Author: PattheExpat

While concrete and brick construction is growing more and more popular in the Sacred Valley, the mainstay for nearly all construction has remained essentially unchanged for the past 500 years.  This bread and butter of construction is the ubiquitous, biodegradable, locally sourced, handmade, sun dried, universally accessible. . . . ADOBE. (If you’ve visited our photo blog, you may have noticed the post “Building a House with no Nails,” which mentions adobe construction.)

The basic unit of adobe construction is the adobe brick as shown here.

Adobe bricks drying in the sun It is basically just mud mixed with a little straw that is packed into a mold and then allowed to dry in the sun. To build your house, all you need is a little more mud for mortar and voila! – you have a nice, solid wall. One small problem: When your wall gets wet, it turns into mud again and begins to erode as shown here.

Adobe wall eroded by rainTo solve this, people often put a little roof on their adobe walls:

Adobe wall protected from the rainThis solves 90% of the problem, but the bottom of the wall can still get soft and erode as the rainwater lands on the ground and spatters onto the base. To solve this problem, many adobe walls have a sort of foundation made of stones or concrete as you can see below.

 Adobe wall with a protected base

Of course, not everyone wants to be bothered with protecting the base of their wall – with predictable results:

Adobe wall with eroded base

An adobe wall that is kept dry like this can last for many, many years. If you are building a house out of it though, it may be somewhat unappealing to have all of your walls made out of dirt. At this point, you can spruce things up a little by putting on a layer of plaster and paint. It can come out looking pretty sharp. Here we see the contrast between a plastered and bare wall:

Finish on adobe wall(If you look carefully you can also see in this picture where a power line enters the house and is patched with yeso, a locally made plaster.  You’ll also notice that the building is two stories.)   Adobe construction can look so well finished that the only way to tell that it was used is the width of the walls.  Typical adobe wall width ranges from 4 feet in old, colonial style buildings to about two feet in most modern, private homes.  Whenever you live in an adobe home, you always have built-in shelving on all the window sills.  On the whole, adobe construction provides excellent insulation and is just as comfortable as any stick-built house that you would find in the States. (Only WAY cheaper). 

I am stuck inside today due to a strike.  This makes it a good day to write a blog; especially a blog about a strike.  For the next 48 hours the entire provencia (roughly equivalent to a county) of Urubamba is on strike.  (Additionally the provencias of Calca and Pisac are striking as a show of support to Ururbamba.  These three provencias comprise the entirety of the Sacred Valley) Due to the fact that both Machu Picchu and the Maras Salt Pools are within the provencia of Urubamba this strike will have a large negative impact on tourism and the roughly 2,000 tourists trying to visit these sites for the next couple of days.  What exactly does it mean when an entire region is “on strike”?

-It means that NOBODY works and all the shops are closed.

Urubamba Closed Shops

-All the roads are blocked with rocks, branches, tires and whatever else people decide to drag into them.

Urubamba Blocked Road

-And lots of people marching around protesting.

Urubamba Peru Protesters

What exactly are people protesting? This time (there are typically at least a couple strikes per year) there are 3 principal complaints.

1-electric bills are too high. ($0.21 per kWh when converted to US dollars)

2-There is a bus service that takes tourists up to Machu Picchu that is a privately owned monopoly that local residents want to be run by local municipalities so that they can benefit from the profits.

3- There is a large portion of land is owned by a local private luxury hotel (Tambo del Inka) and was sold to them from the municipality by a corrupt mayor under shady circumstances.  The current municipal administration wants to retake possession of the portion of the land that is owned but not being used by the hotel.

The real irony of this great display of freedom and democracy is that anybody who doesn’t participate is fined severely.  Is freedom of expression really free when you are forced to do it?

In all elections voting is mandatory: failure to vote is punished by a severe fine.

Every day that a child comes late to school, his or her parents are given a small fine.

Nearly every week, there are small local community improvement projects (digging sewer lines, installing power lines, etc.): once again, every household that does not send a representative is fined severely. (This is even the case when members of the family are severely ill or disabled.)

Nearly every single trade in existence (from the women who sell fruit and vegetables in the markets to taxi drivers) requires membership to a union that forces one to pays dues, attend very frequent meetings, and sponsor/organize massive religious festivals to various saints.  As always, failure to participate results in fines and or loss of employment.

Such “mandatory expressions of freedom” as today’s strike remind one of the delicate balance between individual rights and the will of the majority.  Everyone has their own views on the where that balance is, but this is pretty certain in any case:  Liberty is not simple.  Democracy is not simple.  Freedom is not simple.