Friday, July 9

NPR: Peru's Exotic Jungle Fruit

This NPR story on the jungle fruit aguaje's popularity was reported from Peru's jungle city Iquitos.  Besides their being delicious, the fruit is thought to make women more beautiful.

Experts are concerned that rate at which aguaje is being harvested is straining the Amazon forests.

Thursday, July 8

NY Times Travel Blog features Arequipa!

Seth Kugel of the NYT's travel blog covered Arequipa over the weekend and will soon write on northern Peru. 

There were a few things missing--pisco sours and a trip to Majes valley/Cotahuasi canyon--but overall, it's a pretty good article. 

I can, however, confirm that this "frugal traveler" definitely got ripped off; I've never taken a taxi to anywhere in Arequipa for more than 6 soles.

Thursday, July 1

NPR: Oil in Peru's Amazon Basin

So I'm back in the States for a few months (family events). But I want to keep the flow of Peru news at least at a steady drip... here is a story on NPR's Morning Edition on the effects of oil drilling in Peru's Amazon basin.

Thursday, June 24

One year after Bagua

Even a year later, the broad ramifications of the Bagua incident (see post "Free Trade and the Amazon: the Case of Bagua") are still being seen.

He was involved in last summer's demonstrations against the opening of the Amazon to foreign companies that led to the deadly clash between police and indigenous protests.

Wednesday, June 23

Peru to surpass Colombia as biggest cocaine exporter

According to last Sunday's NYT article (its eighth on Peru in 10 months), recent and dramatic increases in Peru's production is "making Peru a contender to surpass Colombia as the world's largest exporter of cocaine." 

In other words, U.S. anti-drug efforts in Colombia have not stopped production, just displaced it. And worst yet for Peru, the violent, anarchist Shining Path guerrilla groups still lurking in Peru's jungle are growing bolder and stronger with the money.

While I'm glad this article made it to the World Section (way overdue), it fails to differentiate between coca and cocaine (see my earlier post "I drank cocaine?"). 

Coca leaves (used to make cocaine) have a special cultural significance here, especially for indigenous people. They have used coca for centuries, to chew in social settings, to brew in teas and to make spiritual offerings. Today, coca leaves are sold in most markets. 

The legalization of coca production is a controversial subject in Peru. People who support its cultivation are perceived as propping up the drug trade. People who oppose it are seen as ignoring the cultural and historical significance of the plants, as well as undermining the livelihood of legitimate coca growers. 

The NYT ignores this oh-so-important cultural detail, presenting only the USG's position that coca production should be eradicated, which Peru eventually bowed to under pressure. I'm just an observer here, but even I can tell that this issue is a little more nuanced than that. 

But the NYT does do a good job to remind us where demand for these drugs come from--the U.S., Brazil and Europe. 

(NYT posted a slideshow of related photos)

Tuesday, June 22

Turning 25

My birthday was like a month ago, but this is just too funny not to share.

Halfway through cooking my "American" birthday breakfast, the kitchen table broke, sending raw eggs, bacon, juice and pancake mix all over the floor:
I would have given up, but Sergio stuck with it. One hour later, I had this wonderful breakfast on my 25th birthday:
Thanks, Sergio, for making my birthday a memorable one!

Monday, June 21

Taquile Island in Lake Titicaca

I almost forgot! On our trip, Ben and I also visited one of the islands in Lake Titicaca--Taquile:

The turtle-speed, three-hour boat ride out to the island was worth it. From the island, we could see the lake's more expansive portion not seen from Puno. You can tell from the map that we also weren't too far from the Bolivian border:

What the map doesn't show is the Cordillera Real in Bolivia. We were able to see it from the island. Let's just say my photography skills don't do these mountains justice:

What impressed me most was the island culture. While most islanders in the region speak Aymara, the people of Taquile speak Quechua, and have for centuries. They maintain their unique culture, although surely tourism helps that. 

The men of the island are expert knitters, and make their own stocking (pajama-like) hats--red ones for married men, white for bachelors. The wives also weaves their husbands a wide belt, which is worn with calf-length pants and a white peasant shirt. 

We ate lunch there and then took a quick walk over to the Peru-facing side of the island to catch our boat back another three hours. Here's the view towards Puno:

Sunday, June 20

Doing Machu Picchu, etc... on a shoestring budget

Because of the international demand for trips to Machu Picchu, prices for everything from laundry and postcards to hotels and transportation are through the roof. Some of those costs, like the Boleto Turístico (the $40 ticket to all the sites) and the $40 Machu Picchu entrance fee can’t be easily avoided. Others can. Here’s some tips for travelers looking to save a few bucks:

Tip #1: Ignore your guidebook’s recommendations on hotels. Those places are overpriced. When you arrive in Cusco, the Sacred Valley or Aguas Calientes (the base town for Machu Picchu), hotel advertisers will hassle you to come see their places. They aren’t luxury, but you can negotiate the prices down more with them than with established hotels. However, definitely check the room and its hot water.

