Almost there….

It seems that the closer the deadline for the thesis submission comes (a week from tomorrow) the easier it is to write anything BUT my thesis. I guess that is why I am here now. Sure, I’ll chalk it up to the guilt of not writing in 4 months, but really, I am reaching the point where I am talking myself into educational procrastination. “Oh, well, this will be useful for future MESPOMers….” Sure, Caroline, keep telling yourself that as you have 50 more pages to proofread sitting under your computer at this very moment.

With that said, I would like to report that my first draft has been completed and I am now working my way through edits. It was about three weeks ago when I really started to feel the pressure. I had an introduction, and a bit of everything else, but not enough to be coherent. I was feeling somewhat confident, however, because it wasn’t like I had forgotten about my thesis, quite the opposite actually. I was constantly thinking about it and what I would write about, lulling myself into a false sense of security. Future MESPOMers and thesis writers–it DOES take a lot of time to coherently put all of those wonderful thoughts you are having in your head onto paper.

Now that I have all of my thoughts on paper, however, I have to go through and proofread. I have sent this draft to my supervisor as well as a couple co-workers who so kindly offered their time and expertise to help me polish it. Reading it through now, I realize that it would have been nicer for them if I had read through it first to eliminate stupid mistakes (i.e. “conversation” instead of “conservation”, and the like). I have found whole sections which have to be moved to a different chapter, and sentences where I ask myself “what were you thinking when you wrote this?”. I guess this is part of having a first draft, and I am thankful that I have time to review it once (and hopefully even twice) before the submission which is in:

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At the same time, I am continuing to work full-time. While it is exhausting to work from 9-5 and then come home to work another 6 hours on my thesis, it is very motivational to work in a place where the usefulness of this thesis becomes more apparent day by day. Not only that, but I am working with very understanding co-workers who have told me over and over again that my thesis comes first and have been nothing short of accommodating when I have to take a day off on short notice to finish a chapter. For all those considering working while writing your thesis, I suggest you only do so if your workplace is willing to accommodate you during this period, but more importantly if you can discipline yourself to work a full day and then come home to work some more. I feel pretty proud of myself that I was able to accomplish this task (assuming things don’t fall apart in the next 7 days, 17 hours, 49 minutes, and 50 seconds…), but I can definitely say that I could have been more proactive in my thesis earlier on. Unfortunately, I know myself, and I can’t work productively without feeling some sort of pressure–a fault that I definitely have to work on.

Despite the pressure that is weighing down on all of the current 2nd year MESPOMers, the plans for a reunion here in Budapest for our defense and graduation are extremely motivating for a strong finish.

Now, it is time to go back to proofreading, despite the sunshine that is calling my name outside…

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Getting closer to the end…

Yes, okay, I have not been very diligent writing (neither have my co-authors, so what)… last time I was still in Brussels, with the European Union. In the meantime I have been to Germany, Sweden, Germany again and now – for the grand finale – in the USA. Monterey, California to be more precise, a lovely, little, sleepy, quiet town two car hours south of San Francisco.

I’m getting closer to finishing, and slowly I’m beginning to accept that this thesis is not going to change the whole nature of how we look at humanitarian aid… too bad! As a reminder, I looked into whether environmental management systems (EMS), as they use them in the industry, can help humanitarian organisations to reduce their (often severe) environmental impacts and improve their overall effectiveness in helping the affected population recover. Turns out I didn’t come up with the holy Grail of disaster reconstruction – there are some reasons why these EMS might not be the best solution… for example the fact that up to 100 different aid organisations are implementing projects all in the same area, which makes environmental protection more a question of coordination than of inner-organisational management. If you think now you could have told me that without having to dig through literature and trying to contact humanitarian field workers, then so be it (seriously though, there is still a bit more to the issue than what fits into this blog).

Of course it makes me very sad that in the time I write this thesis such a terrible natural disaster is actually occurring and I think of Nepal quite a lot while writing. Knowing these terribly difficult, messy, chaotic processes I’m writing about are actually happening at this very moment is a depressive feeling.

