Tourists Flock­ing To Peru’s New­found ‘Rain­bow Moun­tain’

Riverbank News - - NIEGHBORHOOD VALUES -

PITUMARCA, Peru — Tourists gasp for breath as they climb for two hours to a peak in the Peru­vian An­des that stands 16,404 feet (5,000 meters) above sea level. They’re dead tired, but stunned by the mag­i­cal beauty un­furled be­fore them.

Stripes of turquoise, laven­der and gold blan­ket what has be­come known as “Rain­bow Moun­tain,” a ridge of mul­ti­col­ored sed­i­ments laid down mil­lions of years ago and pushed up as tec­tonic plates clashed. It’s only within the last five years that the nat­u­ral won­der has been dis­cov­ered by the out­side world, earn­ing it must-see sta­tus on Peru’s bur­geon­ing back­packer tourist cir­cuit.

“You see it in the pic­tures and you think it’s Pho­to­shopped — but it’s real,” said Lukas Ly­nen, an 18-year-old tourist from Mex­ico.

The pop­u­lar­ity of Rain­bow Moun­tain, which at­tracts up to 1,000 tourists each day, has pro­vided a much-needed eco­nomic jolt to this re­mote re­gion pop­u­lated by strug­gling al­paca herders. En­vi­ron­men­tal­ists, how­ever, fear the tourists could de­stroy the trea­sured land­scape, which is al­ready cov­eted by in­ter­na­tional min­ing com­pa­nies.

“From the eco­log­i­cal point of view they are killing the goose that lays the golden eggs,” said Dina Far­fan, a Peru­vian bi­ol­o­gist who has stud­ied threat­ened wildlife in the area just a few hours from the In­can ru­ins of Machu Pic­chu.

As proof, he points to a 2.5mile (4-kilo­me­ter) dirt trail climbed by tourists to reach Rain­bow Moun­tain that has been badly eroded in the last 18 months, scar­ring the oth­er­wise pris­tine land­scape. A wet­land once pop­u­lar with mi­grat­ing ducks has also been turned into a park­ing lot the size of five soc­cer fields that fills each morn­ing with vans of mostly Euro­pean and Amer­i­can vis­i­tors.

There are more se­ri­ous threats, too.

Camino Min­er­als Corp., a Cana­dian-based min­ing com­pany, has ap­plied for min­ing rights in the min­er­al­rich area that in­cludes the moun­tain. The com­pany did not re­spond to a re­quest by The As­so­ci­ated Press for com­ment on its plans.

Yet the flood of tourists has meant jobs and hard cash for the lo­cal Pam­pachiri indige­nous com­mu­nity, which has strug­gled with high rates of al­co­holism, mal­nu­tri­tion and fall­ing prices of wool for their prized al­paca. Many have aban­doned no­madic life for dan­ger­ous gold min­ing jobs in the Ama­zon.

Now, they charge tourists $3 each to en­ter their an­ces­tral land, net­ting the com­mu­nity roughly $400,000 a year — a small for­tune that has trig­gered a tax bat­tle with an im­pov­er­ished, nearby mu­nic­i­pal­ity, which has seen no part of the wind­fall.

The surge in tourists also comes with a re­spon­si­bil­ity to be good stew­ards of the environment and their new guests, and Pam­pachiri com­mu­nity leader Gabino Hua­man ad­mits he is not sure they are ready to fully han­dle it.

“We don’t know one word in English,” he said. “Or first aid.”

De­spite the chal­lenges, roughly 500 vil­lagers have re­turned in the last cou­ple of years to take up their an­ces­tral trade of trans­port­ing goods across the An­des. The dif­fer­ence is that now they are haul­ing tourists on horse­back.

“It’s a bless­ing,” said Isaac Quispe, 25, who quit his job as a gold miner af­ter six of his camp mates were mur­dered. He re­turned home and bought a horse that last year earned him $5,200 haul­ing tourists up­hill.

The guides dress in color- ful woolen clothes and wide­brimmed, tra­di­tional hats to lead the horses.

Far­fan, the bi­ol­o­gist, said he hopes the Pam­pachiri can learn from other sus­tain­able tourism en­deav­ors in Peru.

It was the suc­cess of one such project, in the nearby town of Chillca, that first put Rain­bow Moun­tain on the map.

For much of the past decade, a group of shep­herds had been qui­etly tak­ing small groups of tourists to the moun­tain as part of a five-day hike around the fast-melt­ing Au­san­gate glacier. Over time, and thanks to the stun­ning pho­tographs posted on the in­ter­net, the se­cret got out.

To­day the shep­herds of Chillca man­age four lodges made of eu­ca­lyp­tus wood with a ca­pac­ity for 16 tourists each. They are lighted only by can­dle, but have hot wa­ter.

Ex­posed lay­ers of sed­i­ment cre­ate the col­or­ful ef­fect on Rain­bow Moun­tain

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