Tip #2: Unless you’re really needing a treat, or comfort food, ignore your guidebook’s recommendations on restaurants too. You can find a perfectly delicious Peruvian lunch (drink, soup, main dish) for less than seven soles on your own. In Cusco, we liked Restaurant “Egos” on Loreto off the plaza.

Tip #3: Don’t take taxis in or around Cusco unless you’ve asked two-three people what the price should be. They charge outrageous amounts to tourists who don’t know--which happened to us once admittedly. A taxi from the bus terminal to the plaza, for example, should cost two or three soles.

Tip #4: Take the provincial buses to the Sacred Valley.  They cost three to five soles whereas a taxi might cost 70 soles or more. Buses for Pisac leave from Puputi street in front of a green garage door (take a taxi for two soles to get there).  Buses from Pisac on to Urubamba are two soles. You can take another one in Urubama for Ollantaytambo for two soles.

Tip #5: While I didn’t do this, I want to: Lonely Planet says you can get to Aguas Calientes without doing the Inca Trail (expensive) or taking the train ($43 each way). Take a bus for Quillabama from Cusco and get off at Santa Maria to stay the night in a simple lodge run by Lorenzo Cahuana. Catch another bus in the morning from Santa Maria to Santa Teresa. Walk two hours to the hydroelectric plant and another two hours along the old train tracks to Aguas Calientes.

Tip #6: Don’t take the $15 bus up the hill from Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu. Walk the 20 minutes to the park gate then do the (extremely steep) hour hike up the hill. ALSO: If tickets to Waynu Picchu are important to you (another part of the ruins), you should probably leave the hotel at 3:00 am for your hike. Taking the bus won’t get you there in time to reserve one of the 400 tickets they give each day. 

Saturday, June 19

An abridged history: Cusco and the Sacred Valley

Regarding the previous post, f you’re saying, “wait, where?” here’s the abridged version:

The Incan civilization extended from Ecuador to Argentina during the 1200-1500s, and was eventually conquered by Francisco Pizarro and his conquistador crew in 1536.

Cusco was the Inca’s capital city. Their impressive architecture remains the foundation of Cusco’s center, on top of which the conquistadors constructed Spanish-style buildings with red-tile roofs. Cusco is a living record of two cultures colliding, like you can see in the photo below:

The city sits at an elevation of 10,912 feet in a high mountain valley bordering Peru’s Amazon. Jungle fruits and vegetables are often seen in Cusco’s markets. Yet from a good viewpoint in the city’s hillside neighborhood of San Blas, snow-covered peaks with elevations reaching almost 21,000 feet.

Thanks to its location near Machu Picchu, Cusco is now an international tourist mecca filled with hotels, travel agencies and pricey restaurants. More than 2,000 tourists visit the ruins each day. Others visit the city for its known special spiritual energy, magnetic forces and evidence of extraterrestrial visits.

But Machu Picchu aren’t the only ruins in the Cusco area. Just a short walk up the hill from Cusco is Saqsaywaman, the Incan fortress that protected the city. From there, the Incans laid siege on the Spanish in Cusco, before finally being defeated and retreating to Ollantaytambo in the Sacred Valley (pictured below).

The Sacred Valley, only 45 minutes from the city, contains various small villages surrounded by elaborate Incan ruins. There’s also the villages of Pisac, Urubama and Chincheros that are worth seeing.

This is a picture of Pisac's market:

Friday, June 18

What every Peru blog needs pictures of Machu Picchu. Now my work is complete.

Wait--what is Machu Picchu? 

In 1911, British adventurer Hiram Bingham mistakenly thought it was the lost jungle refuge of the last Incan emperor. More recent evidence however, including the discovery of a similar structure (Choquequirao), leads us to think it was a vacation estate for the emperor. 

In other words, Machu Picchu was the equivalent of the American president’s Camp David--only way cooler, obviously. 

My friend Ben and I (hi Ben!) started our hour hike up the steep trail from the Urubama river.

We arrived at around 7:30, when the mist of the cloud forest still hid the ruins from our view.

While waiting, we hiked to see the Inca drawbridge. Built on a dizzying cliff, no one can cross it anymore after a tourist fell to her death a few years ago.

As the morning went on, the site emerged bit by bit.