Nothing the less, it was and is interesting to work with that topic, but I’m looking forward to crossing the finish line in three weeks. A very nice thing is knowing that 26 friends of mine are – all around the world – closing in on our common goal at the same time and that we will all get to meet again in June in Budapest.

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…and here a pic of the institute in Middlebury – very nice place to study, by the way.

Among cassava, memories and stars

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It has more than one month I arrived in Mozambique and, although for many times I have tried to post my news from the field, low access to Internet has not allowed it before. First acknowledgement from Mozambique was that time passes differently, it is a different motion, a slow clock that guides the day and people’s work. The sun is burningly shinning at 6am, and even though people start early, things work quite slowly over here.

Arriving in Maputo had a very nice feeling of an unknown city, country and continent. Despite all the preparation done, days to come were mostly open to the fate, depending on field conditions and other people’ availability. Yes, I was excited! A first impression of “different” (at the same time mixed with Brazilian memories), was easily overcome by national hospitality. Mozambican people are just so open and ready to help that sometimes (many, actually) you do not know how to thank them, besides their natural charisma. Maputo is a cosmopolitan city with an African vibe, if I can put this way. Many foreigners come to work for a few years at international companies, or just for having some monitoring meetings and leave. I have stayed two weeks in the capital, mainly working from the IFAD office and undertaking interviews with government representatives and international organizations. It was quite enough time for having a better understanding of main political issues on agriculture, rural poverty and climate change at the national level. Being hosted by IFAD has also allowed me to follow the organization’s daily activities and dynamic, which helped to understand their work in the country.

Cassava multiplication at the IIAM - Chokwe Agronomic Center. Gaza Province, Mozambique.

Cassava multiplication at the IIAM – Chokwe Agronomic Center. Gaza Province, Mozambique.

I moved to Xai-Xai in the first week of March for being closer to the project staff and being able to visit farmers at the District of Manjacaze, which was selected for my case study. Xai-Xai is a small city northern on the coast of the Gaza Province, and I can say I have started to see the country after moving here. Travelling by car allows you to see how people live outside the capital, with very low conditions all along the road. My feeling is that the capital is a “world apart”, where you have some buildings and avenues, and if you do not pay much attention (and live in “fancy” areas) you might feel there are quite enough services. That’s not true along the roads nor in smaller cities, where you necessarily pay attention to your surroundings. I do not deny it was the first time I saw that level of poverty. It impresses you, makes you feel in a way you do not know what to feel (it is confusing indeed, clearly against any human sense). However, you start seeing less and less even with eyes opened. And then you get to know people that are simply adorable while being strong.

Already in the first week in Xai-Xai, I had the chance to visit three agricultural centers, one at the Maputo Province and two at the Gaza Province. Working on the field has provided me some first-hand information that I would not have access to otherwise. Being able to talk to people and hear what they have to say about their work and daily limitations has been a precious experience. On my visits to agricultural centers I have gathered good information on cassava variety selection, multiplication and growing techniques. The National Institute of Agronomic Research (IIAM) essentially works at selecting the most resistant crop varieties (to drought, plague, diseases, soil conditions and nutrient limitations), which are multiplied and only then distributed to small farmers.

at the VISECO Association, Chizavane, Gaza Province, Mozambique

Peanuts’ harvest day. At the VISECO Association, Chizavane, Gaza Province, Mozambique.

After understanding these practical processes held by government related institutions, I have finally started my work in direct contact with farmers. In the District of Manjacaze, I have held focus group discussions (FGDs) with farmers from different associations as well as with non-associated ones. FGDs were undertaken for talking with small farmers about climate change impacts on familiar agriculture and their own experiences in the last years. After talking to twenty farmers, I have started some life-story interviews. Basically, I spend a full day with a farmer following her/his daily activities and trying to help somehow. These have been by far the most enriching experiences I have had in the country. Next week I am going to do the last visits for finalizing my data collection from farmers.

During a life-story interview visit, District of Manjacaze, Gaza Province, Mozambique

Farmer harvesting cassava, during a life-story interview visit. District of Manjacaze, Gaza Province, Mozambique.

