Sunday, January 27, 2008

A Tomato Grows in Olmos...well, sort of *

Gardening is not easy in the desert of Lambayeque. All my neighbors told me it couldn’t be done. They said there wasn’t enough water and if you got something to grow then the lizards would eat the seedlings or the cows/goats/sheep/chickens/turkeys/donkeys would eat the plants. I found through experimenting that some of what they said was partially true. There isn’t much water, especially if your idea of a garden is bigger than a 2 x 1 meter plot and your water comes to you from a chacra half an hour away on a donkey-powered cart. Likewise the animals that live in my neck of the dry forest are HUNGRY and will eat anything that doesn’t poison them (apparently cardboard does not fall into the poisonous catagory). One night, around midnight, my first attempt at gardening was consumed by some rampaging, hungry cows. But with equal amounts of perseverance, obstinacy and naïveté a garden, with lettuce, tomatoes, and beets among other things, does grow in Olmos, Lambayeque.

It’s important to know the rules of gardening in the dry forest. Rule #1 in dry forest/desert gardening is Corral Your Garden. Since nothing else is corralled then you need to put up appropriate protective fencing for your veggies. In my experience this means 2 meter high kincha (sticks/small logs) as perimeter #1 and then ½ meter high plastic fencing (cut up fertilizer bags) around the veggies to keep the lizards out. Rule #2 is to Keep Your Plot Small, no bigger than a 2 x 3 meters because water is scarce. Rule #3, especially for the novice gardener, is Avoid High Maintenance Plants such as tomatoes and peppers because they attract pests and become easily stressed and therefore do not produce well. Rule #4 is Plants Should Be Spaced Closely because this will help to retain soil moisture and therefore help you to conserve your scarce water supply. Rule #5 is Grow Leafy Greens. On the coast people rarely eat leafy green veggies, which is sad because they are some of the most nutritious vegetables AND the easiest to grow. Getting people to grow leafy greens and then teaching them how to prepare them is some of the most important nutritional work you can do as a Peace Corps Volunteer. One caveat to this rule is to provide some measure of shade for lettuces during the hottest months.

Knowing how to set up a garden helped in my initial search for families to participate in this project. But in order to convince anyone that growing their own vegetables was even a possibility I had to find and recruit one family to take on the gardening challenge. Finally after 7 months at site, Sra. Lidia said she would be interested in growing some vegetables. We sowed some seeds in an egg carton and then I gave her the task of watering the seeds as a test of her dedication to the project. This was important because if she could water it enough to enable germination and protect the seedlings from critters then she demonstrated enough dedication to grow a small vegetable plot. After a few weeks, the seeds had sprouted and Sra. Lidia passed her first test. In the next week Sra. Lidia and her sons installed the garden fence of kincha and plastic, dug compost into the garden soil and transplanted her future veggie crop. Everything seemed to be going really, really well until I realized there were some things that I neglected to communicate.

If you don’t teach how to water correctly and consistently, especially in the dry forest/desert, plants will be weak and disease-prone. If you don’t make it clear that this is THEIR garden (not yours) then they will wait for you to come and do the garden tending. Perhaps you can tell that the outcome my first garden in the community wasn’t flawless. And why should it have been. Did I have experience gardening in Olmos, Lambayeque? NO!!!!!!! There were good days though. There was much rejoicing the day we harvested the first head of lettuce for lunch. The worst days were when several of her tomato plants began to suffer Blossom End Rot, a disorder that is often caused when rapidly growing, succulent plants are exposed suddenly to a period of drought, i.e. when the grower doesn’t water enough or consistently. It was difficult to convince the family that the problem was not caused by a pest. I now know to stress proper watering techniques and to show how to stick a finger deep into the soil to check for soil moisture. After teaching proper watering techniques to Sra. Lidia and her family, I left them to their own success or failure and went in search other interested families. I have since learned that they are indeed harvesting some tomatoes.