Finally, we could see all of it:

Machu Picchu, and even more so its surrounding views, definitely live up to the hype.

Getting a work visa for Peru--check!

Congratulations to me! After two and a half months and $275 in fees (not to mention travel, photo, copying and notary costs), I finally have my work visa and foreign resident card!

Even after visiting a few blogs (expatPeru and The Ultimate Peru List were great), the process was a mystery to me, so I thought I would post what my process was, just so there’s more information out there to consult.

If you are an American and trying to get a work visa in Arequipa (or any other southern city), the following might serve as a guide for you, although fees do increase periodically:

1) Permission to sign contracts 

(Arequipa, Jefatura de Migraciones Urb. Quinta Tristan 2do Parque, José Bustamante y Rivero, 1 week)

a) F-004 (download from

b) Banco de la Nacion payment #1814 S/. 12.43

c) Banco de la Nacion payment #01643 $50.00

d) Passport copy

e) TAM (Tarjeta Andina Migratoria) copy

2) Work contract approval by the Ministerio de Trabajo 

(Arequipa, Ministerio de Trabajo, 1 week)

a) Contract signed by you and your work

b) Original, legalized copy of Bachelor’s degree or any other relevant degrees

c) Notarized copy of passport

d) Notarized copy of TAM

3) Visa solicitation 

(Arequipa, Migraciones, 1 month)

a) F-007 (download from

b) Banco de la Nacion payment #01857 S/. 57.51

c) Original or copy of the work contract approved by the Ministerio de Trabajo, with an expiration of no less than one year

d) Notarized copy of passport

e) Notarized copy of TAM

f) Sworn, legalized statement declaring no police, judicial or     health history and confirming your address

3.5) Picking up the visa  

After I dropped off my solicitation papers, Migraciones told me to pick a Peruvian Consulate outside of the country where I would pick up my work visa. I chose Arica, Chile because it’s the closest to Arequipa. Migraciones told me to call back in three weeks to see if my papers were waiting for me in Arica. After three weeks, I called Migraciones. They then told me to call the Peruvian consulate in Arica, Chile, who confirmed that my visa was waiting for me.

4) Pick up visa in Peruvian Consulate 

(Arica, Av. 18 de Setiembre 1554, 1 day)

a) Payment of $82

b) Copy of work contract and its approval

c) Passport copy

d) 3 color photos, passport size

5) Inscription in Foreign Registry 

(Arequipa, Migraciones, 10 days)

a) F-007A

b) Sworn, legalized statement declaring no police, judicial or health history and confirming your address

c) Banco de la Nacion payment #01873 S/. 36

d) Banco de la Nacion payment #02682 $15

e) Copy of work contract

f) Copy of work contract’s approval by the Ministerio de Trabajo

g) Notarized copy of passport

h) Notarized copy of TAM

i) 2 profile/3 frontal color pictures w/ white background, passport size

6) Letter from Interpol about criminal background 

(Lima Av. Velasco Astete 1491, Surco; 1-5 days, but ask if they can do it faster since you’re coming from “provincia”)

a) Banco de la Nacion: 73.44 soles

b) Giro al extranjero of $30 (pay it at the Banco de la Nacion in Caminos del Inca/Benavides--4 blocks from Interpol down Caminos del Inca)

c) Copy of your passport, your TAM, and your work visa

d) Numero de expediente given to you by migraciones after they processed your inscription (first page of F-007A). To get this, you've got to go to Migraciones in Arequipa before coming to Lima.

7) Processing of Foreign Resident Card 

(Lima, Av. España 730, 3rd floor, Breña, 1 day)

a) Bring your original letter from INTERPOL plus one copy

b) Copy of the letter with the original goes to Mesa de Partes on the first floor; they give you the copy back with a sello and you take that to the third floor

c) Banco de la Nacion payment of $35 paid within Extranjeria

d) Original passport


*To apply for a resident visa, you must have a work contract for at least a year. 

*While with your resident visa, you cannot be out of the country for more than 183 days (6 months) or its like you’re not living in Peru a majority of the year and you lose your visa. To leave the country while having your resident work visa for any amount of time, you must have completed the above process and also have a notarized letter from your work saying that you have permission “sin goza de haber” to be gone for that time. 

Wednesday, May 19

Planeta Agua: Learning Portuguese in Peru?

 The more I learn about Latin America, the more I learn about the importance of Brazil in South America. I wanted to learn more, so a few months ago, I started taking a Portuguese class at a Brazilian institute here. 

I'm still at a basic level, but I understand enough to interpret this beautiful song about water. By Guilherme Arantes, it's called Planeta Agua. My favorite line is the one about the water always returning humbly deep within the earth, after giving us so many awe-inspiring phenomena.

