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May 24th, 2008 · 6 Comments · Art, Film, Music & Dance, Climate Change & Disappearing Glaciers, Festivals, Sacred Rituals, Religion, Peru's Andes Mountains

Dancing couple at Qoyllur Rit'i pilgrimage, photo copyright Jorge Vera Flagyl 500 Mg Buy,  Just back from the annual pilgrimage of Qoyllur Rit'i, which takes place just below a 17,000-foot-high glacier (actually, three glacial tongues) in the southern Andes, about 80 miles south of Cusco. Since pre-Inca times, Qolqepunku Glacier has been revered as a sacred site associated with nearby Mount Ausangate, the tallest mountain in the region, considered by Andean people to be the area's most powerful deity or "apu." For hundreds, perhaps thousands, of years, local people have made the arduous journey to this remote, high-altitude glacier to pay homage with music, dance and offerings. In return, 1000mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, the apu grants health and fertility to the devotees, as well as to their families, their animals and their crops.

Catholic rituals were added to the mix in the 1700s, but the pilgrimage remains a decidedly Andean event, and, like their preColumbian ancestors, devotees believe that the ice from Qolqepunku has divine healing powers.

All of which is fascinating and deserving of a detailed anthropological study (there have been many), Flagyl 500 Mg Buy paypal, except a recent crisis has propelled this timeless pilgrimage into the environmental news limelight: Qolqepunku, like other glaciers around the world, is receding at an incredibly fast rate due to global warming, and soon there will be nothing left.

The Wall Street Journal broke the news in 2005 about the sacred glacier's impending demise with a front-page story by Antonio Regalado, Flagyl 500 Mg Buy. Since then, other writers, photographers and videographers have visited Qoyllur Rit'i to witness and record the changes. In 2006, after visiting the site, glaciologist Lonnie Thompson told me that Qolqepunku has passed its "threshold, 50mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy," the point beyond which a glacier can never replenish itself. This news is devastating in so many ways, the most pressing being that tropical glaciers such as Qolqepunku supply Peru with 80 percent of its total water supply. Once the country's glaciers are gone, no water. Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, No water, no life. And the process is happening now, in our lifetime.

El Fotografo and I made our first journey to Qoyllur Rit'i in June 2006, hoping to photograph one of its most ancient and symbolic rituals: a harrowing race down the mountain by young men known as "ukukus" carrying huge blocks of ice on their backs. Sadly, 200mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, we found out, that tradition had been discontinued in 2003 out of respect for the glacier's precarious state. There was no mountain race in 2006 for EF to photograph, but we did observe about a hundred pilgrims (non-ukukus) pilfering bits of ice from the still-massive glacier, whose run-off gushed down the mountain in myriad streams.

EF took a number of shots of people stealing ice, as well as of pilgrims being whipped by zealous guardians of the ice known as the Brotherhood of Qoyllur Rit'i, Flagyl 500 Mg Buy. However, the Brotherhood did permit people to play on the glacier, and plenty of people were doing that: lighting votive candles in the snow, throwing snowballs, climbing up the ice to one of the snowy peaks. I wasn't daring enough to risk a climb up the glacier (actually, 40mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, I could barely breath in the thin air); instead, I stood at its base and peered inside a deep crack in the ice, marveling at it eerie green-blue light. The glacier was big and covered in grit and hugely beautiful. I began to understand why many native Andean people love their mountains in a deeply personal way. Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, Last Sunday afternoon, May 18, EF and I climbed to the place where two years ago the glacier's edge had been and found nothing but dirt and moraine. All the ice was gone – the huge, frozen, whale-like wall that I had once leaned against simply was not there. It was the strangest feeling, 10mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, to stand where an enormous glacier had been and now wasn't. The effect was sudden, sharp, bewildering to the body – like walking into a familiar room expecting to see someone you love, only to remember: he or she is dead.

So this is what the effects of rapid climate change feel like up close, I thought, staring dumbly at the raw brown dirt. The world immediately around you stops making sense, Flagyl 500 Mg Buy.

