Week 8

I’m writing this last entry from Monterey, California. The last week of the summer went by quickly and peacefully. I spent most of my time writing the best practices guide, that is the culmination of all the work and research I did this summer. The guide turned out really great. I learned so much not only about how to implement a successful greenhouse program, but how to implement a successful development program. It was an amazing experience to be able to talk with people working in the field (especially in Spanish!) and then be able to travel to the communities where they worked to see the programs in action years after they had started. Being in the field talking to the people who were engaged in the programs felt right, and reassured me that this is the career I want.

Team Peru and the Andean Alliance had one night out all together in Cusco. We all went out dancing together and it was a great way to have a fun time and enjoy the relief of having completed our projects.

I spent my last day in Peru mainly alone, walking through the streets of Cusco. I kept finding parades. The first a huge loud celebration of the Virgin of Copacabana that started outside the coffee shop I was in, and continued into the plaza de armas. The second right the army and police of Peru assembled in the Plaza where I witnessed the ceremony of raising the flag of Peru, and the huge rainbow flag of Cusco. I stood on the top of the steps in front of the main cathedral and listened to the crowd singing the Peruvian national anthem as the flags waved slightly, in the background the distant mountain of the Andes. The anthem ended and I flagged down a car to take me to the airport.

Parade Downtown Cusco Parade1174804_686367886621_1783346559_n Team Peru

1098285_10101974088737198_212976295_n Calca

Week 7

The house has been having a lot of problems with water lately. A few times a week it will go out for days at a time. During this time all the dishes become dirty, the toilets are unusable, and no one showers. We’ve started to monitor the water, climbing up the water tower in the back of the house opening it up and looking inside. We judge what we do that day by the amount of water left in that tank, and if the city water is working that day to fill it up again.

At the same time one of the housemates managed to get fleas. Everything they own is outside being doused in flea spray, baking in the sun. While working to get rid of the fleas I picked up a blanket that was folded on the porch where someone sits every morning to enjoy the sunlight. I hung it up in the sunlight, came back to where it had been sitting and found a scorpion.

We’ve also been passing around a stomach bug. Or we all have our own versions. One housemate is on medication for both a bacterial infection and a parasite. Talking with the hippie commune that lives next door that doesn’t have city water and only have access to the creek water they admitted calmly they were sure they had Giardia, everyone in their house has it.

A midst all of this we agreed to have a work party at our friend Norma’s house. Norma is a Peruvian woman who was hired to cook our breakfast and lunch for us at the house. She’s not only a really good cook, she’s about the nicest person we’ve ever met. She takes care of us in many more ways that just cooking. She lives just outside of Calca, on a large property, that she is hoping to turn into a guinea pig farm and a restaurant. We went over to help, but she didn’t have much work for us. We cleared the rocks from the area where her restaurant will be. Holes were dug into the earth and the palos were brought in that day to serve as the poles to hold up the roof of the restaurant. After not enough work we got a tour of her brother’s lecheria, his cow farm, where there was a long line of huge hungry cows eating their lunch. We saw the garden where we all ate plums off of the plum tree. And then Norma made us a nice lunch. Norma’s house is only two rooms. She has a kitchen, the structure formed out of tarps donated by USAID after the Urubamba River flooded and she lost her home years ago. There is also the bedroom that she shares with her son. There’s nothing else, not even a bathroom. Norma is one of the most generous people I’ve ever met. We took a group picture together, that we will send her, and presented her with flowers we’d picked and a card we’d illustrated and signed.  Then we returned home to our big house on the hill, which we’d learned to complain about a bit less.

I have been working this week on writing a best practice guide for family greenhouses. I am informing the guide with all the information I’ve learned these past weeks from talking with the various organizations and interviewing community members. I went to Pisac, the next town over, where there are a ton of very nice cafes, with actual working internet. Pisac is also a hot spot for the type of spiritual seeker who is interested in slightly poisoning themselves, under the guidance of a shaman in order to hallucinate. One such person started a conversation with me in the café, telling me that recently he’d gone into a cave and when he’d come out again he was able to see people’s spirit animals. He asked me if I wanted to know mine. I did, so he took a few steps back and stared at me for a while, then proclaimed my male spirit animal to be a hawk, my female spirit animal to be a peacock.