Água que nasce na fonte serena do mundo
Water that's born in the serene spring of the world
E que abre um profundo grotão
And that opens a deep canyon
Água que faz inocente riacho e deságua na corrente do ribeirão
Water that makes an innocent creek and consumes the current on the riverbed
Águas escuras dos rios que levam a fertilidade ao sertão
Dark waters of the rivers that bring fertility to the desert
Águas que banham aldeias e matam a sede da população
Waters that bathe villages and kill the thirst of the population

Águas que caem das pedras no véu das cascatas, ronco de trovão
Waters that fall from the rocks of the waterfalls, thundering down
E depois dormem tranqüilas no leito dos lagos, no leito doslagos
And afterwards sleeps calmy on the lakebed, the lakebed
Água dos igarapés, onde Iara, a mãe d'água é misteriosa canção
Water from the , where Iara*, the water's mother sings her mysterious song
Água que o sol evapora, pro céu vai embora, virar nuvem de algodão
Water that the sun evaporates, then makes into cotton clouds

Gotas de água da chuva, alegre arco-íris sobre a plantação
Drops of rain hearten a rainbow over the plantation
Gotas de água da chuva, tão tristes, são lágrimas na inundação
Drops of rain, so sad, are the tears of the flood
Águas que movem moinhos são as mesmas águas que encharcam ochão
Waters that move mills are the same waters that fall from the cliff
E sempre voltam humildes pro fundo da terra, pro fundo da terra
And they always go back to their humble state, deep in the earth, deep in the earth.

Terra, planeta água (2x)
Land, water planeta

*Iara is a fabled mermaid in Brasil who enchants sailors with her beautiful sea song. Those who hear the song never return. 

Tuesday, May 18

A day in old Arequipa: Mollebaya

Last weekend Noelia (a friend from the English institute) took me to the outskirts of the Arequipa, to one of the traditional villages that are not yet part of the sprawling urban growth that has overtaken the city's countryside in recent years. Her best friend's father is the mayor of the town, which must have less than 100 people living in it. 

When we arrived, we went walking to buy some water. On the way to the store, everyone said "Buenos dias" to me, which, only 30 minutes away in downtown Arequipa, is not common. We passed a family pulling their two cattle behind them. The community's cathedral had finally been rebuilt after the steeple fell during the 2001 earthquake. 

From there, we hiked about 30 minutes to the hill overlooking the town. Noelia and I could see Misti, the volcano, the Chachani mountains in the distance, and the green fields that surround Arequipa, a city of 1 million. 

Noelia, pictured here, and I talk mostly in English because when I'm around her I get all shy about my Spanish. She spent two years in Parker, in my home state of Colorado, as an au pair, so we have a lot to talk about. We also have the same taste for hiking. I think I found myself another good friend. 

Monday, May 17

Where did she go? To work..

For the three people that read my blog, you might have been wondering where I've been the past month. It's almost as if I had found a life or something. 

Well, I've been here, the Peruvian-American Cultural Center, where I now work:

Since November, I had been giving a Conversation class at the "Cultural" in exchange for a Spanish class. They had offered me a teaching job there starting in January. Why did it take until April to start working there, you ask?

Well, in order to work legally in Peru, I needed to get my work visa. The first step in that process is signing a contract. I had heard more than a few unfortunate stories about foreigners working at English institutes and having bad experiences: not getting paid on time (or at all) or not being given the hours they were promised. I wanted to be sure I committed to a place I felt comfortable with before I signed a year-long contract that was linked to by legal status in the country. 

But after seven months observing this institute, and now working there, I can say I am more than satisfied with my choice. The Cultural is professional, dynamic and a positive environment to work in. They even offer teacher training courses, which I plan to take starting in October. Because the institute serves more than 5,000 students, you can be sure that there will always be at least one class for me to teach.

Check out the Cultural's website here to learn more about it.

For now I have four classes of widely differing levels, each 1 1/2 hours plus planning time. That doesn't leave too much time to blog. But I promise to be back here soon. 

In the meantime, here is a photo of a few of my Peruvian colleagues that I snagged from the website. Claudio, left, and Giselle, middle, were also my Spanish teachers!

Sunday, May 16

Majes Valley: Witchcraft, Dinosaurs & Shrimp

Bryam and Briggitte (who I met through basketball) have become some of my favorite people in Arequipa. Also our neighbors in Miraflores, they are down to earth, sweet and always up for an adventure. 
A few weeks ago, they took us to Majes valley, about three and a half hours through the desert from Arequipa. Briggitte, Bryam, Bryam's friend Oliver, Sergio and I loaded up and headed out on Sunday morning around 8:30.

