Superstars and Stumblebums: A Satire on Modern Day Race-Running

There exists a not-so-obvious link between Tolkien’s Middle Earth and our society’s burgeoning fascination with massive race-running events. Let me explain.

Since two post-grads at Harvard came up with the Tough Mudder concept in 2010 – turning a $20 Facebook ad into a $70 million dollar company (see http://www.inc.com/tim-donnelly/tough-mudder-conquering-obstacles-to-build-70-million-business.html) – formal racing events have started cropping up everywhere, with more and more people finding purpose through participation in the collective competitions. This is particularly noticeable around my home state of Colorado, where you can’t swing a bag of Bavarian cream doughnuts without hitting a runner or biker training for some upcoming Olympianesque venture.

The increasing number of these competitions troubles me. Before 2010, I remember hearing about one or two races going on each summer. I even decided to participate every now and again (e.g., running the Bolder Boulder 10k in 2006 with about 35,000 other friendly foot racers; official race site found here: http://www.bolderboulder.com).

But in the summer of 2016, I don’t think a single weekend went by without a) being told by somebody about a 5k, 10k, half marathon, or some other race I should run, or b) hearing friends talk about the rigorous race they just ran both for personal pleasure and for the love of all that is good in Middle Earth.

If the increased frequency of these races isn’t enough, there’s always the apotheosis of participants to worry about. Like heroes of myth and war, the runners draw nigh to deity for their commitment, their exertion, their sacrifice in the field of battle.

Those who are more committed receive the highest accolades. A run-of-the-mill 5k is far too easy for many of my demigod acquaintances, so they push the limits of superstardom even further by competing in duathlon or triathlon events. Showing up at some house party afterward, these superstar runners become a kind of Aragorn son of Arathorn returning victorious from the Gates of Mordor, receiving no shortage of offers to be nursed back to health by a host of dreamy she-elves.

Meanwhile, little recognition is given to those men and women who would rather escape into the summertime shadows, choosing to spend their lives, or so it would seem, on lesser-praised pursuits. These stumblebums, as I will call them, often find themselves retreating into the roots of the mountains, obsessed with protecting or perfecting some non-physical and often solitary activity which much of society has either come to forget or chosen to ignore.

Whatever the idée fixe may actually be for these stumblebums matters very little. In many parts of our country, the bottom line is this: if you do not run, you are not seen. You quickly become Gollum in his Misty Mountain cave – pallid, invisible, alienated – driven ever downward by your maddening fancies. Escaping your declension into darkness hinges on a single decision – the decision to cast your artistic or otherwise non-heroic passions into the fire and join the fellowship of race-runners who surround you.

Gollum sketch

Of course, I’m using broad strokes here, shamelessly dividing society’s masses into master categories like Durable v. Delirious while calling too much attention to Tolkien’s Middle Earth. Perhaps I need to spend more time acknowledging (pardon the cliche) that we are all together in this race called life, engaged in daily battles with far more insidious foes than those I’ve mentioned here. Perhaps I should praise our diverse predilections and depict a more uplifting vision of human experience, embracing the benefits of healthy living and the widespread admiration for artistic expression.

But this is satire, rife with hyperbole. And, truth be told, joining the race-running masses this summer remains decidedly low on my personal list of priorities. So, I choose now to return to Middle Earth and raise a sort of battle cry, if you will, for myself and other protectors of “the Precious” beneath the Misty Mountains:

Someday, superstars and stumblebums may unite in a valiant effort to keep the hordes of Mordor at bay.

This is not that day.

Someday, artistic sorts may return to the light, joining more venerated heroes and heroins of our time to restore all that is wrong in the world.

This is not that day.

We may recall that it was Gollum’s all-consuming passion for the Ring, developed over many years alone, that led to his unwitting deliverance of Middle Earth from impending doom. Observing this, and relinquishing any thirst for glory in the field of battle, I raise my voice with renewed conviction.

Gollums of the world – RETREAT!

The summertime shadows are calling.

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Surviving China: 10 Tips for the Western Traveler

For all you Westerners who haven’t visited China but may want to in the future, I’m going to lay out a few tips for you. The list is far from exhaustive, but these considerations should help you prepare for a few of the many challenges one might confront while traveling through the “Central Kingdom”. Let’s jump right in.

