Access to Recreational Boating: Chesapeake Bay vs. Peru

In the summer especially on the eastern shore of Maryland we can see an number of families and friends taking boats onto the bay and it’s rivers. The water is chaotic especially on hotter days with kids swimming and parents relaxing and drinking. Having a boat is almost deemed a necessity as a waterfront property owner. The recreational boating culture has extended beyond the waterfront communities to those who chose to invest in memberships to elite clubs where they pay an annual fee to store their boat there. People throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed take advantage of the resource that naturally exists and use it to guide their recreational activities.

I have been out on my friend’s boat a number of times. After just one trip out onto the Severn River from Annapolis, I was hooked. There is something that draws people to such an investment. If you frequent the Chesapeake bay in a boat you know what I am talking about when I say it’s a captivating cultural experience. How is taking a gasoline powered boat onto a river captivating you might ask? For me I was amazed by the friendly culture out on the water. Boats stopping for others to help if they encounter a problem is a normal occurrence and waving to passing boaters is an expected mannerism, things you don’t often see in terrestrial communities.

Having grown up in Maryland, with its range of natural landscapes I have always appreciated fishing and boating. Boating for me was not a regular occurrence but boat trips with my grandfather and uncle remain as vivid memories of my past. Similarly today there is a culture around boating that has not changed much over hundreds of years. Surely technological advances have changed the speed, size and efficiency of such boats but the culture remains very much the same. Taking a boat into the Chesapeake Bay is like traveling back in time. The only things that you have with you, food, water and resources are the things you brought with you. There is a reliance on others out on the water if you ever get into a bind because stranded in the middle of the river you have limited access to things you need.

 

Activities like recreational fishing are common among the boating community on the Bay.

Activities like recreational fishing are common among the boating community on the Bay.

Access to the waterfront and public docks is an issue that is growing more prominent in the Chesapeake Bay. If you have a boat and do not have access to private dock or put-in you will have to drive a number of additional miles to find a public one; if there even is one. After finding a public dock you may have to pay a fee to unload your boat. The scarcity of the public access points along the river is another factor that drives people away from joining the recreational boating community in the Bay.

Travel thousands of miles south from the Bay to the coastal communities of Peru. While the types of ecosystems between the Chesapeake Bay and Pacific Ocean vary so do the views of the water. In Peru there is an extraordinarily small recreational boating community, of the community that does exist it consists most of international home owners who use the waterfront as their summer homes. Within the native populations of Peru the ocean is not viewed as a place to relax and enjoy recreational activities like we do in the bay. Instead the majority of boat owners are commercial fishermen. By catching a variety of aquatic species they view the water in Peru as an economic opportunity for success and growth.

Men are working their boats on the waterfront, there is no time for recreation here.

Men are working their boats on the waterfront, there is no time for recreation in Peru when their livelihood is at stake. 

Old sail boats of the anchoveta fishermen line the docks along the coast.
They draw attention in numbers and with their brightly colored hulls. If I picked up this picture of the glistening water reflecting colors into the water into the bay people would be amazed. The old boats although worn over decades function just as they did years ago. They are cared for because the fishermen know that these are their sources of income to support their families. There is no recreational boating communities in the native populations because their lives do not identify a need for relaxation and expenditure of money that could be put towards things like food for their families.

So what I conclude from these contrasting views of waterfront access through recreation speaks largely about how cultures, not resources around the world determine the way that communities utilize their access. It isn’t about what people can access but there is a huge influence by the demand of those resources like the water in this case.

Not having a boat and private or public access in the Chesapeake bay limits your access to the resource that everyone says we need to save. How much does “Save the Bay” really mean to people who have never experienced it? Would an increase in access make people more aware of the practices that contribute to its detriment? In Peru there is no waste water treatment facilities. Thousands of gallons of raw sewage are pumped into the ocean every day, if an emphasis on recreational boating was pushed in Peru would people recognize the importance of their influence on the ocean that lines their coast.

