The piteous downfall of Hatun Machay

A mere two years ago, Hatun Machay, a rock forest located in the Cordillera Negra between Huaraz and Lake Conococha, used to be a very popular rock climbing, hiking, historical and cultural paradise. However, because of disputes between the local community and the Argentine former administrator, the place is now considered unsafe for tourists. To make matters worse, a new dispute has now emerged. Rosario Pilar Obregón Domínguez, a female psychologist from Huaraz declared to the local press two months ago to be the new concessionaire despite the fact that the site faces legal problems. On top of this, some Huaraz community members were declared persona non grata and as a result, these people have been permanently denied access to Hatun Machay. Additionally, these people also have received numerous written threats through Facebook. What follows is a summary of the past and current situation in Hatun Machay and according to our findings we have come to the conclusion that it is not safe for tourists to visit Hatun Machay.

In June 2006 the community of Pampas Chico and agency Andean Kingdom E.I.R.L represented at the time by Andrés Saibene, signed a testimony of the public deed of mutual agreement that offered the agency an assignment of exclusive use of tourist exploitation throughout the area of Hatun Machay for eight years, from 2006 to mid-2014. The community, on the other hand, had the exclusivity to charge a reasoned and balanced entrance fee to each tourist who visited the area. The twelve-page contract also indicated that the agency was authorised by the community to build a lodge, whose possession would be handed over through a formal act by the president of the community. The construction of the lodge and other activities should be undertaken by local community members, who would be employed by the agency. The agency also had to offer a space for community to sell their goods within the premises of the lodge. The agency was also obligated to bring tourists to the area of Hatun Machay and maintain and keep the area clean. The agency was also to participate in the conservation of the area, provide sanitary services to visitors and offering surveillance and conservation of the archaeological zones in Hatun Machay.

In 2013 the site was part of the Festival del Andinismo and attracted famous climbers such as Toti Vales and Edu Marin from Spain. Hatun Machay was mentioned in many guidebooks, such as in Lonely Planet´s guidebook for Peru and The Huaraz Climbing Guide, and, additionally, it was featured in various ads from famous brands such as Adidas and The North Face. It grew to be a renowned site that attracted tourists from all corners of the world, thus becoming a prosperous tourist attraction.

However, at the end of the contract in 2014 and after a couple of presidency changes in the community, the community members claimed that Saibene had not met all the contract terms. As a result, the contract would not be extended and the community made clear that they would start running the place. Between 2014 and mid-2015, the refuge was still run by Saibene, who refused to leave the premises. On Saturday, June the 18th, 2015, the rural community of Pampas Chico held a meeting where they decided under guidance of their (now former) president Manuel Danzarin Mendoza to give an ultimatum of 15 days to Argentine Huaraz resident Saibene to vacate his lodge and to stop charging admission for access to the rock forest. The community stated that they would take the administration of the lodge in their own hands and the District Municipality of Pampas Chico would become responsible for promoting and revaluating the main tourism circuits around the area. During a participatory budget meeting held at the District Municipality of Pampas Chico, different communities declared to seek to prioritise tourism in the area, making their district more attractive for tourism.

A week later, The Huaraz Telegraph was contacted by Saibene who stated that there was no such thing as a 15-day ultimatum. On his Facebook page, he stated that on that particular Saturday, there was indeed a meeting in the lodge at the rock forest where the community wanted to renew the existing contract, but that an agreement was not reached. Saibene also said that he no longer wanted to charge entrance fees to Hatun Machay, as the community of Pampas Chico should take care of that job and let the money flow into its own economy. In the contract we obtained, it states that the community actually agreed to take charge of collecting the entrance fee money since 2006; however, for some reason they never did. Saibene further stated that there was no legal way to remove him from the land unless at least his investment and work were recognised [financially compensated]. At this point in 2015, according to the Argentinean, there was no type of discussion whatsoever between both parties, and the community came to the conclusion that they would renegotiate an extension of the deal; however, a new deal was never signed. Additionally, Saibene said to have filmed the whole assembly with the community.
A year later, in 2016, the situation got out of control. Saibene denounced the Pampas Chico community at the Recuay prosecutor’s office for alleged robbery and theft of his belongings he had stored in a room at the lodge. This alleged robbery and theft is also mentioned in the copy of the criminal complaint The Huaraz Telegraph received in 2017. The complaint reads that Saibene ostensibly became the victim of aggravated robbery, losing equipment, drills, ropes, harnesses and climbing shoes. On the 14th of June, 2016, between 02:30 and 03:30pm, the Argentinean was denied access to his lodge. During that same week, Saibene was given 24 hours to leave the place and to take all his belongings with him.

