On our journey from the rainforest to Lima, we decided to stopped for a few days in the cultural mecca of Cusco, Peru. But a funny thing happened on the way to Cusco…
After an entire night of bus travel on the winding mountain roads I woke up out of my half slumber to find that we were in complete standstill traffic about 30 minutes (by bus) outside of Cusco. The road was blocked and we would be waiting until nightfall. After inquiring with the driver and some of the locals, we were assured that our best and safest option was to walk 4 hours to Cusco down the road. I had naively assumed the block had been caused by a rock slide, as the steep terrain seemed to threaten collapse around every turn of the highway.
I had to laugh when we came to the first block… it was simply a few logs that blocked the way and a collection of about 20 people. I approached the group of elderly women sitting atop the logs and asked about the situation. In broken Spanish they more or less said, “We do not have water to grow plants or to live. We do not have access to the lake from which we have always gotten our water. The lake is also becoming very polluted. We want enough clean water to live and we will wait here until our message is heard.”
The sights long the the 30km of road were nothing less than surreal. For over 30 Kilometers, the road was blocked by rocks, boulders, logs, small fires, chunks of metal, glittering broken glass and hundreds of people young and old. This was a major, multi-pueblo, direct-action protest aimed at getting the attention of the Peruvian government.
The walk was very long and difficult, about 30km ( 20miles) on pavement in the mid-day sun. Though I had to fight to keep my spirits up, there was an undeniable beauty in being able to walk this long stretch of highway without a single car passing. There were only mountains splattered with pinkish mud and sagebrush, similarly pink adobe houses, and the faces of countless smiling,relentless people.
As we neared Cusco we saw that the Peruvian Army had arrived in drones to clear the streets. It has been difficult for me to find this story covered in the media, but as far as I can tell from talking with the people, the issue is water privatization. The people get their water from one lake. Someone owns or has recently bought the lake and this private or new owner raised the price of water so that the people could no longer afford enough water to grow crops. This is a simplified version of the story, but it is the only information that was consistent among all the people I questioned.
I am by no means an educated authority on these issues, but I know that these situations are not black and white. If someone owns the water, there is the danger that the people will not have access to what they need, however, there can also be problems when no one feels responsible for a resource.
I am aware that this is an age old debate and as I said, I know only enough to know that I know nothing about this, but I do think it is an issue worth thinking about. I know alternatives exist and I look forward to comments and peoples opinion on these issues. Please enlighten me.
Well, there is much more to say but that all for today. Be sure to check out my next blog (coming very soon) in which I hope to talk a bit about my process as I figure out what it means to be an Appropedia Travel Intern.