On Monday, December 15th, 2015 Alpaca Expeditions and their staff went to the town of Wakatinku, at the base of the Sacred Valley’s largest peak, Ausangate (elev. 21,000 ft/6400 mtrs,) to fulfill a promise that we made earlier in the year.
Many of the porters that work for us on the Inca Trail come from the village of Wakatinku. They are subsistence farmers who supplement their income by working for us to help support their families.
Earlier this year we started a social project by supporting the 204 children that live in this area (and come from as much as 2 hours away to attend school) with school supplies and some basic hygiene items such as soap and toothbrushes.
We promised to come back and help them with a tree planting project.
A year ago we helped the villagers plant seeds from the only surviving tree which is indigenous to this area, the Queuña tree (Polylepis, also known as the Andean Oak).
This week, we returned to help them plant these 3000 seedlings in the surrounding farmlands of the village and school. Forty-five villagers helped the Alpaca Expeditions team put them in the ground. Within 2-3 years, these trees will begin to contribute to this area with their natural benefits.
Much of Peru has been deforested over the past several hundred years. Eucalyptus trees were brought in from abroad in the last century as they are fast growing trees and provide quick firewood. But there has been much criticism as they can be invasive and have depleted water supplies. The eucalyptus is not indigenous to Peru.
The Queuña (or Qiwiña, as it is known in the native language of Quechua) is the only surviving tree indigenous to the high Andes, growing at altitudes of up to 14,750 feet (4,500 meters). It is known to be one of the most cold-hardy trees in the world.
The Queuña also serves strong ecological functions. It helps to regulate climates, prevent soil erosion and helps by providing a filtration system which helps to feed the natural springs. The forests of these native trees also provide a natural environment that supports the flora and fauna that are unique to these ecosystems - as many as 110 species of birds and 9 species of mammals, including the puma and tiny Andean deer.
And one of the key benefits of this indigenous tree over the imported eucalyptus is that it requires a mere 5% of the water to sustain it as does the eucalyptus, a major consideration in this area which is rain-starved for 10 months of the year.
Alpaca Expeditions also made donations of other plants to individual families to plant on the land around their homes. We are teaching the children to be patient and understand the sustainability of working with their native trees. And we treated them to a little holiday cheer with gifts of T-shirts and Arroz con Leche, a sweet dessert made with rice and milk. Alpaca Expeditions is proud to make this contribution to help support our porters and their families, and to make a difference in our world.
This is our second trip to Wakatinku and we plan on visiting again for the holiday season with some treats. Please let us know if you would like to join us.