Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Welcome to the Village of Los Sanchez

Long ago Señor Sanchez must have thought this piece of land in the Lambayeque valley was a good place to build a home on. No one knows how long ago that was, but in this 20 family village that evolved on the site the Sanchez name still dominates. The photo shows the entire length of the village. The villagers earn their living by raising and selling corn and lentils. They also have a lot of fruit trees that the women make jam with or simply sell the raw fruit in Tùcume. There are no commercial enterprises in Los Sanchez…no stores, restaurants, pharmacies, etc. There is a small medical clinic visited 3 times weekly by medical people from Tùcume.

In about the middle of the village is the pronoei Mi Mundo Maravilloso, which translates to My Wonderful World. It wasn’t there 2 months ago. Historically the kids from Los Sanchez had walked 2 miles to the pronoei in Payesa. This year in January the parents association was told that Payesa was full and had no room for kids from other villages.

Los Sanchez has an active parents association and they reacted quickly to the situation. They rented a house for one year for 50 soles ($15) per month. They cleaned and painted inside and out. The school director/teacher Karina bought banners with her own money to hang inside and out for the purpose of, in her words, “creating an identity for the school.” The parents we talked with were obviously proud of what they’d done in a short period of time. There are 14 students at present and 5 more will start attending. The parents of those 19 kids are paying 3 soles each month for the school rent. Instead of paying rent they would prefer that the village had its own pronoei.

The community owns this vacant piece of land in the center of the photo. Last month Karina and members of the parents association spoke with authorities in Tùcume about having a pronoei built on the land. As expected they were told there is no money. During our discussions Karina asked if Promesa Peru could help with having a school built. She said a first step would be to meet with Tùcume’s mayor to see what the city could provide if Promesa Peru helped. It’s an intriguing prospect that we will seriously consider. The women told us they would work hard to clear the land and help with construction if possible. They said their husbands would do the same. I wonder how their husbands will react to having their wives make commitments for them.

Whether a new school materializes or not, there is an immediate need to equip the present classroom. They need 5 tables, 20 chairs, 2 storage shelves and a whiteboard. The cost estimate is:
5 tables - $182
20 chairs – 365
2 shelves – 45
1 whiteboard – 75
Total - $667
Transport and small miscellaneous items will bring that to about $700.

We have never come across a village more deserving of our help than Los Sanchez. These kids are sitting on pails and bricks with no desks or tables. They and the parents deserve a real classroom. There is no way we can do this ourselves. If there is any way you can spare a few dollars please visit the Promesa Peru web page. The people of Los Sanchez will thank you.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Two Chiclayo Constants we could live without

Dust and Chiclayo are synonymous, though to me it’s not just dust. It’s more like a combination of dust and beach sand. The color is volcanic gray. It permeates and settles on everything. Use a dust cloth on a table in the morning, and by early afternoon you can write your name in the dust on that same table, or refrigerator top or counters or computer or bedspread or yourself if you sit still long enough. Spill a few drops of water on a floor and you have instant mud.

Chiclayanos are accustomed to it…they don’t even give it a thought. When we first moved to Chiclayo we used to vacuum floors and furniture daily. Now we do it three times per week and call it good. What I don’t understand is that the dust seems to be unique to Chiclayo. In all of the towns and villages we’ve visited, I have never seen that dust in homes, restaurants or hotels. Even Pimentel, twelve miles away on the ocean doesn’t have dust.

The other constant is ants. Ants are everywhere. Every building has ants. They were in our apartment when it was being built. They probably moved in when a scout ant saw the first brick being placed. There was no food for them…at least none contributed by human action. Still, they were there busily doing whatever it is ants do.

Scout ants can be seen on almost any wall. They just slowly meander around without apparent direction looking for food, and when they find it what happens is amazing. A drop of melted ice cream or a speck of meat missed on a kitchen counter, table or floor will have hundreds on the spot within thirty minutes. In a relatively short time they eat the food and disappear. Or they die by my hand. But what’s really impressive is when a scout locates a bonanza…a mother lode of food that can be taken back to the colony. When that happens you see what appears to be a continuous black line slowly undulating on a wall. I’ve seen those lines extending from the street to a second-story window on the exterior walls of white buildings and marveled at the distance those ants were traveling.

