It’s a whole new world be­yond Machu Pic­chu

The Sunday Telegraph - Travel - - Front Page -

es­caped in­va­sion by Span­ish con­quis­ta­dors, and I still view the site’s ter­races and tem­ples with won­der; Machu Pic­chu ra­di­ates that larg­erthan-life qual­ity only icons pos­sess.

Kneel­ing in front of a di­a­mond­shaped rock, lo­cal guide Miguel is run­ning through a se­ries of com­plex cal­cu­la­tions con­nect­ing Earth’s axis of ro­ta­tion to what he be­lieves to be a rep­re­sen­ta­tion of the South­ern Cross. The for­mer school­teacher is armed with sci­en­tific the­o­ries and ex­pla­na­tions, shed­ding new light on a civil­i­sa­tion that ex­isted 400 years ago.

But the great­est links to the past are found in the present, so I’ve joined a Na­tional Geo­graphic Jour­neys tour with G Ad­ven­tures that ven­tures be­yond Machu Pic­chu into com­mu­ni­ties around Peru’s Sa­cred Val­ley, where tra­di­tional Inca prac­tices have been re­vived, giv­ing rise to a new form of sus­tain­able tourism.

Last year, 1.5mil­lion vis­i­tors clam­bered into the clouds for a glimpse of the 15th-cen­tury re­treat and 365 days of stomp­ing foot­steps have taken their toll, lead­ing to con­cerns from Un­esco that vi­bra­tions could be weak­en­ing stonework and dam­ag­ing the site. En­try num­bers have been capped at 5,940 per day, di­vided be­tween morn­ing and af­ter­noon ses­sions, but tour op­er­a­tors are look­ing for new ways to spread the num­bers – not to men­tion the wealth.

Re­spon­si­ble for bring­ing thou­sands of tourists to the re­gion each year, spe­cial­ists such as G Ad­ven­tures, Jour­ney Latin Amer­ica and In­trepid have set a trend for sup­port­ing lo­cal busi­nesses both through in­vest­ment and by pro­vid­ing a guar­an­teed mar­ket. Cou­pled with their cus­tomers’ grow­ing ap­petite for authen­tic ex­pe­ri­ences, it’s a win-win sit­u­a­tion: trav­ellers un­lock the hid­den heart of a des­ti­na­tion and em­pow­ered com­mu­ni­ties reap tan­gi­ble ben­e­fits from safe­guard­ing their her­itage and cul­ture.

Shards of sun­light splin­ter through clouds when we ar­rive at Ccac­cac­collo vil­lage, skat­ing the agri­cul­tural ter­races of gnarled slopes like a nee­dle grip­ping grooves on a warped piece of vinyl. Ears of corn are bent by wind and the weight of a sky that seems so heavy at these el­e­va­tions in the ris­ing val­leys be­tween for­mer Inca cap­i­tal Cusco and Pisac Ar­chae­o­log­i­cal Park.

Walk­ing through a val­ley of quinoa crops, an el­derly lady is tug­ging at a spin­dle of wool, her stoop­ing shoul­ders crushed by sur­round­ing moun­tains and her trail­ing red threads lost in a haze of rus­set flower heads. Many years ago, scenes such as this were com­mon­place in the Sa­cred Val­ley.

“That’s how I learned to weave,” ex­plains Ti­motea, a stocky, mid­dleaged woman with thick black plaits trail­ing ei­ther side of a felt hat and perched on her grav­ity-de­fy­ing bo­som. “I fol­lowed my grandma into the fields to take care of the an­i­mals and I watched her; women in the fields al­ways had wool in their hands.”

It’s a skill as an­cient as Machu Pic­chu, yet decades of Western­i­sa­tion and a switch to mod­ern dress had eroded it al­most into obliv­ion. To­day, though, I’m strug­gling to hear Ti­motea speak above the clat­ter­ing of looms from work­shops built into the hill­side.

In 2005, the Ccac­cac­collo Women’s Weav­ing Co-op­er­a­tive was es­tab­lished with help from Plan­eterra Foun­da­tion, the non-profit arm of Cana­dian tour com­pany G Ad­ven­tures. The aim was to gen­er­ate em­ploy­ment, safe­guard a dy­ing cul­ture and give tourists an in­sight into an An­dean way of life just as fas­ci­nat­ing as the area’s ru­ins. Sixty women are em­ployed in the co­op­er­a­tive and their wo­ven socks, scarves, sweaters and rugs are all for sale, pro­vid­ing an in­come for house­holds pre­vi­ously de­pen­dent on men. “Be­fore, we were liv­ing in houses with straw roofs,” de­clares 63-year-old com­mu­nity leader Mercedes, her voice trem­bling with emo­tion. “Now we have bet­ter food and ed­u­ca­tion and we can send our chil­dren to univer­sity.”

Af­ter lis­ten­ing to her im­pas­sioned speech, I’m led into an open-fronted

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