Spider shakes and impacts in Peru’s Sacred Valley
“It took several minutes before I realized that an entire squadron of baby spiders was repelling down from the thatched roof above me and into my cup of hot aba* punch”, relates David Knight, Intrepid’s Community Based Tourism researcher in Peru.
“My research assistant and Spanish-Quechua translator, Nilo, seemed all too amused. Together, we had been invited into the home of a kind local woman to shelter from the hail that had begun to fall in destructive force upon the high Andean town of Amaru, where we’d been conducting research for several weeks. As the tiny spiders descended upon me to escape the fury of the elements, I couldn’t help but laugh with my companion in contemplation of the unique challenges and experiences we’d had thus far in these remote and breathtakingly beautiful highlands.
While exploring local perspectives of tourism impacts in Amaru, Nilo and I have learned to embrace the rural, indigenous lifestyle that characterizes most people’s existence in the region. It would be no exaggeration to say that we’ve established significant rapport with the residents in doing so.
Immersing ourselves in the local milieu, we’ve carried sacs of cow manure down steep mountainsides, we have bathed in cold water (despite the already bone-chilling, high-altitude temperatures at 11,400 feet, or 3,800 meters), we’ve used mortar and pestle to grind freshly harvested herbs for scrumptious soups, we’ve eaten potatoes in greater quantity and variety than I ever thought was possible (quite satisfying with complementary cheese and chili-sauce on the side), we have gone barefoot to press mud and straw into adobe blocks that would be skillfully stacked to build new homes, and we’ve lost at least some circulation at night by sleeping beneath the crushing force of seven heavy blankets to keep out the cold.
These experiences and others have allowed Nilo and I to interact with locals and to learn about their perspectives regarding tourism. Amaru, one of several towns Intrepid groups may visit on their way to Machu Picchu, provides a warm welcome for Intrepid visitors about once a week, by cooking lunch for them and talking about traditional weaving practices. By paying for lunch and purchasing these hand-made textiles (some of which take a full month to weave), visitors have an opportunity to directly support local livelihoods and improve the quality of life of residents.
In view of the perceived benefits that tourism provides for local people who work directly with Intrepid, these residents have expressed an interest in receiving more groups and increasing tourism in Amaru. An ongoing challenge, however, will be to determine how these benefits might reach others in a more equitable fashion, as the elderly and some individuals with significant needs have had difficulty in realizing tourism-related gains.
Upon finishing my spider-laden beverage and noticing that the hail outside had ceased, Nilo and I followed our friend to a nearby shelter where, every morning, she would whip up nutritional protein shakes for locals before they left to work in the fields. According to our friend, both she and several others in the community had been apparently cured from a litany of illnesses by partaking of the nutritional drinks each day.
We finished our conversation with her on tourism impacts in Amaru, and she offered us each a shake at the fair local price of five nuevo soles apiece – about US$2. While Nilo jumped at the offer, I chose to decline. Five soles is certainly better than the price of a Frappuccino, I thought. But with that tasty aba punch, I’d already had my fill of protein!”
To read more of David Knight’s engaging blog installments click on the responsible travel theme and stay tuned for further news of his community based tourism research and observations of life in Peru.
Follow in David’s footprints and explore this remarkable region on Intrepid tours of Peru.
* aba: also known as fava or broad beans
Photos © David Knight – Researchers Nilo and David don traditional Amaru clothing for a fun photo with their local friend Juan Abel – the son of a Comité de Mujeres (Women’s Committee) associate; and the Amaru Comité de Mujeres associates prepare a delicious lunch of soup, guinea pig and potatoes for a soon-to-arrive Intrepid group.