Tip 1: A Pepper-Lover’s Paradise (or, How to mitigate the hellish spice of Central China food)

Provinces in Central China like Sichuan, Hunan, and Hubei (where I’m currently living) are known for their spicy food. So what do you do in a land with little dairy to reduce the chance of excessive swelling during and after a meal? Order a side of non-spicy soup (if available), or a bowl of hot water, and baptize the hellish spice out of every bite before consuming. A bit cumbersome; but then again, so is diarrhea.

Tip 2: Bottoms Up on the Bai Jiu (or, How to avoid a Chinese Vodka binge as a dinnertime guest of honor)

On multiple occasions, a Westerner in China will be invited to have dinner and drinks with a large group of 20 or more Chinese around a massive circular table. While Chinese women drink little alcohol at such events, Chinese men often order a clear liquor called bai jiu (photo below; 50-75% ABV) to ensure their Western guest has a good time, if not to get decidedly snookered themselves. One at a time, the Chinese men will toast the Westerner’s health in such a way that, after the first round of toasting, each Chinese man at the table will have consumed but a single shot of bai jiu (from his respective toast), while the Westerner has consumed ten (one for each Chinese man toasting at the table). I recommend backing out of the bai jiu bonanza altogether by feigning an immuno-intestinal condition or genetic predisposition for dipsomania.

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Tip 3: Using Tabletops to your Advantage (or, How to considerately clear your mouth of undesirable food)

When you slurp up a spoonful of lotus root and beef soup, don’t let a bone in the meat keep you from enjoying the meal. Simply do what any respectable local would do, and spit the thing out onto the table. This will ensure that everyone around you will be able to appreciate the bone as much as you have.

Tip 4: Live and Let Fall (or, How to forget everything you thought you knew about the 5-second rule)

People apply a variety of standards to decide whether it’s okay to eat a piece of food that’s fallen to the floor. I don’t mean to be crude, but in China, where squat toilets are still the norm, the standard is simple: don’t eat anything that comes into (indirect) contact with the bottom of people’s shoes. After a squat on those toilets, I assure you it won’t be too difficult to leave the five-second rule – ahem – behind.

Tip 5: Embracing the “Man” in Mandarin (or, How to sustain those pesky higher tones when speaking)

Some Western men find it disconcerting to maintain the higher-pitched first tone applied to many Mandarin words. Mastering the first tone can be difficult, but one can find success by tapping into a host of preparatory techniques vetted by others who have long wrestled with learning Mandarin (the world’s most widely spoken language). These techniques range from the largely simplistic (e.g., drinking more soy milk) to the decidedly alarming (e.g., imbibing helium or increasing exposure to Michael Jackson songs in Chinese karaoke venues). Whatever the regimen you decide to employ, rapid mastery of the first tone is always within reach.

Tip 6: Green Hat Glitches (or, How to avoid accusations that your wife is cheating on you)

While wearing a green hat in ancient China likely meant something entirely different, it has taken on a new meaning in contemporary times. Apparently, saying that a man is “wearing a green hat” in China means that his wife (or significant other) has been fooling around with someone else. Learning this information earlier would have helped me to minimize excessive chortling while snowboarding (in my green winter hat) at the site of the 2022 Winter Olympics near Beijing recently.

Tip 7: How Low Can You Go? (or, How to demonstrate respect when toasting a venerable personage)

Nearly all business dealings in China happen over food, and nearly all business dealings involving food include multiple toastings between the major decision-makers at the table. Understanding the art of the toast in China might mean the difference between a deal and a disaster, as these toastings are far more nuanced here than they are in the West. Perhaps the most important thing to keep in mind is that, to express supreme respect to another individual of higher status, you should clink your glass below the rim of the glass of that individual. While this may lead two individuals of ambiguous social standing to try to “out-honor” each other, as it were – each one moving his/her glass further and further downward until the two have all but touched the ground (God forbid) – understanding this simple act of deference is sure to unlock significant opportunities for the otherwise in-urbane Westerner.

Tip 8: Finding an Internet Oasis (or, How to direct a taxi driver to the nearest Starbucks when lost)

If you arrive in China and soon find yourself in a taxi with no way of communicating the Chinese address to your hotel, you need only express a single word to your driver to regain your bearings: Shingbake (pronounced sheeng-bah-kuh, or Starbucks). With 2,500 stores in China as of 2016 (https://www.statista.com/statistics/277795/number-of-starbucks-stores-in-china/), and with that number set to double by 2021 (https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2016-10-19/starbucks-plans-to-double-number-of-locations-in-china-by-2021), your driver should have no problem understanding your request and quickly delivering you to the closest store.