I look at increasing access recreational boating in both the Chesapeake Bay and in Peru as a direct means of education. When people are made aware of environmental issues by direct access the outcomes are different. My mind can’t help but wander back to the BP oil spill in 2010, when images of oil spewing from underwater pipelines were plastered on TV screens and newspapers across the US. People saw the damage it was creating and almost instantaneously they began to question the significance of deep water oil extraction.

This curiosity and questioning needs to happen in order to change the views of how people view the importance of their access to resources. We shouldn’t wait until a natural or human influenced disaster occurs to open our eyes to the environmental issues in the Bay and in Peru’s coastal waterways. Increasing accessibility to the water by opening the market to recreational boating could be the thing that the ecosystems need to push environmental issues to the forefront of our societies.

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A Soundscape Back in Time: Machu Picchu

It is hard to believe that over 400 years ago Incan men, women and children walked across the path that I am sitting on today. Surely the number of that visit the site and natural geologic occurrences have altered the landscape but a lot remains the same.

I hear the muffled sounds of the river flowing thousands of feet below where I sit resting and taking in this ancient place. After an incredible hike up Huaynapichu, or the “old mountain” this morning I feel rejuvenated. The waves and ripples echo through the mountains funneling the sounds towards me. The occasional footsteps of the people passing by me are come and go fading into the distance governed by the pace of their stride. The dry dirt and gravel scuffs briefly under their moving hiking shoes. The wind rustles the still green leaves of the slender trees nearby. The rustling is soft but definite, and comes and goes like the footsteps with the irregular wind.

Every 4 seconds a drop of water comes through a fracture in the rock face and lands into a collected puddle at the base. The sound echoes through the rock structure that surrounds me on three sides. I am also sitting cross legged behind a 2ft stone wall, leaning against my back pack that I have developed a love for on this day primarily due to the hip strap. My backpack is resting in the dry dusty dirt, I know it is collecting on the bottom of my bag but I don’t mind. A little dirt isn’t something I am worried about ever but especially not today. Today I feel more at one with nature than I have so far in my adventures in Peru.

This Morning we woke up and hiked a mountain, using stairs if you can call them that. With no guard rails it forced me to trust myself and the structures themselves. After signing in and signing what I think was a waiver we began our hike with a tradition of the Quechua people. We poured out the first sip of our drink onto the ground, a gift to Pacha Mama which translates to Nature’s Mother. We thanked her in Quechua by saying “Sulpikee”. Due to my fear of heights I threw in an extra prayer that she would hold of on any earthquakes, landslides or means of destruction to the mountain until after I was back down on solid ground. I am still not sure how but not at any point did I feel uneasy or in danger. There were moments when there was no room for error but I wasn’t as concerned as I thought I would be. I started the day on the bus praying that I could use this day and climbing experience to overcome my fear of heights. If I hadn’t known myself before that climb I would never have believed anyone who said I was afraid of heights. The group I was with and our prayers to Pacha Mama helped reassure me that everything would be ok and I was sure to thank everyone when I got back down safely

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As I sit cross legged behind this stone wall I am picturing myself carefully placing my feet on the rocks. I am picturing me watching the water pour from my bottle and hitting the solid ground that pushes up under my shoes. As I sit behind this wall the volume of sound is blocked. When I get up from this spot I move to the edge of the cliff and every sound becomes so much clearer. The river now sounds close, especially audible considering the distance between the waves and my ear. The flow changes as the water moves down the river. Pushing forcefully over the large boulders scattered throughout the river. Patterns in the water and land have changed over the the past 400 years but a lot; like the sounds of the silence and nature remains the same.