I can say that so far, besides cassava multiplication, growing techniques and national agriculture policies, I have learned a lot more about civil war memories, local culture, families’ dynamic, farmers’ resilience (not only to climate change, but to life conditions), and not least Mozambican hospitality. Additionally, some unexpected episodes and infrastructure limitations happen on the way for giving me a real feeling of living in the country, such as frequent water and electricity cuts, roads that fall, lack of transportation. I can say all fieldwork has been much more than data collection, but a broader understanding of cultural wealth and a unique learning of new ways of appreciating life every day.

During a life-story interview visit

Visiting a farmer for a life-story interview. Gaza Province, Mozambique.

I started writing this post in my dark room as electricity was not working. The sky was incredibly beautiful on that night though, with an uncountable number of stars like I have never seen before. Such a fortunate night!

Landscapes – “an enduring record of the lives and works of past generations”

Landscapes are “an enduring record of – and testimony to – the lives and works of past generations who have dwelt within it and in so doing, have left there something of themselves” (Ingold 2000)Landsacpes of the Maya Mountains

As well as the physical travels these last few weeks, I thought it might also be interesting to describe some of my theoretical journey. Initially, I was approaching my research using the ‘standard model’ of landscapes and wellbeing – the ecosystem service framework. This is one we are all familiar with, and one that I adopted almost unquestioningly. However, a few weeks ago I spoke to an old supervisor of mine, Neal Hockley, and he shared with me some of the issues that he took with the theory. One of the essential criticisms is that the framework at times treats ecosystems as if they were inviolate ‘natural’ horns of plenty – as long as you leave them to do their thing, ecosystems will provide you with a bounty of services for free. But how many places in the world are actually ‘natural’ and what does natural actually mean? Almost all of the benefits that are derived from ecosystems are generated through the intersection of human, physical and natural capital – why then is there this focus on ecosystems as the ultimate providers of benefits? This discrepancy is even more tangible when we look at what the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment vaguely calls cultural services – the metaphorical rug to sweep all those things that do not fit into the other categories. Yet, culture is often generated through the complex, historic and contemporary interplay between humans and their landscapes, not simply ‘supported’ by a sacred grove or natural wonder.

It is within this context that I came across the notion of cultural landscapes; similar to the concept of multifunctional landscapes, but stressing the subjective and interdependent relationship between landscapes and their human inhabitants. Cultural landscape theory does not make a de facto delineation between ‘natural’ and human processes and features. Instead, it treats landscapes as a matrix of features, processes and relationships along a human-nature continuum, which individuals experience through their own subjective lens. These elements interact as complex adaptive systems, forming phenomena that often include those things that are often identified as ‘ecosystem services’, but also include agro-ecosystems, etc. However, fundamentally, these elements are identified and interpreted according to how they are culturally valued (including scientific culture). This body of theory, I think, will provide the perfect bridge for discussing subjective wellbeing effects and landscape components. Like the good little geek I am, I am very excited! Also, I’ve just finished field work – 226 surveys complete!

Adventures in the Yukon…

Arriving back to Baltimore after a few weeks of travel, it seems we have turned the corner to spring. The red-bellied woodpeckers are back to drilling away at the resident trees, while the deer look on eagerly as bits of young ivy begin to peek through the dwindling snow. My past weeks were spent traveling in Canada and, though rivers and lakes were melting, the cold was very much still present. First stop on the trip was Ottawa, where I scheduled interviews with a variety of actors within the Arctic Council scene, including policy advisors, working group chairs, and researchers (each offering me unique insight into their relationship with and knowledge of the Permanent Participants). Although a handful of common themes have emerged from all of the conversations thus far, I would not have predicted the variety of opinions and perspectives (often in direct contradiction) expressed by the actors. Although this is fascinating, it will certainly make my path forward more difficult.

After Ottawa, I originally planned to head to Anchorage, Alaska for interviews with some of the Permanent Participants (PPs). However, after much anticipation and correspondence, I was invited to the Permanent Participant Capacity Workshop being held in Whitehorse, Yukon. With the good news, I set to rearranging my travel plans and, without knowing what exactly would unfold in the coming week, tried to formulate an appropriate approach for collecting the data from the workshop, interviews and informal conversations.

