#potd – Cafe Ayacuchano is great, so what’s so wrong with the mannequin?

Well it’s obviously sexist innit? Yes it is, certainly to our westernised eyes, although one should emphasise it is dressed solely in organic coffee beans, which may make it acceptable to some. But that’s not the real problem – take a look at the female mannequin’s colour, white yes? Not even a bit spanish/latin looking no? And what is the skin colour of the people who grow & produce this coffee – definitely not euro-white, but dark-skinned and indigenous. We’ve yet to see a dark-skinned indigenous looking mannequin in Peru. Indeed if you looked at the ‘public’ image or face of Peru – its politicans, business & church leaders, tv presenters & other celebrities, tv ads, it’s public faces – they are virtually all white, or at best spanish-white. The manequin is racist, just like Peru remains a very racist country. It’s a classist country too, but above all it’s racist. But that’s just a part of the backstory to Cafe Ayacuchano, which is a mighty fine coffee.

Where we found the coffee…
We first came across Cafe Ayacuchano by accident (see video about the coffee!), after visiting a couple of museums some 1-2km north of the Plaza de Armas in the city of Ayacucho. They had a small stand outside a large artesianal market (where you buy indigenous style clothing, souvenirs etc), and both the market & the coffee stand were located inside a part of what was once Ayacucho’s main prison. As was our mannequin coffee advertiser. Rather ironically, on March 3 1981 this prison had been stormed by members of Shining Path, the heavily maoist influenced communists in Peru, as a part of their Armed War against the Peruvian state and capital that commenced in 1980. Around 300 prisoners escaped.

Where’s the coffee from?
Cafe Ayacuchano is produced in an area known as the VRAE (the valleys of the rivers Ene & Apurimac), also known as VRAEM (by adding the river Mantaro to the north) – see basic info in spanish or english. These rivers are found pretty much on the borders of the Ayacucho region & several other regions. Cafe Ayacuchano is grown in the vicinity of the community of San Francisco, in the Anya district, located on the river Apurimac.

It is one of a number of economic initiatives (some with ‘dubious’ foreign aid backing ie USAid), to wrest control of the VRAEM back from Peru’s drug traffickers, who have turned the area into Peru’s largest producer of cocaine – around 70% of the country’s largest (illegal) export, by encouraging local indigenous crop growers to switch from coca leaf to coffee production.

Coffee good, coca (or cocaine) bad?
This is an incredibly complicated issue and region. Not only is the use of the coca leaf part of the traditional way of life for local indigenous people – as a food item, medicinal item, and as part of ‘religious’ ceremonies & festivities – but it is also their main cash crop, with upto 4 harvests per year. Switching to another crop is therefore fraught with financial complications amongst others. (see this good video & article by an investigative journalist on the aljazeera website). The Peruvian Govt of course, with massive backing & pressure from the US & international bodies, has run for numerous years a coca-eradication programme (not very successfully), using large military force. This is also tied up to the Peruvian state’s attempts to finally destroy the last remnants of the Shining Path group, who have for decades now had bases in the area, along with a heavy involvement in the drug trafficking trade. (see series of articles here on the drugs trade and S/Path)

But even this part of the issue is complicated. Whilst Shining Path originally commenced their operations in the Andean highlands of the Ayacucho region in 1980, as their suppport from campesinos decreased in line with S/Path’s authoritarian brutality, so S/Path retreated to the more jungle-like areas of the VRAE/M. And there they once again treated those they claimed to be trying to liberate with the utmost brutality & contempt, killing thousands. Which led to many local communitys & groups within the VRAE/M to launch their own organised armed defense groups to take on S/Path, efforts that remained largely independent of the Peruvian army’s military campaign – not least because the state regarded every indigenous person as a potential S/Path supporter, and also killed thousands of them! (excellent article here from UpsideDownWorld).