Located on the dusty road to Cotahuasi canyon--the deepest in South America--is this breathtaking, fertile oasis. Southern Peru is full of river valleys like this. 
Majes valley, however, is particularly attractive. Pre-Incan petroglyphs (called Toro Muerto) are located nearby. The freshwater shrimp, as well as Majes brand piscos and wines, are famous. There are dinosaur tracks etched in the rock. But what really caught my hear was the area's reputation for witchcraft. 

As Briggitte told me, one of the smaller towns is known for producing towns of curses. You always have to be careful to accept food and drink there with the left hand, because if you accept something with your right, you could be cursed. Many people in Arequipa come to the Majes valley to visit the witches, and have a love curse placed on someone they're infatuated with. At the least, I can vouch for the bewitching scenery and energy in Majes.

We drove through the valley floor until we found a patch of shrimp shacks that Oliver had heard about. But before we settled down to eat, we took a walk out to the river nearby. A group of boys were getting informal swimming lessons near this wooden bridge where Oliver (red) and Bryam (pink) are standing. You can see the boys in the background.

Explorer Sergio immediately found the shrimp nets, made of bamboo, I think? 

After we'd played around in the water enough, we found our shrimp shack. For, I think it was, $7 we each had a *giant* plate of freshwater shrimp. Here's Briggitte with some Inka Kola showing off all of our plates:
Afterwards, we took a drive up the valley to see the dinosaur tracks. Here Briggitte and Bryam are pushing each other up the hill, with the impressive footprints in the background. 
And of course, what would a dinosaur park be without a giant T-rex model? 
We spent the whole day in the valley and had even more fun on the drive chatting. Thanks again Briggitte and Bryam for a wonderful weekend!

Monday, April 19

*The* Matadero: The Prince

[[Preface: So for the three people that read this thing, sorry for being MIA these past two weeks. Life was calling me.]]

Finally, I have friends here--about five in total, but still!  A few of them have seen my blog and, as native Arequipeños, had a few important corrections to make. 

They immediately noted that my previous post--"Mataderos=Back of a Chevy?"--lacked mention of the most notorious sleezy hotels for young couples: El Principe or The Prince. 

Obviously, we had to go there immediately and take a few discreet photos:

Why everyone knows about this little one that's a bit out of the way still puzzles me, but I sure liked the name, and the matadero coat of arms. 

Thanks Bryam and Eder :)

Sunday, April 18

Miguel Angel's Emoliente

Usually after closing the downtown bakery stores for the night, on our way back up the hill to Miraflores, we stop for a bit of Miguel Angel's emoliente (herbal tea).

Miguel Angel is 14 years old; he works most nights from 8-11, or until his emoliente runs out. He sells each glass for about $0.20 and comes with a yapa (an extra glass full). When we came with the camera, he was a really good sport.

Someday, when I understand my computer, I'll put subtitles on it, but in sum, Sergio is explaining what different herbs Miguel Angel puts into his emoliente

I thought I would try and find a recipe, but someone much more qualified beat me to it. This Oregonian culinary artist visited South America and thoroughly researched emoliente recipes. Here is his take:
I have asked various vendors about the ingredients and I have squeezed the secrets out of a few guys about what they use:

  • The main ingredient is linasa (flax seed) which is well known for being a source of Omega-3’s and lignans (heart-healthy, anti-cancer, blood sugar stabilizer)
  • Aloe vera, scraped right off the stem.
  • Cola de cabello/Horse tail (it grown near streams and wetlands in the US too) (a diuretic good for the kidneys and bladder and may help with senility due to the high silica content that balances the aluminum in the body)
  • Chanca piedra (helps with the kidneys (especially stones), the liver and is an anti-viral that fights intestinal parasites)
  • Barley (good source of selenium, phosphorus, copper and manganese and can help combat diabetes, high cholesterol and colon cancer)
  • Boldo (cleanses the liver, aids digestion and fights intestinal parasites, among other things)
  • Una de gato/Cat’s claw (the inner bark of a jungle vine that helps boost the immune system as well as colds, arthritis, tumors and digestive problems)
  • Alfalfa juice (a superfood high in phytonutrients that also can aid in digestion, diabetes and anemia)
  • Lime juice (um, Vit C)
The drink itself has a surprisingly viscous consistency, but always seems to settle my stomach after too many chicharrones and I sleep like a baby. 

Tuesday, April 6

Near Arequipa: Police/Miners Clash Leaves 6 Dead

Six dead. 29 injured. Dozens detained. Thousands more stranded on the highway for two nights.