I arrived in Whitehorse after a hellish day of travel, where an initial flight cancellation almost ended my journey before it began. Luckily, with some last minute rearranging, I found myself on a plane heading out across Canada and (nearly 24 hours later) finally snuggled into my temporary home for the week. The city is small–only about 28,000 people–but diverse and teeming with culture and personality. It is located on the Yukon River and, according to Guinness World Records, is the city with the least air pollution in the world. Whether this is actually true, who knows…but the air was crisp and every breath made me feel more alive.

Traditional artwork in Whitehorse

Traditional artwork in Whitehorse

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Flying into Whitehorse–normally there would be full snow cover at this time, but it was an unusually “warm” winter, so the green has already started to take back the landscape. Still, there was a lot of snow. And it was, in fact, cold.

The first two sessions of the workshop were “in camera”, so only the PPs were allowed to sit in on the conversation (this confidentiality aspect of my research is going to be interesting when it comes time to write). With a few free hours, I took to exploring the city and enjoyed a late breakfast at a hip, little cafe called The Burnt Toast before heading over to the Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center to join the workshop. Though I must admit I was nervous walking in, after the first few introductions, I quickly relaxed knowing I was in good company. Some of the individuals I had previously spoken with via Skype, while others were new names and faces–but all welcomed me with warm smiles, respect and intrigue.

After sitting through the first few conversations and presentations, I realized the next three days were going to be an incredible opportunity for a focus group (which I hoped for early on, but knew it would be practically impossible to get all of these actors together on my own). Though I would not be able to direct the conversation, the structure of the workshop could not have been more suited to answer the very questions I needed to address. Moreover, as the workshop focused on PP capacity, it was a unique opportunity to hear concerns and interests from the PPs themselves, rather than from the viewpoint of external actors. It was also an opportunity to have all 6 PPs in a room (not an easy thing to do), discussing common issues without the external presence and pressure. This latter point certainly helped create an atmosphere of trust and transparency between them, making me feel all the more thankful to have been included.

Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center

Kwanlin Dün Cultural Center

Although the topics of discussion would not touch on all my areas of interest, it provided me with a great depth of understanding into how the PPs function internally, as well as how they act with one another, the member states, and the broader Council forum. The experience was supplemented with funny and poignant conversations over dinner and drinks, where everyone was willing to speak a bit more candidly about their own expereinces in the Council. The experience was, very simply, invaluable.  

Reflecting on my journeys, it became clear how difficult it must be to attend Arctic Council meetings on a regular basis. The locations are often remote (though beautiful), reflected in both the cost and time it takes to simply get to them. I can only imagine doing this 10 times a year, to locations throughout the Arctic, on extremely limited budgets. For the PPs, this is a critical aspect of their relationship and role in the Council and one that I now understand more intimately. At the same time, the beauty and cultural significance of locations such as Whitehorse lend to the character of the Council, making it a deterrent to hold meetings in more urban and centralized areas.

The Yukon River

The Yukon River

Nearing the end of my data collection,  I am now set to applying a framework of analysis that will help with narrowing all of the information. How I am actually going to do this is terrifying, but also fun…I hope.  This thesis proves to be a difficult task, as every time you peel back a layer, ten more await you underneath–and all are fascinating and deserve there own attention. So, for now, I am off to begin the long and arduous process that will (again, hopefully) lead to some coherence and exciting conclusions.

Sumba island

The second part of my field research has taken place in the Island of Sumba, more precisely in the village of Kamanggih in the far east of the island. Sumba is quite different from Java. Actually, landing in Waingapu felt like arriving to an entire different country. The weather is much drier, the landscape a lot less rich, the land less fertile. It seems infrastructural development is only beginning to reach Sumba now, that for the most part seems forgotten and way too far from Jakarta.

