Lowri Morgan Blog

17th July 2017

In Peru, roads criss-cross the cordillera, snaking their way over high passes of over 5,000 meters.  The vast altiplano, desolate wind-swept plain, has an average altitude of 3,750 meters. 

And here I was, an extreme endurance athlete, huffing and puffing at a mere 2,000 meters at our first location in Cuzco. It hardly boded well for the rest of our Andean tour that I was already feeling the adverse effects of altitude! 

 

We arrived at the “navel” of the Inca empire and it is undoubtedly one the most picturesque part of Peru. There were so many details to appreciate in Cusco, so many alleyways to wander down, so many archways to peek through.

 

We left the Inca capital early one morning and headed for our tour of the Sacred Valley. 

 

The strength and power of the Inca empire lay in the fact that they were great agriculture experts. The moray ruins are a testimony to that expertise. It is said that the site with its unusual circular terraces was an Inca agricultural laboratory. Because of winds and sun, there’s a difference of a couple of degrees between each terraced level and the Inca probably used these to experiment with crops, domestication of wild vegetables and hybridization of new crops. I was certainly  impressed as it is unexpected and beautiful and left a vivid impression on me.

 

Visiting Pueblo de Chinecheros was another highlight of mine. High in the Andes of Peru, life is changing one thread at a time for the Quechuan women of Chinchero, a small village outside Cusco. Women weavers are empowering themselves by learning the traditional skills to make themselves self-sufficient and changing the tapestry of family economics. These ladies confirmed to me how when women and girls earn income, 90% is reinvested into the family. Women use income to feed and educate their children, as well as purchase clothes and other necessities. Investing in women is a way to benefit the entire community and it was a privilege to see these women taking their future into their own hands. Female empowerment high up in the Andes!

 

I have been lucky to have travelled the world but visiting La Rinconada filled me with excitement and nerves! The Rinconada Goldmine lies in the city of La Rinconada, Peru. At 16,732 ft above sea level, it claims the title of the highest city in the world. 

 

The economy of La Rinconada revolves around the mine, as gold is the main (pretty much only) resource the city has. In fact, the mine is the only reason anyone is even there—and they all seemed to come at the same time. 

 

Three miles of climbing, treacherous roads that can only be navigated by truck, what was meant to serve as a temporary mining settlement has burst into a ramshackle city in record time. Between 2001 and 2009, the population of the highest city on earth snowballed by over 230%.

 

This “major city” has no plumbing or sanitation. The ground is contaminated with mercury, and with no rubbish service, the more responsible residents either bury it outside of town or burn it in the streets, while those less ambitious just leave it wherever it drops. I cannot describe to you the stench and the sea of rubbish that flows onto the roads in the centre and surrounding the town

 

The once pristine environment has been destroyed in a way only humans know how, but the gold keeps coming and as long as it does, the highest city in the world will remain. Seeing this town was a real eye-opener, an experience I shall Never forget because in the middle of the mayhem, La Rinconada also showed me that, despite it being extremely poor, and its residents hardened, there was a feeling of optimism. An emotion similar I'd

Presume to the one during the gold rush of the Wild West. Here optimistic Peruvians keep rolling into town thinking that their luck is about to strike any day making them richer beyond their dreams. 

 

As we descended from the town in the minibus, bumping down the mountain, the poisoned mine gave way slowly to hills with actual grass on them. Then there were small farms, cattle, trees. Sunshine with some warmth to it. People not bundled against the cold. The world was flooding with color. And oxygen. I found it a bit overwhelming! 

 

This warm feeling continued as I was invited to join a village for a very beautiful and unique ceremony. 

 

The ceremony, known as a “Chaccu,” is when the villagers gently round up the vicunas into a group where their (extremely expensive) wool can be collected, after which they are set free.  

 

The Vicunas are Peru’s national animal (a smaller relative of the llama), which is prized for its wool. 

 

Severely endangered only a few decades ago, the vicuna have bounced back through conservation efforts. I was so glad to learn of this because they are such beautiful and graceful animals with wonderful fine wool. 

 

To finish our adventure we watched the sunrise over Lake Titicaca. Something about the way the still blue water sits between gigantic mountains is truly moving. I was humbled - not only by the amazing landscape and scenery but also by the people I had met along the way. The resilience, determination and perseverance of the Andean people to survive in such extreme conditions over the centuries is something I will never forget.  

 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/p056y7jt/mynyddoedd-y-byd-yr-andes-lowri-morgan 

 

Mountains and Life

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With English and Welsh Subtitles

Catch up on S4C Clic or BBC iPlayer 

 

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