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

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Chincha Still Trying to Come Back from 2007 Earthquake with Little Help

barrios and squatters village built by Chincha citizens after 2007 earthquake

Lima   We drove 200 kilometers from Lima to visit the newest local group in ACORN Peru, Chincha, by the Pacific Ocean south of Lima, a straight shot on the Pan American highway.  This was a California climate, except drier perhaps with sand dune mountains along the way.  Grapes grow here and wine and Pisco makers abound.  A look at Wikipedia says there are 177,000 people who live here, but…

Only some of this is true anymore.  ACORN Peru’s head organizer, Orfa Camacho, estimates the population may only be 20,000 now since the 2007 earthquake devastated so much of this town, that too many have forgotten.  We spent most of our time going through the newly built barrios that had sprung up by the hardest hit areas in the last 5 years.  These were patchwork enterprises of thatch, plywood, and whatever.  There were signs everywhere of people trying to grow banana plants, trees, and flowers.

The committee told of a government program that was supposed to help in the rebuilding called Mi Techo Propio or My Own Roof.  Problem was that to access the program you had to put down 1000 soles or $400 roughly.  You also had to pay 20% interest and have a “formal” job which almost no one has anymore.   Worthless.

We were standing in the community center or what was supposed to be the community center some day.  The money had come from Venezuela, but someone messed up somehow and it was unfinished.

We heard about the issues of water where people were paying a fixed rate and could access water for only an hour or two per day and as more people came on there was less water.

There were industrial pig and chicken growing operations operating “informally” right in the barrio.  People would complain.  They would get a pig.

Most of the women were single mothers running households, but most of the governing councils making the priorities were all men.

Two story houses had been financed by Spain behind the unfinished plaza and the unfinished community center, but it was unclear if water connections had been provided.

ACORN Peru will have their work cut out for them here.

houses built by Spain without water connections

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail

Rough Justice in El Alto

the El Alto Barrios

La Paz    Not sure that we were doing the right thing since many of our Organizers’ Forum delegation were still shaky with the altitude transition, before 9 AM we embarked on a different kind of experience – a walking tour from El Alto down to La Paz with La Paz on Foot for four hours.  It actually worked out great, largely because we took cabs to the top and walked down, but hey, that’s not as easy as you think either when you are dropping a 1000 feet or more.

El Alto is an interesting city that 80 years ago essentially did not exist as little more than an airfield but now with almost 10% per year growth has surpassed a million people.  La Paz with a couple of million is below El Alton in the valleys built on what once were more than 30 rivers, originally where gold was found, a Sacramento of the Andes.

El Alto has an interesting tactical position vis a vis all of Bolivia and can cordon off La Paz.  We heard stories of various issues between the communities and that El Alto was able to win by blocking off all outside access to the country by bus or by air or highways.  When people hit the streets in El Alton the country knows about it.

We walked down long staircases and drainage tunnels which are huge public improvements.  ACORN Peru had fought for 5 years in San Juan Laragancho to win ones just like these.  El Alto had brought water, lights, and even gas to many of their barrio districts which was quite impressive.

stairs and drainage = a step up from Lima

So were the very stark notices of the rough justice that would await burglars who might be caught in these barrios.  From the hanging effigies it was clear there would be no waiting for the police!

Facebooktwittergoogle_plusredditpinterestlinkedinmail