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. 

Wednesday, March 10

Peruvian Flute Bands on South Park

I'm not a South Park fan, but someone was telling me about this Peru-themed episode where the boys form a Peruvian flute band to make some dough. I thought I'd watch it and then share with you guys.

The show is pretty ridiculous. The boys are quickly arrested by Homeland Security, along with the other Peruvian flute bands that are part of "global Peruvian flute band pandemic." But they soon realize that the Peruvian flute bands were the only thing saving the world from giant guinea pigs. They go to Peru to save the world from the giant guinea pigs. 

The full episode is here, but below I included just a short clip of the boys in their chullos (woven hats) with their zampollas (flutes):

Best U.S. Ambassador to Peru Ever

It's been about two weeks since my mom--now an international traveler and fresh bread snob--came to visit us in Peru.  Here she is with Sergio and his parents, Raúl and Delia:

During her trip, I got to be a tourist for awhile. Together, we trekked in Colca canyon...

...visited the floating islands in Puno (sorry mom; this photo was too good not to share)...

...stared in awe at the costumes at the Candelaria celebration (see blog post with video), toured the Recoleta monastery and Founder's Mansion in Arequipa and enjoyed at least 76 hours in bus travel together.

Unfortunately, there was no Machu Picchu visit due to the disastrous flooding in Cuzco, but my mom's quite the explorer in her own right. 

She spent a day shadowing Señora Delia in the bakery (and blogged about it) and checked out the Santa Catalina monastery (see Oct. post), among other things. Sergio's dad took us to the Avelino for a day of mercado shopping.

We visited Arequipa's yarn factories and shops, where she bought plenty of alpaca threads and got to work on a shawl for Sergio's mom. 

Of course, Peruvian cuisine is a tour in itself. Mom got the recipes for kapche de habas and chicha morada. She tried for herself various treats from the Perez Fuentes bakery, Inca Kola (see Oct. post) lúcuma ice cream (see Dec. post), Sunday's only abodo de chancho (see Oct. post) and alpaca steak, seen here:
She also fell in love with rocoto, aji and their various spicy pepper cousins:

Another important part about traveling is being an ambassador for your own culture. Mom definitely did that, if not through her kind and open nature, but through American cooking. 

Sergio's family had pizza, hamburgers, fettucini alfredo, fajitas, as well as some family dishes like Grandma Lois' Swedish meatballs and breakfast biscuits and honey. Obviously, it wasn't so bad for me either to have some American comfort food.
It was wonderful to have you around, Mamá. Thanks for being the best U.S. Ambassador to Peru ever. 

Tuesday, March 9

9.9 Peru Earthquake Rumor Debunked

Only a few days after the 8.8 Chile earthquake, Sergio came into our room looking like a ghost after watching one of Peru's evening news channels.

North American geologists predicted, the broadcast said, that biggest earthquake in history--9.9 magnitude--will hit southern Peru this September. The segment quoted as its source an article from El Pais, Spain's elite newspaper.

We couldn't find any such news, so we, well, googled it. 

It took about three minutes to figure out that this panic-generating rumor could be chalked up to poor newsroom research.

You see, when you search "Peru earthquake prediction," this 1981 El Pais article pops up. That's right--January 28, 1981. And for your information, there was no 9.9 earthquake in Peru in 1981, so we can now confirm that the prediction was incorrect.

The rumor has had its run on Internet forums as well. The title of the article gets 3,400 hits on Google, many posted within the past few weeks. For example, this reposting of the El Pais article--unfortunately lacking the original date-- appeared on one of Univision's forums. 

I don't know which came first--the bad TV coverage or the Internet rumor. But it's got some Peruvians preparing for Armageddon in September 2011.  Their reaction is understandable, given the recent catastrophes in Haiti and Chile, not to mention Peru's own history of disastrous earthquakes.

I haven't heard about any correction being broadcast, so the panic is sure to continue until someone gets to the bottom of this scary rumor. 

Bisexual Novelist = Presidential Candidate?

 Photo from Nautidy.com

Jaime Bayly--Peruvian author, journalist and host of the satirical political talk show, El Francotirador (The Sniper)--jokingly announced last month his intentions to run for president in 2011. 

No one quite knows whether to take him seriously or not, but his announcement has generated a lot of talk. As of a few weeks ago, polls showed that Jaime Bayly garners the support of 5% of voters. Compared with the frontrunner, Lima mayor Luis Castañeda, who has 20%, that's a pretty high number. 

