Civic strike in Cochabamba / #ParoCivico en #Cochabamba

What a strange day! Awaking in the morning in #Cochabamba Bolivia, to the sound of almost silence? No roar of traffic nor murmur of voices. What is going on? Out on the streets, in the city’s central district, it is eerily quiet. A quick hunt for coffee & wifi access, and a scan of a morning paper, reveals that…today, Thursday 16 March, is a 1-day #ParoCivico or Civic Strike. Organised by the Civic Committee of Cochabamba & supported by the local mayor, it´s specifically against a complicated legal section of a certain law, but more generally against narco-trafficking, and also the sense that the ‘Cocaleros’ (coca growers) receive preferential treatment (ie in relation to taxes).

This is a complicated issue! But we find the city, and probably the whole region, has been shut down by civic action since the very early hours, primarily by the simple tactic of blockading the roads – the key bridges into the city, the key intersections – and therefore ensuring there is no transportation. The blockades are a mix of ‘public transport’ vehicles (busses, taxis/trufis), bins & rubbish, and of course people in the middle of the road. Simple, and very effective. The streets are eerily quiet here in the city centre, and for as far as we are able to walk. Others are walking too, or moving by bike & motorcycle, and a few vehicles circulate within the blockaded areas. (See local media reports here and here in Spanish).
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Taxi jams, black carbon, melting ice caps and climate change in Peru

a traffic jam of taxis

a traffic jam of taxis

Take a walk down a busy street in any of Peru’s larger towns & cities and the problem soon hits you – in the back of the throat, up the nose, in the eyes. It’s the choking stench of black cardon, fine particles like soot, pumped out of the exhuasts of Peru’s many older diesel combi-collectivos (small busses, people carriers, minibuses), taxis & lorrys of various sizes. It blackens the streets & buildings, causes serious health problems for the people, and contributes to climate change (read – the effects of black carbon).

Climate change – the causes of it and the problems it excaberates – is a real time problem in Peru and across Latin America. The 33 Latin American & Caribbean leaders meeting as the Community of Latin American & Caribbean States (CELAC, founded in 2010 – report here) in the Dominican Republic since Saturday, may well be looking nervously north to the Trump fantasist & bully, but they should also be looking closer to home before man-made & natural disasters sink their economies for good.

Arequipa the 'white city' now just dirty white

Arequipa the ‘white city’ now just dirty white

This late-2014 report ‘Dumping Dirty Diesels in Latin America: Reducing Black Carbon and Air Pollution from Diesel Engines in Latin American Countries’ (opens as a 48page pdf), written for the US based Natural Resources Defense Council (about NRDC), sets out in detail the short to long term impacts on public health & the environment, and provides a wealth of frightening statistics. It also calls for & suggests available solutions. Sadly, history indicates that the vast majority of the ruling elites (and their corporate buddies) of CELAC are unlikely to give a damn about anything except amassing their own power & fortunes, and will never commit to the necessary infrastructure and changes, never mind the funds required, to turn back climate change. Continue reading

#potd: Pachamama resistira!!! amidst the concrete of Arequipa

pacha_resistiraHaving made our way on foot across the river Chilli, and northwest through the district of Yanahuara in Arequipa, we came across a veritable oasis of lush greenery & working terraced agricultural fields near to the mirador Carmen Alta Chilina and on both side of the river valley. Locals were busy harvesting herbs, working the fields & keeping irrigation channels clear. To the north, nothwest & west, through the mist & clouds, the mountains of Chachani, Misti & Picchu Picchu loomed over the city, thankfully with no volcanic eruptions in sight! Continue reading

From the desert into the Andes of Peru

The daytime ride from Abancay, in the foothills of the Andes at 2400m, up the mountains to Cusco last Monday, was one of beauty & awe. This time our front seats upstairs on the coach proved to be as much a winner as they had been a very bad idea on the overnighter from Nazca to Abancay! That had left us sleepless & sick in the dark as our overnighter twisted & turned its way up. This time our elevated front seats gave us a superb view as we climbed ever higher towards snow topped peaks.