Two of the people living in my house, Alex and Zuzu, will be leaving Peru tomorrow. To commemorate Alex’s last night in Calca, we had a dinner at the nicest restaurant in town (5 sole meal = $1.60). There’s a festival coming up soon so there’s a lot set up for the kids to enjoy. The streets are filled with tents of games. Some tents have tons of foosball tables under them, some are trampolines covered in bouncy balls, and others are televisions with video games to play. We played a quick round of foosball, and then started the long stroll home.


1098534_501313733278917_346979073_n  The ‘work crew’ hanging out at Norma’s

Week 6

This week started with a meeting with a representative from the Dutch organization Hope International. The man’s name was Walter, and he’s been working in Peru for the last 23 years. He started working during a time of a lot of instability in the country, and because of this was limited to working only in Cuzco. At that time he was helping to give families small urban gardens to increase their food security. As things became more stable in Peru, he was able to expand his work into other regions, including the high altitude community of Patachanca, where he eventually started a program of family greenhouses.

Hope International was originally in the community working on improving the schools. What came out of discussions with community members was that there needed to be some focus on addressing the issue of malnutrition plaguing the children of the school. A school greenhouse was built, and all of the children at the school had access to it, and learned how to grow the vegetables, and began to really value them. These children were then going home and requesting vegetables from their parents. The parents approached Hope with the desire to have their own family greenhouses. Initially Hope was only working with 4th grade students to have a greenhouse at home. They reasoned this gave the children one additional year of schooling before they graduated, and during that time they would be able to learn enough about greenhouses, and growing vegetables to sustainably be able to have their own successful greenhouse and be able to teach others the lessons they had learned. The children were learning how to grow crops at school, and then taking that knowledge home and teaching their parents how to best utilize their greenhouses.

We’d seen something similar to this in Maucau. One of the best-utilized greenhouses in the community was that of a student who had attended the Pampachorral School, which was the location of the first greenhouse in the area. He was also involved with the other greenhouses in the community, acting at that time as our tour guide and showing us around the community.

Walter stressed that in order for a greenhouse program to be successful there must be a change in values in the community. The greenhouses are a huge change of life for very traditional and old communities. The words of my favorite professor at my grad school came back to me. She has constantly stressed, “ A change in knowledge does not equal a change in behavior.” Walter has based his programming around this understanding. He believes to spark this change, it is best to start providing new knowledge to the younger generations. As these kids recognize the value in having access to fresh fruits and vegetables the values of the community will begin to change. I believe this is the key to the sustainability of the family greenhouse programs.

We also visited another community, three hours into the mountains, called Huacawasi. This community is interesting in that two organizations have done family greenhouse programs here, without communicating with each other. We talked with two women who had received a greenhouse from the Urubamba government, under the same initiative as the program in Cuncani.  We all sat outside their empty greenhouse. It has been standing there for three years, with nothing growing in it. We heard the same lament that the government had promised them seeds, and then never brought them. The women’s families had built the stone structure, the government had provided plastic and given a few workshops to them on how to grow plants, and the importance of feeding your children well, and that had been the end of it. The women said they had enjoyed the classes, and would like to be able to grow food, and agreed they had absolutely no way of getting seeds. I thought back to Walter’s ideals on a change in values. This greenhouse had been thrust into a community that had not asked for greenhouses. The importance of good nutrition had been conveyed, as had methods for growing vegetables in a greenhouse, but behavior in the community had not changed. If there had really been a change in values surrounding the importance of having fresh vegetables, I am lead to believe these families would find a way of acquiring their own seeds, and fixing any holes in the plastic.

We spoke with some owners of more successful greenhouses that had been implemented by the organization Chakana. At the first the father of a large family ushered us inside his very warm greenhouse and proudly pulled some carrots out of the ground. He wore a black hat covered in sequins stars and ribbons, and an LL Bean windbreaker with the sleeves cut off. We sat outside and shared some warmed potatoes. His young daughter sat across from me, and we shared smiles about her tiny pet puppy. The owners of the Chakana greenhouses all had the same complaint. When was the organization going to return? These families had places in the wooden beams of the roof that were rotting, or holes in the plastic. They expected these problems to be taken care of by the organization that had helped them build the greenhouses. The organization had first come four years before, and hadn’t been seen in about a year.