So not only is there local opposition to S/Path, there’s also mass local opposition to the coca-eradication programme, at least in the absence of any real policy that actually takes the well-being of the local peoples as its primary concern. As those with any understanding of post-Spanish invasion history of Peru will know, the well being of the indigenous peoples comes pretty much at the bottom of any list of state concerns.
NB: these two articles – here and here – on the Ashaninka people of this region give an idea of the struggles local people have experienced for centuries.

Valparaiso – it gets knocked down, it gets up again!

Walking through the main streets of the port area of #Valparaiso #Chile early one morning, it was eerily quiet and deserted, with very little traffic. This though was not the 11 September 1973, the day the military coup against the Allende government started, although perhaps it was a little like that then. This was in fact 20 April 2017, census day, when everyone was required to remain home and be counted. In 1973 they’d been required to remain home or be shot by the military & police in their streets, or bombed by the Chilean navy situated in the port & bay, with their naval guns facing the city. To this day the Chilean navy remains based in Valparaiso, with ships in the port harbour, just a warning perhaps?

The 1973 military coup was one of many knocks taken by Valparaiso over the years – another was the fact that General Augusto Pinochet, the coup leader & soon-to-be dictator, was a son of Valparaiso, born there in 1915. But as ever Valparaiso bounces back, and today is home to the Chilean Congress (since 1990 when Pinochet stepped down), a greatly recovering local economy, and maintains a strong alternative/bohemian culture alongside it’s working class & international roots. Continue reading

The Ascensores (funicular railways) of #Valparaiso sure test your vertigo!

Artilleria – view from top

The ‘ascensores’ of #Valparaiso, #Chile (funicular railways, but literally translated meaning ‘escalators’) are these days more of a tourist attraction, but when first built their function was largely to move the workers up and down from Valparaiso’s main port & business area faster. Today those that remain provide a test of one’s vertigo, and nerve, and some stunning views of the city, and they are cheap too costing 100 to 300 pesos (12p to 35p) each way.

On our ‘Tours for Tips‘ excellent walking tour, we’re sure they said the first acsensor was built in 1868, and that there were once 33 of them, however other sources give figures such as 25 or less in total and the first built was in 1883 (Ascensores Concepcion – now back in operation). What is clear is that only 8 appear to remain in operation today, and some of them are regularly closed for maintenance. This website (in spanish, and not updated since 2013) gives some info on the individual ascensors – Ascensores de Valparaiso. Continue reading

#potd – Birds on the Beach in La Serena (at the Mouth of the River Elqui)

If you walk down Avenida De Aguirre some 2km to the coast from the city of La Serena (central Chile), and head north along the beach for another 25 minutes, you’ll be in for a real bird-life surprise. At the mouth of the River Elqui and on the surrounding beach you’ll find flocks of birds of numerous different types, to the extent that it’s an almost eery place to be – alone amongst so many birds.

looking south

On the occassions we went it was just us, the odd lone fisherman a little upriver, a rather windswept lone nudist, too much polluting rubbish, and a hell of a lot of birds. Initially timid, they soon ignored us (the birds that is) and regrouped all around, waiting we presume for the sea tide to bring them some fish for lunch. It was fascinating to sit quietly and just watch their movements & behaviours (note – we know sod all about birds!). Continue reading

#potd: Welcome to the Mall…in north America?

Noticed how shopping Malls pretty much all look the same? This one could be any drive by and in Mall in north America, but in fact it’s in #Chile, south America, in the city of La Serena in the central coastal area. And yes it’s just another shopping mall, same old same old. Full of chain shops, cafes & restaraunts, banks and the like, many with the same names as in north America, or of companies that are mere subsiduaries of northern corporations. This one had a BUPA (private healthcare) health centre next to it!

This one is called ‘Mall Plaza La Serena’, it’s pretty new, it overlooks the main road, the Pan American Highway, that runs north/south along Chile’s coast. Once upon a time a local told us, there used to be a wood of trees here that local kids & youth played in, now it’s just manicured palm trees & green grass, and lots of parking space. It could so easily be north America, although perhaps the ever-present Tsunami Warning signs are a slight giveaway here!

