Friday, September 30, 2011

PELIGRO: Rio Colca Contaminado!

por the Colca Specialist

Río se ha convertido en colector de aguas hervidas de poblados del Valle del Colca

Uno de los principales afectados del turismo masivo que viene visitando la zona es nada menos que el río Colca conocido como Hatun Mayu por los pobladores del Valle del Colca el mismo que se ha convertido en el colector principal de aguas hervidas provenientes de los distintos poblados de la provincia de Caylloma.

El hedor proveniente de las aguas contaminadas es bastante notorio especialmente en las áreas de Chivay y Cabanaconde poblados cuyas aguas hervidas caen directamente sobre el rio Colca.

El Valle y el Cañón del Colca son los atractivos principales de la Región Arequipa dado que cuentan con un flujo anual elevado de visitantes quienes vienen a visitar y a apreciar la singular belleza de estos parajes que en este momento son víctimas de la contaminación por aguas hervidas y otros desechos.

Las autoridades de la provincia de Caylloma entre ellas AUTOCOLCA hasta la fecha no han hecho nada por dar una solución a estas agresiones en contra del medio ambiente. El Gobierno Regional de Arequipa brilla por su ausencia y hasta la fecha no hace nada por dar solución a esta problemática que vienen afectando no sólo a Arequipa sino también a otras provincias como lo es en este caso la provincia de Caylloma.

El Rio Chili de Arequipa : el colector de aguas hervidas más grande de Arequipa
El Rio Chili para los arequipeños siempre ha sido un río muy especial. Se halla presente no sólo en poemas y canciones, sino que también se halla retratado en pinturas ,fotografías entre otros.

El Rio Chili actual se ha convertido en la cloaca de Arequipa en donde más de 40 colectores de aguas hervidas vierten sus letales fluidos sobre el rio Chili gracias al cual Arequipa es lo que es sin él, Arequipa hubiera sido tan sólo un desierto volcánico.

Con estas aguas contaminadas se riega la mayor parte de cultivos de Arequipa los cuales no pueden ser exportados al extranjero ni a otros mercados nacionales debido a que estos productos se encuentran infectados con virus letales infecciosos debido a las aguas hervidas que han convertido al rio Chili en la cloaca de Arequipa.

El hedor proveniente del río Chili especialmente en las noches es insoportable y Arequipa es una ciudad que apesta esto debido al alto grado de contaminación existente en el río Chili.

Nos preguntamos qué está haciendo el Sr Juan Manuel Guillén Benavides para dar solución a este terrible problema. ¿Qué está haciendo por ello el alcalde Arequipa Dr Alfredo Zegarra para dar solución a estos graves problemas que afectan Arequipa?

Nosotros nos preguntamos qué hará el famoso chef peruano Gastón Acurio al enterarse que la mayoría de campos de cultivo de Arequipa se riegan con aguas con un alto contenido de heces fecales entre otros. ¿Cerrará su sucursal de CHICHA en Arequipa en señal de protesta? No lo sabemos. Pero lo que si sabemos es que nadie quiere continuar comiendo verduras con “mérde” y la responsabilidad cae sobre los hombros de las autoridades representativas de Arequipa. A trabajar señores alcaldes. Menos viajecitos al extranjero y más obras para Arequipa!

Thursday, September 29, 2011

Mountain peoples:adaptation and cultural persistance for a new century

by W.L. Mitchell and P.F. Brown

Winifred L. Mitchell and Paul F. Brown are Professors in the Department of Anthropology, Minnesota State University, Mankato, Minnesota, United States.

Can the subsistence patterns, social organization and ideology of traditional mountain cultures persevere in the modern world? The example of the Aymara people of the Peruvian Andes.
Five hundred kinds of flowers of as many kinds of potatoes grow... in the earth; mixed with night and gold, silver and day.

The hundred flowers of quinoa which I planted at the summit bubble their colors in the Sun; the black wings of the condor and of the tiny birds are now in flower.
It is noon; I am close to the lord-mountains, the ancestor peaks; their snow now yellow flecked, now with red patches, is shining in the Sun ...
... look at my face, my veins; the winds blowing from us to you, we all breathe them; the earth on which you count your books, your machines, your flowers, it comes down from mine, improved, no longer angry, a tamed earth ...
We don't know what will happen. Let death walk towards us, let these unknown people come.
We will await them; we are the sons of the father of all the lord-mountains; sons of the father of all the rivers.

José María Arguedasfrom "A call to some doctors", 1966(translated from Quechua)

With his 1966 poem "A call to some doctors" (that is, scientists), the Peruvian writer José María Arguedas decried the dominant lowlands' imposition of judge-ment and changes on the indigenous Andean way of life (Murra, 1986). The lines above are a reminder that however well intentioned, lowlanders observing mountain people and their cultures are intruders, imposing flatland categories on an ancient bastion of tradition in balance with an awesome landscape.

About 26 percent of the world's population lives in or near mountains (Meybeck, Green and Vörösmarty, 2001), with only 2 percent being residents of the highest mountain chains (Grôtzbach and Stadel, 1997). The peasant inhabitants of high mountain regions, like their counterparts at lower elevations, live in a world of fields, grazing lands and forests which provide them with their main sources of sus-tenance.

They are far from the political centres of their nations, not just geographically but in terms of their political participation and influence. Many share the disadvantages of rural poverty and ethnic or religious discri-mination. Mountain peoples, however, face additional challenges to subsistence brought about by elevation, rough topography and severe climate. Even natural disasters such as earthquakes, landslides, avalanches and floods are more likely to occur in mountain areas (Ives, 1997). Highland communities have developed cultural strategies over the centuries to sustain life in their often fragile and unforgiving environments.

This article focuses mainly on one group of mountain people, the Aymara of the Peruvian Andes. Their culture fits into Grôtzbach and Stadel's (1997) category of mountain peasants living in old and relatively densely settled high mountains and practising largely intact traditional subsistence patterns. In this sense, they may represent a "typical" mountain culture, but the authors' intent is to deal with specific cultural pheno-mena rather than generalizing about the large diverse group of mountain dwellers.

Some comparison is made to cultures of the mountainous regions of Central Asia, the Himalaya-Karakorum-Hindu Kush, as the two cultures share some striking cultural similarities. Both populations are small by global standards: 26 million in the Andes and 33 million in the Himalaya (Neustadtl, 1986). However, both areas have been major cultural centres and seats of ancient civilizations and remain strong pockets of cultural persistence in today's globalized world.


The traditional Aymara culture illustrates the kinds of adaptive strategy employed by mountain peoples. The Aymara are farmers and herders who inhabit the altiplano, the semi-arid basin surround-ing Lake Titicaca in the Andes of southern Peru and western Bolivia. Altiplano soils and climate combine to produce an environment in which available energy sources are limited and environmental fluctuations from year to year are severe.

The altiplano lies between two massive ranges of the Andes. Its altitude ranges from 3 800 m above sea level near the lakeshore to over 4 100 m near the foothills. The soil is loose and spongy, allowing moisture to disappear rapidly from the surface. Altiplano soils have deficiencies in phosphorous, nitrogen and organic material (Winterhalder, Larsen and Thomas, 1974). The plain has been virtually treeless for centuries, a condition that is thought by some scholars to be the result of human occupation (Gade, 1999).

Highland Aymara communities consist of scattered sod houses with tin or thatch roofs separated by tiny plots of agri-cultural and pasture land. On their landholdings of 5 to 20 ha, families coax a living using labour-intensive rainfed agriculture and careful animal husbandry. They are mainly subsistence farmers, relying on the staple crops of potatoes, quinoa (Chenopodium quinoa, a small, nutritious grain that has been cultivated in the Andes for at least 5 000 years) and barley, small herds of sheep and cattle and a few pigs, chickens and the native Andean species of llama, alpaca and guinea pig. Droughts, floods, hail and frost are all possible impediments to successful farming, so families and communities must be well organized and resourceful in managing production.

Centuries of trial and error have resulted in distinctive subsistence patterns, social organization and ideology which enable highland peoples such as the Aymara and their Himalayan counterparts to thrive in their harsh mountain environments.