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It didn’t come entirely as a surprise. From my earlier literature review I knew that the further you move to the east of the archipelago, the less developed it is and the lower the electrification rate is (typically the two are highly correlated). This is actually why I chose this as one of my case studies, as it provided a good comparison with the more developed West Java region.

On the long and bumpy motorbike ride from Waingapu, the largest city in East Sumba, I found many villages without electricity or water supply, and very few crops. Kamanggih felt a bit different from the rest. I don’t know how it was before electricity arrived here in 2011 through the hands of Ibeka, but if it was anything like the other villages on the way, then electrification brought some important changes to the 14 kampungs (hamlets) that make up Kamanggih.

Despite the obvious communication challenges and feeling like I missed a lot of important information, staying with one of the families in Kamanggih made this experience a whole lot richer and allowed me to understand and contextualize the project and Ibeka’s approach a lot better.

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Besides electricity that is supplied by a 27Kw Micro hydro power (MHP) plant, which provides enough surplus to sell to PLN – the national utility that once the project was running decided to extend the grid and buy cheaper hydro power from the community project – the village has a number of ongoing projects fostered by the community cooperative. Much like the cooperative in Cinta Mekar that I described earlier, Kammanggih’s cooperative is supporting local businesses, training workshops for women and an initiative of “greening” the village (basically planting food crops and fruit trees in all available land). Compared to neighbouring villages, Kamanggih has now a lush vegetation, varied crops, a well-functioning health centre and a number of new productive activities. And the benefits seem to be trickling down to other villages. The cooperative is providing funding for clean water systems in nearby villages, which the benefited village repays by supporting a project in another nearby village.

All projects are more or less integrated in a wider initiative to increase electrification rate and shift Sumba to 100% Renewable Energy. The project is led by the Dutch NGO, Hivos but involves many government and non-governmental actors including Ibeka. “Sumba iconic island” seems to be a good example of many actors working together in different areas – electricity, energy for cooking, gender empowerment, skills training and farming – coordinated by Hivos. Whilst this integration is in theory an important success factor, the way these projects are being fast tracked may compromise the community’ preparation and project sustainability advocated by Ibeka and which seems to be the cornerstone of its success. We will have to wait and see how iconic Sumba island will turn out to be.

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An eventful twenty-four hours

I’ve had an interesting day and, although atypical, it does give some good insights into my time here in the field.

20150303_110233Yesterday morning found me on the 7am ‘chicken bus’, from the Ya’axché Golden Stream Field station, final destination: Blue Creek. However, after the 40-minuet bus drive we were dropped at the junction to Blue Creek about four miles from the village itself. No problem, both myself and Santy (my research assistant) felt game so we set off. The walk takes you past an incredible geological feature: to your left is a flat plain, with sparsely dotted trees – to your right a sharp cone of rock and forest rises steeply out of the grass. It was after about an hour of walking alongside these buttresses, with no community in sight, when we were passed by a man on his bicycle, carrying the trunk of a cahoon cabbage. ‘Where are you going?’ ‘Blue Creek, it’s close, no?’ ‘No, that’s another three miles…’

At this point, although only mid-morning, it was starting to get hot. We trudged on, concerned we might be leaving to little time (and energy) to complete the surveys we had set out to do.

However, after over two hours we arrived. After visiting the Alcalde (a village leader) to check it was ok for us to continue, we proceeded through the village. At every third house we stopped to ask the head of the household if he or she might be willing to participate in the research. Almost always ‘yes’, would it be the same in Europe I wonder. Each survey inquires about various aspects of individuals lives, their occupation, family life, assets, their perceived social support and health, and how they judge their own quality of life – life satisfaction, a component of subjective wellbeing.

By lunch we’d only managed to get through three of the fifteen we aimed to complete in that day. After a quick bite of rice we cracked on, and as the day heated up, we slowed down. Yet, by five thirty we ‘got through’. What’s more, Santy acquired a pair of ‘bamboo chicken’ aka iguana, a favourite of his. I went off for a swim in the famous Blue Creek, which flows out of a deep cave that you can swim up for over a kilometre (which I didn’t). Santy went to visit the local Pastor, to ask if we could spend the night at his house – ‘of course!’

