Postcards from Peru, Part 5: From Digesters to Glaciers

drove another 75 miles that night to Huancayo, the capital of Junin province, a
city of around 350,000 ten times La Oroya’s size, and just a little lower in
altitude. We stayed on the main street—my window faced the huge dome of Huancayo
Cathedral, and the music and car horns continued well into the night, even in
the rain.

daytrip from Huancayo took us in two directions: first north (I think) along the
Cunas River to the lovely farming countryside of San Jose de Quero, and later
back through the city and east to the melting tropical glacier Huaytapallana.

Centro Ecuménico de Promoción y Acción Social, or CEDEPAS
(The Ecumenical Center for Advocacy and Social Action), is another NGO with
which Joining Hands works. One of their projects is called “Healthy Homes,” which
creatively and sustainably helps upgrade living standards for extremely poor
peasant farmers. We visited the Samaniego Vera familiy, a couple who had worked
with CEDEPAS to improve their farm in several basic but striking ways with
the help of affordable tools and clever technology.

Maria Milagros
Ysuhuaylas Orellana, a young CEDEPAS engineer, explained the operation. A
simple biodigester, consisting of a large black sausage-shaped membrane in a
trench, covered by greenhouse plastic to warm it in the Andean cold, coverts
manure from their cows and other livestock into methane gas and liquid
fertilizer. The gas is piped to a second membrane to hold it for use in a small
kitchen stove. It burns cleanly and, most of all, it’s plentiful and free.

The couple also has a
simple solar water heater for showers and hand washing, a great comfort in the
cold climate. Next to this, a large pen houses guinea pigs for meat, and a
greenhouse grows vegetables and fruits that would not otherwise survive here,
leading to healthier diets, greater food security, and less need for cash. The
couple seemed quite happy with the improvements, which they built with CEDEPAS’s
help. The hope is to expand such outreach to thirty more families.

We drove next to the
glacier Huaytapallana.
The countryside along the way was hauntingly foreign and beautiful. The boggy
ground is filled with tiny water holes, star-shaped mosses, and diminutive
mounds. Searching for comparisons, I suggested the Scottish highlands, and
someone else mentioned Ireland. It looked like sphagnum moss to me. 

While the entire landscape is wildly, fiercely, humblingly magnificent, we
were there for what we could not see—a glacier that has lost half its size in
two decades. While the melt means plenty of water flowing

down to the cities
now, in a few years its loss will mean severe drought for Peru. Walter
Lopez Rosales, whose title I think translates to Regional Manager of Natural
Resources, talked to us about the glacier loss resulting from climate change. In
Peru deforestation is the number one cause of increased greenhouse gases. He
described the ongoing work of adaptation and reforestation.

After a second night in Huancayo we took a bus back to Lima.
This was no Greyhound! There was plenty of leg room, and even foot rests in this
double-decker bus, and flight attendants too, serving meals and drinks. Very
cushy. With much more amazing scenery, of course, than plans have. If the U.S.
had buses like these, they would be our transportation of choice. 

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