In July 2016, the authors of The Huaraz Climbing Guide paid a visit to Hatun Machay and came back with some interesting findings on the most important climbing site in the Huaraz region. The authors stated on their Facebook page that although the atmosphere at the site was good at that particular time, the state of the climbing routes was not, as there were approximately 28 to 32 unequipped climbing routes (the great majority being the easiest, most used routes), where apart from the bolts being removed, the expansive bolts were destroyed too. Many people speculated at the time that the lodge had been burned, but the authors noticed that the lodge was actually in good condition, nothing had been burned other than a small part of the wooden floor on the ground floor, but furniture had been removed and the toilet blocks had been destroyed once again. The authors also found out that at the time, the community were charging tourists 8 soles to enter Hatun Machay.

At the beginning of this year, rumours circulated that the lodge had been burned again and that the climbing routes, which had been previously unbolted, were left with damaged bolts, thus posing a potential danger to climbers. Local climber Beto Pinto Toledo went to Hatun Machay and confirmed the lodge was burned and mattresses, beds, the stove, kitchen and toilet/shower facilities were all destroyed or were no longer usable. Pinto Toledo confirmed that because numerous climbing routes were unbolted and that others were left with damage, it would not be safe for tourists to climb in the area. Additionally, he confirmed that on the 6th January the community granted Rosario Pilar Obregón Domínguez the management of the site. On April the 27th, Pinto Toledo received a notarial letter in which Obregón demanded the rectification of the interview given on Cable Andino for the reason of having declared ‘unadjusted versions of truth’. When The Huaraz Telegraph published the video of the interview on their Facebook page, Obregón reacted furiously, unfairly accusing us of defamation. An allegation that made no sense at all, as all statements given by Pinto Toledo were backed up by video images.

On April the 21st, our newspaper published an article in which we questioned the appearance of controversial flyers promoting activities at Hatun Machay. We were shown some surprising flyers of Hatun Machay that were displayed inside a couple of tourist shops in Huaraz. These flyers showed the (new) entrance fees for the Hatun Machay Rock Forest and a couple of contact details, but it did not show clearly who the person behind this initiative was. The appearance of the flyer was highly unexpected because our newspaper was informed only earlier that week by Saibene that as long as the legal case he has started against the Pampas Chico Community would not be resolved, no one can use the lodge he built with his own money, nor can they manage the place. The flyers, however, indicated a list of prices for camping, staying overnight in the lodge and day visits. People willing to camp had to pay 10 soles and staying in the refuge (which was at the time and still is completely unusable) would cost 30 soles per night and a visit for a day 10 soles. Additionally, the flyers also indicated that guides would be obliged to demonstrate their guiding license, otherwise they would be charged like tourists, and that no one would be allowed entrance without an official ID. This publication by The Huaraz Telegraph once again infuriated Obregón who questioned our acting and threatened us though messages on social networks.

In May of this year, Obregón finally openly claimed to be the new concessionaire of Hatun Machay and spoke to the local press (except us of course) announcing that the rock forest of Hatun Machay had officially reopened to visitors on the 29th of May. According to the psychologist a couple of new disciplines such as slackline and cross-country running were to be offered to tourists. Obregón said in her declarations to the press that the community of Catac would also be part of her administration and that this new period will be better than the previous administration. However, Obregón did not specify for how long she has been granted the concession. In an online article, Obregón explained the reason why she got involved in Hatun Machay. She basically said that ´voices´ told her to administrate Hatun Machay. She recalled: “I remember that I got up and, wanting to leave my tent; a woman’s voice told me “get up and work”. I then started to connect, to ask people what I could do to help them, how to rent the place. That´s how everything began a year ago. That voice, I do not know if it were the mountains, a virgin or the patroness of the place, but I know it was a woman.’

