Santa Cruz Trek still a mess

Parties hopefully getting closer to resolve the unfortunate situation

Martin Salvador was an expeditionary on the 10th of February earlier this year who tried to reach Cashapampa via Vaqueria. On that day risking his own life, he found severe devastation, many dead trout, horses and donkeys. In the previous edition of The Huaraz Telegraph we informed our readers about the following:

According to Clodoaldo Figueroa Blas representing the SERNANP – National Park Huascaran, ¨it will take at least two months to clear the damage that has been caused by a landslide destroying the Hatuncocha Lake, creating a sea of mud.

The damage does not only affect the tourists, it has also made many communities uncertain about their future living in the valley. Additionally he stressed that the National Park Huarscaran is not responsible for clearing the damage, as nearly all tourist agencies imply. “Tourist agencies are the first to point the finger at us but in all those years not one agency has contributed to the conservation of the National Park Huascaran. All they care about is money.

On February 8th this year, torrential rainstorms caused the breakthrough of a higher lying lake resulting in the fact that the lake Arteson Bajo overflowed which filled the bigger Hatuncocha Lake causing the collapse of another embankment, filling the valley of Santa Cruz with a sea of mud making the original Santa Cruz trek impossible. Roads, bridges, farms and even two electric plants were also destroyed.

One month later we thought we should visit an agency and the National Park Huascaran for an update.

An agency´s opinion

The Huaraz Telegraph had an interview with Exploring Peru, one of the many tourist agencies that flourish in Huaraz to discuss the state of the National Park Huascaran after the recent devastating landslide.

Victor Saenz Huerza, who is the general director of Exploring Peru said the following: “What happened is a natural disaster for all those involved, referring to the National Park, the villagers and the agencies. We have had meetings with the Asociación De Auxiliares de Alta Montaña de Cashapampa, a group of local villagers who offer muleteers, porters and cooks for the Santa Cruz trek and they are at the moment trying to restore some of the roads and bridges around Cashapampa.

In addition we have been to meetings with the National Park Huascaran where we (meaning all agencies) have claimed or requested economic support to repair the damage and consequently the reopening of the original trek. The National Park Huascaran told us that there was no budget to remove the debris caused by the landslide. 85% of the entrance fee goes straight to Lima and the other 15% goes to the Assistants’ Association of Mountaineering in Cashapampa.

We have also spoken with the Mayor of the District of Santa Cruz and in his opinion the NPH should contribute. The Assistants’ Association of Mountaineering is happy to help as well in return for materials and food. They have already restored some of the roads in order to rescue their animals. We have always stressed to the National Park Huascaran (SERNANP) that they should invest in infrastructure in the park. They keep hammering on the fact that there is no money in Huaraz, everything goes to Lima”.

He went on: “The Park is responsible for the toilet facilities but the facilities are simply not there anymore. They have constructed toilets but there were no facilities to wash your hands for example. In the end, the cows and donkeys were using the bathrooms as shelters because of a lack of control. The agencies should unite with the NPH, the Municipality of Santa Cruz and the tourist industry. I think it should be possible to get the trek open and fully restored within a month. Additionally, I think the difference between a one day ticket for S/. 5 and an overnights stay of S/. 65 is way too much.” Referring to the fact that a ticket bought for only one night is valid for 30 days. Mr Saenz Huerza believes there should be different price brackets for certain number of nights stayed in the National Park.

We would like to thank Mr Saenz Huerza for his time and contribution to our article.

The National Park’s response

Salvador, chief in charge at the PNH, mentioned the trek can be done but restricted; agencies still offer the trek but make it a round trip meaning that your starting point (Vaqueria) will also be the ending point. At the moment of writing, villagers and other locals are trying to make the route accessible again, not because tourists want to do the trek, just because it’s their livelihood at stake.

According to Salvador: ¨It will be a long process to get everyone headed in the same direction. We’re trying to make this a ´security project´ and then we hope the Regional Government will step in. The Municipality of Huaylas will be focused on the damaged agriculture and the NPH will focus on the conservation of the park. No machine can reach the carnage near the campsite and therefore everything will have to be done by hand”. Salvador couldn’t tell if the Santa Cruz trek, as it was originally known will be repaired before the high season starts but given the well-known ‘Peruvian time’ it might take more than the couple of months mentioned.

During the interview I also asked him what the role of the agencies in town was and could the National Park expect something from them? Salvador: ¨They know our address and tell us during meetings that they pay for the park entrance which is a lie. Tourists do, they don’t! Furthermore they complain a lot but refuse to do anything, even the poor ´campesinos´ (local farmers) are wondering what the contribution of the agencies will be.

What we expect is that in a short space of time, agencies will need an official letter to do the newly reformed Santa Cruz trek and that they will be completely responsible for the risks involved.¨ As the director of the National Park Huascaran Martin Salvador said: ¨the real people affected are the local villagers who lost their income, their land and their future.Should they be the ones cleaning up the mess? We don’t think so.¨

The chief in charge of the PNH was unable to answer the question of how much money was involved in the project. As there are rocks as big as houses that have to be removed without the aid of machines because they cannot access the landslide area, it’s not hard to work out how long the project could last for and the large finical implications it may have.

E-mail to UNESCO

As mentioned in the previous edition, there are many parties that use the National Park. First there is the National Park Huascaran itself, who say they’re responsible for the conservation and safety of the National Park, and then there is the local government who is responsible for access roads and the maintenance. We have the villagers who have lived in the area all their lives and finally the various agencies who are supposed to supply the tourists with some memorable experiences of the park by supplying the best possible trekking adventure possible.

As we are an unbiased newspaper we encourage our readers to send their opinions and contributions about the situation, as Bernd Karl did from Germany. He was complaining about the massive amount of toilet paper visible on the trek and wondered what UNESCO thought about the entire situation. He wrote “I will also write UNESCO about the bad condition in which the trek is. Especially not setting up compostable toilets is a definite no-go in a World Heritage Site! UNESCO has a section on Tripadvisor where they are asking for feedback on their world heritage sites”.

Many people have been wondering what the PNH does with the entrance fees. The Park said that it is used for conservation of the Park but the Good brothers (owners of the Llanganuco and Way Inn lodges) said the following: ¨There are more than 40 National Parks in Peru, only four of those are making a profit, meaning that the bigger ones automatically are paying for the conservation of the smaller ones”.

The Huaraz Telegraph would be happy to publish next month that all parties have come to an agreement and that the situation will be resolved and the local villagers given the help they badly need. We will print another update next month to inform our readers on the progress made or lack of as the case may be.Text: Rex Broekman

Text: Rex Broekman

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