We’ve noticed the growth of Malls elsewhere in Peru & Bolivia. Cusco now has one, Lima has plenty, La Paz has one in Zona Sur, and so on. La Serena has two in fact, an older one 15 minutes walk away on the other side of the Pan American, called ‘Centro Commercial Puerta del Mar’, although the coast is 2km away. The slow growth of Americanised consumerism in south America is slowly impacting on community & social life – Malls gather together shops & services like banks & healthcare and social venues like cinemas & cafes – and these draw people away from their neighbourhoods. Those neighbourhoods then suffer from lack of custom, older community shops & social spaces begin to struggle and close down, and before you know it the community is struggling to survive. It’s a part of what we know as gentrification, and the social costs can be huge as wealth inequality is amplified and corporate profits go up! Beware south America you don’t end up like the north…..

Clear skies and ancient history at San Pedro de Atacama in Chile

view southeast from Quitor to San Pedro

Leaving aside the the iffy tourist scene in San Pedro de Atacama, there are three very good reasons for coming here – the clear skies day & night; it’s stunning geographical location; and some very ancient history dating back to the 9th century BC. The clear skies are there most days & nights, but especially at night – find a darker space to sit back and stare at the beautiful and clear array of stars, and indeed galaxies. To see the sky even better at night, we took a late evening tour with SpaceObs out to their site south of San Pedro, where there’s no ambient light, and had access to 12 telescopes of varying strengths – to see clearly things far away that we’ve never seen before. Recommended – see website!

entrance to Quitor site

We took in the local geography at the same time as the local history, by walking 4km from our hostel north alongside the Rio San Pedro (or Rio Grande), to the ‘El Pukara de Quitor’ (in Quechuan – the Fortress of Quitor, where Quitor is an ancient indigenous community – see wikipedia history in Spanish). The walk, and the views from the top of El Pukara and nearby viewing points, were breathtakingly beautiful on a clear sunny (very hot!) day – see pics below.

San Pedro, like all the villages & small towns in this region, sits beside a river or other water source (such as an oasis). Many are in river valleys, in San Pedro’s case between the mountainous Andes border between Chile/Bolivia (and Chile/Argentina) to the east, and a further mountain range (the Cordillera de Sal) to the near west. And so despite the heat & harshness of this remote desert region, there has been human habitation in these areas for a good 11,000 years – from hunter-gatherer groups, to herders and agricultural communities. And situated as it is on an ancient river, that feeds into the even larger Rio Loa – that travels from higher up in the Andes to the north, all the way to the Pacific sea (Chile’s longest river – info) – San Pedro is also on an ancient trade route dating back several thousand years.
Continue reading

#potd: Drink Coka Quina not C#c@-C#l@ in Bolivia

Travelling around Peru and then Bolivia (and now Chile) we’ve been gobsmacked by the domination of the soft drinks market & industry by C#c@-C#l@. Their signage & promo material is omnipresent, and their drinks are absolutely everpresent. We hardly ever drink their main brand on principal, so it was a pleasant surprise to come across an alternative – Coka Quina. Unsurprisingly a similar taste, and colour, but not bad. Certainly better than Peru’s C#c@-C#l@ part-owned Inca Kola, which was the colour of piss and not much better tasting!

C#c@-C#l@ dominate the sales of bottled water (con gas – fizzy, and sin gas – still), and also carbonated (gaseosas) drinks to a huge extent. In Peru in 2013 C#c@-C#l@ and it’s subsidiary/partner Corp JR Lindley (CCC-CRL) had a 49.8% share of the soft drinks market; in Bolivia in 2013 C#c@-C#l@ and its subsidiary/partner EMBOL took 58.3% of the market. Interestingly in the same year PepsiCo & it’s partners/subsidiaries took 9.2% & 17.2% respectively. Which is why when combined C#c@-C#l@ & PepsiCo globally control 35.7% and 71.7 % (by value) of the soft-drink and carbonated soft-drink markets respectively in 2014. And in 2013 their combined spend on global advertising was a whopping $7.27 billion! (See this report on Trade & Investment Liberalisation and the Soft Drinks Market in Peru & Bolivia). Continue reading