Tip 9: Rituals with Sword and Song (or, How to engage in morning exercise with Kung Fu masters and old women)

Every morning, people around the world use a variety of methods to shake off the enervation of the night and to prepare for the day ahead. In the West, we are quite familiar with the rejuvenating effect of a shower or a fresh brew of coffee. You might be drawn to yoga, a morning run, or an hour at the gym. While these are good options, let me assure you that nothing spells “energize” at 7 a.m. like passing through a group of older women practicing Kung Fu in the park. The musical display promises an even stronger effect if each woman is holding a wooden sword or giant Chinese fan.

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Tip 10: 50% Bloody Beef (or, How to order a rare burger to your liking)

In China, I recommend never visiting a restaurant and requesting something so cryptic as a burger cooked “medium rare” (if you can find a place besides McDonalds that serves burgers at all). No, no. Even if you have learned the Chinese system for ordering burgers (i.e., 50% = rare, 75% = medium, and 100% = well done), chances are that your server has not. The key, then, is to order your burger to be cooked to at least 75%. This will ensure a more accurate Sino-American conversion and should drastically improve your chances at not being served a bloody slab of ground beef on a sopping bun.

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There are many additional insights I’ve failed to mention here, including a host of positive experiences linked to the incredible kindness and generosity of my Chinese friends here in the city of Wuhan (i.e., the Chicago of the East; see https://www.tripadvisor.com/Attractions-g297437-Activities-Wuhan_Hubei.html). It is hoped, however, that the exaggerated list of tips I’ve provided in this post will somehow assist the Western traveler to be better prepared upon deciding to venture out and experience China for the first time.

A “Crudo” From Colorado Commemorates Cuzco Community Conversations

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Visiting magnificent Machu Picchu near Cuzco, Peru is an unforgettable experience and once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. However, almost anyone who has been to Cuzco would agree that a memorable visit to the ancient Inca capital involves much more than exploring runic relics of the past.

Many aspects of traditional Inca culture live on in countless rural and remote villages sprinkled across the Peruvian, Bolivian, Chilean, and Ecuadorian Andes. Conversing with the people in these villages and experiencing their way of life undoubtedly affords visitors to the region a more profound and personalized appreciation for Inca history and culture.

Nearly 1,100 travel companies operate in and around Cuzco, and a growing number of them specifically emphasize visits to communities and interactions with local people. Intrepid Travel is one such company (website here: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/us). But what kinds of positive and negative impacts does this kind of community-based tourism have on partner communities?

With funding from Intrepid, I spent six months in 2013 in four villages of Peru’s Sacred Valley to help Intrepid investigate how local people themselves would answer that question. By living for three to four weeks in the communities of Chichubamba, Amaru, Sacaca, and Qorqor, I and my research assistant, Nilo, heard numerous stories from local people that helped us better understand reasons for their involvement in tourism, how tourism has impacted their quality of life, and their concerns or interests related to current and future tourism development. It turned out to be an unforgettable adventure for this crudo from Colorado (crudo means raw or uncooked in Spanish and is playfully employed by many Peruvians to refer to light-skinned tourists).

My work in all four communities revealed that benefits from tourism are enjoyed almost entirely by individuals working directly in it (there are few community-wide benefits). Those working in tourism reported positive changes in their quality of life since Intrepid began visiting communities, with more noticeable changes seen among those who worked in tourism for longer periods of time. In general, it could be said that tourism in these communities led to cleaner living spaces, home expansion, and an increased ability for locals to provide for children (education, medicine, food, etc.).

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Women saw the most positive tourism-related changes, as alternative employment and income-generating opportunities became increasingly available for them through Intrepid visits. In Qorqor, the fourth and final community in which I stayed, benefits were not only economic but also social in nature. Women said that they worked in tourism not merely because it promised some monetary reward (tourism in Qorqor actually generates less income than more traditional activities like farming), but also because it was more fun to spend time with their friends when Intrepid groups arrived than to spend time alone at home (doing daily chores like laundry, tending to animals, etc.).

Of course, local views were not entirely positive. Toward the end of my stay, representatives from tourism associations in each of the four communities met together with Intrepid staff for an all-day workshop to share respective community histories, association interests, and tourism-related concerns. Intrepid promised to address these concerns through specific changes in how tours were managed on their end (e.g., Intrepid guides would now contact communities three days rather than just one day prior to a scheduled visit). An inter-community gathering like this had not taken place previously, and it provided space for local views and aspirations to be integrated with Intrepid goals in the future.

