south america

02/09/2014 // Virgen de la Candelaria Festival // Puno, Peru


Days of drinking and dancing in costumes like these to celebrate the patron saint of Puno, Peru.

Peru Gears Up For Coke Conflict

Peru was the top cocaine producer in the world back in the 1980s, and recently returned to reclaim the title. The Andean nation is trying to push coca crops back out of the country, using many of the same methods it did in the 1980s. It could be violent:

“If the government finally decides to implement eradication in the Valley of Apurimac-Ene, it will be really a challenging issue to tackle,” head of the Center for the Investigation of Drugs and Human Rights in Lima Ricardo Soberon told Generation Progress. “I think that the conflict will increase between producers, peasants, armed forces, Shining Path, you name it.”

There are early signs pointing in that direction. According to a report in Peruvian newspaper La Republica, remnants of the Shining Path, the brutal Maoist guerrilla group that ravaged the country in the 1980s and 1990s, have begun to organize coca growers to confront Peruvian drug police.

The United States provided about $100 million to Peru’s eradication efforts in 2013. A U.S. State Department’s International Narcotics Control Strategy Report (INCSR) shows Peru’s increased counternarcotics budget, police system reforms, and modest reductions in coca production.

Soberon argues that there’s nothing to celebrate. “Eradication, as a matter of policy, has been a failure,” Soberon said. “The crops always are replaced.”

The movement of production in response to eradication efforts has been called the “balloon effect,” after the way air in a balloon moves when it is squeezed in someone’s hand. A recent article in the New Yorker reported that a plantation half the size of Long Island could meet the entire world’s demand for cocaine.

The rest, including how other American nations are handling drugs differently, at Generation Progress.

01/17/2014 // Pedestrian // Patacancha, Peru


A story behind this one. Driving through the high Andes in the middle of nowhere, well above 4000m. Out the window is nothing but lush green mountaintops, grazing sheep and llamas, and rolling mists that occasionally block the view of everything else. Like something out of Lord of the Rings.

I tried to take a picture of the mist, in the foolish belief that it would appear as more than just white emptiness on a camera. It was only after I looked at the picture on my computer that I saw I had caught this woman, just chillin’, as we zipped by. This was an hour drive out from Patacancha, a tiny mountain community an hour drive out from Ollantaytambo, a touristy village which is two hours driving from metropolitan Cuzco, itself two miles above sea level in the Andes. The woman standing on the side of the mountain road, just minding her business, just as I would on an big city street corner, struck me as a reminder of how remote Andean lives are. (Depending on your frame of reference for “remote”…)

12/24/2013 // Chocolatada // Coya, Peru

chocolatada adults

The Christmas eve hot chocolate event described here.

12/24/2013 // Chocolatada // Coya, Peru


A Christmas tradition in the Cuzco area is cooking a massive vat of hot chocolate and inviting kids to come with their cups to partake. This is at Kausay Wasi, an affordable and well-run health clinic in Cuzco’s Sacred Valley. They also have Quechua-speaking health professionals, a big deal in a region where many people don’t speak Spanish. The clinic was also giving out toys–many families from Andean agricultural towns have little cash income to buy them. I volunteered to take photos.

What The Hell Am I Gonna Do With This Shard Of Inca Pottery?

pottery cropped

Here in Cuzco, I live with a family of civil engineers. The father of the house is a civil engineer, and his two college-age sons are both studying to become the same. So a favorite Sunday activity for the family is to hop in the car, drive out to whatever project the father is currently working on, and talk shop.

A few weeks ago I tagged along on one of these trips, to a bridge being repaired a few hours out of town. I was zoning out during a conversation about different types of sand when the older son plucked an object off the ground, gave it to me, and said “Here Chris, a gift!”

He passed me the piece of pottery pictured above. “It must be Inca,” the group determined.

“Thanks,” I said. “But shouldn’t this be in a museum or something?”

Their response basically amounted to “Yeah probably, but whatever.” I guess it’s uncommon but not unheard-of to turn up something like this on a construction site.

So now I have to decide what to do with the thing.

Obviously, I’m tempted to keep it. It’s totally illegal to leave the country with such relics, though I would likely get away with it. But I don’t want to be that asshole foreigner, and if TV has taught me anything, it’s that hogging ancient artifacts can have serious karmic consequences.

I could turn it in to a museum, but most around here already have tons and tons of intact ceramics that don’t even get displayed.

I could climb to the top of a mountain and leave it there, or make some other act of homage to the people who made and used this object 500 years ago. But I would hate for that to just be an opportunity for another asshole foreigner to find it and keep it for themselves.

Or I could hang on to it and “be a good steward” of the artifact, as my historian dad proposed. I’d make careful note of where the object came from and try to use it to promote the culture of its creators. And plus, the fact that it was a gift from a Peruvian should dispel the jinxes that might otherwise come with keeping it.

This blog post is a step in the “stewardship” direction, but I’m interested in hearing your creative ideas or judgmental rebukes as well. What do you think?

11/11/2013 // Salt Pans // Maras, Peru


From Wikipedia, seems believable to me but take it for what you will:

Since pre-Inca times, salt has been obtained in Maras by evaporating salty water from a local subterranean stream. The highly salty water emerges at a spring, a natural outlet of the underground stream. The flow is directed into an intricate system of tiny channels constructed so that the water runs gradually down onto the several hundred ancient terraced ponds. … The proper maintenance of the adjacent feeder channel, the side walls and the water-entry notch, the pond’s bottom surface, the quantity of water, and the removal of accumulated salt deposits requires close cooperation among the community of users. It is agreed among local residents and pond workers that the cooperative system was established during the time of the Incas, if not earlier. As water evaporates from the sun-warmed ponds, the water becomes supersaturated and salt precipitates as various size crystals onto the inner surfaces of a pond’s earthen walls and on the pond’s earthen floor. The pond’s keeper then closes the water-feeder notch and allows the pond to go dry. Within a few days the keeper carefully scrapes the dry salt from the sides and bottom, puts it into a suitable vessel, reopens the water-supply notch, and carries away the salt.