Consistently we see families looking to the implementing organization to fix any problems. Ideally in a development project, it can be sustained without any intervention from the organization. The organization should leave at a point, and the project should continue in the community without any outside intervention. It is difficult to articulate the balance between providing the families with what they truly need, and leaving them to their own devices. There is difficulty in acquiring seeds and plastic. There is the cost of materials, and the distance traveled to obtain them. But is this too much to ask of the families? If they considered the greenhouse to be valuable enough, would it be possible for them to pay the price?

Over the weekend we decided to escape the cold of the Sacred Valley and head five hours down in elevation, to the jungle. The closest hot climate town to us is Quillabamba. The town seemed crazy and chaotic when we first arrived, racing across seemingly never-ending traffic looking for a hostel to stay in. Most of the hostels were booked, and all were run by someone from age 7 to 15. We finally found an open one, run by a very sleepy 15-year-old boy. Happy to have found a place we hit the town. The Plaza de Armas was full of people, gathered in crowds around various performers. Fire spinners would dart into the intersection at red lights to try and earn a few soles. There was a fair going on, the lights of the Ferris wheel illuminated against a gleaming glacial backdrop. We found the most happening spot in town, a milkshake shop overlooking the main square. We treated ourselves to some truly terrible vanilla milkshakes and called it a day.

We started the next morning in a coffee shop that had been recommended by a friend. We went in and ordered, and discovered everything we ordered was not available. After some time the owner came out sheepishly with small cups of espresso and milk, which he gave to us for free explaining he had no food, the coffee machine broke, and he was ‘bien borracho’. He gave us some advice on how to get to the local waterfalls and we were on our way.

We spent the day lounging around in the heat near tropical waterfalls, the Urubamba River, and then the major local attraction of an Olympic sized swimming pool. We were the only foreigners anywhere, and garnered a lot of attention. One couple even wanted to take pictures with us at the top of the waterfall. We joked later we should have charged one sol per photo, as the Quechua women in Cuzco do for taking their picture. Later that evening we stopped by a performer in Plaza Grau, who called out to us over a huge crowd, screaming into his microphone and welcoming the Americans to Peru. All the children in the crowd rushed over to give us hugs while everyone else stared.

A long 5 hour bus ride brought us home again to the blissfully peaceful Sacred Valley.

IMG_3683 copy  Potatoes in Huacawasi.

IMG_3706 copy  Waterfall in Quillabamba

Week 5

The team began interviewing owners of greenhouses in remote Andean communities this week. We rented a car and a driver for the day, and left very early in morning, after stopping by the large market for bread cheese and hot chocolate. In the morning stands selling these things surround the market, each run by a women who has converted an old bicycle into a hot chocolate machine. The front part of the bike is replaced by a large table, under it a propane tank, and around the edges chairs for the customers to sit on. Once breakfast is done, she easily wheels it away to be replaced by a churro stand for the lunch crowd.

We drove again up into the beautiful mountains towards the tiny town of Maucau. When we arrived we found a small group of women guarding huge piles of potatoes. They were freezing them for storage, and while the potatoes sat out in the cold, someone had to keep the neighborhood dogs and chickens away. We sat a while with them, on the cold Maucau earth, searching for a rare spot that was not covered in alpaca poop. After some time we understood our translator was not coming. In that almost everyone in the more distant communities speaks Quechua, this was a vital part of the evaluation. Fortunately our driver stepped in as translator. We asked the questions in Spanish, and he translated into Quechua, and vice versa. A small group of community members had assembled, and we sat together as the sun warmed us, and asked them a series of questions. A Quechua woman came up to us with a bundle wrapped in a towel. Inside was a small quantity of cooked potatoes, which we all shared. It went very well, everyone participating, and offering up good information, and great ideas to think about. After the interview a few people took us to their homes so we could see the greenhouses. While looking at the structures we considered many things, the placement of the building, the materials, how to most effectively prevent the wind from destroying the plastic roof, innovations community members had done for irrigation practices, and the problems with pests. The people again were very welcoming, and we all took some photos together, and then left for Cuncani.