Subsistence patterns

Use of multiple ecological zones.

Before the Spanish conquest of Peru, the Aymara existed in a number of kingdoms or city-state clusters around the Lake Titicaca basin. In addition to their altiplano holdings, they exploited many of the coastal valleys of southern Peru, growing maize and beans (Martinez, 1961). They also kept large herds of llamas and alpacas at higher elevations where crop production was not possible.

These herds served as a food bank for use during years of low agricultural yield (Murra, 1968). The exploitation of three different environments - the altiplano, the highlands and the coast - prevented food shortages in the event of ecological disaster in any one area. This adaptive process, often referred to as verticality by anthropologists (Murra, 1975) or as staggered land use by geographers, is prevalent in the traditional agricultural systems of both Asian and South American mountains (Grôtzbach and Stadel, 1997).

Today, with greater population densities, communities rarely have access to land in all vertical zones, but the practice continues through human ties of trade, reciprocal relationships with family or community connections in the different ecological zones.

Dispersion of landholdings and crops.

The altiplano consists of a series of micro-environments - localized, discontinuous areas marked by differences in temperature and rainfall patterns. The Aymara have achieved a partial solution to this problem with an inheritance system that fragments each family's landholdings because each child inherits some land from both parents. The Sherpas have a similar land inheritance system, although inheritance is limited to males (Ortner, 1978).

This type of inheritance system results in the distribution of all land types within a community's holdings among all house-holds. Households of each community own several small parcels of land distributed among the different micro-environments. Thus, a single family may farm as many as 30 to 70 non-contiguous plots of land. In any given year a family may lose part of its crop to flooding, but if the family also owns parcels in a micro-environment that normally experiences less rainfall or has better drainage, at least part of the production will be spared.

This system, resembling a micro version of verticality, includes the use of many different cultivars in each micro-environment to further reduce risk by maximizing variability. Thus Argueda's reference above to hundreds of kinds of potatoes is not a poetic exaggeration. In fact, some sources report up to 200 potato varieties planted in a single field (Richardson, 1994).

Cultivation practices.

Besides distributing land over many micro-environments, the Aymara have dealt with the problems of fluctuating rainfall patterns and temperatures through a system of sloping. In preparing their fields for potatoes, still the most widely grown crop in the altiplano, the fields are ploughed along the slope of the hill rather than parallel to the contours as is the practice in most Western agriculture.

The sloping method offers better drainage for the potatoes, a matter of great importance where torrential rains are always possible. In dry years the furrows help retain moisture because of the aporque technique (see below). Wild grasses growing in the furrows help to minimize erosion and to facilitate the transition to pasture land during fallow years (Orlove, 1977).

The Aymara also have a technique of modifying the potato fields which affords additional protection for the crop. After the field has been planted and the potatoes have begun to grow, the plough is passed over the furrows and the dirt is piled up around the base of each plant. This procedure, called aporque, provides a number of benefits: first, the new soil piled up around the plant adds nutrients where they are most needed; second, the plough deepens the furrow between each row of plants, ensuring proper drainage; third, in dry years the deep furrows act as tiny reservoirs, holding any available water longer than the rows do; and fourth, the water trapped by the furrows maintains a more even air temperature around the plants, protecting them against frost.

Aporque is reminiscent of the raised field technique practised by the ancient Tiwanakan Empire (200 to 1000 CE); raised field agriculture supported a city of 50 000 people (Tiwanaku) in the now rural Bolivian Titicaca Basin and an empire that stretched into present day highland Peru, Chile and Argentina (Straughan, 1991). The terrace-like system with a pattern of ridges and depressions approximately 3 to 4 m wide produced up to seven times the present altiplano yields by protecting the crops and renewing soils in a similar manner.

Also used by ancient Aztec and Maya civilizations, this American technique is comparable in its labour intensivity (but perhaps superior in crop protection and soil renewal benefits) to the widespread hillside terracing seen throughout other mountain regions of the world. Terracing is also practised on the steeper slopes of Andean hills and has been from at least the time of the Incas.

Animal husbandry and collection of dung.

The problems of low energy availability and poor soil quality in the altiplano and other traditional mountain agricultural zones worldwide are lessened by the careful collection of animal dung for use as fertilizer and fuel. This is supplemented by the practice of pasturing animals on fallow land, where the animals defecate and add more nutrients to the soil. Dung from cattle, donkeys, horses and camelids (both American and Asian) dries quickly in the arid climate and is easily gathered by women and children en route to pastures and fields. Dung from sheep and other similarly sized animals is left in fallow fields or high altitude grasslands to fertilize the soils. The use of lowland fodder to feed animals that will later fertilize high pastures is another example of the functional integration of different ecological zones.

Food preservation.

Andean peasants must be credited with the discovery of the original freeze-drying method of preserving food. Each June, with the beginning of consistent freezing night-time temperatures, the Aymara spread small potatoes out on flat ground and let them freeze overnight. During the warm, dry days, older women and children walk around on the piles of potatoes, squeezing out the moisture.

After this process has been carried out daily for two to three weeks, the potatoes are about the size of walnuts and their skin has begun to flake off. The remaining skin is then removed by scraping the potatoes back and forth across the ground with the hands repeatedly for a week or so. This process also helps to remove any moisture that still remains in the potato.

The end product, called chuño, is placed in woven llama or alpaca wool bags and stored inside the house. It will keep for up to six years without spoiling. Most families try to have at least a three-year supply on hand in the event of ecological disasters that can destroy most of their potato crop. Chuño has often made the difference between survival and starvation during periods of extended drought or flood.

Working together: mutual aid and cooperation

The yearly round of farming tasks occupies the time and energy of each family member in a mountain household. Particularly at peak times of planting, weeding, cultivating and harvest, every-one is involved. The division of labour by gender and age has much in common with practices in other cultures worldwide (Brown, 1970): women's jobs include herding, weeding, cooking, spinning and weaving, all compatible with child rearing and multitasking. Aymara women participate in most agricultural tasks but are said to be helping men.

Older adults expect to turn over more work to their middle-aged children and sons- or daughters-in-law. Men seem to retire from their labours (agricultural) more completely than do women, who continue with household jobs into their grandmother and great-grandmother years.
Children help adults of the same gender, but girls, like their mothers, cross gender boundaries more often.

For example, both boys and girls may herd sheep, haul water or tread on chuño, but boys rarely help cook. When boys of ten years or more begin to help their fathers in the men's tasks of ploughing, sowing and lifting the heavy harvest loads, they are said to be working, no longer just helping. A female of any age is always considered an agricultural helper if she works beside or in place of a man. Children begin to work at the early age of six or seven years and are seen as labour assets to the family, especially when they are not in school.

A woman who sends all her children to school will find herself burdened with so many tasks that she will probably discourage some of her children from school attendance, especially the girls. Hewitt (1997) reported a similar pattern for women of the Karakorum-Himalaya, and noted that prolonged male absences for herding or wage labour leave women behind, both physically and ideo-logically.

This is also observed among the Aymara: women are less likely to be literate or fluent in Spanish, the language of the dominant culture outside the community, and as a result may be perceived by their men and by the whole nation as backward, unsophisticated and underdeveloped. Nevertheless, the household is seen as the chacha-warmi, literally the man-woman - the union of gender-prescribed efforts for the desired outcome of perpetuating family life in an uncertain world.

During the agricultural off-season, male heads of household and teenagers of both genders frequently leave the Aymara villages for long periods to seek wage labour on the Peruvian coast. The cash earned from these endeavours supplements the subsistence agriculture, which can produce enough to feed most households in good years but provides no surplus for sale. Nor is there much margin, even with the ingenious chuño. The loss of a harvest or even the loss of a family member's labour through illness can erode a family's fortunes irreparably (Leatherman et al., 1986).

As is true throughout the developing world, when men migrate, women's responsibilities expand to cover the work of absent males. As Hewitt (1997) also comments for the Himalaya, women's homebound status is what enables men to migrate. Moreover, the family's continued subsistence farming acts as a subsidy which sustains the low cost of temporary wage labour in mountainous farming zones.