 

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Parque de las Papas: Intersection of Development and Sustainability

Parque de las Papas, translated to Potato Park is a collection of communities located at 14,000 feet altitude in the mountains. The six communities are inhabited by people who have lived there for their whole lives. Some people do move but there is a relatively constant population in these communities. The potato is the most heavily farmed crop in the area, 3,600 of the 4,000 potato types are edible and are widely consumed in this area. Potatoes in this area are adapted to grow at these altitudes. Of these many potato species they grow in different conditions just like the other crops harvested on the mountainside.

Just a few of the 3,600 varieties of potatoes grown in Parque de Las Papas.

Just a few of the 3,600 varieties of potatoes grown in Parque de Las Papas.

The communities that developed in this challenging terrain are telling to the types of people that inhabit them; self sufficient and resourceful. The agricultural based communities developed around two major lagoons which formed after a glacier melted creating a freshwater source for irrigation. One question I continued to ask myself while there was how sustainable are these practices, after just one day of rain we saw the more prevalent impacts of erosion and small landslides. The communities could hardly be defined as developed as their mud brick homes and buildings are at the mercy of Pacha mama, the God of Mother Nature. You could say that anywhere I suppose but when I think of developed I picture Baltimore city or a small urban neighborhood. They have developed the land though. They have taken from it and continue to use its resources.

Our our way up to potato park though there was a great amount of animals. Cows were seen on small landings on the steep slope of a hillside tearing out grass and it’s stabilizing roots. The animal work force and similarly their potato harvesting techniques are undoubtedly contributing to the erosion of sediment down the mountain side. How much longer will these people be able to live and cultivate the land if they are unknowingly contributing to its deterioration?

I think that the potato harvesting of the communities will be sustainable for future generations, their practices have been adapted over time to work with the unique landscape. While their communities are not what we would consider as developed it is clear they are functional communities that are dependent on each other and also on the land from which they sustain themselves. The mountainside is divided into different regions to promote the highest crop yield. The divisions are an adaptation to the land and help maintain a certain level of sustainability.

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The highest part of the mountain side is where potatoes are grown, the middle section is where yuca or the Peruvian sweet potato grows best and around the lower base of the mountain that is where cereals and grains like maize and quinoa are grown. The food agriculture of potato park are undoubtedly what drives the livelihood of the people within the communities. The people are reliant on the seasons for the success of their crops. In Peru there are two seasons a dry season and a rainy season. The rainy season historically begins in the second week of November, this year it has started early and last year it did not begin until December. The Peruvian people contribute the unpredictable weather pattern due to environmental changes like global warming. It is very possible that the 8 million people that inhabit Lima, may be slowly contributing to the decline of the communities in the mountains. In the mountains and in communities that make up potato park they are using relatively harmless practices which are mediated things like their lack of cars, and imports. For now potato park is a sustainable community in my eyes and the use of natural resources to develop their lives speaks to their isolation and resourcefulness.

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Cusco: Intersection of Modern vs. Traditional Culture

We arrived in Cusco a day late but more excited after we had spent hours in the airport the previous day. We stepped off the plane and onto the ground into the 7th largest populated city in Lima. I was winded after just going up a few steps, something I expected at 10,000 feet elevation. We were picked up by Condor Travel and taken to our hotel. The drive through Cusco was incredible, although it was brief it was very telling of the kind of city we would spend the next two days in. The architecture was all stone and had a huge ancient influence. The traditional clothing of the Andean peoples is seen everywhere mixed amongst modern dressed tourist.

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The area we stayed in was an area heavily trafficked by tourists like myself. On every sidewalk and in every square there were women and children dressed traditionally. They would compliment you and ask if you wanted to buy something.

Using their culture to promote their economy, hesitance to turn to modern technology because what will Cusco be once they leave behind the traditions of their society. Handwoven textiles, scarves, hats and gloves can be found on every corner, it takes days to complete these cloths. So why wouldn’t they switch to modern technology and use machinery to produce more of their products at a cheaper cost to them especially when considering labor? It’s all about the tradition I believe, the influence of it is what I am still unsure of. Do the working women just enjoy doing their weaving during their “free time”? Or is it an entirely tourist driven process?