It was my first time in Cuncani, about an hour further into countryside than Maucau. The town seems to be based around the school, houses stretching out along the mountainsides in every direction. We talked to some officials at the school who assured us there was a group of women there waiting to talk to us. We’d put out a radio announcement that we would be coming. We took a seat in the school yard and waited for the group of women to finish washing the dishes from the kids’ lunch. It was recess time and everyone was playing tops, or running around. In the distance the older kids were playing soccer, all the girls wearing the complete traditional Quechua outfit, with a heavy skirt and large hat. When the women finished we talked with them, and realized they didn’t know who we were, and were too busy to talk.

We decided to approach people who we saw had greenhouses. The Urubamba government implemented all the greenhouses in this community. We had a gotten a good deal of information about this program from Freddy the week before. We talked first with an older man who was working behind the school in his field. As we approached, his tiny son clung to his fingers and pant leg. At first he believed us to be a representative from the government, and immediately began to tell us about the community members with greenhouses that still hadn’t received roofing.  After we made it clear what we were really there for he showed us his greenhouse. The structure was similar to those in Maucau, but larger. The rock base also had gaps in it, which allowed heat to escape. He discussed the problems with water the community had. All of the city water in this community is chlorinated, which is very bad for the plants.  He wished for a system of irrigation that would give him easy access to the river that passed through the town.

Another person we spoke with was a very sweet woman, who tucked her bare legs under herself and sat on the ground while she spun warn onto a wooden spindle. Her greenhouse was growing nothing, because the government had not provided the seeds as they said they would. The nearest place to buy seeds is in Lares, which is two hours away, and the seeds there are very old and difficult to grow.

We also spoke with a young woman and her mother. Their house was situated in the strangest spot in the community. The land in Cuncani is almost barren in the coldness, except for their slightly lower lying house, which is surrounded by lush trees and red flowers. The climate of this house (which is across a small river from the other houses we visited) allows them to use their greenhouse for seedlings, and then move the more mature plants outside. They told us about the workshops they had attended, and said they did little to help with the greenhouses as they are focused more on the overall promotion of nutrition. They also had received no seeds, but had a son who would travel all the way to Urubamba (many hours away by bus) to purchase them.

Friday I left for a four-day adventure to Machu Picchu. I joined a tour group called the Inka Jungle Trail. The first day of the trek was biking. We started out on the top of a mountain, so high and cold we were near the glaciers at the peaks. The ride was entirely downhill, and easy. In the beginning it was hard to appreciate how beautiful the scenery was because it was so cold. Thankfully, after a bit the sun came out, and the elevation lowered. I biked lower and lower on the switch backs of the road, finally entering a jungle climate, where there were small rivers to bike through that would splash your legs, and birds chirping, and bright flowers blooming.

The second day started out with free white water rafting. A girl on my trip didn’t want to go, so she forfeited her ticket, and I got it! We left after breakfast at 6:30 and went down to the Urubamba River, the sacred river. We hopped in the raft and spent the next hour or so drifting, and crashing along the rapids taking in the mountainous scenery. After a quick change of clothes I joined the rest of the tour, who’d been hiking along a road for the last two hours. When I joined we started trekking up the mountainside and into the thick jungle. Mid way through the hike we had a quick break for face painting, done with the seeds of a local plant that is used to dye clothing. We also had a chance to dress up in some traditional Quechua clothing.

We spent the rest of the day hiking up the mountain, pausing at the highest peak of the Inca Trail to look at the Rio Urubamba stretching out in either direction, one way all the way back to the glaciered mountains we’d started at. We hiked down as the sun set, spending twilight zipping across the river in a tiny box that was anchored by two pulleys.  After about 7 hours of hiking we walked right into the hot springs of Santa Teresa. I spent the next hour soaking my sore body in the hot water, the almost full moon overhead, surrounded by the mountains.

Day three started with a threat that if we didn’t sign up and pay to go zip lining we would have to suffer the fate of walking for the next 8 hours. Most people were a bit annoyed by the ultimatum and decided on doing the hike. We hiked out of Santa Teresa, back into the mountains, and then along a hot dusty road for a few hours, in a landscape of jagged green mountains and waterfalls. We reached the down of Hidroelectrica, and cut off the road and began walking the infamous railroad tracks into the town of Aguas Caliente. The hike was long, but peaceful, with the PeruRail train interrupting the walk every so often bringing the huge crowds of tourists to Machu Picchu. Late that day, after about 5 hours of hiking we reached the town of Aguas Caliente. Just as the sun was starting to set we could see the huge mountain that cradled Machu Picchu at the top.