Temporarily absent household members often return to help out at the peak work times of the agricultural year, but the nuclear family still has insufficient labour power to complete the work within the time limits imposed by the Andean climate, and must rely on its wider kindred. Extended family members are bound by strong and enduring obligations to render assistance under an ancient Andean system of labour reciprocity known as ayni.

Ayni obligates relations to render assistance to each other whenever it is needed, and those receiving assistance to return the favour during the same period in which it is received. Ayni commitments are so strong that failure to repay an ayni debt - a very rare occurrence - is considered one of the most serious offences in the countryside.

The owner of the land being worked by ayni helpers is considered the patron (the boss or overseer) of the work; he is expected to direct the activities and to set the pace. He and his wife must provide the workers with hearty meals, coca leaves and alcohol for the day. If children help, they receive sweets.

Ayni is able to function because of two environmental factors: the unequal distribution of land and other resources within the kindred, and the dispersal of landholdings over several micro-environments. Because of the unequal distribution of land and resources, those families that own more land, and thus have greater labour needs, can count on help from families that are labour rich but resource poor.

In exchange, poorer families receive essential resources such as seed, tools and draught animals when they need them. Because of the dispersal of landholdings, the scheduling of work is spread out so that not all families will require additional labour at the same time. Thus, all families are assured of receiving the necessary labour input for production when they need it most.

The Sherpa mutual aid system, tsenga tsali, is remarkably similar to ayni except that the obligations endure and are passed on to succeeding generations (Ortner, 1978). Tsenga tsali bonds give produc-tion a collective aspect in spite of the Sherpa ideal of the independent nuclear family household. No doubt the fragmented land inheritance patterns that the Sherpas share with the Aymara result in the same ecological setting for reciprocal labour.

Land fragmentation has sometimes been remedied by sons consolidating their lands through fraternal polyandry (all the brothers sharing one wife), a practice that continues (Goldstein, 1987) despite the fact that it has been outlawed by the Nepalese Government.

Ideology: "I am close to the lord-mountains, the ancestor peaks"

Ayni and the entire Aymara labour system are grounded in the ancient Andean notions of dualities and interdependence: of land and people; men and women; heaven and earth. The patron-for-a-day provides for his workers; obligations are strictly accounted and repaid. Men serve their communities by taking on civil-religious roles, sponsoring festivals that link people together in mutual obligations.

Women and men work together to sustain their families. Even if domestic violence or a man's absence makes conditions difficult, a woman will rarely break what she sees as the necessary balance of a male-female household. This world requires a commitment to the values of balance and harmony to work well for its inhabitants. When one household or individual is at odds, everyone is potentially affected by the interconnectedness of the kindred, the genders and the generations.

The earth, too, requires balance. Mother Earth must be "paid" with offerings at harvest time and during life transitions. Ceremonies to honour her and perpetuate her bounty are held on hilltops, often at dawn, resonating with Argueda's "lord-mountains" imagery. Natural disasters are also part of the balance: a lightning strike, earthquakes, pestilence, a run of bad luck - all are attributed to an imbalance in the Andean cosmos.

Lightning, for example, is a punishment from God, sent through the avenging spirit, Santiago, and directed for example at one who has not been a good, cooperative citizen (Mitchell, 1993). (Both "God" and "Santiago" are folk-Catholic blends of ancient Aymara theology and Spanish imagery.) Other catastrophes may be attributed to local evil spirits if an individual trespasses in their domains. The shamanic spiritual leaders who officiate at important ceremonies blend ancient mountain beliefs with the folk Catholicism of the past 500 years to connect the people with the spirits of the "ancestor peaks".


The Aymara are a people in transition, operating partly in the modern world of wage labour and partly in the traditional practices of ayni. In one of the communities studied by the authors in the late 1970s, only half of the households relied on ayni for agricultural labour needs. In contrast, in a more isolated, traditional community all the households used ayni (Brown, 1987).

With so many men and young people absent from the less traditional community, households were looking beyond the traditional Aymara system for other ways to meet their labour needs. These included paylla (food for work), hiring day labourers and increased family sizes. When the authors returned to the same community in 1984, even more people were away on the coast and labour needs were continuing to change.

Even traditional civil-religious obligations were changing in 1984, with cargos (responsibilities) divided and shared among more people than before. This trend away from traditional civil-religious hierarchy obligations is noted for many highland communities (Mitchell, 1991).

Peru's social, economic and political fluctuations since 1980 have been among the most extreme in the world (Dietz, 1998). Since 1984, more villagers have migrated from the countryside seeking jobs or refuge from the threat of Shining Path terrorism. The economic process of out-migration became a flood of refugees fleeing from the war-torn countryside, with the displaced numbering at least 150 000 by 1986 (Mayer, 1994).

Economic fluctuations were rife in Peru in the 1980s and 1990s. Some economic respite was felt in the countryside in the late 1980s and again in the early 1990s after the capture of the Shining Path leader, but with the centralization of the Peruvian Government in the 1990s the highland people were once again marginalized (Klarén, 2000). The subsistence farmers of the altiplano are fortunate to be able to fall back on their land for basic food production, but communities also need out-migration and circular labour migration to maintain their stable human/resource relationship. The success of wage labour migration fluctuates with the fortunes of Peru.

The world beyond the village and its surrounding countryside is not as reliable, equitable or predictable as the village. Like natural disasters that unexpectedly deliver punishments from God, the wages, transportation and housing of the modern world appear capricious. If the disappearance of reciprocal labour continues, will the values of balance among people and between humans and their environment continue long into the twenty-first century? Will a trend away from reciprocity and balance in social relationships also signal less stewardship of the fragile mountain ecosystem that has supported these people for centuries? Planners of economic development schemes must be alert to the risk of undermining these traditional values if sustainable agriculture is to continue in these regions.

The Peruvian mountains

by Alan Wagner

The populations of the mountain areas of the world and their communal organizations share similar characteristics. Most of them are surrounded by ecosystems with vast biological diversity and other natural resources, but often, and paradoxically, they also share high levels of poverty and isolation from the rest of society.

The case of Peru is no exception. Poverty, and cases of extreme poverty, indeed, are sometimes covered by absolute macro-economic figures. This is the social and economic context in which the sustainable development of mountain ecosystem should be addressed.

The Government of Peru has recently encouraged various international activities that have permitted a useful exchange of informed views from international experts, government representatives and the scientific community regarding the various dimensions and the impact of mountains and mountain ecosystems at a local and global level.

The Andean region and the mountain ecosystems in general are an important source of water, energy, biological diversity and traditional knowledge. But at the same time, these areas demonstrate extreme fragility to adverse processes, often caused by humans, such as climate change, deforestation and natural disasters.

The consequences of these phenomena in the areas of loss of biodiversity and indigenous knowledge, and quality and quantity of water for human consumption, are great.
Recent international studies have shown a gradual loss in the level of the Andean ice caps, a process that is linked to the patterns of climate change that affect the world.

Hence the Andean peaks have become a monitor of the adverse affects of climate change and proof of the fact of this negative phenomenon, the effects of which have not yet been fully evaluated, and the origin of which is often in distant countries.

Located in the centre of the Andean mountain system, the Peruvian mountain areas harbour immense biological diversity which ranks among the most extensive in the world. Nonetheless, the maximum value of this diversity can only be gathered through the intellectual input of the ancestral and current knowledge of its population, which is not yet fully recognized, and which is an added value of historical and harmonic interaction with the environment.

This has resulted in the immense contribution that Peruvian mountains have given and will continue to give, symbolized by the historical process of domestication of the potato to the food security of humankind.

High mountains, by their geographical nature, divide territories. In the case of Peru, both coastal and jungle areas are separated by the Andean mountain range, and have developed over recent centuries with their backs turned to the mountains, even though these mountains constitute the cities' main source of energy and food supplies. In the past, the fluid relationship between the mountains and nearby areas has been one of the elements that contributed to the greatness of the Andean culture.

The recent history of Peru seeks to recover some elements from this past, taking into account the delicate task of acknowledging these areas of difficult access.