While I wrapped up my dissertation field work in Peru in 2013, it is no exaggeration to say that Cuzco and Machu Picchu became far more to me than wonders of the ancient world with rich historical pasts. Cuzco became a home away from home, where friends and families await to celebrate my return with a sweet brew of purple corn chicha, a steaming bowl of soup made with freshly harvested Quinoa, and a savory Guinea pig on the spit. As such, I dedicate these dissertation-related lines to Intrepid Travel (and specifically to Jane Crouch in Melbourne, who helped oversee my work in Peru from beginning to end); to my research assistant, Nilo; and to the tourism associations of Chichubamba, Amaru, Sacaca, and Qorqor for affording me so many unforgettable experiences. Many thanks, and tupananchiskama (until next we meet)!

Taters and Tourism en route to Machu Picchu

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The potato and I have shared many agreeable moments through the years. Given the delights and duration of our acquaintance, I might go so far as to call us intimate friends. I am thus ashamed to admit that I was entirely unaware of my friend’s birthplace until quite recently. Make no mistake: the fourth largest food crop in the world originated in the Andes of South America.

In the Sacred Valley of the Peruvian highlands, where I conducted a community-based tourism research project for Intrepid Travel in 2013 (Intrepid website here: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/us), folks have been cultivating and consuming taters for more than 8,000 years. Not the two or three types with which much of the Western world is familiar, but over 4,000 varieties native to the region.

It is no exaggeration to say that potatoes have tremendous ecological and cultural significance for the Quechua communities sprinkled around Machu Picchu and across the Andean landscape. In 2011, testifying to their value on a global scale, the seeds of some 1,500 varieties were shipped from Cuzco’s so-called Potato Park to be stored in the Svalbard Global Seed Vault east of Greenland. There, the seeds are currently and comfortably conserved in a cold arctic clime for future generations.

The epicenter of Cuzco’s Potato Park (or, Parque de la Papa) happens to be in the small Andean village of Sacaca where I and my research assistant, Nilo, carried out our research for several weeks. The focus of our efforts was to explore perspectives of tourism impacts among local peoples, and finding proved to be as varied and complex as the assortment of starchy spuds we consumed there on a daily basis.

Several times per month, from April to December, Intrepid groups come to Sacaca and interact with members of its only tourism association, Sumaq Warmi (Quechua for ‘Beautiful Women’). The nine members of the Association – one of whom, quite amusingly, happens to be male – provide a hot, sumptuous lunch for the visitors, supporting local livelihoods. Intrepid groups also have a chance to purchase traditional weaves from the associates and to participate in activities related to daily life in the community.

While tourism associations in other Andean villages take great pains to improve members’ homes in order to receive visitors, not one of the 160 households in Sacaca was offering overnight stays at the time of our study in 2013. At least, not officially. Staying with Sumaq Warmi’s President and his family, Nilo and I slept on sheep skins beneath heavy blankets, washed our unmentionables with a touch of tepid water every now and again, and learned how to properly squat in the latrines without staining our pants or disturbing the bellowing bulls just outside the latrine entrance.

Thankfully, government funds from the nearby municipality of Pisac had been supporting development efforts in Sacaca, leading to the construction of a village library, soccer field, and center for infant health just before our arrival. During our stay, the municipal government was supporting the construction of bathrooms (with toilet, sink, and shower) for every household in the village, as well.

Rather than use tourism income from Intrepid visits to improve their homes, Sumaq Warmi associates had pooled all their funds to build a restaurant on the property of the Association President. Intrepid travelers were served lunch in this unfinished, rustic locale atop a ridge that offered breathtaking views of the Sacred Valley in the distance. Hoping that Intrepid groups would visit the restaurant more frequently in the coming years, Sumaq Warmi members expected to see increased benefits for their community as job opportunities became available for non-associates, as well.

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While exploring local views of tourism in Sacaca, Nilo and I received an unexpected invitation to become Godfathers of a three-year old girl. After asking numerous questions as to what this might entail – and with visions of a lantern-jawed Don Corleone passing through my mind – I said I would be honored to share such a title with my friend, Nilo.  Gift-giving, cake eating, beer drinking, and a hair-cutting ceremony ensued in the subsequent celebration. Thinking of all the tourism- and tater-related joy I’d felt in Sacaca, I remember offering my Goddaughter a commemorative potato, though she didn’t understand my English. “Here,” I said, a playful twinkle in my eye. “This spud’s for you.”