Wake up call at 4 am the next day, and we started walking in the dark. We reached a bridge at 5 am, and waited for the large crowds of tourists to pass the entrance gate and begin the 1,700 step hike up to Machu Picchu. It was still completely dark when the hike began, I could only see the steps from the light of the small flashlight, and hear the people around me panting in exhaustion in the humid early morning hours. Midway up I could see the giant gorgeous mountains surrounded me, just coming into focus in the morning light. Finally, we reached the top, and got back into a line of tourists, now joined by those who had opted out of the early morning hike and taken the expensive bus up.

As the sun peeked over the mountain I was standing high above Machu Picchu, taking it all in. The morning was completely clear, and beams of light slowly and individually broke over the crest of the mountain, first striking the humongous mountain just behind the ruins, and then began to blanket the city.  A family of llamas was standing casually around me, watching the day begin.

My group was lead on a nice tour, but most of us we too exhausted at this point to pay very close attention. Once the tour ended we recuperated for a moment, lying down in the sunlight and sneaking some breakfast. I spent much of the day sitting in the agricultural sector of the city, in the grass, and gazing out over the landscape of ruins and mountains. It was also at this point when I realized, lamentably, an avocado had exploded in my backpack.

Towards the end of the afternoon I strolled the city again. By this time most of the tourists had left, and for much of the time I found myself completely alone, exploring the city. Every so often I would pass someone sitting peacefully, meditating.

After a painful walk back down the mountain, we spent the rest of the day in the town, waiting for the 9 pm train. We reached Ollayntatambo by train at around 11 pm, and wandered sleepily looking for the van we’d arranged to pick us up. The van could only take us as far as Urubamba, where we got out at midnight, and began to wander looking for a hostel. Things looked grim until we found someone selling hot tea late at night, who told us about a muy tranquilo hostel above a Chinese restaurant. We knocked on the door, and luckily found it open, with beds available.

I got back to Calca this morning, tired and a bit blistered, but happy.


IMG_3473 copy  Chatting with greenhouse owners in Maucau.

IMG_3503 copy  Working with a Quechua-Spanish translator in Cuncani.

IMG_3647 copy  Taking in the view at Macchu Picchu.

Week 4

Peru loves to celebrate. There are parades almost daily in Peru. People also set off firecrackers at all hours of the day. This morning walking into town the main plaza was filled with children. They were lined up to have a parade, the kids in the front holding a doll of the Virgin Mary dressed in a huge poofy white dress. Most of the kids were in their plain school uniforms, but a few were dressed in traditional Quechua outfits. I was standing to the side filming them, and accidently diverted the parade as everyone ran to get their picture taken.

Last week I started meeting with staff members of organizations involved in creating other greenhouse projects in the Sacred Valley. I had a lunch meeting with a Canadian who is working with a volunteer based organization in the next town over, Urubambra. He wasn’t involved in the greenhouse project, but witnessed the implementation of it in his town.

The national government of Peru has created a program aimed to address the huge problem of childhood malnutrition in Peru. The effects of malnutrition are the most detrimental to mental and physical development from conception until age 3, and the effects are irreversible. The Peruvian initiative focuses on providing resources and services, such as a family greenhouse, to families living in impoverished areas, but only if the mother is currently pregnant, or there are children in the family under age 3. Families that fit under these guidelines receive a variety of free things, including greenhouses, guinea pigs, milk, cheese, and alpacas. There is a benefit to the government providing these services, however, the strict qualifications to receive aid incentivize women to have more children. This is also leaving out any people that do not have children under 3, which are in need of additional food that could be grown in a greenhouse.

For another perspective on the project, we went to the town of Urubamba the next day to try to have a meeting with the local head of the agricultural programming, Freddy. We were advised Freddy was only in the office one day a week, the other days he was active in the communities his office serves. We didn’t find Freddy, but we had great discussions with other staff members in the office. The walls of the office of community development are covered in charts tracking the height, weight, and physical maladies of all the kids being helped through the programming. There were also schedules posted of all the government programming going on in the local communities, including classes on hand washing, breast feeding, and father’s day parades.