On arriving at the Pastors house I was warmly greeted by his family, including around a dozen children of assorted family members. We sat down to a meal of corn tortilla and armadillo (which the Pastors father had unearthed during a hunting trip), followed by coffee, with too much sugar and too little coffee bean – oh well.

After a few hours chatting, or at least Santy chatting in Q’eqchi’, and me nodding and grinning like an idiot, I crept of to bed. A wooden pallet, not the most comfortable night sleep, but sleeping underneath the intricate thatch roof of the Pastors house I was pretty content.

20150303_131739I was less content at 4.30am the following morning when we awoke to catch the bus, the only bus, out of Blue Creek. All in a days work – fifteen surveys out of two hundred and thirty.

Can we all embrace global forests?

I have been often called a “tree hugger” in a mocking fashion by surrounding people who struggle to understand what I am exactly studying. Well, I accept that nickname with great pleasure and honor! Especially now, when I have been researching about global deforestation for about three months for the purpose of my research.

Deforestation is one of the urgent problems we are facing right now in the context of climate change. According to WWF 12-15 million hectares of forest are lost each year, the equivalent of 36 football fields per minute. This is quite a shocking number, considering that forests are not infinite and if we continue with the same rate, one day we won’t have any green color on global maps. While there are a number of reasons for deforestation, a very important  one is illegal logging of world’s precious forests. It was quite appalling to hear the stories and understand how multifaceted the issue of Illegal logging is. It destroys the habitats of other species of flora and fauna, including endangered ones (such as orangutans in Indonesia or Siberian tiger in East Russia), it releases carbon that are absorbed by forests or stored in peatlands, it affects water cycles and availability of drinking water in an area. Besides, illegal logging strongly affects the livelihood of local people who rely on forests; it involves issues of poverty, tribal rights, human rights, corruption, financing of military and oppressive governments. Illegal logging and trade also distorts the markets and leads to billions of dollars loss in governmental budget; it unfairly drags down  the prices of global timber and forces the businesses that try to operate in a just and sustainable way to leave the market. The other sad side of the story is that, unaware consumers from all over the world continue to buy illegal and unsustainable wood as the hunger for timber products increases every year. My research mainly aims to reveal what kind of measures we still need to implement to stop this chaos, what are the limitations of existing systems and how modern technologies such as DNA fingerprinting for timber can help to strengthen these systems.

My thesis adventures started in Barcelona, a place where two important EU institutions – European Forest Institute and FLEGT Facility (EU Forest Law Enforcement, Governance and Trade) are located. After gathering information on EU policies on seizing import of illegally logged wood, I headed to Hamburg, Germany, the city hosting the Thünen Institute with its laboratory specialized on extracting DNA of timber, on identifying the species and helping the governments in struggle against trade of endangered species.  The insights of experts in these institutions were very helpful to understand the issue and to see the big picture.20150203_124300    My current stop is Costa Rica, a country with big ambitions (they aim to become carbon neutral by 2021 as a whole country!), with long history of environmental conservation and birthplace of best practices when it comes to forest management. I am hosted by an NGO called FUNDECOR full of very nice, helpful and like-minded people. Like everywhere in the world, here in Costa Rica the tracking of timber is basically done through plates on individual cut timber and documentation, which can be easily falsified, lost or modified.

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The organization and the government are very interested in the application of new technologies, as illegal logging is quite an important issue even in a country like Costa Rica. Basically, right now I am working on developing a feasibility analysis of application of DNA fingerprinting for timber in Chain of Custody schemes in Costa Rica. I will use the results as a case study for my master research.

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So far, I have been lucky enough to get access to important documents and interview some officials from governmental agencies and local forest proprietors. Still a long way to go till I finish the research and obtain some tangible results.Right now, I know one thing for certain- illegal logging can be stopped only through common action of all individuals involved!

Petting whales

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I finished my field work at Guerrero Negro a couple of weeks ago and I even arrived and  settled in Monterey, CA ready to keep working on my thesis. I didn’t have the time until now to write about my last days in Baja, where I had one of the best experiences of my life.