Of Protein Shakes and Tourism Impacts in Peru’s Sacred Valley

It took several minutes before I realized that an entire squadron of baby spiders was repelling down from the thatched roof above me and into my hot cup of aba with milk. My research assistant and Spanish-Quechua translator, Nilo, seemed all too amused. Together, we had been invited into the home of a kind local woman to salvage our notebooks – and what was left of my bald, scabby head – from the hail that had begun to fall in destructive force upon the high Andean town of Amaru (elevation: 11,400 feet, or 3,800 meters) where we’d been conducting research for several weeks in 2013. As the tiny spiders descended upon me to escape the fury of the elements, I couldn’t help but laugh with my companion in contemplation of the unique challenges and experiences we’d had thus far in these remote and breathtakingly beautiful highlands.

While exploring local perspectives of tourism impacts, made possible through the financial support of Intrepid Travel (website here: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/us), Nilo and I learned to embrace the rural, indigenous lifestyle that characterized most people’s existence in the region. It would be no exaggeration to say that we established significant rapport with the residents in doing so.

Immersing ourselves in the local milieu, we carried sacs of cow manure down steep mountainsides; we bathed in cold water (despite the already bone-chilling, high-altitude temperatures); we used mortar and pestle to grind freshly harvested herbs for scrumptious soups; we ate potatoes in greater quantity and variety than I ever thought was possible (quite satisfying with complementary cheese and chili-sauce on the side); we went barefoot to press mud and straw into adobe blocks that would be skillfully stacked to build new homes; and we lost at least some circulation at night by sleeping beneath the crushing force of seven heavy blankets to keep out the cold.

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These experiences and others allowed Nilo and me to interact with locals and to learn about their perspectives regarding tourism. At the time of our research, Amaru – one of several towns Intrepid groups may visit on their way to magnificent Machu Picchu – provided a warm welcome for Intrepid visitors about once a week by cooking lunch for them and talking about traditional weaving practices. By paying for lunch and purchasing these hand-made textiles (some of which take a full month to weave!), visitors had an opportunity to support local livelihoods and improve the quality of life of residents.

In view of the perceived benefits that tourism provides for local people who work directly with Intrepid, these residents expressed an interest in receiving more groups and increasing tourism in Amaru. A significant challenge, however, was to determine how these benefits might reach others in a more equitable fashion, as the elderly and some individuals with considerable needs had much difficulty realizing tourism-related gains.

Upon finishing my spider-laden beverage and noticing that the hail outside had ceased, Nilo and I followed our friend to a nearby shelter where, every morning, she whipped up nutritional protein shakes for locals before they left to work in the fields. According to our friend, both she and several others in the community had been apparently cured from a litany of illnesses by partaking of the nutritional drinks each day.

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We finished our conversation with her on tourism impacts in Amaru, and she offered us each a protein shake at the fair local price of five nuevo soles apiece (about $2 USD). While Nilo jumped at the offer, I was forced to decline. Five soles was certainly better than the price of a Frappuccino, I thought. But with my spider-laden aba milk, I’d already had my fill of protein.

The Egg of the Ceviche

chichu-david-w-associationMy experiences researching local perspectives of tourism impacts in the Sacred Valley town of Chichubamba could be compared to the preparation of a fine ceviche. Ceviche is a classic Peruvian dish with simple but decidedly delectable ingredients including white fish, onion, salt, cilantro, and garlic – all tantalizingly tossed in lime juice.

Given the way my pasty skin peeled under the Peruvian sun, you might be inclined to see me as the white fish in this citrus soup metaphor. But I recently learned a phrase from a guide working for Intrepid Travel (the Australian travel company for which I was conducting the research), and it represents a far better analogy for the way I felt while conducting my dissertation research in 2013.

“In Peru, you must have felt like el huevo del ceviche (the egg of the ceviche),” she told me. Ceviche doesn’t come with egg, I thought. Of course, that was the point. No matter how badly I wanted to belong, to be ‘local’, to board the train to Machu Picchu at 1/5 the price charged to internationals, I knew I’d never be seen as a true blue Chichubambino of the Sacred Valley. I would never ‘fit in’. I would definitely never feel at home eviscerating a Guinea pig, stuffing its intestine with onion, potato and cilantro, frying it up, and then devouring it as I would a batch of chocolate chip cookies.

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No, I was an extraneous element in the exceptional ethnic array of the Peruvian Andes. As Robert Louis Stevenson once wrote:  There are no foreign lands.  It is the traveler only who is foreign.