Armed with a bit more local gardening knowledge and experience under my belt, I am able to help other members of the community realize their own gardens. Sra. Alicia now is grows vegetables for her family and Sudan grass and alfalfa for cuyes she hopes to start raising. I taught her recently that raw beet greens are edible AND delicious and can be harvested from the beet while the root is still growing (make sure to leave a leaf or two on the beet though). After a charla on the basic food groups, a group of women from the Comedor Popular decided to try gardening as a way to increase their vegetable consumption. Four of these women now have garden plots that are producing lettuce, cilantro, carrots, Swiss chard, beets and other nutritious vegetables. They were all required to start seedlings in pots and corral a garden plot before receiving seeds. From this group, Sra. Mercedes gave me a nice boost to my work as a PCV when she said “if it wasn’t for you and your help, I would have never known how easy it is to grow vegetables and help improve my family’s nutrition”.

Sra. Mercedes showing off her carrots and lettuce. Just a few days ago we harvested cucumbers, radishes, and swiss chard. Then I did a mini Fresh From the Garden class where I showed her how to prepare her swiss chard. It was a great day!

Vegetable gardening in the dry forest will never make for a huge, prestigious project that will be highlighted in the regional or national news. Likewise they will never feed lavishly while water is scarce. Still, it is a small, humble project with implausibly large impact. When planned strategically with adherence to the rules stated above, participants can easily supplement their daily goat and rice with high value leafy greens, additional herbs and colorful beets and carrots. When done properly, small garden projects achieve improvements in the diets of Peruvians, even in the dry forest, and help to fulfill Goal 3 of our Community Health Program.

*I wrote this article for CHEVERE, our health program newsletter.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

What I´m thankful for....

  • a supportive and loving husband with whom I am very very lucky be able to share this crazy life
  • a wonderful mother who accepts my crazy life even though it gives her more gray hairs and anxiety
  • 4 very cool sisters who are all people I admire and believe in
  • 5 nephews and 4 nieces who are beautiful, intelligent and fun people
  • My aunts who send me notes filled with love and praise
  • My cousins who offer guidance and encouragement in my work and life
  • My in-laws who inspire me to do things that make the world a better place
  • My friends who ROCK!!! who are there for me, chat with me over the distance via skype, who send me various necessities of life (tampons! tea! chocolate! Midol! New Yorkers!). Moreover, these friends inspire my work, send $$$ to help support it and give me crucial ideas when I think I`ve exhausted my creativity.
  • My fellow Peace Corps volunteers who are some of the most awesome, daring and creative people I have ever met
  • Bosses (new and old) who support my work and help me see that I`m not alone in what I am doing and are forgiving when I occasionally slip up.
  • Weavers who make awesome hammocks, towels and napkins and are willing to listen to the crazy gringa who thinks that there is a world out there that wants to buy their products - all they need to do is organize and believe.
  • a village of 130 families that still wonders why the crazy gringos are here but nevertheless open up their homes to us, offer a plate of goat and rice even when we´ve already eaten and they haven`t, and worry for our safety.
  • a beautiful country that I have just begun to explore and still have a year to see (plus whatever time I hang around after Nov. 2008
  • a bio huertos (small vegetable gardens) project that is just taking shape with some very enthusiastic women have taken a leap of faith that the gringa is speaking the truth when she says that it really is possible to grown vegetables in the desert when there is very little water available.
  • relatively good health, 25 fewer pounds on my body, ability to express myself in two languages, and a mostly positive propects for my life a life free of drama (if you watch Spanish-language telenovelas you´ll know what I mean)
  • a year of Peace Corps service completed! One year down, one to go!

Happy Thanksgiving everyone! I love you and miss you! Come visit!

xoxoxo!! Cyn

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Feria de Artesania - Lima

Thanks to the help of some very generous friends, last week I was able to take two weavers from my site to attend an Artisen Fair held in Lima at the US Embassy and organized by the Peace Corps Small Business program. One of the women had never been to Lima and all week long everyone kept joking that we were going to lose her in the big city.

On Oct. 10th Alicia, Isolina and I departed on the night bus from Chiclayo, loaded down with over 50 weavings, business cards, labels on all of our product, photos and videos of weavings and weavers and our site. I mention these things because they were the work I did for most of the previous week and they turned out pretty nice. The weavers even liked them too.