Although Obregón in her recent interview with the local press said she did not have any problems with the preceding administrator and that there will be no restrictions for visitors, her actions on Facebook tell a different story. On the 14th of May, she stated that five people in Huaraz were declared ´persona non grata´, three foreigners, including a reporter (this must be us!) and two Peruvians, meaning that these five persons are not allowed to visit Hatun Machay. One of the Peruvians in question appears to be mountain guide Beto Pinto Toledo, another player in this conflict is the aforementioned Argentine citizen Andrés Saibene and it is likely that the other two persona non grata are the owners of local travel agency Quechuandes, who, after being written to on a regular basis by foreign climbers wondering about the situation in Hatun Machay, have openly spoken out about the conflict going on there.

Additionally, in the last week of May, our newspaper was contacted by Saibene as he wanted to hand over some documents related to the dispute around Hatun Machay. The Huaraz Telegraph obtained a copy of a criminal complaint which was filed by Saibene against Rosario Del Pilar Obregón Dominguez on the 30th of May. The latter being accused of being the author of usurpation and damages of the lodge at the rock forest of Hatun Machay. The criminal complaint was presented at the criminal prosecution of Recuay. The former administrator of Hatun Machay informed The Huaraz Telegraph that he had decided to denounce the new concessionaire for usurpation and damages. Saibene claimed that because the place is in dispute since last year and no legal solution has been found yet, the lodge still belongs to him.

Saibene also provided us with a copy of the concession contract between him the community. After having analysed the contract, it appears to contain a loophole. At no point is it mentioned what would happen with the lodge after the concession is ended. Considering that Saibene is the one who built the place, understandably, he feels he is the rightful owner until this conflict has found a legal solution. Therefore, no one can use the lodge or the site in order to make money, so he claims. Saibene has claimed to our editor on two occasions that he has not been back to Hatun Machay since July 2016 and stressed that it was not him who set the lodge and chozas (huts) on fire. This claim may come as a surprise to many people, as a lot of people in Huaraz are accusing Saibene of having burned the place down. The publication of the criminal complaint filed by Saibene caused another reaction from Obregón who publicly accused our editor of being a coward and stated to take justice into her own hands.

Tired of threats and false allegations our editor decided to write an open letter to Obregón. This open letter was published in Spanish on our website and was read and shared by many. In the letter, our editor forgave Obregón her threats but said it will not to stop publications on Hatun Machay. She was also offered, on two occasions, an interview in which she would have had the opportunity to explain her point of view. Here a few quotes translated from Spanish into English from the open letter:

“Now, referring to the article that we published on Saturday the 3rd of this month, I want to ask you if we have been wrong somewhere, and if this is the case, if you could tell us where. The criminal complaint in question is a complaint dating back to May 30, 2017 and addressed to you. We are not inventing this as you suggested; but it may be that the prosecution of Recuay has not yet notified you. I’m sorry you had to read it through our media. According to the information and evidence we have been able to collect, we have come to the conclusion that Hatun Machay is not a safe place for tourists at the moment. If you, being the new concessionaire, can guarantee their safety, we will be happy to inform our readers and followers that the place is suitable for visits and sports activities.”

“Maybe you’re surprised what I’m about to say; but we have nothing against you, nor against the fact that you are the new concessionaire of Hatun Machay. We do not have any interests towards the site or the refuge. As a matter of fact, tourists don’t care if you are the administrator of Hatun Machay, or someone else. They want to enjoy their stay in safe circumstances, nothing else. Besides, Rosario, you should understand that your long-term online publications could have a negative effect on your career. You’re a psychologist, remember? Do not worry, the virtual threats directed to me, I can forgive you those, I think we all make mistakes and despite you being a psychologist, maybe you were tense and you could not control your emotions the moment you decided to write those lines.”

“If you are unable to handle criticism or comments, I firstly suggest tolerance and, as a last resort, a job corresponding to your abilities and emotional limits. In addition, a small suggestion, before making an online publication that could be read by possibly thousands of people today, review your grammar and spelling. It looks ugly to read so many mistakes, especially for a professional person who claims to be the new Hatun Machay concessionaire.”