And yet, during the month I stayed in Chichubamba, I was received by the community as one of their own: invited to plow fields with a yoke of bellowing oxen; sharing childhood memories over barrels of chicha (corn beer); joining a boy in the town as he shot down pigeons with his sling to feed his cat; braving thorn bushes and precipitous drops with townspeople to reach two Incan towers overlooking the town from 2,200 feet above the valley floor; and helping grind coffee beans for hours on end to separate the beans from their hard shells.

Many of these experiences were also shared by Intrepid groups who stopped in the village on their way from Cuzco to Machu Picchu. I would often join them for lunch at one of the homes (the Quinoa soup was always outstanding), or I would sit in on one of the workshops offered by members of the Agrotourism Association (learning to make a ceramic bowl and eating fresh honeycomb from the hive were definitely highlights).

Out of place though I was, my experiences with locals allowed me to better understand their relationship with tourism. By soaking in the citrus, so to speak, the egg of the ceviche began to detect the characteristic flavors of Chichubamba. Although there were only minimal tourism impacts observed at the community level, the fourteen individuals involved in tourism reported tremendous improvements in their quality of life since Intrepid groups began visiting the community in 2008. One individual even stated, “Working in our fields, we were able to survive. With tourism, we have been able to improve.”

As of 2013, the Association was still wrestling with how to distribute tourism benefits equally among its members. This would prove an ongoing challenge as members sought to balance personal/family interests with those of the Association and of the community at large. Despite these difficulties, Chichubamba wanted to host more Intrepid groups and see an increase in tourism in the years ahead.

While in Chichubamba, it was impossible to know what kinds of experiences and findings I would soak up in other Sacred Valley communities. In the culinary world, placing eggs in ceviche hasn’t caught on, but the metaphor works reasonably well. Here’s to soaking it all in!

 

The Road to Chichubamba

Some adrenaline junkies will go far and wide to find the next big thing. In 2013, while conducting tourism research in Peru for Intrepid Travel (website here: http://www.intrepidtravel.com/us), I received an unexpected adrenaline rush during a mini-van ride from the city of Cuzco and down into the so-called Sacred Valley.

Keep hands and feet inside the car at all times, ‘cause this here’s the wildest ride in the wilderness.  The final words of warning from the old cowboy on Disney’s Big Thunder ride kept running through my head as our driver took one harrowing turn after another. A woman walking beside the highway with her baby strapped to her back appeared entirely at ease as we sped by, the baby barely turning its head beneath a brilliantly-colored cloth.

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As we left behind herds of sheep grazing among expansive highland pastures and made our final 1,000-foot descent into the Sacred Valley, I chuckled to myself. I’m not an adrenaline junkie, and I don’t tend to flock towards uncertainty and discomfort with any degree of regularity. Yet, there I was: as gringo as gringo can be, moving speedily toward the agricultural valley-town of Chichubamba, preparing to explore tourism impacts among local people over the next month. In some ways I felt like a sheep being herded along ancient Incan trails, or like one of those babies wrapped in a cloth and strapped to the back of destiny. Could any amount of planning and foresight prepare me for what lay ahead?

Chichubamba is located just outside the larger Sacred Valley town of Urubamba and yet it remains curiously remote and unknown. At the bus terminal in Urubamba – not more than a 15-minute mototaxi ride from where I’d be living – I spoke with at least four drivers who weren’t exactly sure where the town of Chichubamba was. Is it in the canyon between the hills?  Is it up the valley along the river?  Oh, that is very far away! Thankfully, I finally found a driver who had heard of the Agrotourism Association of Chichubamba and who was happy to haul me up the dirt roads outside of town for a fair local price of three nuevo soles (~1.10 USD).

It didn’t take me long to grow delightfully acquainted with the town and its people. How fortuitous that I would be staying with the President of the Agrotourism Association and her family! Over the previous eight years, with the help of Intrepid Travel and several NGOs, the remaining thirteen member households of the Association had developed their services and skills to host visitors more effectively for short or extended stays. Each member (or socio) of the Association at the time was focusing on one of seven specializations to raise additional money from visitors when they passed through. These revolved around the raising of cuy (Guinea Pig), the brewing of chicha (corn beer), ceramics, apiculture, floriculture, textiles, and chocolates/coffee.

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During the month I stayed in Chichubamba, I had many conversations with those who worked in community tourism and with those who didn’t. I can still remember my first early-morning meeting in which I introduced myself more formally to the socios. They told me to meet them at six a.m. on a Sunday morning. It wasn’t a time I would have chosen, but reaching out to the locals required some flexibility when there were bull fights and barbeques (barbecuys?) to attend.