World News Australia, SBS Radio, May 23, 2014
Machu Picchu is Peru’s most popular destination, and brings wealth to tour operators and shopkeepers along the tourist route, but some are missing out.
Machu Picchu is Peru’s most popular tourist destination, attracting around one million visitors each year, including thousands of Australians.
It brings wealth to tour operators and shopkeepers in the popular tourist towns between Cusco city and at the famous ruins.
But only a short distance away Peruvians are still living in poverty.
As Brianna Piazza reports, many are yet to experience the benefits of one of the country’s most profitable industries.
Tourists have been coming to Peru’s Sacred Valley for years.
Located close to 2500 metres above sea level and surrounded by stunning scenery, Machu Picchu is Peru’s most visited tourist attraction.
Most visitors stop at the towns of Urubamba and Ollantaytambo as they make their way towards Machu Picchu.
In those towns the constant flow of international visitors has given many locals a much-needed income from selling souvenirs and food.
However, only a short distance from the Sacred Valley’s main tourist route, there are poor villages that are yet to significantly benefit from tourism.
Many residents still live in very basic conditions, without running water or electricity
Near Ollantaytambo is the small village of Chaullacocha.
Most familes live in traditional mud-brick houses, growing potatoes and herding alpacas on small plots.
The villagers here are too far from the well-worn tourist route to profit from the enormous visitor numbers.
And they are keen to get their share.
Some women have begun selling their traditional alpaca weavings through a not-for-profit group set up to help them.
President of Chaullacocha’s Women’s Weaving Association, Lucia Castillo Yupanqi says the weavers are starting to tailor their work to tourists’ tastes – but it is a labour intensive job.
“We make our weavings finer for tourists and according to tourists’ likes, in fashion, which is more difficult. We use alpaca wool which is of a very high quality and it’s much more difficult to weave than synthetic wool.”
The not-for-profit group, Threads of Peru, sells the weavings online, aiming to provide them with a fair and regular income.
The organisation also teaches ancient weaving techniques to other Peruvian women.
Urbano Huayna has been leading treks to Chaullacocha for around five years.
“The purpose of Threads of Peru here is to help families, especially women by the way they can get some business in the future. We hope as a not-for-profit that in the future at least two or three families from here can have their own business as weavers and that people from other places may come here from other places to buy.”
Nearby Rumira is closer to the Sacred Valley’s main tourist route.
Rumira is accessible by road from Ollantaytambo and some houses have electricity.
But local woman Mercedes Quispe Medina says very few tourists make it as far as her village.
She is hopeful of making more money online.
“We would like to send more weavings overseas so we can have option to give our children a better education, to feed them very well, to earn a good income for the family.”
Threads of Peru’s project coordinator, Dana Blair says more than half of the money from online sales goes directly to the weavers.
She says the rest covers administrative costs and training.
However, she says it’s difficult to convince tourists and wholesalers to pay fair prices for the products they sell – which are often more expensive than their mass-produced equivalents.
“Everything that is ‘profit’ is re-invested into the communities. The biggest challenge is explaining that structure. We have many clients and many inquiries – dozens a month – that are interested in engaging with the story, with sourcing fair-trade fabrics for their products. The world over is interested in this movement. Are they interested in paying the price? No.”
For a few weeks each year, Chaullacocha’s men leave their farms to work as porters on the famous Inca Trail.
Antonio Rios Churata has been a porter for 15 years.
Over a four-day trek he typically earns around 60 or 70 Australian dollars.
It’s a wage he says is extremely important for his family.
But he believes porters should be paid more, as it’s a physically-demanding job.
“In my younger times it was easy to work on the Inca Trail and for now I will continue while I’m still relatively young, but once I get older this will become difficult.”
Dana Blair says tour companies take advantage of porters, who are mostly poor, in order to keep prices low for tourists.
She says many foreigners don’t realise this is one of the most negative aspects of Peruvian tourism.
“There’s a limit of how much they are legally allowed to carry. They weigh in their bags, they cross the line onto the track and they add more weight to their bags. In addition to them carrying their own food, the bags of the passengers and them having to arrive at camp before any paying member on the track and have everything set up by the time the rest come. How is that sustainable? The wages aren’t fair, they’re buying their own food, they’re carrying too much weight and the work conditions are extremely strict.”
Ariana Svenson is the co-founder of a company that organises treks to less visited parts of the Andes, where life has changed little since the time of the Incas.
She says there is a lot more to see in the region than Machu Picchu.
Her company offers homestays, where foreigners can stay with families in remote villages.
She says despite the dramatic landscapes and unique local culture, few foreigners visit.
“They generally fly into Cusco and then follow a really specific route through the Sacred Valley, Inca trail to Machu Picchu and then back again. It does generate a lot of employment, there are restaurants, and they say go to the markets in that specific area and buy souvenirs. There is a proportion people who already do go off that beaten track but if we were able to increase it by like a few percent of that one million people and have those people going out to lesser-known areas they could buy their souvenirs out there, they could get their lunches made. In doing that, that enormous wealth generated by tourism just goes out to a few more people.”
But for now, many Andean families can only hope that one day tourism will provide them with a regular income and a better life.