Culture Shock: Peruvians and Americans

A young boy ran by, throwing rocks at his small herd of piglets. He shyly smiled at our group1393884_771692342847931_481413038_n, quickly returning to his siblings. At this moment, Becca decided to give them each one of her soles in order to repay the children for letting us take their picture. The children appeared to cower as she approached them with her charming smile, but warmed up to her as Alejandra explained what the situation was. However, they smiled through their confusion, rolling their shiny coins across their tiny, dirt-encrusted palms.

We all snapped pictures of the children with our fancy, high-tech cameras, their eyes widening at the clicking and beeping coming from the devices. After their first photo shoot, I turned the camera around to show the children what we captured. They were shocked, and I realized this may have been the first time they had seen themselves in something other than a reflection in a window, or a glassy lake. As for our little Alejanda, this two year old girl may have seen herself for the very first time. I realized we may have made a dangerous mistake by talking to these children.

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Parque de la Papa is where we interacted with these children. An incredibly traditional area; a strong belief system placed in the natural environment, generations of knowledge passed down to individuals. This region focuses on trading, not monetary gain. The little income they have can really only be used in Cusco, although we did pass a few small shops driving through the mountain range. The sad realization is, that this was such an insignificant exchange for us in the grand scheme of things. Passing a single sole onto each of these children was such a simple task for the Americans to do – it hardly amounted to anything in our minds. But to these children, it was a life changing interaction. Their mothers may never be able to do what we did. While she can supply them with endless love, patience, food, and a home – money is a twisted material that can make all of those important aspects of life appear irrelevant, unnecessary.

Had we not been present at this moment in time, these children may have continued playing with their piglets, happily enjoying the bliss that is childhood. A dastardly chain of events may have come from this simple gesture though. This single sole may intrigue the children enough to pose for more pictures from the gringos that visit. Which will perpetuate this exchange, and increase the likelihood of them jumping onto the money train. It will carry them down into the city of Cusco, with varying jobs of modeling as natives of the highlands for pictures, or perhaps establishing themselves in shops. Regardless of the specific job, ultimately they may remove themselves from their native culture. All resulting from a single sole.

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A similar shocking realization occurred at Machu Picchu. While enjoying our tour of this wonder of the world, I lost track of Sonya’s voice as my eardrums were flooded with pleading voices. I looked around, and a gaggle of young boys approached me asking for a photo. So of course I obliged, crouching down for their mother to take our picture. I was incredibly overwhelmed, laughing with the children as they put their arm over my shoulders. They thanked me graciously, and scampered off to see the rest of the ruins. This interaction left me perplexed for the continuation of the tour. Why were they so impressed by a gringa?

I began observing all of the natives milling about the ruins. While I believed they stood out, I realized it was truly us who clashed. We were adorned in t-shirts, hiking boots, khaki cargo pants, all of the outdoorsy materials that come to mind when you think ‘hiking’. But everyone else was dressed to the nines. Sporting their boxy Beats headphones, “fresh kicks”, and even high heels. This last asset completely blew my mind – wearing heels, to HIKE? And not even just hills, but MACHU PICCHU?! After a short conversation with Mike, however, everything came together and made sense.

These children are coming from poor areas within Peru. School trips come to Machu Picchu, for while we see it as a Wonder of the World, Peruvians may view it as we see a national monument. Fun to come and look at, a neat tribute to their ancestors. For others, this is a sacred area, as many Apus are reflected in many areas of the site. This presents itself as an occasion to put on your best clothing, your best smile, and show off what you have. And this certainly put everything into perspective for me.

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We are an unrealistically lucky set of students. We were easily the youngest travelers visiting this beautiful mystery site, equipped with the best accommodations offered. Although I was excited to take pictures with the children we met at Parque de la Papa, and the boys at Machu Picchu, I truly believe we left a grander impact on their life than theirs on ours. Although they appear in different forms, the Peruvian children and the American young adults really shared a similar experience. For this is easily a sliver of my life – an incredible, life changing experience  – but still just a blink of an eye in the grand scheme of where I may end up, what I can accomplish. But it has planted the traveling bug in me, and I now desire to travel around the world. For some of these kids, it could have been the highlight of their childhood. Visiting Machu Picchu, seeing truly a work of art; receiving their first sole, seeing a picture of themselves for the first time. And this may have also redirected the course of their life. That’s the power of cultural divides. This just goes to show: no matter how many miles, languages, and skin colors divide us, we are all innately human. Our experiences, though they may seem heavily divided, are truly similar while looking through the right lens.

