Feeding chickens, attending asambleas and surviving the cold in Chinchero

Posted by Colleen Connolly – MA candidate at CLACS/Global Journalism at NYU

The road leading to the airport site in Chinchero.

Despite a rocky start to my trip to Peru (a lost credit card, a canceled flight, the deathly cold), I have been extremely fortunate with my research here. My first week was spent in Cusco and the next two weeks in Chinchero, a small rural town about an hour outside of Cusco. Despite its proximity to the large and vibrant city of Cusco, Chinchero could not be more different. Here, Quechua prevails over Spanish. I haven’t seen a single bar. I wake up in the morning and help my host feed the chickens, the llama and the guinea pigs. People here appear shy at first, but they are the friendliest people I’ve ever met. As a foreign reporter, I am so grateful for this.

I’m about halfway through my time in Chinchero now. Though the freezing temperatures make me want to sleep in and relax, I’m making sure to get out every day and talk to people or attend asambleas, a nearly daily occurrence here and a part of small-town life everywhere. These two weeks are my most important weeks of research and reporting. For my thesis, I’m exploring the relationship between tourism and globalization using the international airport in Chinchero as a case study. The airport is not built yet — it’s at least five years away from completion — but construction has begun, and the project is the subject of many conversations and asambleas here. I have read many articles about the airport in Chinchero, but none of them mention the local feelings of the Chincherinos, who stand to gain or lose the most. These are the people I want to populate my thesis and my story.

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An asamblea for the community of Yanacona. The airport was on the agenda.

I came to Chinchero thinking almost everyone here was completely in favor of the airport. It’s what I’d heard from a few sources, and it made sense. The town is small and only somewhat reliant on Sacred Valley tourism. This airport would bring all those tourists who normally fly into Cusco into Chinchero instead. But what I’ve found is that everyone, no matter their views on the airport, understands the complexity of big development projects and the threat to the environment that they bring. It’s hard to escape the lure of development — and money — when the town’s mainstay of agriculture is failing to provide enough income. My host told me yesterday that most people work in agriculture, but mostly just to feed their families. The produce yields little value in the market. So many women also weave and sell their wares to tourists. My host opens her home to cook for tourists and host overnight guests who book through Airbnb, like me. The airport would bring more opportunities like these, but it would also change their landscape and way of life. And many people here don’t really want that. Therefore, feelings are mixed.

Though I’m looking forward to a hot shower and a heated room, I’ve so far really enjoyed my time in Chinchero, talking to the people who live here and to some tourists, too. It’s a part of Peruvian life I had not experienced before, having only made a trip here as a tourist to Cusco, Lima and Machu Picchu. The slower pace has helped me to slow down, too, and think more carefully about my work. I hope to talk to five or six more people here for formal interviews before I head back to Cusco, and then finally Lima. Ultimately, my goal with my research here is to provide a platform for the voices in Chinchero that are usually left out of coverage of the airport.

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