I was lucky enough to be invited twice to a whale watching tour at Laguna Ojo de Liebre. On my first trip, I had the boat for my own which allowed us (me and the driver) to stay in the areas we wanted. It was amazing how in one of our stops for admiring the sea and the dozens of water jets coming out of the whales, a mom whale used us for teaching her baby that the boats are nothing to be scared of. Repeating the same pattern 4 consecutive times, the mom was guiding the calf around the boat, making a whole 360º turn around us, then approaching and passing only a few centimeters underneath the gig, going out on the other side and making the whole thing again. Being witness of a teaching and learning process on these animals is an indescriptible feeling, a deep reminder of how amazing nature is.

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As grateful as I could be for being in such magical place, we kept the journey going to another part of the Laguna. Here, as if I was not amazed enough, the best thing happened to me. A curious whale that was swimming alone decided to come close enough to be pet. I have heard by different people that the whales that have been there before and that go back the next year, they tend to approach to boats because they are curious of people.

Thanks to all the existing restrictions in the lagoon, the whales are not scared of us. The protected area obliges fishermen to take out of the lagoon all type of traps, nets, and fishing gear in general before the whale season starts. Also, the lagoon is divided in three areas so the cooperatives that have permits for tours are spread all over the place without stressing certain areas. Furthermore, the reserve restricts the number of permits, the working hours and the number of boats per day at the lagoon. In fact, after 3pm no one can be inside the lagoon so the whales can rest for the rest of the day. As a result, not only whales like to be touched, but the number of arrivals is increasing every year. In fact in 2014 the number of whales at the beginning of February was around 700; this year it doubled reaching 1,460 whales and the number will keep increasing until the beginning of April when they’ll leave the lagoon after giving birth.

The ecological success of this marine protected area is easy to be seen. After interviewing different actors I have no doubt that the salt exporter industry and the biosphere reserve have made a surprisingly good relationship for working together on the conservation of the place, being an outstanding example of how such opposite poles can coexist without a problem. But things are still needed in terms of social aid, specially the fishermen sector. Changes in water temperatures ended with the main fishery of the place, the mussel called “Mano de León”. The effort needs to be focused on new projects on the area for giving alternatives to this sector of the community.

My work so far in the High Andes

Surveys in the community

I think adventure is a meaningless word when I look back to all of what I have been through since the beginning of my journey in Peru.

My thesis title seemed pretty simple: “Evaluating the feasibility of implementing an alternative water sanitation technology in a rural community in Peru”. But to achieve this, I have done and experienced so many and interesting things that I now believe I will never forget this thesis.

My first couple of weeks here were pretty calmed, knowing the beautiful mountains, warm people and specially the kind people from the NGO “Nexos Comunitarios” with whom I have worked with since the beginning, and finally reading as much as I can to get to know a bit of “Cuncani”, which is the community in which my thesis is focused on.

From interviews with the Municipality, Health Centers, NGOs and Private Businesses to more than face-to-face surveys in the community, my work here has been great. One of the funny things was when I heard from the President of the NGO that I needed to chew Coca leafs if I wanted to resist the physical intensity of climbing in the mountains at 3800m-4800m above the sea level and to not get dizzy while interviewing each of the families from the community. Indeed, in the two weeks I have spent in the community while doing the surveys, I have experienced terrible cold and fatigue but I definitely got stronger after that! The wonderful thing is that I got to stay in the home of the community member that was my translator (from Quechua dialect to Spanish) during my work; I ate, drank, slept, walked as much as they do and even played with their animals (which some of them they eat of course). So I got to experience the daily life of a community living in poverty and some of them in extreme poverty; of course I was in shock at the beginning, but after having the opportunity to talk and get to know them, I now have a wider perspective of many things.

I still have many things left to do and a short time to do them but I think we are all in the same place, ha!

Will let you know later how this experience will end.

P.S: Yes, I have seen too many cute llamas! And no, I cannot bring Coca leafs with me after leaving Peru. Sorry for that! 🙂