The next day we arrived in Lima with enough time to get to the Peace Corps office, drop our bags, eat some breakfast and run to the embassy to attend several hours of training and lecture on various business related topics. Topics included very useful information on how to sell/how not to sell, what a group needs to think about when preparing for their market; other information presented seemed perhaps geared towards a group with a bit more experience under their woven belts. But Alicia and Isolina were happy with all of it - except for perhaps the lunch that was served which they thought tasted like donkey (it was beef).

We stayed at a hostal in Miraflores with all the other volunteers and counterparts (12 women in my room!), ate dinner at a Middle Eastern restaurant (falafal in Peru - it´s a miracle). Foregoing th opportunity to live it up that night, the 3 of us decided to go to bed (and freeze all night - Lima is soooo cold) and be ready for a big day.

The feria the next day was a great opportunity for us to evaluate what other groups sell, how they display their products, how our prices compare. We chatted and networked with other groups who have more months and years of experience. We strengthened our future market too. An association of artisens in Ferriñafe, not far from our site, is interested in selling our hammocks at their store (yay!). We learned of another store near Trujillo that we could sell on consignment. So even though we only sold 9 items, we made many contacts and learned where we will be next year if we continue working hard.

After a long day at the feria, we had a few hours to kill before our night bus back to Chiclayo. We headed over to Jockey Plaza, a huge American-style mall, to stroll around. As we finished making our way around the bottom floor, I suggested we head upstairs. As we boarded the escalator, Isolina began to scream - fortunately not too loudly. She had never been on an escalator! Of course, where she lives there isn´t even electricity and the biggest city in the region, Chiclayo, doesn´t have any that I know of, so why should she know escalators. I quickly explained to her how we were going to get off the escalator at the top and she followed my instructions and did just fine. We laughed for a long time after that. When we reached the far end of the 2nd floor, we decended to the first floor, now mastering not only the up escalator but also the down escalator. Who knew that I would have such diverse teaching opportunities as a Peace Corps Volunteer.

I will load some pictures later. A PC employee took a bunch of photos at the feria and I´m hoping he will email them to me soon. I gave Dan the camera those days to take pictures of some improved cook stoves in the sierra of Lambayeque. It didn´t make sense to bring the camera when the US Embassy doesn´t allow cameras in their building!

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Chiclayo, Piloto del Norte

We are not always fond of our capital city, but it has some pretty cool aspects to it that we grow fonder and fonder of. Chiclayo is such a boom town that many buildings are only halfway finished; occupied, but with the roof sprouting reinforcement bar awaiting the day when there will be enough money to add the next floor on top. Many of the prettier nineteenth century buildings are in poor condition, displaying crumbling adobe where paint and plaster have worn away and never been reapplied. Even new paint gets covered quickly by the ever present dust. This is a desert city and there is no way to hide it. That said, the plaza de armas is pretty with its recent, but imposing and elegant cathedral and the partially burned out city hall.

The Municipality building. It used to have a clock tower until the building caught fire not long before we arrived. They say that they will restore it all one of these days....

This would go a long way to explain our strong patronage of the Hotel Royal, which sits right on the plaza and has great views of the plaza and is a pretty fine looking old structure itself. The Royal has definitely fallen from its greater days but it has a very romantic feel of dilapidated grandeur that makes up for the lack of TV in the rooms or the occasional shortage of hot water.

Evelio, one of the wonderfully kind and helpful staff of the Royal.

The most important member of the staff. Or is he the owner? We call him Bolivar.

Evaristo says that this used to be a restaurant. Would also make a cool ballroom.

If you are in a third floor room you will hear the vultures on the roof in the morning.

The plaza hosts a regular array of public spectacles that make just hanging out to see what is happening good entertainment. Sundays almost always begin with a flag raising and often at least a small military parade. This may be a Peruvian thing in general, but Chiclayanos really like these militaristic parades. Every Sunday you can count on hearing the band strike up the national anthem, and the anthems of the state of Lambayeque and the city of Chiclayo for a big flag raising ceremony. This usually requires a few long passionate patriotic speeches, and often a parade of a few regiments of various of the armed forces.