Regardless the process works, I bought a few pieces of clothing for myself that were made from alpaca fur. Every piece is unique, every design and pattern is developed by its creator who never follow any sort of pattern. Unique design is something that is lost when machinery is utilized. Our modern society uses machines to mass produce items to meet demand in a more efficient way. The majority of traditional people of Cusco have not resorted to modern modes of production. Does that make them less efficient in their production well yes of course it does but the net cost benefit and the price people are willing to pay for handmade items is higher than a machine made “alpaca” sweater.

The coloring of the yarn for the cloths and textiles is also traditionally done, plants and even bugs like cochanillo are used to make natural dyes. My stereotypical United States developed mind is intrigued by these processes. I think to myself why if they were going to keep in touch with their traditional ancestors with the hand-weaving why wouldn’t they invest and save time by purchasing premised dyes and even yarn for that matter. It is something that I have trouble understanding because of the place that I come from. In the United States it’s all about creating a product with the greatest potential net profit, in cusco it is far from it. Bartering for items is expects as nothing in markets has price tags. It’s a tourist driven market and items are created to appeal to the modern tourist who wants to be able to say they know they met the women who weaved their scarf.

All of this yarn was hand dyed by women working next to the Llama and Alpaca petting zoo we stopped at on our way out of cusco to parque de las papas.

All of this yarn was hand dyed by women working next to the Llama and Alpaca petting zoo we stopped at on our way out of cusco to parque de las papas.

In the town square where we stayed had a hard time deciphering what was real tradition and was solely tourist driven. If we hadn’t been there would the women and children still be selling their products on the street. My assumption would be no. Traveling up to parque de las papas it is clear that there are still people who rely heavily on their traditional society. Farm animals including cows, donkeys, chickens, pigs, horses and sheep were seen everywhere. Most of them were free to run loose and had a rope tied onto them I would guess to catch them when they were needed.

Our drive up to Parque de las Papas was windy, and nauseating at times but unlike anything I had ever expected to see in Peru. The long drive up the mountain though was a perfect way to given me perspective on the cultures of the mountain dwelling culture. The people of this land have learned how to utilize every resource they have. Their homes are made of mud and straw and formed together to make sun dried bricks. Their roofs were either made of straw thatching or clay roof tiles. The mud and straw brick homes were stabilized by a layer of rock which could move and flex more in the event of an earthquake. It is smart design. Our trip up to parque de las papas was a true representation of the people working in harmony with the rocky and unstable landscape of the Mountain.

It is hard not to think about our past, our past as it relates to contribution to the deprivation of our natural resources and environment. One might think that practices like hand plowing and terracing was less detrimental to the land and water. I think this can be interpreted this two ways, one would be that some of the people of cusco simplistic understanding of the land, as their current practices were passed down through generations and did not account for these things. Or they can be seen as more in tune with their land because they are almost exclusively using man and animal power to live their lives in the land that was passed down by their predecessors. The drive up the windy dirt roads to Parque de las Papas prepared me for the traditional practices like weaving and potato harvesting that would quickly captivate me.

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The Sounds and Experience of Punta San Juan

The growling and screeching sounds echoed through the large rock faces and funneled towards the house. We stayed at the Punta San Juan Biological Research Station and standing on the overlook you were overwhelmed with the sounds coming from below. Fur seals covered the rocks and moved in and out of the water. They would play almost liked dogs with their mouths wide open hitting into each other. For as graceful and swift as they are in the water they lose much of this when they come on land. They look like rocks on the beach. The activity level on the beach below was quiet at times and louder when they were more active.