As this article from The Economist points out, Bayly's not exactly the typical straight-shooting, politically correct candidate. 

Bayly is bisexual, but most of his personal life he either openly discusses on El Francotirador, or has written about in his various best-selling books--one of the most famous being No Se Lo Digas A Nadie (Don't Tell Anybody).

Bayly's political platform, extrapolated from his many years of political commentary, would not be mainstream Peru either. Bayly supports gay marriage, abortion and the legalization of drugs. He wants to see a more secular Peruvian state, or in other words, one without a special relationship with the Catholic church.

But some of his political ideas--to decrease the military budget, invest significantly more in education and the police force and reduce the quantity of representatives in Peru's unicameral Congress--are popularly supported. Bayly's reputation as a defender of social equality, which comes from his consistent insistence on the importance of education, is widely known and accepted.

Although many of his political stances are progressive, Peruvian voters so far recognize Bayly as a moderate candidate. But just this perspective worries many political analysts. They say that if Bayly truly is running for president (and he hasn't confirmed it yet), he will win just enough votes from the middle to throw the election to more extremist candidates, or in other words, Ollanta Humala.

I, for one, am entertained, if not supportive, of Bayly's game he's playing right now. He's got the politicians and journalists on their toes. And me as well. 

Plus, I like his sexy hairstyle and his baby boy face (see video with subtitles).

I'll be interested to see if this is all just a trial ballon or another novelist/politician (Peru's had one before) who couldn't take the status quo anymore.

Interesting aside: Bayly also still holds a U.S. passport from his days as a CBS and Telemundo political commentator in Miami. (He went there during the 1990s, when journalists were highly censored during President Fujimori's decade-long dictatorship.) He'll have to get rid of that if he seriously runs for president. 

Monday, March 8

Weekend at the Beach

From mid-December through early March, thousands of sweaty Arequipeños escape the dry summer heat each weekend and go to the beach. On Saturday, Sergio and I decided to see what the beach fever is all about. 

Two towns are fairly popular, and each a three-hour (and $3) bus ride through rocky desert from Arequipa: Camaná and Mollendo. 

We went to Mollendo because it's not on the Panamerican highway and therefore possibly less crowded. But it's near Matarani, the port town where the Peru-Brasil interstate highway (still in progress) ends, and should be a pretty busy place in a few years. 

Mollendo is a charming colonial town very alive with bars, restaurants, hotels and concerts in the summer, and silent in the off-season. We found a hotel for $17--the high season price.

The beaches were very crowded, even though students returned to school last week. On a tip from a friend, we first went to Catarindo cove, pictured here.

After the sun went down, we explored the market streets and checked out the beachside restaurants. This bar, "El Mar De Copas," attracted me, mainly because of the early 20th century building, so I tried a Chilcano de Pisco (pisco, lime, sugar, cane syrup and soda) there. 

We found this sign for tsunami evacuations. Luckily, Mollendo hasn't suffered any recent tsunamis, but many properties in neighboring Camaná were damaged by a tsunami following Arequipa's 2001 earthquake. 

On Sunday, we got up early to get some privacy along the beach. 
But even at 7:30, the place was pretty crowded. This crazy old mansion that looks over the area caught my eye. 

In the afternoon, we took a taxi down to Mejia, the more elite resort area:

Trip highlight? Transportation:

Returning from Catarindo to Mollendo, we rode in the back of a truck along with an ice cream cart and its vendor. Then, our taxi driver to Mejía stopped the car in the middle of a long stretch of highway to take a 10-minute phone call. On the way back, squished between farmers and beach vendors in the combi, the middle-aged woman taking our fares made inappropriate (but hilarious) comments to everyone. We had fun. 

Saturday, March 6

"Stitch & Bitch" in Lima

"Stitch and bitch" is a phrase women often use to describe their weekly sewing groups. They get together to sew or knit, as well as "bitch" about their jobs, husbands and other frustrations. 

Well the idea is not uncommon in Peru either. This PBS Newshour article (thanks Aunt Marsha) talks about a knitting circle in Lima called "Mujeres Unidas." They stitch great hats and other pieces out of alpaca yarn.

And they bitch as well. But their complaints, that of a poor district of Lima, are a bit different than those of the quilting group in my hometown. They vent frustrations about not having water in their homes, and instead having to wait in line at 4 a.m. to get enough for their basic needs. 