In addition, further evaluation of the particularities of the potential of mountain ecosystems for the development of non-destructive environmental practices is still necessary. Practices such as sustainable tourism and mining are both key activities to the Peruvian mountain areas and should be strengthened to preserve the Andes as centre of a magnificent culture and to ensure that the abundant resources are developed in a sustainable way.

The National Working Group on Mountain Ecosystems has celebrated two events, one of international character, and that was at the historic city of Cusco where the Cusco Declaration on the Sustainable Development of Mountain Ecosystems was approved last April.

The objective of this national group is to bring sustainable development to the Peruvian mountain populations. This group is conducting a number of projects at present, and preparing a milestone project in mountains for the year 2002: the world meeting on mountain ecosystems - Mountains Toward 2020: Water, Life and Production.

This event will take place in the city of Huaraz, located in the centre of the Andean system, between 5 and 7 June 2002.

Source: Extracted from the presentation by Alan Wagner, Ambassador of Peru to the United States and former Minister for Foreign Relations, on behalf of Diego Garcia-Sayan, Minister for Foreign Affairs, at the launch of the International Year of Mountains in New York, 11 December 2001.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Tour guides from Arequipa are crap!

by the Colca Specialist

The title may sound hard but these were the words of the general secretary of the local tour guides association from Colca Canyon ASGUIP TUCAY .

Guillermo Rendón Cuadros rejected the official invitation sent by the Municipality of Arequipa to his person in order to participate in the tourism festival programmed for today.

Today is the international day of tourism and Guillermo Rendón rejected the invitation to participate in this tourism festival as a protest against the abusive tour guides commissions which are affecting the people of Colca Valley and Colca Canyon.

Tour guides from Arequipa are crap! I am not going to share the same table with these corrupted people- said the leader of the strongest tour guides association from Colca Canyon.

"We cannot pretend that everything is good. In colca Canyon there are many problems. Problems that the authorities don´t want to solve because of their political and economical interests".

What is true is that unsustainable tourism is a BIG problem in Colca Canyon. A problem that has turned into a hot potato that nobody wants to carry or solve it.

Guillermo Rendón Cuadros decided to send the invitation back inside a brown envelope the same way the beatles did with the queens invitation.

The incas rebellion continues and it is still alive in the lands of the andean condor: The Colca Canyon.

Monday, September 26, 2011

The worst tour guides are from Colonial Tours

Tourists complain against Colonial Tours from Arequipa

by the Colca Specialist

I was reading Trip Advisor just few minutes ago and I saw this comments which I consider very useful so I decided to republish them here.

What is happening with travel agencies in Arequipa? It seems that they just care about filling their vans and buses with lots of tourists! What about the service? What about the clients?

It seems to me that these guys from Colonial Tours they just care about making money and not about the tourists.

Tourists are clients. Without them Colonial Tours is nothing.

Tourist are human beings not walking US DOLLARS notes.They are not walking credit cards my friends so it would be better if you recognize that your service is not good.

If you want to continue in this businness better think it twice because if you continue working the same way you will end on the street.

If you have problems with the tour guides is because you are cheap and stingy. Colonial Tours don´t have good tour guides because they are exploited and not well paid. That´s the main problem in Arequipa. Travel agencies don´t work with professional tour guides but with youngsters who need to work.Exploitation is everywhere in Southamerica. Peru in not the exception. Corruption is another disease that affects tourism in Arequipa too.

How good can be a 23 year old tour guide who has NO EXPERIENCE?

How good can be a 23 year old tour guide who is thinking about making a 10 soles commission per passenger?

How good can be a tour guide who is NOT FROM THE AREA who just know local discoteques and touristic restaurants?

To be a tourist doesn´t mean to be stupid!

As tourists we need to be sustainable too. We should NOT travel with companies that are just exploiting their workers!

Besides the voice of tourists should be heard too. Clients in the past they complained and their voices were never heard but thanks to internet the voice of the clients can be heard very loud all around the world. The compalints are a good oportunity to see what is wrong with our service in order to improve it. The decision is in your hands.

I recommend all foreign visitors to read this blog and if you like you can download the information about the Colca Valley and the Colca Canyon which is very useful for those tourists who are seeking for the local culture. Thank you very much for your attention and don´t forget that this virtual magazine is dedicated to all my tourists around the world.

The Colca Specialist

Complaint against Colonial Tours (taken from Trip Advisor)

We booked our 2-day trip to Colca Canyon Through our hotel and the company They Used WAS Colonial Tours. The canyon itself is well worth seeing but I am sure the experience could have been a lot better with a more professional company.

The canyon is well worth seeing Itself But I am sure the experience Could Have Been a Lot Better With A more professional company.

Right from the start it was clear that our guide wasn't going to speak much English, although the tour was supposed to be both in Spanish and English.
Luckily we understood some Spanish but I have to say that even then his commentaries and instructions weren't that clear.

All the way through the trip, he failed to tell us at each stop where we were; how long we were stopping for; what was worth seeing in the place; etc. 

Basically there was a complete lack of communication.During the 2 days, we learned hardly anything about the area.  He only bothered to say something if someone asked a question and even then the question wasn't repeated and the answer very vague.We approached the guide and told him that we felt completely ignored and weren't very happy about the tour.

This made no difference. Colca Canyon was an amazing place and I would definitely return to the area. However, I will never use Colonial Tours again! Esta crítica es la opinión subjetiva de un miembro de TripAdvisor, no de TripAdvisor LLC.

Another complaint taken from Trip Advisor

“Colca Canyon with Colonial Tours - Not recommended”
1 de 5 estrellas
Our hostal in Arequipa (Colonial House Inn) set up a Colca Canyon tour with Colonial Tours. We had a very negative experience with Colonial Tours and I would not recommend them to anyone. We feel that we wasted our S/65 plus the S/35 required to enter the Chivay area. (Total = S/100 per person.)

Leo, our guide, made us feel like he could not be bothered speaking English since we were two of the few English speakers on the tour. The tour we were sold was supposed to include a 2 hour trek in Coporaque on the first day, which our guide felt was too much effort. (Instead, we stopped no less than 6 times on the way out to Chivay including a 45+ minute stop for snacks and tea at a restaurant. Granted a couple of the stops were decent, such as when we stopped to see Vicunas, but many of them were unnecessary.) Leo seemed much more interested in trying to get us to eat at overpriced (S/25) buffet restaurants for both lunch and dinner and I wouldn't be surprised if he was getting a cut of the profits. We did at least go to the hot springs in the afternoon (which cost another S/10 per person).

Rather than getting our group going at 6am so we could have as much time at the canyon as possible, he moved our start time to 7am. (His rationale was that it was New Year's Eve and some people wanted to stay up till midnight. It was obvious his bias was a later start time and he only seemed willing to listen to the people who agreed with him rather than sticking with the tour schedule that was sold to us.) The later start time made us late arriving at at Cruz del Condor and cut our time there in half. We then returned for another overpriced lunch (S/25) in Chivay.

Of the 4 hours we were most interested in (2 hours trekking and 2 hours at Cruz del Condor), the tour only delivered 1 hour at Colca Canyon itself. We felt ripped off at having to pay a S/35 fee at the entrance to Chivay when 90% of our tour was shelling out money to overpriced restaurants in Chivay itself.

If I were to redo things, I'd head straight for Cabanaconde (dodging the S/35 fee at Chivay) and set up a hiking excursion there. Note that the Colca Canyon at Cruz del Condor is only 1200 meters. Compare that to the 1800 meter depth of the Grand Canyon and you might be a bit disappointed. The deepest part of the Colca Canyon (4160 meters) is near Cabaconde, so I suspect the views from there are more impressive.

Thursday, September 22, 2011

History of trepanation

Trepanation, or trephination (both derived from the Greek word trypanon, meaning "to bore") is perhaps the oldest form of neurosurgery. The procedure, which is called a craniotomy in medical terminology, involves the removal of a piece of bone from the skull, and it has been performed since prehistoric times. The oldest trepanned skull, found at a neolithic burial site of Ensisheim in France, is more than 7,000 years old, and trepanation was practised by the Ancient Egyptians, Chinese, Indians, Romans, Greeks and the early Mesoamerican civilizations. The procedure is still performed today, for both medical and non-medical reasons.