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The screeching calls were strange and at times were alarming but it was never anything, just play. Communication among the other species on Punta San Juan was always changing on the reservation. On the sea lion beach sounds sometimes resembled a lion. The Humboldt penguins were usually quiet but we could hear a few calls which oddly enough sounds like a donkey. The Peruvian gulls often seen in pairs were often caught looking at us and sounding their high pitched alarm.The other birds like the cormorants and inca terns had calls but were less noticeable than that of the other species. Our interaction on the nature reserve was amazing. I have never been closer to wild animals and probably never will.

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The second day we woke up and went onto the overlook and looked down, the fur seals were there calling and communicating with one another. I could hear them all night but it wasn’t a bothersome sound. It was one that I invited to fill my head. Comprehending how neat of an experience this is is something that I wanted to capture from all aspects. Taking pictures, looking around and listening to the sounds is something that I hope will help me never forget how lucky I was. I’ve been here, in Peru for nearly a week and it is still hard to believe that I am here. The things we have experienced so far have been incredible. I am trying to take conscious time everywhere we go to look around and just listen because my experiences here are things I do not ever want to forget.

A beautiful clear sunset from the Research Biological Station at Punta San Juan.

A beautiful clear sunset from the Research Biological Station at Punta San Juan.

As I stand on the overlook I open my ears and welcome in every sound. The sound of my guano covered shoes on the cement, the soft wind, the screeching calls of the seals and the waves breaking on the rocks. The waves are intermittent, a series of softer waves break and splash against the rocks is divided by a louder more forceful crash. Just like every wave not every place sounds the same, taking time to listen and not just look at the environment can open your eyes to an entirely different dimension of sense of place and more importantly your sense of self.

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Wildlife in Peru: Intersection of Economy and Environment

Today may have been of the greatest days of my life so far in my 21 years. Growing up with animal planet, discovery channel and national geographic I think formed the basis of my interest in the natural world. Pictures of polar bears in Antarctica and a cheetah running down a gazelle in Africa are some images that come to mind when considering the highlights of these media productions. There are things that I would see in the magazines or on the television that I never thought I would have the opportunity to see in person. Today I was proven wrong.
We drove by bus from Lima to Parracas passing through the outskirts of town. This was the point in the trip that I was reminded we are in a third world country. The uneven distribution of wealth is clearly evident in the structures that line the highway. Many of the shack style homes and buildings are left to appear unfinished. I said to appear unfinished because in fact there are people living inside and because they have no intentions on completing the structure. It appeared as a foreign concept of first but money plays a role in the incompletion. The government can collect taxes from families once they are living in their completed residences. If the building appears unfinished the project is left alone, there is understandably no taxes owed.
The drive from Lima to Paracas was eye opening in a number of ways. The desolate nature of the communities that congregate along the road are suffering financially. Additionally being on a desert you are more susceptible to other weathering events like sand storms and landslides. The nature of the landscape in this area is at the hands of a higher power and if that is the only land you can afford to own then you will settle there.
After seeing this stark contrast from the busy populations in Lima to the stereotypical desert of the poor regions I began to look forward to what was ahead. Once in Paracas we began to see a huge population of stray dogs dispersed over the city. I got pictures of the children playing with dogs on the beach as if they were their own. It was hard to see because I wanted them to be happy but I kept my distance as I was instructed to.
Soon after arriving in Paracas we boarded a boat and headed 45 minutes out to the Ballesta Islands. First we saw guano birds cormorants, pelicans and blue footed boobies, the guano they produce is used a fertilizer. The guano industry, is reliant on the reserves that accumulate on the islands. Guano nicely put is the waste products of the birds so the more birds that are populated there the higher production potential there is.
The Anchoveta fishery and Guano harvesting are two major drivers of Peru’s economy. The intersection between the economy and the environment is clear in the culture and workforce of Peru. They rely on each other and when an aspect changes in one the other is similarly affected.
My eyes wandered the rock face of the island looking for birds and starfish along the waterline. The boat slowed and everyone started to all move to one side to look act something closer. I heard the shutters of the camera but no one was talking about what it was. Then I saw it, it was the only smooth surface on the angular rocks it was huge and fat. It was a fur seal. I gasped and began to snap pictures. I was subconsciously clicking away but my mind was somewhere else. It was off searching trying to comprehend what was happening. In the past two days I had left the United States for the first time ever, I had traveled thousands of miles on a plane to Peru and now I was standing on a boat in the middle of the ocean looking into the eyes of a wild seal. I do not know that I have ever felt that way before. After seeing the first seal they seemed to appear on any rock, over the next hour we saw upwards of 50 seals in and out of the water. This experience was something that I will never forget. It surpassed everything I could have ever imagined. Seeing things the way they should be, in their natural state made it clear to me that Peruvians have a certain level of respect for the environment and preservation of land and water.