World Wide Watermen

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Communities have been constructed around waterways for centuries. Peru has a rich, distinct connection to the water due to the Humboldt Current. This is similar to our estuary, the Chesapeake Bay. Both of these have supplied society with rich culture and delicious foods.

The Humboldt Current is an upwelling along the coast of Peru, which brings nutrient dense, cold water to the surface. This is the perfect habitat for Anchoveta, which has become an incredibly important species to more than just the ocean. As a keystone species, the aquatic ecosystem would collapse if all of the Anchoveta disappeared. Unfortunately, this fish is becoming overharvested, which threatens the ocean and the economy based around this little fish. Peru has become a crucial component of agriculture in the world, as they produce fish by-products. Fishmeal is used to feed livestock, especially to chickens and farmed fish. Also, this fish is processed into fish oil, which is consumed by humans. An entire economy has become based around this species, and not enough focus is being spent on the health of the fishery. Pollution from the processing factories wreak havoc on the health of the ocean, and this pushes Anchoveta out to deeper waters. This makes it more difficult for watermen to bring in their catch, as they remain at sea longer. In addition, not as much is able to be caught and processed because the health of the fishery is in decline. This trend has been occurring with our own fisheries of the Chesapeake, particularly the oyster.

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The oyster in the Chesapeake Bay has produced an entire culture on the Eastern Shore. Watermen have been working the waters for centuries, and pass these traditions down to their children. Unfortunately, there is just  one percent of the original oyster population left in the Bay, which creates a difficult situation to continue this tradition. Watermen focus on the profit that can be derived from harvesting oysters; they do not dwell on the health of the fishery. Meeting with Captain Wadey proved this; he declared himself that he would have extracted the last oyster in the Bay. The oyster is important to the Bay’s health too – these organisms filter the water, thus cleaning it. Having fewer oysters drastically decreases the health of the Bay. There is a vicious cycle occuring here: more people move to the area who desire these delicate creatures, which leads to more extraction. However, more people on the shore leads to more pollution, which results in needing more oysters in the Bay to help clean it up. Again, the watermen see this as an opportunity to sell more oysters, and will merely  do what is required to harvest as much as they are able to. Even with quotas on the fishery and restoration projects, there has been so much damage that a moratorium may be the only true solution to prevent a total fishery collapse.

Both locations are ecologically diverse, yet human intervention has led to similar environmental concerns. By working closely in either fishery, it may be possible to discover a solution to the declining populations, and apply to other areas around the world.

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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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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.

Paracas Soundscape

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I scarcely allow myself to blink as we motor to the Ballesta Islands. We pass beautiful mountains of color: red, brown, gold, black. Words and still frames are inadequate measures to portray the images which I have burned into my memory; rolling hills of sand, rock carved by oceanic power, and incredible organisms inhabiting this unforgiving environment. The marriage of these components paint a paradoxical picture: an oasis desert, an animal sanctuary tangent to inhabitable land.

Languages flooded my eardrums as our tourista boat cruised along the shoreline. On the boat there was an overwhelming competition between English and Spanish, describing the breathtaking scenery.

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Rock formations frosted in guano towered over us, a sanctuary to much wildlife. Birds fluttered about us in a whirlwind, landing precariously on ledges overlooking the sea. I could hear cries of Humboldt Penguins clamoring about their rocky habitat. Red-eyed Cormorants circled from above, returning from a feeding trip. They chirped and cackled amongst themselves, descending to the island, discussing their lunch for the day. While it became difficult at times to distinguish animal tongues over the boat motor, sea lions certainly announced their presence on the island. They bellowed to each other, barking over the plunging waves breaking on a reef. The roaring waves settled out onto the cobble beach, a subtle rushing heard as water escapes back to sea.

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The geology of the island was also impressive, which assisted the acoustics of the landscape. Hollows allow for amplification of the sound waves the animals and environment produced, creating a fuller soundscape. While we departed, a consistent thud accompanied us on our journey back with the rise and fall of the boat against the waves. The wide range of sounds experienced on this short trip represents the diversity found on the Ballista Islands.