Preparing to raise the flag.

This band plays miltary marches and occasionally pop songs.

Some weekends will see regiments of civil servants, teachers or filing clerks all decked out in matching suits, doctors, nurses, and obstetricians in their best work uniforms. Sometime the student body of a few high schools and middle schools will celebrate their anniversary, or just their amazing patriotism by marching in the plaza, everyone carrying their banner, rigidly goose stepping with grave expressions. The first several times we saw the goose stepping were pretty weird, especially seeing the kids doing it. Kind of spookily like stepping into a World War II movie. Also, noting that this country has far too rich a history of military coups and caudillo governments, it made me think of Augusto Pinochet’s affection for the song Lilly Marlene. Happily of course, Pinochet is dead now, Chile is not mourning his passing, even George W. Bush could figure out that his victims deserve more sympathy than his supporters, and anyway, this is Peru, where no one likes Chile. Anyway, when look more closely at the whole spectacle it begins to look much more comic than scary. Check out a group of kids who have been practicing this marching for weeks, and they still don’t have it right! They bought or borrowed white gloves to wear just for the occasion but they don’t fit and are way too big and flop around on their hands. One of the bombasts revving up the crowd for the flag raising instructed everyone on the appropriate position for viewing said event “with hand over heart, and the military police will see to it that everyone complies”. It would be scary. But then you look at those poor schlubs in the military police, out of the barracks and in town just for the morning, half of them under nineteen, holding machine guns to be sure, but no one in the crowd takes them seriously. After that the guy up on the dais starts to look pretty silly.

I know that the guys in the middle are supposed to be in Rambo jungle cammo, but they look like haystacks to us.

This being Latin America, the only thing that can upstage the military is the Church. Mostly Chiclayanos don’t get too big and public in their faith. Saturday nights will often have some sort of Jesus rock on the cathedral steps. Occasionally you see a random bunch of school kids marching to save souls, and once or twice we have seen people parading an image of the virgin. But for Corpus Christi they definitely pulled out all the stops. For several blocks up South Balta, the main commercial street, schools and religious fraternities made huge paintings of flower scented sawdust. The fanciest were decorated with flower petals. The paintings led up to the steps of the Cathedral, and at mid morning the bishop led half the town in procession over these paintings to a big outdoor mass.

Sites and Attractions of Northern Peru!

This is the first of a set of travelogue sorts of entries I plan to write in the next few months. We have recently noted that people don’t have much to picture for Peru besides Machu Pichu. The lost city has recently been declared one of the New Seven Wonders of the World, which it eminently deserves. But if Lonely Planet can truthfully say that many people come to Peru, and even to South America, with no other plan than to see one site, the rest of the country and continent need a little publicity. So I am taking on the job of amateur tourism promoter for the northern end of Peru, giving my best impressions of the good and the bad of whatever I have seen or picked up good info on. If this inspires anyone to come to visit us that would be fantastic….

And of course, we are carrying out our job of helping folks from our country get to know and understand Peru.

I am starting out close to home, but with the site I find most in need of tourism infrastructure development. Think of this as an insiders guide to get past the not so great stuff and straight to the goodies of the city we spend a fair amount of time in, the largest city in our home department of Lambayeque….

Our New(ish) Home

Ok, so it's been awhile. But today we are hopefully going to be posting several blogs we've been working on in our spare time. Yep, we've been busy little Peace Corps volunteers facilitating community meeting for latrine projects, educating about hygiene and nutrition, planting gardens and herding cats (Oh, I mean weavers and beekeepers).

Here's a look at our new home sweet home. But first a little description:
* It has 3 rooms - kitchen/living room/office, our bedroom, and your bedroom/shower room/bikeroom/general storage.
*It has dirt floors - something I never realized the advantage of until now - you can spill water and the floor and it just soaks right in!
*we live in a caserio of 130 families about 3 kilometers up the road from our old caserio.
*we pay a whopping s/. 50 per month (about $17US)
*we have a nicer latrine than before but .... it's still a latrine
*we have 4 hours of electricity per night
*most special of all is that we don't have to share it with anyone else. That is very very nice.