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It is through their emphasis on preservation that the Peruvian people have been able to develop another aspect of their economy, ecotourism. The ecotourism opportunities created in the area of Paracas have allowed it to grow to second largest tourism attraction in Peru behind Machu Picchu. The ecotourism in Peru supports the local economy and is based on harmonious interactions with the environment as its natural resources. That is not to say that their practices are perfect, the wake of the boat from the tours contributes to erosion of the island and disrupts the natural tidal wave pattern. It is nearly impossible for humans to interact with the environment not have a negative impact. Being able to utilize and protect your natural resources and develop a market around it is a sustainable investment that will continue to bring in profit by ways of ecotourism and appreciation to the people who chose to understand its ways.

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The Sounds of the Desert in Peru

I can feel the heat rising off the surface of the ground as we walk across the desert sand. We are walking as far away as we can from the bus we just got off so that the sounds of the highway are muted. I walked away as far as I could allowing myself the security of being able to see the bus. I dug myself a little ditch and sat down on the slightly cooler patch of sand.

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The sun is beating down, the impact on my body would be escalated had I not caught waves of relief from the gusting wind. I can feel and hear my shirt blowing in the wind as I sit quietly and patiently for the natural sounds around me to come through. I hear nothing, just a still silence. Looking at the sand I can see slight movements of the grains but their movement is so minuscule relative to the landscape that it too is inaudible. No matter how hard I try to hear it I cannot.
I listen again and hear the sounds of cars and trucks speeding by on the distant highway. There is no movement and sound produced from any vegetation because there is none. It is a desert after all, known for its lack of water and limited life. No one ever talks about the lack of sounds associated with them. Now I have realized how sound carries through the open air.I feel the wind tunneling by my ears. The uncomfortable almost pressure like feeling that almost fills my ears. When the cars and trucks aren’t driving by there is an almost dead silence. A lack of life. There is the faint sound of the whistling wind. It is so incredibly hard to find a space like this in our day and age. When I was walking away from the bus the only sound I could hear was the sound of the sand compressing under my sneakers. In the absolute silence it was the only sound I heard.
My mind wandered to biblical times, thinking of Moses’ Journey through the desert. How hard must it have been to only hear the sounds beneath your feet and the distant wind. The lack of sound could in a short time drive you mad. I searched frantically through the wind to find a sound, a rustle, any audible movement but there was none. Across the sand off in the distance there was a mountain range. The sand, the rocks and the mountains are still, anchored to their place where they naturally occur.
Listening to the sounds of the desert was not relaxing. I know people often say that you can think best in a quiet place but this was far from peaceful. It was too quiet, no sounds of nature to cut the frantic thoughts that raced through my mind. Even the sounds of the cars began to become natural sounds, I was not bothered by the sounds as much as I would have been in a more lively environment. The sound of the cars and trucks in the distant started to sound like waves almost, coming and going getting louder and softer. The sounds around us are often ignored or overlooked, sounds like these that would normally bother me turned into sounds I wanted to hear. In a lifeless desert, I needed something to remind me that I was not alone.

My little friend on the desert, he enjoyed the little water I could offer from my water bottle.

 

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