The trepanned skulls found at prehistoric European sites contained round holes, which varied in size from just a few centimetres in diameter to nearly half of the skull. They are most commonly found in the parietal bone, and also in the occipital and frontal bones, but rarely in the temporal bone. In the earliest European trepanned skulls, the holes were made by scraping the bone away with sharp stones such as flint or obsidian; later, primitive drilling tools were used to drill small holes arranged in circles, after which the piece of bone inside the circle was removed. The late Medieval period saw the introduction of mechanical drilling and sawing instruments, whose sophistication would continue to increase for several hundred years.

There is a great deal of speculation about why ancient civilizations used trepanation, as it was - and still is - carried out in the absence of head trauma. However, it is almost certain that all those who used it did so because they somehow linked the brain with behaviour. Some anthropologists suggest that trepanation was performed as part of tribal or superstitious rituals.

Other researchers believe that the procedure was used as a treatment for conditions such as headaches, epilepsy, hydrocephalus and mental disorders. These were presumably attributed to possession by evil demons, such that a hole in the skull would have provided the spirits a passage for escape. Although the reasons for trepanning and the instruments used for the procedure differ with time and from culture to culture, the result is always the same: a hole in the head, usually made when the individual was fully conscious and, often, unanaesthetized.

Some suggest that trepanation was used specifically to treat depressed skull fractures, and there is historical evidence that it was used for medical reasons. For example, the ancient Greek physicians used various instruments for trepanning, including the terebra (right). The way this instrument was used is easily inferred from its structure: the cross-beam was used to wind the thong tightly around the central beam. When released, the centre beam rotated quickly, so that applying downward pressure on the instrument would cause it to bore through the skull. This instrument may have been used to drill single small holes, but it is more likely to have been used to make multiple holes arranged in a circle, so that the piece of bone within the circle was made easier to remove.

Hippocrates (460-370 B.C.E.) describes the types of injuries for which trepanning was used in this passage from On the Injuries of the Head:

...the contusion, whether the bone be laid bare or not; and the fissure, whether apparent or not. And if, when an indentation by a weapon takes place in a bone it be attended with fracture and contusion, and even if contusion alone, without fracture, be combined with the indentation, it requires trepanning...those [bones] which are most pressed and broken require trepanning the least.

The first specimen of a trepanned skull was found in 1685 by Bernard de Montfauchon at a site in Cocherel, France, but its importance was not recognized. In 1816, a second specimen was found by Alexander Francois Barbie du Bovage at Nogentles-les-Vierges. This time, it was recognized that the skull had belonged to an individual on whom a craniotomy had been performed, apparently years before his death.

However, the second specimen was considered to be exceptional, and little thought was given to why the skull had been perforated. In 1839, Samuel George Morton depicted a trepanned skull in his book Crania Americana, but mistakenly assumed the hole had occurred as the result of a battle wound. Although the second specimen to be found was recognized as a craniotomy, the real significance of the skulls had escaped scientists and physicians.

It was not until the latter half of the nineteenth century that investigators began to appreciate the significance of trepanation. Ephraim George Squier (1821-1888) had acquired a specimen of a trepanned skull, and brought it to the attention of the scientific and medical communities in America and Europe. Squier was a self-taught archaeologist and a respected writer and journalist, who was appointed by Abraham Lincoln to act as the U. S. Commissioner to Peru. He first encountered the now famous specimen during a visit to the home of a wealthy woman, in the Peruvian region of Cuzcoo. As he marvelled at the woman's collection of artifacts - which he later described as the finest collection of pre-Columbian art in Peru - Squier noticed a fragment of a skull containing a square hole measuring 15 x 17 mm (top left). He immediately recognized that the hole was man-made.

In this passage from his book about Peru, Squier describes his first impressions of the skull fragment, and how its owner allowed him to take it with him so that it could be examined:

...the most important relic in Senora Zentino's collection is the frontal bone of a skull, from the Inca cemetery in the valley of Yucay, which exhibits a clear case of trepanning before death. The senora was kind enough to give it to me for investigation, and it has been submitted to the criticism of the best surgeons of the United States and Europe, and regarded by all as the most remarkable evidence of a knowledge of surgery among the aborigines yet discovered on this continent; for trepanning is one of the most difficult surgical processes. The cutting through the bone was not performed with a saw, but evidently with a burin, or tool like that used by engravers on wood and metal. The opening is fifty-eight hundredths of an inch wide and seventy hundreds long.

Squier left Peru, and took the skull fragment to the New York Academy of Medicine, where he asked Dr. August K. Gardner to examine it and present it to the other members of the Academy. At the time, the relationship between brain size, race and intelligence was a hotly debated topic in scientific academies around the world.

The general consensus among academics was that the three factors were intimately linked: non-whites were less intelligent than white because they had smaller skulls and brains. There was, therefore, great interest in the skull that Squier had acquired, as it provided the first evidence for trepanation in an ancient and "primitive" culture.

Most of the physicians at the Academy interpreted Squeir's specimen as "a case of trephining." This interpretation is documented in the minutes of the Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine:

The skull showed that during the patient's life an operation for trephining had been performed, a square-shaped piece of bone having been removed from the frontal bone, by what would appear to have been a gouging instrument. At one portion of the opening there seemed to be evidence of the attempt on the part of nature to form new bone, to repair the injury done by the operation.

All of the Academy's members agreed that the hole was man-made, but a few argued that there was no evidence of bone growth, and that it must therefore have been made after the individual's death. Squier then crossed the Atlantic and took the skull to Paul Broca, a leading anthropologist who had founded the Societe d'Anthropologie de Paris in 1859. Broca had been interested in craniometry for some time, particularly in relation to the ongoing debates about the relationship between brain size, race and intelligence.

Upon examination of the specimen, Broca found no sign of fracture, and wondered why the procedure had been performed. He suggested that the had been perforated to relieve built-up intracranial pressure followed a closed head injury, and that the patient had died several days after the trepanation was performed:

There is no fracture or fissure of either external or internal table...and the surgeon who performed the operation could consequently only be governed by functional troubles when diagnosing the existence of an intra-cranial lesion. Was this diagnosis correct? Did the operation succeed in evacuating a fluid poured into the cranium? I am far from affirming this, but am tempted to believe it.

In effect, the internal table around the opening is the seat of a very different alteration from that which existed on the external table around the denudation...These peculiarities and several others, which would take too long to detail, are well explained, if we suppose that there had been for some days before the operation an effusion of blood under the dura mater.

Contrary to the widely-held belief that all ancient, and particularly non-white, civilizations were primitive, Broca - who not only accepted the popular view himself, but was also partly responsible for its formation - concluded that the skull fragment was strong evidence of "advanced surgery" by the ancient Peruvians:

What astonishes me is not the boldness of the operation, as ignorance is often the mother of boldness. To trepan on an apparent fracture at the bottom of a wound is a sufficiently simple conception and does not necessitate the existence of advanced surgical arts. But here the trepanning was performed on a point where there was no fracture, and probably not even a wound, so that the surgical act was preceded by a diagnosis.

Whether this diagnosis was correct, as is probable, or false, we are in either case authorized to conclude that there was in Peru, before the European era, a surgery already very advanced - and this entirely new notion is not without interest for American anthropology.

Broca also experimented with trepanation himself. He found that a hole could very easily be made in the skull of a deceased 2-year-old child; using a simple glass scraper, the procedure took him about 4 minutes. But the same procedure took about 50 minutes when performed on a skull from an adult. (Young childrens crania are easier to perforate than those of adults because the process of calcification is not yet complete.) Broca therefore wrongly assumed that the Incas usually performed trepanation on the young.

By 1867, following the presentation of Squier's specimen in New York, and Broca's publication of his observations of the skull fragment, there was increasing interest in trepanation. Investigators began searching for more specimens and subsequently hundreds of trepanned skulls would be found in every corner of Europe. One French site, for example, contained 120 skulls, 40 of which had been trepanned.