Halfway between Lima and Arequipa on the Panamerican highway, more than 5,000 informal miners blocked the highway on Sunday, impeding the thousands of passengers heading home for work on Monday after Holy Week. 

Protesters reject the government's new laws protecting the environment against damage caused by informal mining. But the clash had a violent outburst. First on Sunday, Peru's RPP radio was reporting rumors of thirteen deaths. Six deaths have now been confirmed by authorities and witnesses. 

Thousands of Peruvian wildcat miners were locked in a tense standoff with police on Monday after six people were killed during a protest against stricter environmental controls imposed by the government.

The violence broke out near the town of Chala, 372 miles south of the capital Lima, on Sunday when police tried to clear a roadblock set by the miners on the Panamerican Highway leading to Chile.

Two of the dead were bystanders, including a taxi driver struck by a stray bullet and a woman who suffered a heart attack. Police said 20 protesters and nine officers were injured in the country's latest conflict over natural resources.

Congressional delegation met with strike leaders today, but didn't arrive at any agreement. Peru's President Alan Garcia also responded to the protests, saying that his policy toward informal mining would not be changing. He pointed to the polluted rivers of the jungle province Madre de Dios as his defense. 

America TV's Cuarto Poder filmed the following from Chala, including eyewitness accounts of the shootings:

Today, traffic in Arequipa's downtown was shut down all day by widespread protests denouncing the violence against the miners. 

And as for our side of the story, Sergio's brother just arrived back in Arequipa after 48 hours stuck on the Panamericana. Protesters had blocked the national highway from here to Lima. They'll have to fly to Lima and then take an overnight bus to Huaraz tomorrow morning, arriving to work two days late. 

Sunday, April 4

The Pope's Easter Words on Latin America


In his Easter mass today, Pope Benedict XVI's words on Latin America made headlines across the continent, or at least in Peru.

He expressed solidarity for earthquake victims in Haiti and Chile. To those Latin American and Caribbean countries that face increased danger from drug trafficking-related crime, the Pope hoped Jesus would bring renewed peace and respect for the common good. While he didn't specifically say Mexico, his Americas audience knew what he was talking about. 

But Pope Benedict didn't address the recent scandals, as was the headline on most U.S. news websites this morning.

Saturday, April 3

Good Friday: Mazamorra and Processions

"Tuca" with his mazamorra y arroz con leche

The tradition in Arequipa for Good Friday is to watch religious movies (which are on every channel) and eat a delicious purple corn-based desert called mazamorra morada

Sergio's dad (alias "Tuca" for his toucan-like nose) taught us how to cook it. We also made arroz con leche to go with our mazamorra, the "classic" combination. 

In searching online for a recipe, I found an AMAZING blog dedicated to Peru recipes that I will surely be referring to more. Anyway, here is the mazamorra recipe it provides, as well as one for arroz con leche.

As we were eating, this small, neighborhood procession passed by the house. I grabbed a 10-second video of it.  

Juliana, who is Catholic, explained it to me. Carried overhead first is an apostle (we couldn't make out which one), followed by Jesus' body and the virgin Mary dressed in black. All of the participants walk in silence and hold candles, mourning the death of the savior.

On Sunday, all the apostles from the various processions will be carried downtown and finally meet. The virgin Mary will take off her black dress and return to her regular clothes. While Juliana didn't tell me, I can assume Jesus won't be in the glass coffin anymore. 

Friday, April 2

Holy Thursday in Arequipa

David, Juliana, Mario, Me, Sergio
Sergio's brothers arrived to Arequipa just in time for Semana Santa (Holy Week), the commemoration of the last week of Jesus' life and his resurrection on Easter Sunday. 

While Sergio's family is protestant, they took advantage of the national holiday on Thursday to cook a delicious lamb leg, potatoes and sweet potatoes in the bakery's traditional oven (see earlier post):
To digest the surfeit amount of meat we consumed, and experience an Arequipa tradition, we joined in on a pilgrimage on foot from church to church within the city. 

It's called "las estaciones." The most dedicated Catholics walk to fourteen different churches located across a city of one million people, paralleling the fourteen stations of Jesus' crucifixion. At each church, believers beg forgiveness for their sins, the walk further cleansing them.

We followed the crowd from Miraflores to downtown, visiting the five churches along the way, including the famous cathedral located on the main plaza. Check out all the people:
All the streets were closed to vehicles. Vendors took their place, selling delicious treats including chocolate-covered strawberries, candied fruits, sandwiches, chocolate eggs, etc... 

On a street flanking the Cathedral, vendors had set up tables. There we stopped and drank two popular teas: ponche (various fruits) and diana (milk, coconut and almond). 