At the time of publishing this edition of The Huaraz Telegraph, we have not yet received a reply and our invitation for an interview honoured. Since we haven’t been to Hatun Machay recently, we cannot confirm whether the promised improvements by the new concessionaire have been implemented. The same is the case with some climbing routes that had been re-bolted by a group of students from the Casa de Guias in the ´Placa Verde´ sector, which unfortunately appear to have once again been unbolted. According to climber Camila Chamizo from Argentina, this act was committed by a ´compatriot´ and an accomplice.

The latest development is that there is now an official S/15 soles fee per person to visit Hatun Machay for a day and a S/25 soles fee for staying overnight in one of the huts (the refuge is still burned and not useable). These fees are charged to local and foreign visitors alike, as well as to guides (certificated or not), cooks and even drivers! This comes as a big surprise and is very controversial as the Huascaran National Park and the Refugios Andinos have never charged guides, cooks or drivers for visiting. There also appears to be a S/5 soles fee for parking. It is not clearly understood what the money charged is for, apart from visiting, as facilities are still in a poor state (although some repairs seem to have been made to the huts that were burned down) and as the new management appears not to be planning on investing their own money to rebolt the routes that were unbolted previously or to bolt new climbing routes. As a matter of fact, the new concessionaire is openly asking for donations of bolts and asking help for bolting routes.

Until some reliable evidence comes to light, we unfortunately cannot be sure of anything, and, as we communicated earlier to our readers and followers, unless the site is 100% safe for tourists, we cannot recommend people going there, despite what others say.

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2 Responses to “The piteous downfall of Hatun Machay” Subscribe

  1. Mike Kaye July 19, 2017 at 09:48 #

    Dear Rex
    I read with interest your article on Hatun Machay in the July printed edition of The Huaraz Telegraph and visited the site a couple of days later. The article is very negative and contains information that is out of date. I think it is unfair and misleading to make a blanket statement the place is ‘unsafe for tourists’. This accusation seems based on the state of bolts on climbing routes. I did notice some bolts missing on a couple of routes, but there were plenty of routes fully bolted. I did not climb myself, but a group of rock climbers told me that they had climbed routes that were safe. In any case, many tourists go there for hiking or bouldering, so the state of bolts is not relevant.
    It is sad that there is so much politics involved with the site, as highlighted in the article, but this does not make the site ‘unsafe for tourists’. I get the impression that the article was written in a negative way because of personal differences between the editor and the current administrator.
    To clarify a few points that were out of date in the article: The toilet block is now working. Entrance fee is 10 soles for a day, which was collected by people from the local community. They did not charge me for parking or for the driver. Day entry is the same for locals and foreigners, but to stay overnight is cheaper for Peruvians. Charges are clearly displayed on a sign at the entrance. The campsite was popular, with half a dozen tents there when I visited. The refuge is not being used, so the former administrator has no reason to complain that it is being used for profit.
    Hatun Machay a big asset for Huaraz tourism. The site should be encouraged to overcome its difficulties and attract tourists. I hope that the Huaraz Telegraph send another climber who knows the site to make a full assessment of bolted routes. I hope a more accurate, impartial and balanced article can be published in the August edition highlighting any improvements found since the last article, as well as encouraging further improvements. A positive article will help Hatun Machay recover, which in turn will help Huaraz Tourism.
    Mike Kaye (Frequent visitor to Huaraz)

    • Editor The Huaraz Telegraph July 20, 2017 at 09:48 #

      Dear Mike,

      To start, I would like to thank you for your detailed review on one of our articles. Feedback is very important for us as you will understand. Please allow us to share our point of view on a couple of things.

      You´re not the first person to react on our latest HM article, however, you’re the first who thinks it´s (too) negative. Other foreign readers have informed us that they thought the article was a bit provocative, though very helpful and accurate. We believe that the article sums up a couple of happenings from 2006 until last month and all these facts are relevant to understand the complex situation the site finds itself in. We don’t believe that the article is negative at all, although if you would state that it doesn´t promote the site very much, we agree.