This morning we had one of those continuous black lines slowly undulating on a wall. It began at the top of a kitchen window. From there it followed a ceiling/wall juncture through the kitchen, into a hallway, into a bedroom, then down a wall to the floor and then climbed a table leg where Maribel had placed a guaba fruit. Normally that would not be a problem…unless the skin has an opening. The skin had an opening. The ants were able to enter the fruit and get at the sweet white flesh that surrounds the seeds. And that is why the entire colony was going back and forth on the chemical trail laid down by a scout. They are no longer doing that. I am into my second can of Raid (no odor formula) this month.

Once again I was impressed with the distance those ants were traveling and wondered how far it would be in human terms. You can see what’s coming…right? I measured their path at 509 inches one way. The ants are .0625 inches in length. I divided 1018 by .0625 to determine that they were traveling 16,288 times their own length round trip. Now I had to equate that to human measurements.

There are various sites I found on Google that show 9.5 inches as the average chest/belly to butt measurement for adults. I don’t believe that for a minute, but now I know how spacing for airplane seats is calculated. These same sites showed that the longest part of a human is the feet, averaging 11.75 inches. I see a lot of people whose feet are not their longest measurement, but rather than me choose an arbitrary number I went with the conservative 11.75 inches, which I multiplied x 16,288 ant lengths for 191,384 inches, which works out to a human equivalent of 3.02 miles those ants are walking. And they make multiple trips. And that’s just inside the house. I don’t know how far they walked from outside to get here; probably at least double the inside path. Would I walk that far for guaba fruit? No way, but then I’m not a member of a colony.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Making Things Right in Las Salinas Norte

Last September Promesa Peru donated storage shelves and a gas stove and tank to the primary school in Las Salinas Norte. As we were leaving, director Patricia and long-time professor Presentacion asked if we would consider donating uniforms for the kids. We declined. Our reasoning was that we had just made a donation to the school, and all 24 students were wearing what loosely resembled the official school uniform. We saw that most of the uniforms were ragged and threadbare. We knew that most families couldn’t afford to replace those uniforms. Still, we said no.

That decision made last September has bothered all of us these past 6 months. We phoned Patricia last week to see how things are going. She has 28 students this semester, 14 in primary and 14 in a new kinder that the office of education in Tùcume added to the existing facility. She asked if there were any possibility for sport uniforms this year, and that is why we with our seamstress were in Las Salinas Norte this morning. We have the opportunity to correct a bad decision and we’re going to do it.

While the seamstress was taking measurements Maribel and I toured the grounds. This photo is what the kitchen looked like prior to our donations last September. There were three walls and a partial roof. They cooked on a small wood fire.

This is the kitchen now. There is a full roof, four walls and a heavy metal door to secure the kitchen equipment. Patricia used part of her annual budget to complete the kitchen; a project spurred by our donation. Two mothers were doing the cooking (rice is in the pot on the left and a fish-potato mixture in the other pot), and afterward washed pots and dishes. All of the village mothers take turns with kitchen responsibility. Judging by the way they routinely did everything it is obvious that the kitchen has been in use for some time. It is always rewarding to see items we donated in use and serving a purpose.

Unlike other school related costs, our seamstress held her price from last year. Twenty eight uniforms including pants, t-shirt and jacket will cost $541.82. Transportation will add another $30. We have $200 we can apply to this project. We’re short $370. We really need help to get this done. Please visit the Promesa Peru website if you can help us.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Death Throes of a Computer…Now What?

It’s been a good machine for eight years, but there are signs that maybe it’s time to move on. One of those signs is a banshee type howling sound at start up that goes up and down in pitch for about ten minutes before gradually disappearing. This makes Maribel and me nervous, though not enough for me to BACK UP THE HARD DRIVE.

