Traveler’s Travails in Bolivia, Peru, & Miami: Coffee So Bad, Transfers So Long

Lima and Miami      In Bolivia coca leaves in hot water is the drink recommended for altitude adaptation.  It’s what they grow, so it’s what they drink.  In Peru they grow some pretty good beans.  We’ve handled some Peruvian fairtrade at Fair Grinds Coffeehouse to brew a good cup, so it’s not as if there isn’t anything to work with there.

But, the common fare that passes for a cup of coffee along the Andes is really pretty terrible.  A black sludge of sort is brewed and then cut with hot water.  In fact, in Cochabamba the coffee urn was specially designed with two spigots, one for the sludge and one for the water.  At the other end of the spectrum were largely Star bucks-type shops with modernistic designs like 4D, Star Coffee, and others.  There are occasional exceptions like Barrisco’s in Peru down from our office in Jesus Maria, but these are all espresso based coffees.  When discussing the phenomena with Orfa Camacho, ACORN Peru’s head organizer, she both boasted that Peru had the second best coffee in South America after Columbia, and then flatly stated that the problem was that “people don’t know how to make coffee.”

I made it by cheating.  I carried my 2-cup stainless steel plunge pot, picked up on my last visit to Mumbai with Vinod Shetty for a couple of bucks and a pound of Fair Grinds New Orleans Blend, fairtrade coffee & chicory.  We would have a good cup in the morning, and hope that lasted through the day with a shot of espresso somewhere on the trail if we were lucky.

But, why, is coffee so disregarded and abused.  The folks we would see in the Starbucks-wannabe places were teens and post-teens drinking fancy sugar-and-milk drinks where coffee is an afterthought.  The workday folks were forced to drink swill.  It seems like there’s a real opportunity for some evangelizing on the coffee trail, if we had the energy and resources.  In the meantime, it’s just sad that life in the morning is made so hard for our Peruvian and Bolivian brothers and sisters.

Speaking of sad thoughts, another one is landing in the Miami International Airport after a long international flight from anywhere.  The MIA folks have done a lot of construction on the airport and its concourses in recent years, and it is an improvement though every report notes that the distances traveled between concourses and the slowness of the SkyTrain are both absurdly ridiculous still.

All of this pales next to the problem of flight transfer.  MIA is the only airport I can recall where when you clear customs with your luggage there is no way to immediately transfer it to your carrier for your connecting flight.  Yes, really!  So, you come out of customs and then have to schlep your luggage jammed packed with everything you could haul back from your adventures from the customs clearance to whatever your concourse might be.  In our case that was D where we were picking up American as another part of the One World fiasco.  Between conveyor walkways that were shutdown, we strong-armed our bags a half-mile or more, and I’m not kidding.  All of which was great exercise, but is this any way to run either an airport or our airlines?  As Orfa would say, they just don’t seem to know how to make airports in Miami, I guess?

Miami International Airport


Telephone Monopoly Troubles: Peru & Canada

rogersToronto It is not often that my friends in Canada are willing to concede that there might be a service in the US that is superior to what exists in the great north, so I was paying careful attention to the torrent of complaints that spewed forth before the beer was even on the table after a well played game we had enjoyed between the Blue Jays and the Yanks about the lack of competition in the Canadian telephone industry which was simply hammering Canadians on both cost and service. The company drawing heaviest fire was Rogers, but this was partially because they are one of the few in the sight line of course.

Many of them were astounded at the lower cost of monthly and specialized services in the US market compared to the more restricted, low competition scene in Canada. I stumbled on to the problem first hand early on a Sunday morning trying to get on wireless. Where service had been fine in my basement lodging, it had suddenly disappeared off the screen completely. Worse there were no other unsecured sites that I could locate even in this residential area in not that far from the University. Strange? Same problem on the unsecured site at the Starbucks where I drug my computer 5 blocks down the way.

Talking to Josh Stuart, ACORN Canada’s Special Projects and international master of technology, it turned out that Rogers is on a wild campaign against unsecured wireless sites. In the name of “checking” security, they regularly go on unsecured sites and turn them off for days on security “checks” in order to try and force customers with fully paid bills to change their sites to “secured.” Why? Simple reason is that they want to make everyone pay for wireless service so they see an unsecured site, even where only a simple houseguest like myself or a Starbucks customer, as a place for free riders and scofflaws. Being a quasi-monopoly, they don’t mind being both expensive and bully boys and pushing people off the air. Dogs!

These kinds of telephone tactics seem all the rage around the world even while service expansion in places as remote as India, China, and Kenya are growing. When we were recently in Lima, the organizers for ACORN Peru were even more adamant about the problem of texting or calling any of the members for meetings and actions, because in the slums the time is carefully calibrated to the minutes bought, and though this practices is so “1990’s” in the US and elsewhere, in Peru the telephone monopolies charge minutes for incoming calls still, so no one ever wants to answer their phones unless it’s an absolute emergency.

The cheerleaders for globalism sometimes forget to read the fine print on the problems of working people trying to access even the basic services whether in the slums of Lima or the neighborhoods of Toronto, but where companies are allowed to have their way with people, it will never be pretty.