Thursday, February 11, 2010

Swept Away by the Floods--NOT

Perhaps, if you’ve been paying very close attention to the news, you’ve heard about the flooding in the region of Cusco and Machu Picchu. I’ve kept an eye on the news in English, and have had to search hard to find any word about it--but let me tell you, it’s BIG news here!

First, for anyone concerned, even though we’re not that far from Cusco, we haven’t been getting any such epic soakings. Rain, yes, nearly every day, but very moderate, so we’re fine, so far. (We’ve got another 6 weeks of rainy season yet to go, says the vizcacha, the local equivalent of the groundhog). Keeps everything very nice and green, here in (usually) very dry Chivay.

Next, for anyone considering a visit, Machu Picchu is closed until they can fix the railroad access, but the government says it will re-open by early March. I’d bet on late March, myself. There are bargains to be had right now, and I don’t know how long they’ll last, but one is a “Cusco at half-price” promotion that a number of hotels are in on. If you’re thinking of visiting soon, they have operators standing by. . .

In January, powerful and incessant rains first caused a 500-year-old stone wall to collapse at the “fortress” of Sacsayhuamán, near Cusco. Then, the rivers began to rise, taking out bridges in the “Sacred Valley” where Machu Picchu and other significant archeological sites are located. Then the Urubamba river began eating away at the towns themselves, sending the debris rushing down the eastern slope of the Andes towards Brazil.

Machu Picchu itself is accessible only by a railroad that runs between Ollantaytambo, in the Sacred Valley of the Urubamba, and Aguas Calientes (now known as Machu Picchu Pueblo). Finally, the rains caused a series of landslides that closed the rail line, stranding thousands of tourists at Machu Picchu. Various governments sent in helicopters to take out their citizens and, finally, everyone else. I can imagine the last group to go, drinking and eating their way through the last remaining supplies in town before the chopper came . . .

So far as we’ve heard, Machu Picchu itself isn’t damaged, though it’s soggy. (I imagine it’s been soggy before). The Peruvian government is losing millions of dollars a day in tourist revenues, so they’re very motivated to get that rail line fixed, and they’re starting to think, once again, about providing some alternative access to the site as well. We were there in 1990, when Maoist guerillas were terrorizing the country, and we were well-aware of how very susceptible that one, key rail line was!

We’re headed for the Department (state) of Cusco for a technical exchange this weekend, visiting archeological sites and talking about eco-, adventure-, and cultural-tourism development, but we won’t be in Cusco itself, or anywhere near Machu Picchu. Still, we’ll be visiting some Inca (and older) sites that are almost entirely overlooked, and Cusco is desperate to broaden their tourist attractions to include things that aren’t currently underwater. “Snorkel Cusco!” . . . doesn’t cut it in the international tourist market.

Jean just got her "traje típica" back from an artesan friend today, so she can dress up in a complete and authentic outfit just like ALL the other women here! Just in time for Carnaval and more dancing . . .

That’s the major news right now. We’ll have more to report from Carnaval, which is just starting to gear up in Peru. It’s not just a 1- or 2-day party, it’s a couple of weekends of rowdy water fights, parades, and who-knows-what, but we’re here to experience it all for you!

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