This machine had its beginnings eight years ago in the hands of a man in a dingy back room in a dingy neighborhood north of central Chiclayo. The man is a friend of a friend of Maribel’s. Victor is his name. We stopped by his shop one day. He specked out a computer for us based on what we would use it for. The operating system is Windows XP. Included was Office, Photoshop, McAfee security and about a half-dozen other software apps that I never used. Also included were a monitor, keyboard, woofer and two speakers. The price was unbelievably low. I didn’t ask many questions. I was incredibly naïve about Peru in those early days, but based on the price and my instincts I thought that maybe this wasn’t the situation and Victor isn’t the kind of guy you ask about warranties or component brands. That would be about as smart as asking Don Corleone where his money comes from. I suspect Victor gets his components and software from Midnight Computer Sales.

Shortly after getting the computer home we had a minor problem with the operating system.  I sent an error report to Microsoft. That’s when I learned that the operating system was pirate. A month or two later we got a message on the computer saying our free trial of Office had expired. When we called Victor he came to the house; stuck a USB into the computer for a few minutes, and said the problem was fixed. We never saw that message again.

As he was leaving he asked if I wanted to go wild burro hunting with him. I told him I couldn’t imagine wild burros running around the desert near Chiclayo. I asked him who owned them. He said that after they were shot and in the back of the truck, we owned them. This didn’t sound like something I wanted to do, but played along by asking what we would do with the burros. He replied that burro is delicious, and said that I had probably eaten it in Chiclayo restaurants. I had been told that selling burro in restaurants is illegal and upon saying so Victor laughed and said that they sell it as an “unadvertised special.” I couldn’t tell if he was serious or not. Maribel says it happens. I like Victor. Victor is cool.

We haven’t seen Victor in years; his shop is closed and I need a new computer. There are a couple of supposedly reputable computer shops in downtown Chiclayo that build computers. My plan is to visit one or more of those shops and have a new desk top computer built. Hopefully we’ll be as lucky as we were with this one. I know the operating system will be a Spanish pirate version of Windows 10. I want a legal, English version, so what I intend to do is buy a Windows 10 USB flash drive while in the United States.  I’ll bring it back to Peru; install it thus wiping out the pirate system, and then transfer files from this box to the new. And I won’t have to struggle with the Spanish language anymore.

Why don’t I just buy a laptop in the states with Windows already may be wondering?  I’m old school. I want to stay with what I’m used to. I want the remote speakers and woofer in front of me. The monitor sitting on top of the woofer is the perfect height. I want that familiar big honkin’ case sitting on the floor next to the desk, with all the ports visible so I don’t have to hunt for them. And most of all I want the remote keyboard and mouse. I’ve played some with laptops and Maribel’s Surface Pro tablet, and I don’t like the keyboard and cursor mover or whatever you call it. I could probably figure them out eventually but the learning curve would be frustrating. No…I want a mouse I can move and control with my whole hand. I want keys under my fingers that physically go up and down and click when I press them. Yes, I know I could plug some if not all of those things into a laptop but what’s the point of doing that? That wouldn’t be any better than a desk top, and I’d have the useless laptop keyboard sitting in front of me taking up space needed for a real keyboard. And I’ll be surprised if the cost of the Windows 10 operating system teamed with a desktop computer built in Chiclayo isn’t less than an equally featured laptop.

So that’s the plan. We’ll see how it plays out. In the meantime, we’ve got to hope that this computer lasts a few more weeks.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

A Return to Patapo

Today we were in the city of Patapo to visit Semillitas Kids, a pronoei on the edge of the city. We had visited the school last November and talked with Cecelia the teacher/director about what she might need for the 2016 school year. What she was sure of was the need for two storage shelves, and that’s what we delivered this morning. We had talked about furniture needs but agreed we would put that off until she had firm enrollment numbers for the March 14th beginning of classes.

March is here now, classes have begun and Cecelia has 36 kids enrolled. She had gotten an estimate for just under $800 for 9 tables and 36 chairs from a local carpenter. Concerned that that was too much money, she borrowed plastic chairs and tables from city residents and seems content for the moment with that furniture, though her face showed disappointment when we agreed that the furniture cost was more than we’d anticipated.

Promesa Peru’s investment for the storage shelves plus transportation came to $53.13. We haven’t closed the doors yet. It may be that at some future date we’ll be talking with Cecelia again about furniture. For now things are good at Semillitas Kids in Patapo.