We got Freddy’s phone number and scheduled an appointment with him on Saturday morning. He met us in the main plaza in Calca, and we sat on the sidewalk together and chatted about the greenhouse program in Urubamba. Freddy is a very passionate government official who is very well connected to the communities he serves. He was constantly greeting people walking through the square. We will be going to Cuncani this week, to see the greenhouses that the Urubamba government has built, to evaluate them by interviewing the owners of the greenhouses.

After the meeting with Freddy we took a day trip to Ollaynatatambo It’s a beautiful little town, but very touristy. All the streets are lined with stones, and there’s a waterway running through most of the town. Just like Calca, the Andes are cradling the buildings of the town. Looming above are huge Incan ruins. On one side of town there is a huge display of stone Inca terracing, that you have to pay to visit. But on the other side of town there are the remnants of an Incan village that you can hike for free. We hiked up the free ruins, ending up high above Ollaynatatambo, sitting on the old walls of a house, the sounds of a Peruvian pipe being lifted up to us by the wind.

We spent the night celebrating a new Peruvian’s friend birthday dancing around our house to Gangam Style.

The next day we met up in Calca with the plan to do a quick hour or so hike to the local ruins, Huchun Qosqo (Little Cusco). We walked from our house along the Urabamba river, all the way to a distant mountain, to the very top, where we took a break leaning against an old ruin to eat lunch, then to the incredibly impressive virtually unknown ruins above the town of Lamay. By the time we were heading back down the mountain, the sun had started to set. It was dark by the time we got back to town. All in all we were hiking for 10 hours, and we estimated we hiked over 10 miles.

Yesterday I went to Cusco to buy tickets to Macchu Picchu. I had lunch in the giant San Pedro market, arroz con huevos for about $1.30. Delicious! Rice and noodles and egg, French fries, and plantains. Got our tickets for a 4 day tour! Then to a museum, that was part Inca ruins, part Spanish church, modern art museum, and library. It was filled with old and beautiful paintings done by painters of the Cusco School. To end the day I had a milkshake on the roof a restaurant, with a view of the sun setting over Cusco.


IMG_1552 copy  Cusco sunset

IMG_3409 copy the ruins of Huchun Qosqo

The Fifth of July

I’m writing from the front porch of my house, watching the sky darken gradually over the mountaintops. From this seat I can see all the homes and farms leading into Calca.  A farmer is standing thoughtfully in his freshly tilled field, two tired bulls grazing beside him. His wife and toddler just joined him to help lead the bulls home. There’s a slight sound of dogs barking and cows mooing in the distance. I sit on this porch in the morning too, and watch the sun come up at 7, peeking slowly over the mountaintops to the East. The town is waking up at that time, and I can watch the school children rushing down the hill behind my house, down the dirt road and into town. Everyone is waking up then, and instead of sleepy cows I can hear the sounds of the roosters.

We celebrated the Fourth of July with a BBQ. It was hosted by the gringo a few houses down, who lives in a garden paradise that he’s financed through selling seeds during the Y2K crisis. He seemed to want to avoid discussing the fact that the BBQ was held on the 4th of July, preferring to call that a coincidence. After we’d all eaten, everyone settled down around the fire. An American couple (the wife of which went to my undergrad – UMD) pulled out some drums and a guitar. A circle formed around them, comprised of people from the various groups at the party, a few Peruvians, the folks from the NGO I’m working with, Americans who had come to Peru to work on an organic farm, and some travelers passing through. Everyone had brought their dogs and they were constantly underfoot waiting for someone to put a plate down. There was also a blonde baby girl wandering around and commanding people in Spanish to start playing an instrument. The night sky here in deeply dark, and you can make out all the stars and the slight haze of the milky way. This arched over us as people took turns playing the drums, guitar, and singing.

Today we went to Maucua, the tiny community high up in the mountains, where the organization I’m working for has facilitated the building of a series of family greenhouses. We left before the sun rose, piling into a colectivo van, which took about an hour and half of winding through the most dramatically scenic views to get to our destination. It became colder and colder as we got closer to the distant mountain peaks covered in snow. Every time we rounded another precariously sharp corner we were rewarded with endless sweeping pristine landscape, deep with valleys and high with mountains. Along the way we passed a few tiny towns, and people walking on the road, herds of alpaca dotting the sides of the hills, and colorfully adorned Quechua mamitas herding their sheep. We watched all of this while being jostled in the back of the van, trying to stuff our cheeks with coca leaves to fight the altitude sickness.