Nazca desert & lines

Nazca desert & lines

We’d left behind the dusty, hot, very dry, desert landscape of Nazca on the Friday night, and spent 2 nights in Abancay after arriving at 6.30am on the Saturday. In many respects the greeness of the valley there was a welcome change from the unrelenting heat of Nazca, and we even experienced our first rain after 2 weeks in Peru. During our time in Lima, Pisco & Nazca we’d become acutely aware of Peru’s very serious water shortages – in both Pisco & Nazca people only had access to water for short periods each day. In Nazca the water was on for approx 1 hour each day around lunchtime. In this time some people/businesses filled the water tanks on their roofs (mainly hotels/hostels, larger restaurants, and the homes of the wealthier), while those less fortunate had to fill a series of containers to provide enough water for the next 24 hours. In fact because the supply was suspect, people kept enough for 48hours stored at all times…if they could. The really fortunate of course had had their own wells drilled to access from the water table below. Continue reading

#potd: Abancay prison rules

abancay-rulesWe arrived in Abancay this weekend, after an unpleasant overnight 9 hour bus ride from Nazca. One of the first things we saw whilst wandering through the town centre was the Instituto Nacional Penitenciario (INPE) Abancay, at Ave Diaz Barcenas 104. Plastered up onto the outside walls by the entrance, were the long & detailed Prison Rules for Visitors. These set out what visitors can & cannot wear (ie no shoes with more than a 2cm thick sole; no shoes with laces; no red clothing!), and what they can & cannot bring in when visiting (ie no electrical goods, no cameras or phones, what sort of foods etc etc). We saw a number of visitors (men only) going in & out with food and probably bags of clothing/washing, some leaving were putting their belts back onto their trousers.

We came to Abancay to get some altitude acclimatisation before going higher up into the Andes, as so far we’ve been pretty much at sea level in Peru. Abancay is at around 2400m, is the capital of Abancay province, within the Apurimac region of Peru, and has a current population of some 70,000 people (info on Abancay). Because of its warm climate it is known as the ‘town of eternal spring’, and it does rain – it rained lightly last night & today, but at a temp of some 25degrees C daytimes, who cares! We see no other ‘tourists’ here at all, and no infrastructure for tourism. But the town is set in a beautiful valley surrounded by rolling hills, with several rivers running down to the valley floor. The central town area is flat, but the rest of the town climbs the hills & further valleys to the north, west & southwest. Couds cover the tops of the hills & uppermost parts of town in the mornings. We however, are finding it a struggle to do much uphill walking at this stage!

South to Bolivia

Desaguadero - a 'wild west' border crossing

Desaguadero – a ‘wild west’ border crossing

Thursday 6 March saw us travel to Bolivia, and the city of La Paz, something we have been excited about for a while. From Puno in Peru, we had decided to take a coach that would get us straight to La Paz after crossing the border at Desaguadero, with no need to change coaches. We were set to pick up a coach at Puno at 11.15am, run by the reasonably well known and well regarded firm Ormeno S.A. That should ensure we could be in La Paz by around 5pm, and we were looking forwards to watching Bolivia pass by through the window, and in particular the drive into La Paz via El Alto.

ORMENO coaches are SHITE!!! So we are at the coach station nice and early, only to be told the coach (from elsewhere in Peru) is running 30minutes late. Hmmm. 30minutes later we are told it now won’t be in Puno until around 1.30-2pm! It shows up at 1.40pm but hangs around until 2.00pm before leaving. We get on, the seats & floor are filthy, the toilet is a stinking disgrace, the people on it (only half full) look shattered. The air-conditioning has a mind of its own, the video screen speakers emit an irritating buzz, and the 2 small windows rattle incessantly and cannot be fixed open or closed. Yuk!

We settle down and allow the stunning scenery of the Altiplano to distract us, with Lake Titicaca on our left, mountains to the right. Around 5pm we reach the Peru/Bolivia border at Desaguadero, and all get of the coach to clear Peruvian immigration. It is dirty, dusty and now cloudy & cold, there are many people moving back & forth across what must be the border, or just hanging around. It is a bit edgy here!

We gather we have to cross into Bolivia and our coach will join us there…so we walk the 100m into Bolivia, where there seems to be little or no ‘control’, nor order, nobody asks to see our ID? In fact we miss the immigration area/office completely and are wondering WTF we are supposed to do? Luckily we suss it out and join some fellow passengers in filling out a form and getting our passports stamped. Phew! The coach crosses over too amidst the border crossing chaos, we are all ready to get on, and off we go. Then someone tells us Bolivia is 1 hour ahead of Peru, so its now 6.30pm, and we will be lucky to make La Paz before 8.30pm.

By 7pm it is dark and raining and we can’t see a thing outside. After an hour we see a mass of city lights ahead in the distance, and soon we are passing through what we know is El Alto – a mass of poorly lit, bumpy, crowded streets, loads of rubbish everywhere some on fire, shadowy figures by there thousands moving about. It feels like some sort of post-apocalypse setting. Then we se another mass of city lights bellow us and we are driving down into La Paz at last!

The streets are rammed with vehicles, and people, but the coach gets to the Terminal Terrestre and we aren’t in the mood to hang around. Quick fag outside, then into a cab and through the chaotic streets to our hostel. Dump our bags, go eat, have a quick walk about the centre, and off to bed. Hello La Paz!