Beyond sharing friendships and knitting needles, the group generates an annual profit of $600 for each individual. Their hand-knitted hats are sold internationally, and make another important source of income for many of the group's participants. 

Read more about this cool group and its interesting story here.

Friday, March 5

8.8: Peruvians in Chile

An estimated 80,000-100,000 Peruvians live and work in Chile--the largest immigrant group in the country.  Because Chile has one of the most prosperous and stable economies in Latin America, Peruvians seek opportunities there, often cleaning houses or streets. 

You can see, then, why the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that shook central Chile last week had a very real and personal aftershock in Peru. 

President Alan Garcia went to Chile this week, in part to bring humanitarian aid, but also in part to help the more than one thousand Peruvians left homeless. Because they didn't have family nearby to take them in, Peruvians are many of those living on the streets after the earthquake (see 30-second TV Chile clip).

Around 160 people without homes were brought back to Lima within the past few days, reunited with their families. 

But some did not come out alive. One 25-year-old Peruvian mother and her daughter were lost in the quake.

Thursday, March 4

Post-Colca Note

I thought my goodbye was the condors, but it turns out, Colca had left a little surprise in my digestive system. 

As could be predicted, I spent the next 12 hours praying to the porcelain god. That brings my total tally spent upchucking in Peru to three days. 

But don't worry, it was worth it.

Day 3: The Ascent, the Rainbow, the Condors

At four a.m. I stuffed down a Twix bar and started the four-hour vertical ascent out of the canyon. The word "ascent" sounds too gentle to really capture the pure horror I had those first few steps. "This was a mistake! I'm not qualified for extreme tourism!" I thought.

But it turned out that all those hours of basketball had paid off, and I made it up the to the top of the canyon without having a debilitating leg cramp or passing out. Ha! Here I am about halfway up, looking about as exhausted and sweaty as I felt. 

It was almost in that exact moment that my mom, comfortable and dry on her mule, passed by. Great timing!

She and a few other hikers from our group had elected for transportation up the hill. They got to leave an hour later and arrive up top an hour earlier. I truly regret not being faster with the camera and getting a photo of mom on her mule. Next time?

But just as our spirits were getting low, the sun's rays peaked out over the volcanoes and caught the rain clouds, forming an awe-inspiring rainbow that stretched across the canyon. Most of us stopped to absorb it. Within 10 minutes, it was gone. 

I'm not sure the picture I took does it justice:

Here is the view from the top of the canyon:

After a quick breakfast in the town of Cabanaconde, we drove on down to the "Cruz del Condor," a popular spot to catch a glimpse of the giant and majestic condors that live in the canyon. 

The condors left us with a memorable goodbye before we took the bus back to Chivay for lunch, and then to Arequipa.  

Wednesday, March 3

Day 2: The Villages

We woke up on the second day to this view of Colca canyon. See that tiny trail clinging desperately to the canyon wall and hugging the rocky outcroppings? That's the one we hiked down by moonlight the night before. 
These were our bungalows that we shared with four other women on our tour. But we only spent a short nine hours at this small resort before moving along the canyon floor. 

We walked for six hours, absorbing the impressive scenery and stopping to learn about the regional flora, including these delicious cactus fruits called "tunas." Yum!

The group was in no hurry to get to the next resort. We stopped often to rest, and even more often to let pack mules and their owners pass. 

Our 23-year-old tour guide Ruth didn't even sweat, that I saw, as we made one big vertical climb for the day. She does this hike as much as every day during the high tourism season (May-September). Here she is showing us some crazy bugs that live on the cactus and, when squashed, make a brilliant dye used in cosmetics. 

The highlight of day 2 were the four or five villages along the route. With no motorized access, the few hundred people in these towns climb in and out on foot to get basic supplies.
One of the towns names caught our attention. While I don't remember the word, it meant "sickness" in Quechua (Peru's principal, and widely spoken, indigenous language). Why? A few decades ago, malaria was brought into the town and infected many of its inhabitants. 

And their lifestyle is still centered around subsistence agriculture, as this entrepreneurial woman showed us in her quaint, yet fantastic museum. In this photo, she's demonstrating weaving. 

These containers are made from bull testicles and used to carry money and other necessities. 

Electricity just arrived to these villages less than 10 years ago, and yet some houses still had satellite TV, like this one.
Before dropping into another section of the canyon floor to rest and relax at the "Oasis," our appropriately-named resort, we caught this beautiful view of the valley looking south. I'll leave you with that for today.