Here is Sergio, happily drinking his yapa (free second serving) of ponche as the crowds heading to the plaza pass by:

Sergio and his brothers assure me this Holy Thursday pilgrimage can only be found in Arequipa. If so, what a beautiful community tradition.

Thursday, April 1

Health Care in Latin America

I've been following health care reform in the U.S., and  it just occurred to me that it might be interesting to write about what health care in Latin America is like.

I plan to find out more about Peru, but this general video is a good start:

Tuesday, March 30

Machu Picchu Opens April 1!

It's back to business on Thursday, April 1, at Machu Picchu. They expect daily visitors to drop by half, from 2,000 to 800, but Cusco is anxiously waiting to get back to business.

The tourism industry, the pillar of Cusco's economy, was deeply damaged by flooding in January that left 26,000 families affected, 4,500 homes destroyed, 39,500 acres of crops decimated and $100 million+ in damages to the region. 

But even though the rains have subsided, tourism has decreased significantly. That's why Peru has invited star actors to campaign on behalf of Cusco. Susan Sarandon and Anthony Hopkins arrive this week to juice up the interest around the ancient Incan capital. 

High Maternal Mortality in Peru, and the US!

Tonight, I'll be watching online PBS Newshour Ray Suarez' report from Peru on the country's high maternal mortality rates, one of the highest in the Americas. 

Amnesty International is also on the case, having recently released a report on maternal mortality in Peru:

You'll be shocked to learn that maternal mortality is also a large problem in the States, according to Amnesty's recent report on the issue. 
"Maternal mortality ratios have increased from 6.6 deaths per 100,000 live births in 1987 to 13.3 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2006. While some of the recorded increase is due to improved data collection, the fact remains that maternal mortality ratios have risen significantly...

...The USA spends more than any other country on health care, and more on maternal health than any other type of hospital care. Despite this, women in the USA have a higher risk of dying of pregnancy-related complications than those in 40 other countries."

Monday, March 22

Staying Green: Peru's Informal Recycling

Littering: A slap in the face
One day on the bus I got whacked in the face with a candy wrapper. The woman in front of me had tried to throw it out the window and, apparently, didn't calculate the trajectory very well. 

This littering offender fits the norm in Peru. Trash is often seen flying from both sides of the buses, thrown out by it's passengers. On the street itself, many Peruvians have little shame in tossing a receipt, wrapper or plastic bottle on the ground. 

Some of the worst littering, however, comes from businesses and individual homes that dump their trash pile by Arequipa's main river or in a gully, like this one near our house:

The younger generation in my English classes hate this. They seem to place real importance on the environment, the importance of instilling a culture that encourages recycling and discourages littering. 

Chatarreros and Street Cleaners
With this kind of trash management, recycling must be non-existent, you might think. But actually, Peru recycles a lot--informally. 

The chatarrero--a person who collects chatarra or trash--rides up and down the streets calling "I buy batteries! I buy glass! I buy bottles!" The people who want to get rid of stuff, come out on the street and sell him their junk. We recycled our bottles with this chatarrero pictured below:

And when the trash truck comes by in the morning, people following it (not associated with the company) separate out the plastic bottles to sell to a recycling company. 

After 8 p.m., on the commercial streets downtown, many people walk around with large bags. They sift through the trash thrown out by business owners, collecting plastic bottles that they will later sell for a few soles.

Sergio and I wanted to recycle our plastic bottles, so we've been collecting them to someday bring downtown and give to one of the many people on the street.

While recycling in any form could be seen as positive, there are some very negative aspects of this trash collection. The people, often times children, are exposed to disease, toxins and other things than affect their health as they dig through the trash.

There are rumors that the recycling plastic bottles are refilled with imitation sodas, or even medicines, that are usually sold in poorer areas. These products could be contaminated or even dangerous. I've poked holes in them with the hope that I'm not facilitating the black market. 

Is Peru Greener than the States?
While trash litters the street, out of necessity, people reuse and reduce like few Americans I know. The fact that more than 35% of the population lives in poverty demands that the people reuse things instead of buying new ones. 

The zapatero (shoemaker) for example, still thrives in Peru because you can get your $30 shoes fixed for $1. Many of us, myself included, are known to throw away old shoes because it's more expensive to get them fixed than buy new ones. 

Another example: Coca Cola and other soda companies provide their drinks in glass bottles, which they later collect from vendors, clean and refill for reuse.

From my calculations, the average American produces seven times more trash than the average Peruvian. You wouldn't guess it by the trash on the streets here, but who's greener?