We got off the bus seemingly in the middle of nowhere, under the hopeful road sign that read ‘Maucua’. My main project while I’m in Peru is to conduct an evaluation of three different greenhouses initiatives in three different communities. Maucua is the community where the Andean Alliance for Sustainable Development (AASD) has been working on their greenhouse project. Today was an informal site visit, to observe how well the greenhouses were being utilized, a year after they were built, and a few months since anyone from the organization had been to the town.

Off the bus, we climbed over a hill to find a small community of about 20 houses, spread along the countryside. It was freezing, and desolate except for scrubby trees, but distractingly beautiful. We were able to see many of the greenhouses that were being utilized wonderfully. One was even growing delicious looking strawberries at an impossibly high elevation. Some were better maintained than others, but everyone who had a greenhouse was growing healthy vegetables for their families.

The first greenhouse that AASD build was at a school in Pampachorral, which is attended by the kids of Maucua (and an hour or more walk from their homes). The parents of the children at this school saw the school greenhouse, and approached the AASD with the hopes of having their own family greenhouses. AASD agreed to facilitate the building process, and give gardening workshops.

The structure of the greenhouse is simple, there is a base made of rocks that the families built themselves, and then the local government of Lares provided the expensive plastic to make the roofs. The roofing of the greenhouses took place over two days, in which the entire community came together and helped each other. 15 families in Maucua now have a family greenhouse.

This simple structure had a huge impact on this community. Before the greenhouses were built the community was only able to grow potatoes because of the high elevation. They supplemented their diets with the occasional egg, or meat. The nearest market is in Lares, which takes at least two hours to walk to, and offers a limited supply of food.

The community was filled with sweet and welcoming Quechua people, who work hard in their greenhouses, and have made the project a huge success. I’ll be returning to Maucua in the upcoming weeks to formally evaluate the greenhouse project.

The Bus Ride The Bus Ride

Maucua  Maucau

Team Peru in Maucau  Team Peru!

Talking with a Greenhouse Owner inside of his Greenhouse Talking with a Greenhouse Owner inside of his Greenhouse

Discussing a Greenhouse with the owner, a former student of the Pampachorral School Discussing a Greenhouse with the owner, a former student of the Pampachorral School

Typical Maucau Greenhouse Typical Maucau Greenhouse

Maucua kids Kiddos

Week 2

Most of the farms here are built into the sides of the mountain. We went up to one of these farms the other day to talk with an organic local farmer named Placido. We stood in his fields of lettuce and cilantro and discussed his difficulties in selling organic produce for what he considers to be a fair price.

To get back to our house you need to walk along a very narrow trail, balanced on the ledge of the cement waterway that guides the mountain water into the town below in the valley. It’s usual to have to gingerly pass a bull, pig, sometimes a donkey, or a group of Peruvians enjoying a beer next to the part of the trail where a small landslide let’s you know it’s time to depart from the waterway end enter the fields filled with grazing cows. Yesterday while we were balanced on one of the more precarious parts of the waterway trail a dog ran out and bit me.

The public health department has taken an initiative to vaccinate all the local dogs against rabies, since all too frequently they bit people. The streets here are full of dogs, most seated happily on the front steps of the stores they seem to manage. All this considered I was still very worried about the possibility of contracting rabies, and from what the internet was telling me, dying.

My friend and I went to the Centre de Salud. They directed me to the topical care room, where a radio was playing static at full blast. The doctor inside mumbled Spanish to me over the radio noise. I managed to figure out he wanted me to take off my pants so he could look at the bite on my upper leg. Meanwhile, people were wandering in and out from the hallway and greeting me with a friendly “Buenas dias!” After looking at the bite he dismissed me, to which I replied, “ Pero, hay la possibilidad de la rabia?”  He at first assured me that there was no rabies in the town, but then relented and began to try to look up the address of the dog in a large record book, which also seemed to contain the signatures of many people who had faced my same problem.