Friday, March 11, 2016

Just Some Musings

Depending where you live in Peru, El Niño is/was either a major problem or a non-event. Piura 120 miles north, Trujillo 110 miles south and Cajamarca 95 miles east are/were experiencing heavy rains, with accompanying flooding in Piura and Trujillo. Southern Peru has seen the most flooding. Chiclayo has had exactly one heavy downpour with minor flooding that was gone by the end of the day. It may be that the extreme temperatures Chiclayo and other coastal cities are experiencing is an affect of El Niño. There was a lot of money and effort dedicated by the Peruvian government to prevent flooding all up and down the coast. It will probably be that those precautions were not needed, but I know of no one who feels the money was wasted.

Speaking of Peruvian government, the April elections are getting close. This is what the polls looked like in January. Things have changed these last two months. Acuña has dropped out…the election commission barred him from running because he was suspected of plagiarizing his university master’s thesis. He wouldn’t have made it anyway. Guzman has also been barred from running because of ‘irregularities in his selection by his political party.’ Guzman was an up and coming candidate, almost overnight jumping to 2nd place with an 18% rating. He struck a note with young people, particularly university students. He has had two appeals rejected by the election commission but is still campaigning.

This is what the latest poll looks like. I had never heard of Barnechea until last week. I have no idea when he entered the race. Kuszynski is hanging tough but most folks feel he’s too old (77). The surprise for me continues to be Keiko. In all my travels in Peru, I have yet to meet anyone who supports her. Many people feel bitterly toward her father Alberto who is a past president and is presently in prison. Last night in Cuzco she was forced to stop her campaign speech and leave the stage for her safety because 600 demonstrators were heckling and throwing eggs at the stage. So where is that 37% approval coming from? Pundits say that women and the poor favor her, which seems strange because her father was charged with forced sterilization of thousands of women and the ruthless deaths of thousands of poor villagers during his program to wipe out the Shining Path rebels. If Keiko does not win a majority, there will be a run-off election, probably between her and Kuszynski. Interesting times are coming.

Owning property and renting it out has its risks in Peru. You need to be very sure of whom you’re renting to before signing the contract.  Courts here are very reluctant to issue eviction orders. If an owner requests a renter to leave, by law that renter has three rent-free months to vacate, and often the process drags out longer than that. When an eviction order is issued it can be spectacular. This is what one looked like in our neighborhood this morning. A couple of police trucks and a dozen motorcycles screeched to a stop two doors down. By actual count there were 22 police directly involved, and five motorcycle cops blocking traffic on each end of the block. We assumed this was a narcotics raid or something of similar importance. The door was literally rammed open and officers rushed into the house only to find it empty. The guy had moved yesterday. We said goodbye to him while he was loading his truck, not aware of any problem. I wonder what they would have done to him if he had been there. The word ‘overkill’ comes to mind.


It was one of those things that for some reason resonates with the funny bone. We were walking in the El Quinde Mall in Cajamarca, mostly to get out of the rain when we saw this sign indicating restroom locations. We sat at a nearby table and started chuckling. We both said we needed a photo.   I didn’t know what we’d do with it, but this seems like a good place.

Thursday, March 10, 2016

Promesa Peru begins its new year in Monsefù

We were in Monsefù today to deliver some promised items to Patricia Custodio. We had visited her pronoei last November and agreed to help furnish her new classroom. The new classroom is quite a distance from the old and is being prepared for Monday’s classes, so we dropped off the items at the old location.

Late last year we had decided not to donate plastic chairs, but the carpenter Patricia has contracted for the tables needs a four-week lead time for 24 chairs. Patricia said she could not wait…the kids had nothing to sit on so she asked us for plastic chairs instead. The 6 tables could be ready mid-next week. We’ll return to Monsefù to visit with Patricia and her kids when everything is in place.

The cost for this project when finished will be:

6 wood tables - $174.42
24 plastic chairs – 91.05
2 storage shelves – 46.51
Transport – 16.00
Total - $327.98

The cost for one plastic chair – $3.79 is 25% over last year. Every merchant we talked with said the increase in price is due to the rising US dollar. They cautioned us that school supplies are seeing that same increase.

