Conceptual Island Comparison: PDP and Smith Island

While an Island is typically defined as land surrounded by water, I declare that it is much more than that. An island is an isolated area with distinct cultural aspects. Parque de la Papa is an island of the mainland, with a special distinction based around its main food source: the potato.


Parque de la Papa depends 3,600 varieties of potatoes for nourishment, and it has also become a very important part of the culture here. The starchy vegetable supplies the caloric needs of individuals working hard in the fields here, as agriculture is the main source of jobs in the highlands. The cultral signifigance can be seen with just one example of a potato, with a name that translates to “That which makes the daughter-in-law-cry”. This knobbed potato determines whether or not a woman is ready to be wed, depending on whether or not she successfully peels it with little damage to its flesh. There is very little outside influence on this culture, as they are tucked away 10,000 feet above sea level. However, there are environmental factors affecting the success of this culture. As temperatures and conditions are changing, the land area suitable for crops diminishes. This results in the younger generation to move to other areas, such as the city of Cusco, to make a better living. A smilar issue can be seen with Smith Island, located in the Chesapeake Bay.


Smith Island fits the stereotypical definition of an island, but also falls under the isolated cultural aspect. This small landmass is centered around the watermen culture, with crabbing as its main source of income. This is a family tradition, as the profession is taught to family members at a young age. However, environmental change is making it more difficult to successfully make an income in this fashion. Crab populations are declining, which makes it less profitable to become a waterman. Even though fewer crabs results in higher prices, the price of equipment has gone up as well, and ends no longer meet. Children have left the island to find better opportunities to support themselves on the mainland. This small island will eventually become a memory, as the average age of individuals living here is steadily rising.

Both of these locations are distinct in many cultural and geographic ways. However, they face the same issues, as they are both isolated environments. Hopefully one day there will be an effective way to preserve the cultures here, and the success story can fuel the future success of other island-like communities.


The Modern and Traditional World of Cusco


As we walked around Cusco, I knew this was a city I would love to come back and visit. There is an excellent contrast of the modern world with the traditional aspects of Andean society. Walking around the town it was clear that this was a tourist destination. Many shops with touristy souvenirs, but amongst this were women from the highlands selling handmade goods. They presented alpaca textiles to us, attempting to sell them to everyone who passed. However, this is also an important cultural hub. We experienced this on a tour with Juan Jose, who showed us around some beautiful places.


We visited Saqsaywaman, a marvelous historical site that could be compared to Machu Picchu. It is comprised of multiple types of stone, such as basalt, granite, and limestone; all of which were brought to the location from a quarry. These stones are carved to fit perfectly together, and it is a wonder they fit together so cleanly. The translation of the site can be broken into different forms, one of which is ‘Satisfied Falcon’, extending back to the traditional culture found here. Another traditional site we visited was a grand Cathedral in the center of town.


When we stepped inside the church, I was shocked. The decor on the walls were incredibly elaborate, white and blue paint joined by peach trim. It appears to be marble, but it is truly skifully painted plaster. The front of the church was heavily adorned in gold plating, which was an incredible site to see. I have never stepped foot into a more beautiful church. We proceeded into the cathedral, admiring the tapestries and sculptures. I observed a combination of modern and traditional aspect here. The cathedral was buzzing with tourists, googling and drooling over the beauty of the building. Yet simultaneously, there were women kneeling at the altar, deep in prayer. It was beautiful to see this masterpiece still in use for its intended purpose.


It is fascinating to me to observe this interaction throughout our stay at Cusco. I was excited to see some of the traditional culture preserved and passed down through generations, and thrilled that I was able to experience it. While the modern world may not truly belong with traditional lifestyles, it’s truly fascinating to experience this first hand, and I am glad these two important aspects of our visit intersect.

Sounds of Punta San Juan

The morning began with waves breaking on the shore, a very familiar and calming sound. But this was soon broken by the cries of a fur seal. They bellowed to one another as they frolicked along the beaches, calling to one another as they sunned themselves in the early light. At first it was a bit frightening – the sound they emit is incredibly similar to a screaming child. These are quite vocal animals too; their chatter began in the early morning and lasted well into the night.


We moved further out onto the point, high winds picked up, filliing our ears with guano dust and drowning out the sounds of wildlife. Another prominent sound eminated from the guano birds. Thousands of them flew overhead, cackling amongst themselves. The sound was extraordinary – I swear it would have been possible to hear the beating of their wings if the wind died down. Heavy footsteps followed us as we shifted to a new location, looking for new wildlife. We discovered an incredibly noisy colony of sea lions. These creatures are interesting to watch; they don’t necessarily register when there are other sea lions in their path. These blubbery animals flop over one another to get to the water, barking at times to have a path cleared for them to reach the water sooner. Standing on the clif edge, Suzanna’s voice was carried away by the wind, out to sea along with the conversations of the wildlife here on Punta San Juan.