It was concluded we needed to find the offending dog. Another man came in and ushered me out to a waiting emergency vehicle. My friend and I got in the back, two nurses and an emergency worker crammed in the two seats in the front, a woman and her baby sat next to me, a stroller and a bookcase where tossed into the back of the truck. We ran a few errands, checking on a few things, and dropping the woman and her baby off at their house. We then drove up the road to the Ryanpata neighborhood and walked with the nurse and the emergency worker through the woods along the waterway. We found the dog that barked at us while the emergency worker waved a stick at him. We couldn’t find the owner, so they wrote down the information about the dogs whereabouts, assured me he wasn’t exhibiting any signs of rabies, but that they would check up on the dog again, and keep me informed. The man then handed us his stick for protection, said a cheerful goodbye and walked back to the truck, leaving us alone in the middle of the woods. No paperwork on me was filed, and no payment was required.

I spent the afternoon in the next town over called Pisac. We took a crowded bus over, filled with the local indigenous people and their babies, who had come down from the higher altitudes to pick up an assistance check the bank in Calca. We had gone to Pisac with the idea of attending a heavily advertised eco-feria, of organic products, to talk with the people there about our project of connecting small-scale organic farmers to markets. We got to Pisac then took a moto (tuktuk) to ‘Gringoville’ where the fair was to be held. We found nothing, and were told the fair had been cancelled because no one showed up.

Undeterred, we trekked around Gringoville looking for people to talk to, first to a hostel. Inside we found three people lying on the grass in the hot sunlight, playing with babies and kittens. We took a seat in the grass with them and chatted softly about the benefits of eating organic, and even better than that, a slender American woman in yoga clothes assured us, was having trust in the people who grow your food. A Bolivian woman was breast-feeding as she emphasized the importance of providing the local community information on organic food benefits. I asked them if they were living in Pisac or just passing through. The German man puffing lightly on a cigarette murmured that he was ‘just passing through life’.

Across the street we found what was advertising itself to be ‘yogacaferestaurant’. After we cautiously entered the empty room, a Polish man walked out from behind a curtain, telling us he’d just bought the place a few weeks prior. He was dressed in yellow robes, a snake tattooed around his neck, and the word ‘breath’ tattooed where his eyebrow should be. He told us the building was a converted ashram, still decorated in Sanskrit phrases painted on the walls. The new owner had added a giant swing in the middle of the room. He invited us outside to see his garden, and we all sat under the shade of a tree, the ruins of Pisac arching over us carved into the mountainside, drinking the ginger tea the Polish man had made for us. Again we discussed with him the demand in the community for organic food grown at small local farms.

We strolled through the main square of Pisac, looking for vegetables to cook up for dinner. The square was busy in the setting sunlight, filled with local indigenous women selling fruits, and dinners of guinea pigs, and an Australian film crew goofing around with the local kids. One kid was holding the boom and wearing a pair of headphones. An Australian was proclaiming the square that the kid was his soundman.

We took the bus home later, to the end of the line in Calca. When we reached the bus terminal the driver shouted it ‘termino!’ and we all had to jump out of the moving bus before he sped out of town. Hitting the ground safely we all had to laugh at the reality of living in Peru.

IMG_1442  Placido out standing in his field.

Week 1

Team Peru’s first week in Calca has been an adjustment period. We’re sharing a beautiful house on the mountainside, overlooking the entire valley. Unfortunately, our house doesn’t have an Internet connection or hot showers. We’re using the house as the Team Peru workspace as well, and the walls are quickly becoming covered in papers with ideas scrawled on them.

For the moment the team is focusing on the initial steps of starting a CSA in Calca. The rough idea of this project is to connect small-scale farmers who have been certified as producing organic products with local markets.  This week we took the time to identify what our individual assumptions are about the upcoming project. These were as broad as assuming there are enough interested farmers, and as focused as assuming what topics should be offered in workshops for organic farmers.

Our first step is researching whether these local markets exist. Over the weekend the team will be researching existing similar initiatives, and conducting informal conversations with possible stakeholders.

One particularly interesting key informant was introduced to us at a despidida dinner. The former cook of The Rolling Stones is now living in the next town over, and working at an Italian restaurant that serves guests at a spiritual retreat center. He’s very interested in working with small-scale farmers and we’ll be setting up a formal interview with him in the upcoming weeks.


IMG_2937 Greenhouse being built in our yard.

IMG_2938 The front yard and the view of Calca.

IMG_2941 Our home


IMG_2942 Calca  IMG_2944 Calca at night

IMG_2949 Our MPA style walls, slowly being covered in ideas.