crédito total de la fotos, Don Frank Coffey
The Cordillera Vilcanota is a mountain range located in Peru southeast of Cusco, on the boundary between the regions of Cusco and Puno.
Many visitors think of Machu Picchu and its mystical Incan heights as the spiritual center for the people of Peru. However, to the Quechua people, the glorious 20,945-foot Mount Ausangate in the Andes is the main apu (deity). In December 2004, after many years of fighting for protective designation, the Andean people were on the verge of declaring the mountain and its attendant range, the Cordillera Vilcanota, as the world’s first “spiritual park.” However, the party in control of Peru’s government changed unexpectedly, and the park was not officially designated. Located in southern Peru, near the city of Cuzco, the proposed Vilcanota Spiritual Park is significant for its archaeological sites and the massifs that sustain multiple ecosystems over a great portion of South America. The spiritual park will protect a hot spot of biodiversity, including a thousand varieties of native potato. One Quechua shaman, Andres Apaza, said, “The mountains and Mother Earth provide us with life, with crops, with cattle, pasture and shelter. They provide us with the blessing of life. We have to continue making offerings to the spirits of Mother Earth, and the spirits of our main crop, the potato, because if we don’t keep the spirit happy then we are not going to have the rich harvests that we want to have, and that we need.”
The Land and Its People
The Vilcanota range, which includes 469 glaciers, is the source for a vast watershed system that feeds both the valleys of the high Andes as well as the Amazonian rainforest below to the east. These waters have sustained an immense diversity of organisms as well as many great cultures from the Wari and Inca to today’s Quechua highlanders and many Amazonian peoples. As the Earth warms, the glaciers are melting rapidly, causing changes in ecosystems and altering the way people have lived for millennia. As Machu Picchu and the Sacred Valley to the north become more popular, international travelers are drawn to the Vilcanota region. The growth in tourism poses a very real threat to many species of trees, birds and megafauna such as pumas and vicuña.
Mount Ausangate has been sacred to many of Peru’s cultures throughout history. Incan legend tells of two comets shooting forth from Ausangate to warn of the coming death of the father of Pachacuti, the founder of the Incan empire. Incans thereafter made offerings of precious metals to the mountain apu. Today, the indigenous Q’eros community of Quechua people revere the mountains of the Cordillera Vilcanota, believing that they are divinities to be protected. The apu‘s servant cat Ccoa holds court in the belly of Ausangate in a palace that only great shamans dare to visit. The glaciers on Ausangate are where the spirits of the dead wait for salvation.
Around 50,000 people make an annual pilgrimage to Ausangate each June during the festival of Q’olloy Rit’I, “The Star of the Snow.” Although no one knows when the ceremony began, it likely has ancient origins in the people’s early astronomical reverence. With the introduction of Catholicism, the people began to carry a cross during this ceremony, placing it in the snow to honor both Jesus and the apu. Qoyllur Rit’i pilgrims see that their revered Colquepunku glacier is rapidly receding – more than 600 feet in 20 years. As a result, the ritual of carving out glacial ice and bringing it down to the community as a blessing was banned by festival authorities in 2003.
Led by shamans, the Q’eros have practiced rituals for centuries that are equivalent to what we today call “adaptive resource management,” involving the growing and consuming of certain plants, and restriction of grazing animals on alternating pastures. These practices have protected the ecosystem to this day. The Q’eros also rely on and have protected the glacial waters from human and animal contamination. However, despite these cultural traditions, the region is threatened by resource exploitation, changing global climate and the influx of hundreds of thousands of tourists each year.