In addition to getting hikers safely and securely around Peru’s many mountains, Maritza Chacacanta is also one of the country’s loudest voices in sustainability. We sat down to find out how she cleans up Peru’s hiking trails.
If you ever were trekking in Peru, you will be familiar with at least two things. One: Hiking these trails is hard work, but your guide and team of porters make it infinitely easier. Two: along with some pretty impressive views, there’s a fair amount of trash on the trail. Like literally bags full.
Maritza Chacacanta has a lot to do with both. As the duty manager of Intrepid’s trekking department in Peru, Maritza is responsible for overseeing every trek in the country. She oversees the staff—over 250 male and 15 female porters, 25 cooks and assistant cooks, and about 150 wranglers who use horses to carry equipment. She organizes the logistical side of Intrepid’s small group treks, like arranging permits and entry fees, buying camping equipment for porters and talking to vendors to sort ingredients for meals.
You can say she is a woman with a lot on her plate.
But in addition to *waving her hands* all of this, Maritza also spends her time educating her ever-growing team on the importance of the environment. Not a waste. Picks up trash when you see it. Recycling.
“We talk a lot with our staff about how important it is to take care of the environment,” says Maritza from her office in Cusco. “For us, the environment is Pachamama. It is part of the Inca religion; an ideology that we respect our Mother Earth.”
Maritza has been trekking in Peru for 15 years. She has gone Inca Trail 500 times, and have explored the Lares, Quarry and Choquequiaro trails countless others. Seeing how much trash is strewn all over these tracks spurred her to action. “I feel guilty and I feel sad,” she says. “So picking up trash is something I can do for our planet, for Pachamama.”
Under Maritza’s guidance, Intrepid was the first tour company to really start taking care of the environment on Peru’s Inca Trail. Each porter was responsible for picking up any trash they saw along the trail and for sorting and recycling it when they returned to Cusco.
“It wasn’t easy, because porters from other companies started laughing at us,” recalls Maritza. “They would say, ‘This is the company in charge of collecting our waste!’ and they would laugh and throw their trash on the ground. It was extremely insulting.”
Maritza worked hard to educate the porters and taught them the importance of preserving the trail. She did such a great job, she got a letter from the government congratulating her on her work; in fact, it is now a law in Peru that no single-use plastics are allowed on the trail, and her team of porters, cooks, and wranglers now collect litter on trails across the country.
It’s a huge achievement, but one that requires ongoing work. At the beginning of each hike, Intrepid’s leaders and guides explain to travelers that the porters, along with carrying camping equipment, food and supplies, will also collect all trash along the trail. They also store waste produced by the group, including organic matter and even cooking oil. “Often our travelers start picking up the trash too!” says Maritza. “It’s so nice that they also respect our Pachamama.”
In addition to educating her team, Maritza has also worked with local communities and explained the importance of recycling. “We don’t really have this kind of education in schools, especially in smaller communities,” she says. “If Peru is going to become more sustainable as a country, we have to involve the local communities and we have to educate people when they are children. They have to know how easy it is and that it has to be part of their daily life.”