The specimen Squeir had obtained came from the Cuczo region of Peru, where many other trepanned skulls have since been found. At one Paracas Indian necropolis located south of Lima, for example, 10,000 complete and well-preserved bodies were found. They belonged to the Incas and to the pre-Inca Tallan and Mochica cultures; around 6% had been trepanned, and many contained multiple holes. From these subsequent discoveries it is clear that the square opening in Squeir's specimen - which is housed at the American Museum of Natural History in New York and is now dated to 1400-1530 - is not at all unusual.

In both pre-Inca and Inca cultures, trepanation was performed using a cermonial knife called a tumi (above right). The patient's head was held tightly between the surgeon's knees, and the tumi blade, which consisted of a sharp piece of flint or copper, was then rubbed back and forth along the surface of the skull. In this way, four incisions arranged in a criss cross pattern, were made in the skull (these are clearly visible in Ephraim's drawing at the top).

The tumi blade increased in thickness close to the sharp edge, thus it was prevented from suddenly penetrating the skull to far. When the incisions were deep enough, the square-shaped piece of bone in the middle of the criss cross was prized out from the skull. An exact survival rate cannot be determined, but the presence of multiple holes in many of the Peru skulls suggests that the individuals survived more than one procedure; some estimates, based on the rate of bone growth seen around the holes in the skulls, put the survival rate at greater than 60%. The Aztecs used similar trepanning instruments, consisting of a sharp semicircular piece of obsidian attached to a wooden handle. Some copper and bronze instruments have also been found, sometimes with ornate and elaborate handles.

Abu al-Qasim al-Zahrawi (Latinized as Albucasis) provides descriptions of the instruments used by Arab surgeons in the twelfth century. A sharp pointed borer was used to make small holes arranged in a cirlce, and another with a spear-shaped head was then used to remove the round piece of bone in the middle. Ambroise Pare (1517-1590), a barber-surgeon who often operated on the battlefield, employed trepanning instruments that had braces or drill stocks to which saws were attached with binding screws. In his treatises on surgery, Pare also described "trepanes or round saws for cutting out a circular piece of bone with a sharp-pointed nail in the centre projecting beyond the teeth," and another trepan with a transverse handle. The mechanical cogwheel trepan (above left) was invented by Matthia Narvatio in Antwerp in 1575.

The cogwheel was connected to a second wheel which rotated a circular saw that cut through the bone. This instrument was used much in the same way as a modern hand drill - held in one hand and cranked with the other. But it was extremely heavy and cumbersome, and therefore did not become popular among the surgeons of the time.

A further and highly significant advance in trepanning instruments came with the invention of a central screw. In the mid-sixteenth century, a trepan consisting of a head brace and drill stock to which a circular saw or sharp perforator was widely available. In 1632, Joannis Scultetus, who was one of the most accomplished seventeenth century surgeons, described an instrument called a trioploides, which he used for raising depressed skull fractures.

This was a three-legged instrument with a long centrally-placed screw, similar to the "crown" trepan in the image on the right. In his book Armamentarium chirurgicum, which was published in 1655, Scultetus provided beautiful illustrations of various types of cranial surgery, including trepanation, as well as the instruments used to perform them (below). He also described what he called "male" and "female" instruments, the former with, and the latter without, central screws, and explained how together they were used for trepanning:

Before we use the females, we must make a print on the skull with the male so that the female may stand faster upon it. Now for to trepan the skull the Chyrurgian must have at hand at least three trepans exactly equal to each other; one male and two females, so that he may oft-times change them.

Today, trepanning is still used routinely by doctors traumatic brain injuries. The biggest advocate of trepanation for non-medical purposes is a Dutchman named Bart Hughes, who makes pseudoscientific claims that the procedure can be used to reach a higher state of consciousness:

I met [someone who] used to stand on his head...for considerable periods of time. When I asked him why he did it, he said it got him high. [Later, I was given] some mescaline, and it was then that I got my first clear picture of the mechanism, realizing that it was the increase in the volume of brainblood [sic] that gave the expanded consciousness...[which] must have been caused by more blood in the brain which meant there must have been less of something else. Then I realized that it must be the volume of cerebrospinal fluid that was decreased.

...I thought about making a hole at the base of the spine to let the fluid out, and while thinking about holes I realized that pressure was necessary to squeeze the cerebrospinal fluid out of the system. Then, having concluded upon the nil pressure inside the adult skull (in most people the skull seals between the ages of eighteen and twenty-two) I saw that any hole in the bony surrounding of the system would give the pressure back. But after a time I realized a hole in the spine would heal over so it had to be in the skull, where holes stay open.

In 1965, Hughes famously performed a trepanation on himself using an electric drill, a surgical knife and a hypodermic needle to administer a local anaesthetic. He has followers who have also performed self-trepanation, or have asked friends to do it for them.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Government Investigates Fake Trip Advisor Reviews

I received this article and I would like to re-publish it because the same situation is happenning here in Colca Canyon. There are lots of recomendations for small travel agencies done by personel from the same travel agencies with fake emails and fake identities. It is better to check not only in Trip Advisor but also on other travel information sources in order to avoid problems.The Colca Specialist denounced this situation before so we hope the authorities start to investigate the fake trip advisor´s reviews.

The Colca Specialist

Government Investigates Fake Trip Advisor Reviews

A few weeks back we reported on the stink being raised by the discovery that hotels were bribing their guests with discounts and free room stays if they wrote positive reviews about a property.

We noted the corrupt or compromised reviews seemed most prevalent in UK, and quoted TripAdvisor's UK spokesperson as being rigorously opposed to the practice.

Now we read in the usually reliable industry site, hotel that the UK's Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) is officially investigating the review giant because complaints have " reached monumental levels."

The clear implication is that without review safeguards, the reviews are worthless, and worthless reviews spell the end for TripAdvisor or any site whose reason for being are reviews.
If the ASA finds against TripAdvisor it could spell trouble for spin-off Expedia, a huge ad monger.

Argophilia an east European travel site, headlined the story as " TripAdvisor's Fake Review Sickness Goes Critical" and concluded that too many of TripAdvisor's 50 million plus may not be reliable.

In fairness, it can be said that any on line review site can be bought or weighted... and this covers Yelp, books on Amazon, Tweets, product reviews and technology.

Of course credible reviews exist, but how can they be identified?

Google + may have sidestepped the issues by requiring the use of real identities, an approach TripAdvisor may, unwillingly, have to adopt.

As long as social media continues to be such a powerful influence in travel and other fields, there will always be reviews for sale or offers of "hundreds of live visitors to your site for 100 bucks."
In the meantime, the investigations go on.

TripAdvisor is still a valuable resource for travelers, but the cheats and the good guys continue to battle it out.

As always, buyer or reader beware.Read more:

Tips for Bloggers

by the Colca Specialist

I received a nice letter from my fellows asking me about blogging! So I was looking around and I found this nice article called THE ZEN OF BLOGGING ,article written by Hunter Nutall. Since I love Zen I would like to share it with you my friends. Thank you for writing.

The Colca Specialist


What is the Sound of One Hand Clapping?

If you're into Zen and you're into blogging, read and share this ebook.
If you're into Zen but you're not into blogging, share this ebook.
If you're not into Zen but you're into blogging, read this ebook.
If you're not into Zen and you're not into blogging, read it twice.

Up the Mountain

They say that when the student is ready, the master will appear. One day I felt ready, and I began the long climb to the top of Mount Blogmore. Was the legend true? Did the old man really exist? No one knew for sure, but we knew that every aspiring blogger had felt compelled to seek him out when their time had come. We also knew they were never seen again.

And so I climbed Mount Blogmore, with a strange force pulling me to the summit even though my knees quivered with fear. It wasn't my choice, it was my destiny. I had to know if I had it in me. I had to know if my inner blogger was ready to be awakened.

As I got closer, I was greeted with heavy snow and bitter cold winds. I was stopped in my tracks several times, unable to breath the freezing air. I pressed forward but didn't know if my body could take it. The old man, if he was real, sure didn't make it easy to be found. But when I reached the top, everything changed.

The snow melted away in a brilliant flash of sunlight. The clean mountain air was filled with the sounds of chirping birds and a babbling brook. My aching joints and muscles felt the pain slip away. But wait—was this real? While my mind was here, did my body lie motionless on the side of the mountain? Was I in heaven?

