Long ago, almost lost to the mists of memory, I went on magical journey to a far away land… Ok, so it was only in December, but it feels like it was eons ago, and it really was pretty magical. I climbed onto a bus one night in Lima and found myself the next morning in another world. One where it was raining; and cold. As I stepped sleepily off the bus and eased the cricks out of my spine, both these things made me smile: I was in the sierra, the central valley of the Andes. My Peru.
A friend and I had made the trip up to Huaraz to see in the New Year from lofty heights and to spend a few days trekking through one of the most spectacular parts of the generally rather spectacular Peruvian Andes: Huascaran National Park. The park, named after Peru’s highest peak which lies within it’s bounds, covers 340 000 ha of the steep and beautiful Cordillera Blanca (White Range) of the central Andes, in Ancash province. First protected in 1977, the park was given World Heritage status in 1985 in recognition of its high ecological and cultural values. Like most everywhere in Peru, Huascaran National Park has been occupied and altered by humans for thousands of years, with the landscape shaped by the interactions of people with their environment. Cultures that have called the region home include the Chavín, Recuay and Wari peoples before the region was conquered by the Inca Empire in the 1460s, and then the Spaniards from the 1530s.
I have been up in the sierra on field work. It was an interesting and somewhat dramatic trip, for various reasons, and has left me with a lot to think about.
We came back yesterday: 8 hours on the bus between Huancayo and Lima. It was the first time I’ve made the trip up through the western side of the Andes in daylight. I’ve always been on the overnight buses previously. This time I was wide awake as we passed through the extensive mining concessions up in the high mountains.
Mining is dragging Peru out of poverty at the same time as it is destroying the natural wealth of the country. Mountainsides are pulverised and catchments are contaminated as the industry chews up the landscape with shocking speed. Legal and illegal mines alike take huge bites from the earth in the rush to consume its riches.
It might sound crazy, but sometimes I forget I’m living in Peru. The part of Lima that fills my day-to-day world isn’t so different from any other city. “Home” is in the expat precinct, a clean, safe world of apartment buildings, multi-national businesses, chain-store shops and fancy restaurants, as modern and soulless as any other young tourist city. It’s the Surfers Paradise of Peru, equally vapid and self-obsessed as Australia’s beachside tourist centre.
I live in an apartment that would only stand out back home for the cheapness of the rent given the enormous size of the place. Each week-day I walk a couple of blocks to the express-way and take the city express bus to the financial hub a few suburbs north, then walk through the commercial zone and leafy-green residential strip to the Government Campus where I work. I sit in my partitioned space in our open-plan office and do a job that’s not all that different from the work I’ve done back home, bantering with my lovely, educated and passionate colleagues. At night I bus home again, cook dinner in my modern kitchen, mess about on the internet and go to bed. It’s a life so ordinary it could be happening anywhere, if it weren’t for the Spanish and the noise of the place. Read More
I just brought home shopping in plastic bags. I feel… ethically compromised.
I haven’t used a plastic bag in years. I even made sure I brought enough fabric bags with me to Peru so I wouldn’t need to use plastic here. It’s a well-ingrained habit now and I’ll most always have a bag on me somewhere. So what went wrong today? Nothing: I deliberately left my fabric bags at home when I went to do the grocery shopping. I chose to use plastic.
Y’see, we need the bags for the house, for putting our garbage in. There are no wheelie bins in Lima, instead you set your rubbish out each night, tied up in shopping bags, and in the small hours of the morning it gets collected.† There’s also no domestic recycling, and I can’t compost in my apartment, and when even the toilet paper has to go in the bin that adds up to a whole lot of plastic bags that just end up in landfill, or even worse just disintegrating in a gutter or a creek somewhere before washing out to sea.
A couple of weeks ago I went for a surf with a friend at our local beach here in Miraflores, Lima (ok, he surfed, I bodyboarded) and saw just how bad the plastic pollution problem is. As well as the big bits of rubbish that were sloshing around in the surf, there was a thick band of plastic soup sea just beyond the breakers. There, the top half- metre or so of the ocean was thick with pieces of plastic in various states of disintegration. At one stage a tiny dot of plastic trash got stuck to my eyeball, causing a disconcerting “dead pixel” effect on my field of vision.
Gross stuff, right? Read More
It’s been three months now since I packed up my life and came here to Peru. The time has flown by in a flurry of activity that’s left me little time to think. Life in the big city is challenging and I miss the strong connection to nature I was lucky to have in Hobart. Here I live in an urban world, in a high-rise apartment without even a balcony. My windows look out onto the buildings across the street, over a concrete canyon awash with the noise of Lima traffic. I miss the view from my windows over my long, narrow garden, across the river to the mountains beyond. The garden…
It’s someone else’s garden now. I may have lost it, but what I do keep, little seeds saved for future sowing, are the lessons that garden taught me: Read More
Happy New Year, my lovely readers. I’m sorry it’s been so quiet around here, but living and working in another country, culture and language is pretty tiring stuff. Once again the half-written posts are piling up as I run out of steam to finish them off and post them up. 2014 is shaping up to be an exceedingly busy year between my project here in Peru and the adventures I have planned. As always there’s more I’d like to do that I possibly can and finding that elusive balance is a major challenge. It’s a lot harder to head out into nature to recharge here in Lima! Still, I managed to get away for a few days over the New Year break and went climbing mountains in Huascaran National Park, right in the heart of the Peruvian Andes.
Climbing up to 4,800 mASL under my own steam, pack and all, was a physical reminder about pacing myself in order to achieve big things. That’s not a bad message to start the year off with, is it?
Here’s to making 2014 a remarkable year for us all, and taking action to build the sort of world we want to live in.
Dare to do great things
My friend Van, who writes the lovely Speed River Journal, invited me to participate in a positivity experiment: to post 10 good things that have happened to me in 2013. It’s been a big year for me, and it’s not over yet, but the Solstice is a good time to reflect on the challenges and rewards the year has brought.
1. The garden was a rich source of pleasure this year. It provided grounding when I needed calmness and sense of connection. It taught me patience, resilience and the rewards of hard work. I learnt more about how to grow food and nourish the soil, and through that myself. There were the escapades of chicken-sitting in January, when some borrowed hens did great things for my compacted, nutrient poor “lawns” and decimated my beetroot crop (I forgave them: the eggs were delicious). There was the excitement of growing and harvesting completely new crops, like oka and Jerusalem artichokes, and just the simple pleasure of lying on the meadow in the sun, listening to the drowsy buzzing of the bees.
2. Hiking was another activity that brought many great moments with it. There’s nothing like standing on top of mountain you’ve climbed yourself to make you feel glad to be alive. For the first few months of 2013 I spent a day most every weekend in the wilderness and loved it, even when my muscles shook with fatigue and the sweat stung my eyes. Taking myself out into those wild places remains one of the best things I can do for myself, to care for my physical, mental and spiritual health and look forward to future journeys to wild places.
3. On the topic of climbing to giddy heights, in 2013 I fell stupidly, dizzyingly, completely in love. In my mid 30’s for the first time in my life I was head-over-heels for someone, and that someone felt the same about me. It didn’t work out in the end, but I still got to feel it, and now I understand how and why people do such incredible things in love’s name. ❤ Read More
When you’re living in a desert city of 10 million people in the developing world resources are stretched tightly. There’s not much room for nature in Lima, beyond the inevitable urban pigeons and a few hardy native birds that take advantage of the artificial oases of urban parks and gardens. There’s no space for wild places within the vast city limits, with one remarkable exception: Los Pantanos de Villa. Read More