Addressing the Trash Management Problem
Much of the trash management problem in Peru comes down to poor municipal management and a lack of national laws protecting the environment. There are no anti-litter laws or community clean-up projects, although you can see some people do want their neighborhoods clean, as demonstrated by this Miraflores mural that says "No Littering":
While four districts in Lima do have a public recycling program, a public option for recycling doesn't seem viable in Peru, at least to me. The first thing that needs to happen is stricter and more efficient trash management, but local governments don't have the resources to manage trash, much less ensure consistent water and electricity.

But one NGO, Ciudad Saludable de Lima, is pushing local businesses to manage their trash privately. The organization employs 150 people, serves three million people and educates people about their environmental obligations. It has helped make clean so many Lima neighborhoods that the NGO received international recognition for its work. 

Wednesday, March 17

Video: The Candelaria

February's Virgén de la Candelaria is said to be one of the most important cultural events in South America, along with Brazil's Carnaval. And it's held in the continent's "folklore capital"--Puno! 

While the Catholic festival (melded with Andean highland traditions) lasts for 18 days, we made it only for one weekend to see the dance competition.

More than 70 dance groups (including live bands) competed in the event held in Puno's stadium. Dancers and musicians traveled from Lima, Cuzco and even Bolivia to take part in the festivities. 

The most famous of the dances, the "Diablada," is fabled to have originated with local miners, who, stuck at the bottom of a mine, entrusted their lives to the Virgén.

But the Candelaria is not an experience to write about. You need to see the costumes and hear the music to get even a taste of what this annual festival in Puno is all about.  

Thus, here's my amateur filmmaker attempt to show you the dance competition, only one weekend in the two-and-a-half-week celebration:

Tuesday, March 16

My first piece in a real newspaper

Latin American News Dispatch was started by four NYU graduate students, and covers news from Latin American, the Caribbean, U.S. foreign policy and Hispanics in the U.S.

It's seem like a pretty cool idea, and they've got some talented writers and photographers contributing content. 

Except for this new girl, Laura Spann. With articles like this one, let's just say that I hope she doesn't quit her day job.

Saturday, March 13

Surprise Visit from the States

I got a Facebook message from my spontaneous friend Phil last Sunday: "Hey Laura. I'll be in Arequipa on Tuesday. Want to hang out sometime?" 

While a week before Phil had told me he was coming to Peru, it wasn't in his plans to come to Arequipa. What a surprise to eat lunch with a good friend here! He even played basketball with my morning crew. 

Enjoy your travels, Phil! Thanks for the visit!

Friday, March 12

Peru's First Winter Olympians

Okay, so I know winter's melting away, but I still think Peru's first time in the winter games is worth posting, even late. 

Roberto Carcelén, Seattle resident and Peru's Olympic cross country skier, started practicing his sport only five years ago. Check out this great Seattle Times feature on him, and how he ended up in the U.S. competing for Peru.

Also competing for Peru this year were 16-year-old Manfred Oetti Reyes and his 18-year-old sister Onetta competed in slalom.

Peru has won four Olympic medals (three in shooting and one in women's volleyball) in it's history. While no medals were won for Peru in Vancouver this year, getting a few in the running was an exciting step for this mostly jungle country.

Thursday, March 11

La Recoleta

This post, along with many recent ones, are belated reports from January and February. Mom and I went to another Arequipa monastery, La Recoleta. 

La Recoleta is a remnant of the Franciscan missions to Peru, and was built in 1648. In it's time, it must have had a front row seat on the Chili river that runs through the city. Now, the church faces an odd neighborhood with a mix of nice homes and shoddy shacks.
I'm not a big museum person, but this monastery actually had some amazing, although small, exhibits.  One included pieces from the church itself, like this crown:

Another room had artifacts from the Franciscan missionaries' trips to the Amazon, including spears, traditional indigenous wear and other things. 

One room was full of stuffed jungle animals. If I didn't have a phobia of spiders, snakes and giant insects, I would have stayed and studied the exhibit. Pretty interesting. 

But my personal favorite from the Amazon collection was this ridiculous missionary map, which has a line dividing Peru's coast with the "The Fearsome and Mysterious Jungle Full of Savage Tribes":
The monastery also had pre-colonial artifacts and artwork from the famous Cusco School. This mummy, one of many Incan sacrifices found atop one of the many southern Andes peaks, sat in a glass cabinet in not the best conditions. She reminded me of 500-year-old Juanita, only without all the show. 

La Recoleta has some beautiful courtyards too, and this chomba (chicha jar), supposedly the oldest found in Peru.
Reading in my Lonely Planet guidebook as I write, I come to find out that the monastery has a huge library of 20,000 books, some from as early as 1494. I guess I'll be going back there to check it out soon.