No, this was real. I still had my wits about me, and I knew I had not left the earthly plane. But this was a very special place. I felt a strange sense of euphoria spreading through my body. And somehow I was not surprised when I turned around to see the old man standing before me.

He pulled down the hood of his robe to reveal himself. He was easily a hundred years old,yet seemed to have astounding physical strength and mental clarity. He had a long white beard, and a solemn look on his face.

I tried my best to stammer out an introduction.


"Yes, I know who you are, fool," said the old man. "You came here because you want to be a great blogger. I can help you. I can reveal all the secrets of blogging. I can teach you to write posts that pierce the souls of the toughest warriors, or make angels drown in tears.
Yours can be the blog that launched a thousand ships, all full of people dying to subscribe."

The old man paced back and forth, touching his bearded chin.

"And yet," he said, "I sense great doubt within you. You're not sure if you can really do it.
You're not even sure if you really want to. This will not do. Doubt leads to conflict. Conflict leads to indecision. Indecision leads to bad blogging."

He reached to his belt and drew a sword that gleamed with a faint yellow glow. Walking up to a pile of boulders, he paused for a second. Then with a quick, smooth stroke, he sliced clean through solid rock! He then turned to me.

I slowly backed away, but tripped over my own feet and fell to the ground. He continued moving towards me, and slowly raised his sword above his head.

"I'll make this very simple for you," he said. "If you start a blog, I will cut off your head, and if you do not start a blog, I will also cut off your head. So, will you start a blog?"

I sat there completely silent and motionless for what seemed like an eternity.
He then lowered his sword to tap me gently on the shoulder.
"The student is ready," he said.

Day 1: Getting Started

"What time is it?" the old man asked.
"It is now."
"Where are you?"
"I am here."
"Why are you here?"
"To understand."
"Who are you?"
"I am a student of blogging."
"Who am I?"
"You are the master."

"Good," the old man said. "Now you begin your journey. There is no need to reinvent the wheel. We will study those who have walked the path before you."

The old man then booted up a laptop that was running Windows Vista. He opened Internet Explorer 7, and then opened many blogs in different tabs without it crashing. What a magical place this was!

I took a closer look, and saw that we were looking at some of the greatest blogs in history.
There were blogs about gadgets, fashion, politics, sports, productivity, finance, travel, the Internet...just about anything you could think of.

"There are only two places you will find answers," the old man said. "One is within yourself.

The other is in these blogs. For now, you have no answers within yourself, so we must start by observing these blogs. For the rest of the day, you will read them, but not think about them. Keep your mind perfectly clear. Begin now."

I read those blogs until I fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.

Day 2: Choosing a Niche

"Today you will learn about choosing a niche," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and
tell me what you see."

"Well, this one is about a topic that so many other people are writing about. There must be a lot of competition for this topic. Is this a bad niche?"

"No, it's a wonderful niche," the old man said. "It may be crowded, but a voice that's worth hearing will always be heard over ones that aren't."

"I see. And what about this one? This blogger is not concentrating on a narrowly-focused topic, but writes about many different things. Is this a bad niche?"

"No, it's a wonderful niche," the old man said. "While the content may be diverse, it's all related when you see the big picture. This blogger is focused on a particular audience, and serves their needs well."

"I see. And what about this one? This blogger is writing about their personal life, which I thought was a big no-no, an exercise in vanity. Is this a bad niche?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 3: Domain Names

"Today you will learn about domain names," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one is very long. Is this a bad domain name?"

"No, it's a wonderful domain name," the old man said. "While it may be a lot of characters, it's only two words. It's simple and memorable."

"I see. And what about this one? This one is made up of nonsense words. Is this a bad domain name?"

"No, it's a wonderful domain name," the old man said. "While the words don't make sense,they have a nice ring to them. They roll off the tongue and flow with the blog."

"I see. And what about this one? This one is long, has five words, and they're even
misspelled. Is this a bad domain name?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 4: Blogging Platforms

"Today you will learn about blogging platforms," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, it seems that almost everyone uses because it's free, easy to install, and offers a lot of features and plugins. But this one uses Is this a bad platform?"

"No, it's a wonderful platform," the old man said. " provides the hosting, so it's extremely quick, easy, and cheap to set up. It's faster to get a blog going with a hosted platform, and that was the most important thing for the blogger at the time, although they might move to self-hosting later in order to have their own domain name and more control over their blog."

"I see. And what about this one? I can't even figure out what platform this one uses. Is this a bad platform?"

"No, it's a wonderful platform," the old man said. "The blogger is a programmer, and he actually created his own blogging platform to have the highest degree of flexibility. Most people can't do that, but it's an option for those with the inclination."

"I see. And what about this one? It uses Squarespace. That's not even free. Is this a bad platform?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 5: Themes

"Today you will learn about themes," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one uses a free theme. You probably get what you pay for, and there are
probably many other blogs that look just like it. Is this a bad theme?"

"No, it's a wonderful theme," the old man said. "Today there are many free themes out there that are very high-quality. And as the number of themes grows, it becomes less likely that another blogger is using the same theme. This one has also had some simple customizations made."

"I see. And what about this one? This is a paid theme. What you just said makes it sound like paid themes aren't needed. Is this a bad theme?"

"No, it's a wonderful theme," the old man said. "This person found someone who made them a completely customized theme for a low price. It's truly unique, because it was made just for them. And it's designed to perfectly accommodate the advertising they have."

"I see. And what about this one? This one looks awfully complex. It has so many different sections that I get a little bit lost. Is this a bad theme?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 6: Plugins

"Today you will learn about plugins," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one only uses Akismet to filter out comment spam, and no other plugins at all.That doesn't seem very sophisticated. Is this a bad use of plugins?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of plugins," the old man said. "The blogger doesn't need any fancy features, and wanted to keep it as simple as possible. It makes it very easy to maintain the blog, because the plugins never have to be upgraded and there are no compatibility issues."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has a number of plugins. Maybe that's too complicated. Is this a bad use of plugins?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of plugins," the old man said. "There aren't too many plugins here, so it's not too much maintenance overhead. But they have some useful plugins to do things such as improving their SEO, making database backups, and letting people subscribe to comments. This is an easy way to provide some additional features on their blog."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has every single plugin under the sun. Is this a bad use of plugins?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 7: Blogging Voices

"Today you will learn about blogging voices," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one is written very formally. It almost seems like I'm reading a textbook. Is this a bad blogging voice?"

"No, it's a wonderful blogging voice," the old man said. "Because of the nature of the blog, the readers are expecting a more formal tone. The blogger understands the target audience and writes the way that best speaks to them."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog is written in a very friendly tone. It seems a bit casual. Is this a bad blogging voice?"

"No, it's a wonderful blogging voice," the old man said. "Because this blog attracts readers who are interested in hearing about personal experiences, the blog is written in such a way as to make them feel at home."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog sounds very sarcastic and even condescending.Is this a bad blogging voice?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 8: Posting Frequency

"Today you will learn about posting frequency," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one posts only once or twice a week. That doesn't seem like enough. Is this a bad posting frequency?"

"No, it's a wonderful posting frequency," the old man said. "Because there aren't enough posts to overwhelm anyone, someone who subscribes is likely to remain subscribed. Also,when a post stays on top for a longer period of time, it gets more comments. And of course,it takes less effort to post less often."

"I see. And what about this one? This blogger posts multiple times per day. That seems like way too much. Is this a bad posting frequency?"

"No, it's a wonderful posting frequency," the old man said. "Because this blogger is one who breaks the news in his industry, he has to make a post to announce every relevant event.His readers trust him to provide all the available news on this topic."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog is very unpredictable. Sometimes there will be a few posts in one day, and then there won't be any more for a couple of weeks. It's hard to know what to expect. Is this a bad posting frequency?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 9: Post Length

"Today you will learn about post length," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one has very short posts, about 250 words each. That doesn't seem long enough to be useful. Is this a bad post length?"

"No, it's a wonderful post length," the old man said. "This blogger is mainly reporting the news in her industry. She's gotten good at quickly saying what needs to be said, and pointing her readers to where they can get more information."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has longer posts, about a thousand words each.
That seems a bit much for busy people to read. Is this a bad post length?"

