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iSUR Ands Journal: Part 1

February 5, 2011

Artisan from the community of Upis, Peru along the Interoceanic Highway in the Andes

iSUR Andes Journal: 02.01.2011

After visiting the lowland sites supported by Interoceanica SUR, Rick and I scored an invitation to their sites in the Andes. Claudia Yep, the Director of Tourism, invited us to visit last Friday and had everything arranged by Sunday. She sent a car to pick us up in Cusco and to take us to iSUR’s house at 3,800 meters on the Interoceanic Highway.

Herman and Taco arrived at the hotel right on time and we set off for the highway, with assurances that we could ask to stop for a photo at any time. That is a dangerous offer for two photographers, but it was sincerely meant and we had a nice drive with many stops for birdwatching and photography. One stop of note was in Urcos, the first city along the highway. It is famous for it’s beautiful lagoon and we happened to pass through Urcos on the day of its annual livestock fair. We stopped by a bridge and were able to look down on thousands of people trading their llamas, alpacas, cows, and pigs. The fair in Urcos draws people from across the Andes and you could see the diversity of visitors from the differences in their dress. It was lovely to see the beautiful hats of the women from above and to take photos with a long lens, unnoticed by the people below.

Along this part of the highway, iSUR is working with local communities to create sustainable businesses that will help augment their income and improve the quality of their lives – these efforts simultaneously promote the conservation of nature and culture. We met Claudia at one of iSUR’s projects at 4,300 meters in elevation– it is a restaurant and overlook that has a breathtaking view of the snow-capped Ausungate Mountain.  The community of Cuyuni owns and runs the restaurant there and we were greeted with hot coca tea and choclo (a thick-kerneled corn native to the Andes) and cheese. We learned about Cuyuni’s efforts to bring in tourists and their goals for the future. In addition to the restaurant, they have a small store field with work by local artisans. I purchased two baby alpaca scarves that were completely handmade – from shearing the alpaca to spinning the yarn.

After our visit at the restaurant, we met with the director’s of Cuyuni’s projects and were greeted by beautifully dressed women, hiking up the small hills while spinning their yarn. Two men and two women kindly agreed to be interviewed and we asked them questions about the impact of the highway on their lives. Overall, they are very pleased with the highway. A journey that used to take seven hours now takes 45 minutes and they have better access to healthcare and education. The women also commented on the fact that their clothes are cleaner when they walk on the new paved road. The people all spoke in Quechua, so I worked with Herman to ask the questions. I will be posting some of these videos as soon as I have time to work with a translator.

We arrived at iSUR’s worksite just as the sun was setting. They have a nice office and a building with bedrooms. Rick and I each received our own bedroom, replete with space heaters, sinks, and private bathrooms. Both of us were worn out and feeling under the weather because of the altitude. We rested until dinner and then spent some time talking with the staff before heading off to bed.

View from Overlook at Cuyuni, Peru

Woman miking cow near Upis, Peru

Traditional hat and dress of a woman in Cuyuni, Peru (Andes)



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