lake burst its banks, creating a flood that affected several families of indigenous herders, along with their animals. We recorded the sounds of a small and the largest tributary streams that flows into this lake. They both offer overlapping sonic forms as they wind their way through gaps between rocks and frozen soil, reverberating with the glacier and rock walls.

We continued on to a small upper stream, where drops of water fell from an icicle and splashed onto a rock. And then we paused to make a sonic image recording right next to one of the biggest faces of the glacier, seeking to capture the way that it absorbs the sounds of a small stream running next to it.


Up on the glacier, we explored a number of ice caves. We experimented with an omnidirectional microphone inside an ice cave five meters wide. We were struck with the dull sound of the water dripping from the top of the cave onto the floor and running both inside and outside the ice cave. We placed a low-fi Dictaphone inside a small ice cave, only 50 cm wide, which created a distortion effect. We used an omnidirectional microphone to a stream running inside the glacier.

As we continued, we found more sounds to record and more ways to experiment with our equipment. We placed an analogue hydrophone under the surface of a small stream, and captured the sounds of tiny rocks that this moving water displaced. And we were able as well to capture the interaction between massive ice blocks with minute ice crystals that fell from the surface of the glacier.

We plan to return to this astonishing soundscape that emerges as climate change drives glacier retreat. Next time, however, we want to bring more equipment and involve people from Phinaya interested in making their own recordings of the glacier. We also look forward to developing ties with other people who are exploring such soundscapes around the world, in the hope that the voice of the glaciers will stimulate an alternative sensorial approach to climate change; namely, one which is not dominated by visuality.

This guest post was written by Gustavo Valdivia and Tomás Tello. If you’d like to write a guest post for GlacierHub, contact us at glacierhub@gmail.com or @glacierhub on Twitter. 

See it while you can: A Peruvian national park capitalizes on glacier melt

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Tourists are flocking to Peru’s Pastoruri to see it before it melts. (Taco Witte/Flickr)

Ecotourists want to experience the power, beauty, and wonder of nature. But do they also want to be exposed to its fragility?

Not long ago Peru’s Pastoruri glacier attracted around 100,000 visitors per year, but the number of tourists has dwindled as the glacier has shrunk. As it shrank, it divided into two smaller glaciers in 2007 and into three in 2012. So what are the businesses and local guides who depend on the tourism economy to do?

Huascaran National Park is opening a “Climate Change Route” to showcase firsthand the impacts of climate change on these centuries-old glaciers, in what could be seen as part climate change adaptation and part savvy public relations maneuver.  The project began in 2010, will be 35 km long, will have an interpretive center, feature mineral springs with drinking water and unusual native plants including the world’s largest bromeliad (a relative of pineapple) which grows over 12 feet tall. The plan is supported by the Ministry of Foreign Trade and Commerce, total of over $1.5M.

In part because of Peru’s diversity of species and its vulnerability to climate change, the country was chosen to host the 20th UN Framework Convention on Climate Change in December. The goal of the conference is to advance towards developing a replacement for the Kyoto Protocol, which is set to expire in 2020. A stronger version of the international agreement will help Peru’s glacier tourism, if it’s not too late, that is.

Local businesses and guides near Peru’s Pastoruri glacier are hoping that tourists will pay to visit the vanishing glacier, just as some ecotourists trek to see vanishing animal species. A three-day route through several villages in the Andes is open for the first time during the tourist season. When the season ends in September, there will likely be an assessment of the success of the first year.

Though it’s too early to tell if strategies like this one work, glacier communities who look to tourists to support the local economy, such as those in Switzerland, New Zealand, and Nepal, will have to weigh their options. They could shift away from glacier-based tourism towards other activities or convince tourists to spend their vacations witnessing the impacts of global climate change firsthand.

 

 

As the ice melts, communities ask: Should I stay or should I go now?

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A local walks in one of the dozens of villages from Chavin to Chacas in Peru’s Cordillera Blanca region. (martynas/Flickr)

As the global temperature increases, vulnerable communities seem to be faced with a choice: adapt or collapse. Migration is frequently proposed as an adaptation strategy, or in some cases, as an unavoidable outcome for communities lacking the capacity to change. Some researchers, however, have criticized this perspective, saying that it reflects an environmental determinism that discounts the role of governments and other institutions in creating or exacerbating underlying vulnerabilities.

A new study from David J. Wrathall of the United Nations University’s Institute for Environment and Human Security investigates migration as an adaptation response not only to climatic stress, but to political structures as well.

Historically, smallholder farmers in the Cordillera Blanca in highland Peru largely relied on ad-hoc, informal access to water from springs and streams for agriculture and grazing. In the 1960s, a series of reforms promoted more formal management of water resources; along with an agrarian reform, it fostered the growth of smallholder agriculture. Peru’s transition in the 1990s to export-led growth increased urbanization along the country’s coastal region, drawing large-scale emigration from rural highlands.

Competing water needs of the newly urbanized coast, hydroelectric stations and coastal export-oriented agriculturalists, led Peru to introduce a new water management law in 2009. The law is “premised on the concept of integrated water management,” but the authors state that water laws are opportunities for powerful actors to increase the rigidity of water provisioning and control resources even further. Given several recent high-profile disputes, this increasing rigidity in water redistribution appears to be playing out. In the case of the Cordillera Blanca, towns, hydroelectric plants and coastal agriculture have captured water resources that used to be managed informally by smallholders, exacerbating the impacts of glacier retreat on water scarcity.

The study’s authors found that while the new wave of migration is driven by climate change-related stresses, “dominant institutional forces” shape and direct this form of climate change response. They conclude that migration is a strategy of last resort among a menu of limited alternatives, and acts as a necessary pressure valve to relieve the water stress that arises from competition to a limited (and dwindling) resource among powerful and less powerful actors. Migration in this institutional context is a conflict resolution mechanism as much as an adaptation to climate change, and is an adaptation alternative that is promoted by, and reinforces, existing power structures.

Expanding the discourse beyond ecological determinism to an ecological and social “possibilism” is the way forward, according to the paper’s authors. This, broadening, they hope, will allow for alternative adaptation responses and not force “the undesirable scenarios in which migration occurs.”