Archive for October, 2006

Transportation in Lima

Tuesday, October 17th, 2006

   Biking across the cities of Latin America, I have become interested in the quality of transportation in these cities, and, of course, how easy these cities are to bicycle. (See what I thought of Los Angeles, Mexico City, Bogotá, and Caracas).

These parts are always the most exciting to bicycle
I love biking faster than traffic.

   During my week in Lima, I crossed the city several times, logging 150 miles on my bicycle. With over 9 million people, Lima has no mass transit system, and only an inefficient system of busses. Few Limans own cars, so most use the busses, which I found to be always slower than using my bicycle (see video on right for extreme example). So, do people bike in Lima? There are a few bike lanes (60 km), but they are of low quality. I got up early one morning to see if people used the bike lanes to commute (like they do in Bogota – for comparison, see these pictures), and I saw few cyclists (see videos below). The city is flat, never rains, and has a cool comfortable climate – it is a perfect place for bicycle use, yet the infrastructure to do so is poor. (At the office where people work on bike lanes, only one out of four people bikes to work.)

Morning test of the bike routes - does anyone use them?
Still riding the bike route - no bikes
Lots of pedestrians on the bike route....not too many bicycles

   In the next few decades, cities like Lima have a choice – support individual car use, or support mass transit and non-motorized transit. If cities support car use, as the economy grows and more people can afford cars, their greenhouse gass emissions will grow rapidly, worsening global warming. If cities choose a less car intensive path, the city will not only produce less pollution but also probably be more livable.

Lots of lanes - I just biked from that direction

   To develop sustainable transportation, a city needs not only good ideas and investment, it needs the people to support such projects. One problem, as I see it, is that many Latin Americans look to our cities in the U.S. as models for how to develop their spaces – the people are more likely to support projects that make their cities look like U.S. cities. And I will let you decide for yourself how to fix that problem.

Global Warming and Water Problems in Peru

Monday, October 16th, 2006
Ocean, sand cliffs

   As I said in the last entry, Peru’s coast is home to one of the driest deserts in the world. Despite the constant fog, it almost never rains – my tour guide for an exhibit in Lima told me that the last time there was heavy rain was 35 years ago.

   All of the water for the city comes from the mountains, where it falls as rain or snow and then melts, filling the rivers. During the dry season, half of the year, almost all of the water is from melting snow and ice. Unfortuantely, almost all of these glaciers are going to melt and dissapear in the next 50 years. It is unclear where Peruvians will get their water from when the glaciers are gone.

A river from the end of the glacier provides water for the towns below during the dry season.
Melting glaciers and water supply explained

   The country’s energy supply is also at risk. According to people I talked to at PROCLIM, a project aimed at preparing Peru for global warming, 80% of Peru’s electricity is hydroelectric, and, during the dry season, 80% of the water in the dams is from glacial runoff. Unless investment for huge new dams is found, Peru might have to switch to using fossil fuels to produce its electricity.

Juan shows me chile peppers, and explains water problems
No water in the river bed during the dry season

   All of this will take place in a country where I have already seen many water problems. Most of the towns and cities I have been in (including parts of Lima) have certain hours of the day when the city does not provide water. In one rural area east of the Cordillera Blanca, I met a man working for the government whose job it is to resolve water disputes. ‘It is a big problem here. I have to make sure that each day the water goes to a different house.’ A farmer I stayed with near the coast pointed to a number of his crops and said that they would be twice as high if not for a shortage of water. And every person who lives near a stream tells me the same story: the streams are more variable than they used to be. In the dry season there is less water, and in the rainy season there is more – just as one would expect from a decreasing snow pack. (To be fair, this is also due to deforestation as well as loss of snow and ice.)

   Loosing the glaciers and snow of the mountains will be a major loss for Peru. The only solution may be to build many new resivours in the mountains. But, what valleys will they choose to flood? What will happen to the people living in these valleys? And, how will Peru, a poor country, find the investment for such expensive projects?

Huaraz to Lima

Sunday, October 15th, 2006
Just another campsite - 30 miles south of Huaraz

   Leaving Huaraz, I climbed a 13,500 ft pass, camped one more night in the mountains, and then, in one day, descending to the coast (see map). The Peruvian coast is one of the driest deserts in the world, and apart from irrigated land, roadside vegetation almost entirely disappeared, giving way to rock and sand. The coast, despite being in the tropics, was actually quite cool and covered in a thick fog due to cool ocean currents. The people living here, however, still let me camp next to their house.