Punta San Juan: Ecological and Economic Connections

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The guano aroma was strong enough to penetrate our airways, even with the bus windows tightly shut. We stepped out onto the peninsula blanketed in white bird excrement, clinging to our clothing as a chalky residue. The view from the research base was incredible – waves breaking along the coast, washing over sea lions and Humboldt penguins. After settling down and breaking for lunch, the gang prepared for a short excursion, getting a closer look at the incredible wildlife.


As we passed the protected area within the research base, the wind picked up immensely, and I could feel the guano settling into my hair. In the distance was a vast flock of the guano birds, and I could barely believe my eyes. I had never seen so many birds together, and it was an incredible contrast to see the black birds against the white surface of Punta San Juan. Peering over the edge of the clif, we saw fur seals, sea lions, and Humboldt penguins harmoniously coexisting. They bumbled about each other, playing on the rocks and in the surf. I thorougly appreciated the work researchers have done protecting this area, even if there was some economic factors driving the preservation.

Guano is an organic fertilizer harvested here, produced by certain birds residing on the peninsula. The Peruvian Boobie, Peruvian Pelican, and Peruvian Comoranth are three species that significantly contribute to the guano industry, and are all inhabitants here. They are viewed as the most important asset due to the economic value. Guano harvesting is important to Peru, as it is used as a fertilizer for local farmers, and politicians utilize it in order to gain popularity amongst the citizens. This resource is becoming more difficult to harvest due to environmental changes and a diminishing work force.

Environmental changes have contributed to the decline in bird populations, and these are endangered species. In addition to this, when workers come to the reserve in order to harvest the fertilizer, there can be much habitat disturbance. This causes the birds to relocate, and they may never return to the site, even in future years. This causes an issue as it reduces the already small area in which they can nest. Harvesting guano is a labor intensive job, and fewer people find it to be a desireable option for income. There are health hazards associate with this as well, for breathing in the guano for extended periods of time can adverse affects on the lungs. But this relationship between the guano industry and ecology of Punta San Juan is the reason for its success as a wildlife reserve.

Guano can only be harvested as long as there is guano being produced. Therefore, there must be communication between the economist and ecologist in order to ensure the continued success of the wildlife as well as successful job opportunities. Hopefully this communication can be extended to the Chesapeake, and a balance can be found between saving the oyster and saving the watermen culture.

Lima: Development and Sustainability

We departed from the international airport, naïve travelers as we drove through the streets of Lima. The traffic is unbearable in the heart off the city – the only traffic patterns followed are stop signs and traffic lights, and even these are enforced liberally. The streets are packed with vehicles much like Anchoveta in a can. Car horns blaring, break lights flashing, billboards sparkling: these were all aspects of the night drive to Casa Andina.IMG_1973[1]

The next morning we had the opportunity to tour a shopping center in Lima with our friends Alejandra, Chio, and Alejo. The walk there consisted of touring a calmer portion of the city, a residential area. We passed though a park, equipped with trash cans and recycling bins. I noticed very little litter on the streets, which I believe is due in part to the quantity of individuals who work as street sweepers. On every street it was possible to see at least one individual adorned in blue, broom and dust pan in hand. After commenting on this, Chio informed me of how clean Lima is, one of the reasons why she enjoys this city compared to others. However, I question her standard of cleanliness for a city.


While there may not be trash strewn about the streets, there are arguably more dangerous pollutants in this city of 8 million. Poorly processed or raw sewage is funneled into the Pacific Ocean, which wreaks havoc on more than just the aquatic environment. Residents still swim in discharge areas which is a toxic bath for these individuals. This pollution may lead to overnutrification of areas with little flushing action, thus leading to dead zones. In addition, this toxic water makes contact with the shore, contaminating water supplies. This may be a contributing factor to the use of bottled water opposed to tap water. While this is a pressing issue, there does not appear to be much in place to update their human waste disposal program, which has inevitable consequences.


Lima is an expanding city. While it is densely populated centrally, there are branches reaching out to become squatter settlements. Simple wooden shacks pop up and create city-like environments, strewn along main roads. This results in more land and house development, more people, and more pollution.  The carrying capacity is going to cap in the future, as the government focuses on making a profit and not the environment. It is more importatnt to bring money into the country than it is to ensure the country is not unnecessairly polluting waterways. Few sustainable practices are implemented for this particular issue, and a push for the cross-disciplinary approach of development of the city and use of sustainable technologies needs to be made.  Part of the issue is the economic status of Peru and the modes of obtaining income, which we discussed prior to arriving in Peru with Dr. Wade.