Thanks to the generosity of Chris Raupe, Clif Brown, the Alice Cool Foundation and others we had money remaining from last year to pay for this project, and there is enough left over to give us a decent start on the next project, which will probably be a pronoei in Patapo.

Now that we’ve got our first project for this year under our belt we’re looking forward to whatever the remainder of the year holds for Promesa Peru. We hope we can count on your continued support.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Cool, Cruel Cajamarca

In my last post I commented at length about the miserable Chiclayo heat. That wasn’t just me whining. In the past week eight infant deaths have been attributed to the heat in Piura, a city north of Chiclayo. The temperature there has averaged 102 for the past two weeks. Chiclayo can’t be much less.

I threatened to go up into the Andes to escape the heat and that’s what we did, only we didn’t stay at some quaint mountain village. Cajamarca is a city with a population of about 180,000. It is in a valley surrounded by mountains at an elevation of 9000 feet. Many of the tourist attractions are some distance from the city at elevations of over 10,000 feet. Chiclayo’s altitude is 89 feet. Do you see the problem shaping up?

When the taxi dropped us off at the hotel, Maribel told me my lips were blue. So were hers. So were our finger tips. We had experienced this one other time in Cusco. It is a symptom associated with high altitude pulmonary edema. Our color was back to normal in 30 minutes. Just walking the 200 feet from the taxi to the hotel carrying our luggage had us huffing and puffing like a couple of marathon drop-outs. And it was raining. Hard. The rain continued on and off for the next four days. As did our labored breathing and altitude induced headaches. The bottom line is that we got the cool we wanted. We wore jackets in the morning and late afternoon, and needed a blanket on the bed. The trade off was the constant rain, headaches, and pressure in our heads that prevented us from sleeping peacefully. We both agreed that as miserable as it is, we’ll take Chiclayo’s heat/humidity in preference to Cajamarca’s climate/altitude.

It’s a six hour bus ride from Chiclayo to Cajamarca. A one-way ticket costs $7.25. We left at 6:45 am and arrived at 1:00 pm. We could see clouds covering the mountain peaks long before we reached them. Visibility upon entering the clouds was very limited. Large stands of eucalyptus and pine trees that grow in these high altitudes looked like a procession of ghost trees in the half-light. The bus windows fogged up and all we could do was hope that the driver knew what he was doing on the hair-pin turns, and once you enter the Andes you are always in a hair-pin turn.

Suddenly you break through the clouds; drive over one last peak, and there in a valley is your destination. Cajamarca is an ancient community. It was here in 1532 that the invading Spaniards led by Pizarro with an army of 168 soldiers defeated an Inca army of 6,000 men and then captured and killed their leader Atahualpa, effectively bringing an end to the Inca empire.

In an effort to save his life Atahualpa, being held in what is known as the ransom room offered to fill the room twice with silver and once with gold if he was spared. Pizarro thought that was a good deal but after receiving the offering decided that a living Atahualpa was a threat so had him executed. The ransom room is the only remaining Inca structure in the city.

On the south-west edge of the city is Cerro Santa Apolonia, a high hill that offers a magnificent view of the city and features what is known as the “chair of the Inca”. It is said that Atahualpa would sit on this structure and gaze on his domain. There are stairs leading to the top of Cerro Santa Apolonia but it is not an easy climb. We noticed that even the locals walked at a snail’s pace while ascending. There is a chapel at the top that has a special significance to the religious.

Other attractions in the city include old churches and a hospital, all dating to the 17th century. Most of them are now museums worth visiting. At the entrance to each are guides offering their services. We found none that spoke English.

There are major attractions outside of the city that are best seen on a guided tour. Tours can be arranged at hotels (at inflated prices), or at one of the many tour offices across the street from the main square. The tour business is highly competitive and you can negotiate prices, especially at the last minute when the bus has empty seats. We took several tours. I’ll write about just two of them.

