On the southern edge of Lima, low hills creep towards the ocean. We have not really noticed them as they have been covered by cloud and mist since we arrived. The slopes of these hills are covered with a lush green carpet of vegetation during the winter months and are then brown and barren during the dry summer season. These are the Lomas, only found in the deserts of Peru and Chile where the cold Humboldt current creates dense mist and fog that rolls inland providing moisture for a range of flora and fauna. This includes a bright yellow flower, the Ismene Amancaes, native to Peru which covers the hillsides in June, but only lasts for a few days; nasturtium, begonia, and wild Papaya shrubs. The plants get their moisture from the dense fogs that continually move up and down these hills.
The Lomas del Paraíso in Villa María del Triunfo lies on the Southeastern edge of Lima covering 1,700 ha of hillside, only one third of which is protected. We drove there in a small fleet of mini-vans starting out from the PUCP University campus where we are attending the IASC Biennial confefence on the Commons. We started out together but soon got split up by the traffic as we crossed Lima and drove towards the hills. We knew we were getting close when the ground got wet and everything took on a much damper appearance as we entered a warren of streets working their way up the steep hillsides which are slowly covering the whole area. The road got steeper and then ran out as we negotiated our way around cars and the small tuk-tuks that swarm around this area. In first gear with the wheels slipping the driver eventually stopped and got out, admitting he was lost. We went back down, going round in circles in the streets as roads became dead ends or were blocked by barriers and works. We are well off the google mapped area and phone calls indicated at least two other vans were also lost. Our driver persisted and through a mix of modern technology, asking directions, and good luck we got to the destination. Getting out of the vehicle into the cloud and the mud of the road we were met by our guide from Las Lomas de Paraíso VMT, a small NGO consisting entirely of volunteers from the local community who run guide tours.
We set off on a three-hour trek through the Lomas, with our guide pointing out the different plants and telling us about the problems they have from ‘land-trafficking’, encroachment by local people fencing off plots on which they erect small buildings before selling them on, and people picking the wild flowers, particularly the Amancaes, to celebrate a local festival.
We wandered through the fog, across steep hillsides and along a rocky ridge, admiring the lush but fragile vegetation covering the ground. It felt a bit like doing commons research. Here we were – a group of commons scholars wandering around, peering through the mist to find a way ahead while marvelling at the ecological processes at work, all the while thinking about how to shape a governance system that might ensure its long term sustainability. We were led by a young volunteer. Someone from the local community who valued this resource and had decided to do something to protect it. Someone who had taken the time to understand the needs of the ecological system and the local community. ‘Thinkers’ and ‘doers’ – out there in the fog together – looking for a way forward. We need both and one of the great things about IASC conferences is that it brings together the thinkers and the doers – enabling them to pool their respective knowledge and experience to try and solve commons problems.
Eventually we dropped back down again into the upper edge of the community, mostly small houses precariously built into the hillsides. We were welcomed to a large shed where we found the rest of our group and were provided with a fantastic cooked lunch of rice and yucca with a meat stew.