The glacier wasn't all gone, of course. It had literally fled up the mountain, Flagyl 500 Mg Buy us, lying like a panting white tongue between two black peaks. EF and I eyeballed the distance and argued over how far the glacier had receded: I said 40 feet; EF put it at 60 to 80. We finally agreed that, whatever the exact number of feet, it would take another 45 minutes, at least, to climb up to the new terminus, and EF said he wasn't up for the hike, given that he didn't have crampons to climb the ice safely once we arrived there. Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, I agreed it wasn't worth the risk. 100mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, From where we stood, we could see only a few lone figures struggling up the glacier, in contrast with the hundred or so people we had seen on there in 2006. Not even the unsmiling members of the Brotherhood were lurking to whip people for stealing ice: evidently the additional trek up the mountain was too much for most pilgrims. A thin layer of fresh snow dusted the mountaintops, but that couldn't disguise that the so-called eternal snows of Qoyllur Rit'i were vanishing. EF shot some more pictures, and then we turned to make our way down through the rocks and dirt. I was thinking, as I trod along in my muddy hiking boots: This place looks like a construction site, Flagyl 500 Mg Buy.

Forty minutes later, we crossed over a makeshift bridge by the Qoyllur Rit'i sanctuary and trudged toward our campsite, trying to avoid the clods of horse and burro excrement lining the path, Flagyl 500 Mg Buy uk. It was nighttime now. The valley was a sea of tents and pilgrims huddled under blue plastic tarps. There was lots of garbage scattered about and some not-very-pleasant smells emanating from open-air cooking pots, but the ugliness was countered by something more potent: The exuberant faith of the pilgrims. Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, All around us, people were dancing. Dancing in pairs, dancing in lines. Dancing in fancy, spangled costumes and fearsome masks. The dancing would go on all night and then all the next day, 250mg Flagyl 500 Mg Buy, when EF and I would leave. And even after we had climbed down the mountain, exhausted, and drove back to Cusco, they would still be dancing, all that Monday night into Tuesday: tens of thousands of them.

Dancing for the Lord of Qoyllur Rit'i. Dancing for a dying glacier.

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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 A. Regalado // May 26, 2008 at 5:27 pm

    Interesting new details. Thanks.

  • 2 Barb // May 26, 2008 at 8:46 pm

    Thanks for commenting. I’ve added links to the post so readers can find your original story in the WSJ. What a great piece of reporting. It was that story that propelled me to go to Qoyllur Rit’i in the first place; if I hadn’t learned of the glacier’s recession (courtesy of your piece), I would have been content to let my husband go off on his own and take photographs himself. When I read that the “snow star” was vanishing, I had to go and see the changes for myself. Thanks for playing a role in getting me up the mountain that first time. :)

    Have you been back since?

  • 3 Preparing to Visit Apu Ausangate | An American in Lima // Sep 12, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    [...] Dancing for a Dying Glacier (May 24, 2008) [...]

  • 4 A. Regalado // Nov 8, 2008 at 3:53 pm

    Hi Barb,
    I havent been back since. I wonder if the traditions will continue without the snow.
    How about you?

  • 5 Barb // Nov 8, 2008 at 5:23 pm

    Hi, Antonio,
    Carving the ice and carrying it down the mountain has been prohibited since 2003. I think that when you went some people were sneaking it down. The pablitos now see their role as guarding the ice; translation, they’re whacking pilgrims with their whips.

    Rituals at the Catholic church are going strong. And the comparsas are dancing away like crazy. It get out of breath just thinking about it.

    I went to Ausangate in September. That was my most recent trip to the area.

    Did you see the piece Vanity Fair ran May 2007 on climate change and vanishing traditions? They ran a picture of a Q’ero guy in a red poncho standing in front of a glacier at Sinakara and said he was dressed in ceremonial ukuku garb. Ugh! What an error.


  • 6 In Search of the Vanishing Snow Star | An American in Lima // May 31, 2009 at 1:59 pm

    [...] and I are turning the house upside-down this weekend, as we air out camping gear to go to the glacier pilgrimage of Qoyllur Rit’i (”Snow Star” in Quechua) next [...]