13,000 ft descent to the coast
Julio, Joel, Ardalia, Milaska, Ricardo, Gloria, and I - a good place to spend the night!  Near Tunan
Road along the coast

   Continuing south, I soon entered Lima, Peru’s capital city and where 9 million people, or one third of Peru’s population, lives. Entering large cities in Latin America gives me perhaps the largest rush I get on this trip – probably because it is scary – and I biked for two hours across the urban land, assisted by a few bike routes, before arriving where I would stay for a week. As with all major cities, the outskirts are filled with shantytowns of poorer houses that I pass before entering a section of the town where the middle and upper classes live.

The outskirts of Lima - would you want to live here?
A good place to spend a few days
10/13 edition of El Peruano

   I stayed with Jose, a friend of a reporter that I stayed with while in Mexico City. Jose is an editor for El Peruano, Peru’s second biggest newspaper, and although he works more than12 hours a day, I got to know his family fairly well. I also found that staying at the house of a newspaper editor is the best way to get in the news (nice article written by Jose on the right). (I was also interviewed by a television station, but didn’t watch the news to find out.)

Students and Universidad Weimer
Students at Escuela Americana de Miraflores

   In Lima, I was busy. I gave two school presentations, attended a conference on sustainable transportation, visited a team designing bike routes for Lima, met with people styding the effects of global warming in Peru, spent some time hanging out at the South American Explorer’s clubhouse, and also tried to be a tourist for two days, visiting museums. I left the city with yet another list of people who opened their doors to me, who I hope to see again, and who I have promised a letter to from Argentina.

A map of future bike routes in Lima - the 'non-motorized transport' group in Lima
A brunch with new friends
Lima's Main Plaza and Cathedral
The Vexler's - family friends from back home appear out of nowhere in Lima (thanks for the dinner!)

   (Family friends from home – the Vexlers, shown left – also made a cameo appearance as they were on vacation for a week in Peru – thanks for the dinner!)

Melting Glaciers and a Climb of Vallunaraju

Monday, October 2nd, 2006
View of the Cordillera Blanca from streets of Huaraz - the mountain on the left is Peru's tallest, Huascaran

   The city of Huaraz sits directly beneath the Cordillera Blanca, a massive mountain range that rises over 22,000 ft and has the world’s largest number of tropical glaciers. All of these glaciers, however, are melting rapidly – some studies estimate that over half of the existing glaciers will melt in the next 20 years and, within the next 50 years almost the ice could be gone.

   In Huaraz, I met researchers at INRENA (Instituto Nacional de Recursos Naturals), who monitor the glaciers. ”Everywhere you look” they told me, ”you can see exposed rock beneath the glaciers or glacial lakes. That is where the glaciers reached less than a century ago.” In a few days in the mountains, I took the photos below of various glaciers – in every case you can see the glaciers used to reach far below. According to one local, the glacier shown on the right used to reach where I am sitting to take the picture.

This glacier used to reach to the lake
The melting end of the glacier I climbed
This glacier used to reach where I am sitting

   There are few things I enjoy more than a view across high mountaintops, and, after a mountaineering guide convinced to front the money, I was soon following the guide out of Huaraz to attempt a climb of Vallunaraju. We would climb the nearly 19,000 ft peak in just one morning, leaving our 14,000 ft base camp at midnight, hiking to the base of the glacier at 16,000 ft, and then using rope and crampons to reach the summit.

   The morning we choose was perfect – not a cloud in the sky, and, after hiking beneath the stars for hours, we watched the sunrise over the glaciated peaks. Climbing further, we neared the top just before 8AM. Ten meters from the summit, however, we encountered an ice wall that would have required steep climbing with rock cliffs below. Although my guide was ready to lead, I decided that I did not need to climb higher, as I was more than happy with the view that we had.

Following Wilford up Vallunaraju
Don't fall!  Near the top of Vallunaraju, 5700 meters
View from top of Vallunaraju and melting glaciers
Huascaran, Peru's tallest mountain, is behind me on the left
View from (near) the top of Vallunaraju 5690 meters (18,650 ft)
View from top of Vallunaraju
You can see beneath each of these glaciers where they used to reach.

   Loosing these glaciers will cause major water problems in Peru, something that I will talk about in my next post. It will also hurt the tourism industry in Huaraz as people visit these mountains to see the snow capped peaks. To me personally, though, it is sad to look across these mountains and realize that in 50 years, this view will be gone.