Granja Porcòn is an Evangelical cooperative community located 20 miles from Cajamarca. The community is self-contained and self-sustaining, even having its own cemetery. It is at an altitude of 10,300 feet. The mountains as far as the eye can see are covered with huge pine trees, which is but one of the industries of this community. Our guide told us that the trees are yellow pine, the seedlings originally brought from the United States. The sixty families who live here either harvest and sell the lumber, or manufacture furniture and other items in one of several wood working shops on site. Extensive herds of cattle are maintained for meat, milk and cheese…all processed on site. Wool from sheep is spun and made into clothing and other items, either for personal use or for sale. Tourists are invited to explore any of the facilities, and to purchase any of the products.

There are several restaurants operated by the cooperative. Menus feature locally grown/raised food. Maribel had trout. She said it was good. The fried alpaca I ate was tough and overcooked.

It is interesting to see the family members working at and producing all their products, but the biggest draw and probably the reason tour buses are constantly coming and going is the zoo. I think the only animals from the Americas the zoo did not have were polar bears, moose and elk. Everything else was there including an adult jaguar that loved being scratched and petted through the chain link fence by tourists. That’s not something you would see in a USA zoo. They also have birds of every variety, from pheasants to condors. All of the birds and animals except for the meat eaters eagerly accept pieces of bread from the tourists. The tour takes 4 hours from pick up to drop off at Cajamarca’s main square. The standard price seems to be around $5.00. It’s well worth it.

Another tour we took is called the ‘La Collpa tour’. La Collpa is a privately owned farm located 7 miles east of Cajamarca. The points of interest on the farm are an artificial lagoon, a chapel, and cow calling. Let me explain that last bit. The farm workers have trained the cows to come to a milk shed when their names are called. The cow’s mill about outside, and when their names are called by a guy with a bullhorn, they dutifully walk to their place in the shed. The guy periodically cracks a whip, but it serves no purpose other than to entertain the audience.  For me the La Collpa farm was a big thumbs down.

The second part of the La Collpa tour gets a thumbs up. The bus parks in the small village of Llacanora. From the bus tourists walk a considerable distance on a forest path to first one and then another waterfall. They’re not spectacular waterfalls but they are pretty, especially in the wooded setting. It takes some effort to climb to the falls but it’s not too difficult.
On our way to the highest waterfall an old woman in native dress carrying a heavy load of wood stepped out of the forest, crossing the path we were on. When she reentered the woods I hurried ahead a bit hoping to see where she was going. I was astounded to see her walking across this narrow aqueduct as if it were a six-lane highway. That gorge beneath her is 25 feet deep. This is my favorite photo from the trip. I love to take candid photos of people doing their thing, rather than the colorfully dressed women holding cute lambs and charging $1.00 to take their picture. The La Colpa tour takes three hours and costs $5.00.

There are other major attractions that for brevity’s sake I won’t write about. There is plenty of internet information and photos about them if interested. I strongly advise not missing Cumbe Mayo or Ventanillas de Otuzco. Others might mention Baños del Inca as a don’t miss but I was not impressed.

There are a half-dozen or so good hotels in Cajamarca. We stayed at the Hotel Sol de Belèn. It’s not fancy but it’s clean, quiet, spacious and the staff couldn’t be more helpful. The hotel is located on a pedestrian-only cobblestone street so there's no vehicle noise. The cost is $43 per night. They do not charge the 18% tax that Peruvians are charged at most middle to upper class hotels. Breakfast is included.

For a full meal the two Salas restaurants located near the main square are good choices. They have an extensive menu and service is good.

During the warmth of the afternoon (yes, it does get warm  (not hot) in Cajamarca from about 1:00 to 2:30 pm) drop by the Heladeria Holanda, a small ice cream shop that supposedly uses profits to help people in need. The ice cream is delicious and you can sample every flavor before buying.

Later in the evening if you’re looking for a light snack stop in at Q’illpu for coffee and a sandwich. The décor reminds me of a bistro, and they play smooth vocal jazz softly in the background. I enjoyed my coffee with egg croissant while listening to Diana Krall, one of my favorite jazz singers.

We returned yesterday. It’s hot and I didn’t sleep well last night and don’t expect to tonight but at least I can prowl the house in the wee hours without a headache and labored breathing. C’mon April!!