      We have come to the conclusion that HM is unsafe for tourists for three main reasons:

      1. Because of the fact that a month ago a hut located next to the refuge was set on fire by an unknown person while French tourists were staying in an adjacent hut overnight and other tourists were camping. The incident was filmed by the French tourists and it is clear from the commentary in the video, that the person who set the hut on fire did not check beforehand if anybody was staying inside and as a result the French tourists and other tourists staying at the site at the time were extremely scared, especially given that if some tourists had not gone to wake up the French tourists sleeping in the hut and got them out, who knows what would have happened to them.

      2. Because of the safety of the climbing routes. Some bolts have been cut halfway and might be loose and come off at any given time, which could cause some serious accidents; and some bolts are completely missing. Another factor concerning the safety of routes, is that routes are continually being unbolted and rebolted and this poses two major problems. First given that the new concessionaire appears to have little knowledge about bolting routes, she is asking help from other people, some who are not experts in this field, and as a result the routes are not being bolted correctly from a safety point of view. This has been commented to us in great detail by various climbers who visited the site recently and found the routes badly bolted. The second problem is that the continuous unbolting and rebolting causes great damage to the rock, as more and more holes are drilled into it.

      3. Because the site is in a vicious legal dispute between the former and current administrator and various visitors from different nationalities have reported having had bad experiences with both administrators in the past and present.

      Although some tourists might go to HM for hiking or bouldering, the great majority of visitors go there for sport climbing and as such the state of the bolts and anchors is extremely relevant. And, of course the safety of visitors in general is equally important.

      What is least relevant, we agree, is what our editor thinks about the new concessionaire. We are sorry if you got the impression that some of our writing is based on personal feelings, but we can assure you that it is not the case, everything we write is purely based on facts. We have no personal preference between the former or current administrator, we are just interested in reporting facts.

      We appreciate the updates that you have sent us. Please understand that when an article gets approved in our newspaper, there might still be two weeks before the article is published in the printed edition. Therefore, at the time of finishing the article, all was up to date, however in a week or 10 days’ time, a lot can happen. Especially during the high season when tourists arrive and in a place such as Hatun Machay, where a lot has been happening for over a year now.

      We are very happy to hear that the toilet block is working again, let´s hope it stays this way.

      Regarding the fees, they have been changed numerous times under the new administration and unfortunately changes to the fees being charged are not being communicated to anyone, so one just finds out the latest fee when visiting the site. Regarding drivers being charged, we received information from two different groups of people that drivers had been charged S/15 soles, so were cooks and even some guides. This policy might have been changed since our article has come out.

      We would appreciate it if you could give us the latest updates on fees, it would be great if you had an actual photo of the sign displaying them.

      You state that the refuge is not currently being used and that does not surprise us at all because it has been so badly damaged by fire that it is obviously no longer usable. What you may not know is that before the refuge was burned so badly the new concessionaire did attempt to use the refuge, this was clearly demonstrated by the fact that she published a list of prices that included staying inside the refuge. So it is clear that her initial intention was to use the refuge for profit, even though she had no legal rights over it. We believe that this was wrong and only added to the ongoing feud.

      Please understand that our assessment was based on the detailed information we received from a professional mountain guide and climber who is an expert in this field and made a personal visit to Hatun Machay to assess the state of the routes. He subsequently made a video of it and considered the site unsafe, stating that under no circumstances he would send his customers to climb there.

      What we find very worrying is that the new administration has made no statement whatsoever on the state of the routes, when we consider this should be her priority, given that if you charge people for climbing, you should then in the least ensure their safety.

      Please take into account that whatever we write in our newspaper comes from direct sources and is thoroughly checked before printing. We are very much planning to keep on publishing articles on HM and appreciate any input and update we receive from our readers, so that we can deliver accurate, impartial and balanced articles.

      We both agree that it is in Huaraz´s best interest that the site comes alive again; however, the legal dispute should be resolved first and any potential dangers to visitors should be communicated to them, so that they can make an informed decision on whether to visit the site or not.

      Best wishes,

      Rex Broekman

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