"No, it's a wonderful post length," the old man said. "This blogger has a reputation for adding original thoughts to the topic. The posts are a little longer because they're deeper.While fewer people will read them, those who do will get more out of them."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has very long posts, several thousand words each. That seems to be a lot more than people want to read. Is this a bad post length?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 10: Images

"Today you will learn about images," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one doesn't have any images at all. It's just text, without a single picture in sight. Is this a bad use of images?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of images," the old man said. "This blogger writes about a topic for which it's hard to find relevant images. The time it would take to try to find good images can be better spent on writing new posts."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has an image for every single post. That must be a waste of time. Is this a bad use of images?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of images," the old man said. "Great images on this topic are easily found, and putting one in each post is a great way to bring the posts to life."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has several images on each post, and they don't appear to be relevant to the topic of the blog. Is this a bad use of images?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 11: Monetization

"Today you will learn about monetization," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one has no monetization at all. The blogger is basically working for free. Is this bad monetization?"

"No, it's wonderful monetization," the old man said. "By having no monetization on this blog, the blogger gains more readers and builds a reputation. He then turns around and sells services by leveraging that reputation."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has some AdSense ads, text link ads, affiliate links, and private advertising. People might think this makes the blogger look greedy. Is this bad monetization?"

"No, it's wonderful monetization," the old man said. "Maintaining a blog is a lot of work, and the blogger has the right to earn some income. The ads aren't too distracting, and they actually complement the blog by providing offers relevant to the blog topic."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog is completely plastered with ads. I can't even find where the content is on this page. Oh, here it is. Is this bad monetization?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 12: Comment Management

"Today you will learn about comment management," the old man said. "Look at these blogs,and tell me what you see."

"Well, this blogger responds to every comment with a thoughtful reply. It seems like that would take too long. Is this bad comment management?"

"No, it's wonderful comment management," the old man said. "Although it takes some time to reply to every comment, it makes the commenters feel appreciated. They become more likely to subscribe, leave more comments in the future, and link to the blog."

"I see. And what about this one? This blogger barely responds to any comments. The commenters must feel neglected. Is this bad comment management?"

"No, it's wonderful comment management," the old man said. "Although some readers may wish that their comments received a response, the reality is that there are too many comments for the blogger to keep up with. Her time is better spent by responding to only a handful of comments, and concentrating on writing new posts."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog doesn't even allow comments. What's the point of a blog that doesn't allow comments? Is this bad comment management?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 13: Guest Posting

"Today you will learn about guest posting," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this blogger doesn't have any guest posts on their blog, and they don't seem to write guest posts for others. That seems awfully isolated. Is this a bad use of guest posting?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of guest posting," the old man said. "This blogger has such a unique voice that it would be extremely difficult for someone else to write a complementary post. Any guest post would be distracting. And it would be hard to find another blogger who would want posts like this on their blog."

"I see. And what about this one? This blogger frequently has guest posts on their blog, and often writes guest posts for others. Wouldn't it be better to focus more on their own blog? Is this a bad use of guest posting?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of guest posting," the old man said. "This blogger is developing a reputation by writing guest posts on key blogs in his niche. It's a good way for him to grab the attention of people who are interested in the niche but don't necessarily know him. And as his reputation grows, he's able to attract guest posts from bigger bloggers, which lightens his load and builds relationships with those bloggers."

"I see. And what about this one? It seems that practically every post on this blog is a guest post. I'm not even sure who actually owns the blog. Is this a bad use of guest posting?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

Day 14: Social Media

"Today you will learn about social media," the old man said. "Look at these blogs, and tell me what you see."

"Well, this one just has links to Digg and StumbleUpon at the bottom of each post. But there are many more social media options than those. Is this a bad use of social media?"

"No, it's a wonderful use of social media," the old man said. "The blogger is making it simple for readers. The more options you overwhelm someone with, the less likely they are to use any one of them. By restricting the readers' choices to just the two that are most important to the blogger, he increases his chances of doing well with them."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog has buttons for every social media site on the face of the earth. I didn't even know there were so many. It seems a bit much. Is this a bad use of social media?"

"No it's a wonderful use of social media," the old man said. "This blogger is known as a social media expert and has derived much of her traffic from various social media channels.
Because she teaches her readers how to effectively use all of them, it only makes sense that she provides buttons for all of them."

"I see. And what about this one? This blog doesn't have any social media links or buttons at all. How can a blogger completely remove himself from that world? Is this a bad use of social media?"

"Ponder that question," the old man said, "and tell me the answer on the last day."

"But master," I said, "the last day is tomorrow."

"Yes," the old man said, "so you'd best get a good night's sleep."

The Last Day

"What time is it?" the old man asked.
"It is now."

"Where are you?"
"I am here."

"Why are you here?"
"To understand."

"Who are you?"
"I am a student of blogging."

"Who am I?"
"You are the master."

"Good," the old man said. "Now you will face your destiny. Every day, you have asked a question that I did not answer. I told you to ponder the question, and tell me the answer on the last day. The time is now. Are you going to tell me the answers, or am I going to cut off your head?"

While I had searched long and hard for the answers, they had not come to me. My efforts had been in vain. I sat there in silence, for I could think of nothing to say. I stared deep into the old man's eyes as I awaited certain death.

And then I found that the events of the previous days were flashing before my eyes, as in a dream. A vivid, intense dream full of sights and sounds. It felt like a mighty river raging through my mind, clearing out my thoughts and replacing them with a peaceful void. And then I smiled.

"I am not afraid, master. I have the answer."

"Only one answer? But there were many questions!" He scowled and put his hand on the hilt of his sword. "Do not try my patience, fool, for I will not have you make a mockery of blogging!" And then, the corners of his mouth betrayed him, as for the first time they curled into a faint smile. For you see, he knew that I had solved my own riddle.

"All this time I had cluttered my mind by filling it with so many questions, until just now, when I see that they were all the same question. And that question is: why do great bloggers sometimes break the rules? It's because every great blogger is unique. I wouldn't ask why that leopard has so few spots, or why that bird has so many feathers. So why should I ask why a great blogger isn't like everyone else? They break the rules because they're good enough to understand the reasoning behind them, and they know what makes sense for them."

"Very good!" the old man said. "And what else?"

"Well, I've been so busy trying to figure out how to make a great blog, but that's
impossible. Instead, I only need to realize the truth."

"What truth?" asked the old man, now smiling more than before.

"There is no blog! A blog has no inherent value; it's just a medium for conveying value from one person to others. There are no great blogs, only great bloggers. For a person who has nothing worth saying, trying to create a great blog is an exercise in futility, like trying to teach a duck to sing like Pavarotti. I need to start by looking within myself to find my inner blogger. The rest is just details."

"Excellent!" the old man exclaimed. "You've figured out all the secrets, and I have nothing more to teach you."

Finally, my journey was complete. I now knew what I had to do, and the path was clear. I breathed a sigh of utter contentment, and the old man and I started walking together.
Then he smiled again and said, "Actually, there's one more thing. Have you figured out the last secret yet?"

"What secret?"

And then I woke up.

Down the Mountain

I awoke lying face down on the side of the mountain, shivering in the snow. I slowly stood up, freezing and disoriented. I had no idea how much time had passed. I looked around and didn't see old man, no chirping birds and babbling brook, nothing.

For now, I had to get out of there before I froze to death. I started stumbling my way down Mount Blogmore, and before too long I reached the bottom, where it was much warmer.
What had happened? Was the whole thing a dream? Impossible. For two weeks I had studied under the old man. It was real, I know it was! Wasn't it?

I was disenchanted to think that perhaps I had somehow imagined it all. But in a way, it didn't matter. Regardless of how it happened, I had found my answers.

I didn't want to stay in town anymore. I felt like I needed to go someplace else, where I could be alone with my thoughts. I knew I awaited many great adventures in blogging, and I wanted to be where nothing would distract me from that purpose, where nothing would remind me of reality.

I started walking in no particular direction, thinking of what Havelock Ellis had said:

"Dreams are real while they last. Can we say more of life?"