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.