Peru has become an upper to middle class income country, with more than half of Peru’s gross domestic product derived from services. We greatly contributed to this throughout our two weeks, as tourism is a large portion of this employment sector.  The country has also decreased its poverty rate immensenly, yet there are still many inequalities between rural areas and cities. For example the overall poverty rate is around 54%, while in Lima it is just 15.7%. This makes it difficult to implement environmental laws, becuase not all areas could abide by it, or afford the technology required to help solve the environmental issue. Using the sewage example again, it would be incredibly difficult to fund the installment of proper sewage treatment plants in Lima, and even more difficult to implement them in rural areas. Yet if it was affordable, this would create new job sector and bring more individuals out of poverty.  This conversation must be brought to the table in order to help elevate Peru’s status as a country, in respect to development and sustainability.

Machu Picchu Soundscape

After a rewarding day of hiking Huayna Picchu and hiking to the Inca Bridge, I nestled myself into a nook to observe the soundscape around me. I am above a river, and running water dominates over any chance of silence. I situate myself beneath a a rock wall, and to my right there are two puddles of water. Water droplets fall from the rock, creating a large splat as it hits the small pool of water. The puddles are in conversation; the puddles would ripple in succession as water drops plummeted to their respective pool. This is the closest sound to me; but a louder sound quickly drowns this out.

As I sit on the trail, a few people pass me. Some add to the soundscape by way of footsteps or shuffling their feet; this gives me insight into whether or not they have hiked other trails or perhaps other mountains. I can distinctly hear Spanish chatter from around the corner before a group of women emerge, talking about their hike from what I could interpret. A few other groups pass, speaking languages I had never experienced before. The natural sounds of the environment are interrupted by the jingle of a Kodak camera coming to life to capture the beautiful landscape.

Soon I am yet again alone with the sounds of nature. Wind whispers through the nook I sought shelter in; it sends brown, crunchy leaves twirling about me. Nearby trees bend slightly in the breeze, branches dancing against the sky. The wind carries the sound of a horn to my ears; I cannot determine whether it resonates from a bus stuck in traffic or a train pulling out of the station. But the sounds always return to the comforting rush of the river, creating a sense of peace in the mountains.


Desert Observation: Soundscape and Landscape

The bus slowed after hours of traveling, pulling onto the imaginary shoulder on an endless stretch of road. Filing out of the bus, we dispersed in order to capture the unique sounds of the landscape. I slipped off my sandals, digging my toes into the sand while closing my eyes. Wind whipped through the valley, strong enough at times to hear grains of sand scratching nearby stones. I occasionally mistook vehicular traffic as an airplane; the stillness of the desert allowed sounds to travel much further distances than I am accustomed to. As I considered the lack of life in the area, a fly buzzed by for a fleeting moment. This demonstrated that the environment creates a challenge for organisms that wish to live here; even the fly just passes through. As the variability in sounds diminished, I allowed myself to open my eyes and absorb the scenery.


And we sat. We baked in the sun, burning as the sands and rocks do for eternity. We are forgotten here, unfamiliar entities in the barren landscape. The skeletal remains of an animal reminds us of how misplaced we are, strewn about this desert. Looking off into the distance, I see a band of mashed potatoes floating behind mountain remains, too lazy to scale these massive obstructions and supply rain to this wasteland. Heat dances on the horizon, blurring my vision. But observing what is close to me, I am overwhelmed.

I am surrounded by colors, while there is no sign of life for miles. But I still experience red, blue, orange, purple, tan, green, gray, and white. There is a natural spectrum found among the desert stones and sands that typically sneak by us, no we let them. They are unique as the biota found in the rainforest. Each stone has its own story, how it found its way to this unseemingly beautiful landscape. They are under appreciated and heavily misunderstood. Stones give character to this desolate land, unveiling the timeline of this Peruvian desert.


The small details of these stones tell components of their life story. Simply the color unveils what their makeup is; it reflects the minerals within each stone, which may be portrayed differently depending on the natural elements causing the minerals to oxidize and react. The size of the stones in this case may be deceiving. Typically, the larger the stone, the closer to the source it is. However, winds and sand create a polishing effect, acting as sand paper, wearing away the stone.

My observations were disturbed by reaching our time limit, and everyone meandered back to the bus. Everyone stopped to pick out a few neat rocks as souvenirs. Had we not removed these small pieces of the landscape, I wonder how long it would have taken for them to erode. Years? Decades? And how many people have stopped there to appreciate the beauty of the desert? Far fewer than there should be. I hope to get back to a similar environment in the future and see what else I can interpret from the landscape, and to absorb the uncommon beauty that can be found in these desolate environments.