Here are some pictures:

The front of the house - our little casita is a duplex, really.

Our kitchen: the trash cans are where we store our water.

Our living room/office: as you can see we really need more postcards for the walls (hint hint). The splotches on the floor are from water - to keep it hard you are required to throw water on it daily. Quite fun, really.

Our bedroom: yep, it basically just fits the bed.

The view from our front yard, looking north up the old Panamerican. The skies here often can be really dramatic.

Friday, August 10, 2007

Weavers of El Porvenir, Olmos, Lambayeque

I am lucky enough to live in a community where a few women still practice the centuries old skill of weaving. Most of them learned as little girls, watching their mothers and aunts weaving. In the past it was a good way to earn some extra money for the family and since Alforjas (saddle bags) and Fajas (sashes worn by men) were in fashion and the norm, there was always a local market for their goods. But several years have passed already since these items have fallen out of fashion - now in their place it's baseball caps and cheaply made backpacks. Today few women in the community actively weave because there just isn't anyone locally who can afford a hammock or a hand-woven bath towel (some of their other products). Most have neglected to teach this skill to their daughters. It's rare to find anyone under the age of 45 who knows how to weave. On closer examination this is obvious when one can just as easily convert an old fishing net into a hammock and China has supplied enough cheap bath towels that you just can't make a living at weaving. Or at least, you couldn't until.....
Enter, THE PEACE CORPS VOLUNTEER. I found out early on that one of the most common pieces of "furniture" a peace corps volunteer buys is a hammock. "And why not buy a hammock from another volunteers site", I asked. And lucky for me and the women in my community, other volunteers have responded, "well, why not".
Thus was born my secondary project. I currently work with about 15 women. When I moved into town only about 3 of them were actively weaving - more women now are getting excited about it again because it is showing to be profitable. I meet with them about weekly. We are working on forming an association, electing a board of directors, and improving the quality of their products so that we can sell in fancy stores in tourist-heavy zones and at craft fairs, like the upcoming US Embassy Fair in October.
Carmela, 77, hand spinning thread from raw cotton.

Esperanza, 54, hand twisting industrial thread to make a stronger yarn.

Angela, 56, arranging the warp threads while Teresa and Gloria, in their 40s, watch and learn.

Felicita, 42, weaving a towel.

Carmela braids the ends of a Faja.

Giomara, 12, relaxing in her hammock.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

ALMA Verde 2007!

Just in case this blog gives people the idea that Peace Corps is all about having strange experiences and learning new low tech tricks for better living, we wanted you to see some of the more fun parts of development in rural Peru. The volunteers of Lambyeque (with help from a couple of wonderful La Libertad friends) recently staged a wilderness camp for twenty some girls from around the region, aged 14 to 19. Every volunteer had the option of bringing two girls from their site. At first we had thought of not bringing any, but ended up bringing four. Camp took place at the Reserva Ecologica de Chaparri, a gorgeuos protected area where one can see endangered white winged turkeys, at least four species of hummingbirds, spectacled bears, foxes, deer, and lots more wildlife if you have the patience to look. The girls had sessions in leadership, making beads from strips of magazine paper, self esteem, botany, games, and much more. They had a great time and so did we. I'd say more but the pictures do a better job.

This doesn't do justice to how pretty the place is.

From left to right, Diana, Lorena, and Ketty, plus friends

Diana steps up to say thanks to us volunteers. Thanks Diana!

Making new friends!

Girls Rule!

Learning to make an herbal salve.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Sodis: part 2

Go back to the previous blog entry to get the details on this water purification method. But here are some pictures of us doing it.

Dan scrubbing bottles - his favorite morning activity after hauling water from the pileta with the help of the donkey. Behind him is the stove that our family uses to cook all their meals. They use charcoal from the native Algarrobo trees. The smoke just floats freely in the kitchen. Fortunately the kitchen is semi-open air.

Dan filling bottles from the big barrel of water in the kitchen. There's a lid for the barrel, but the family is still not clear that it should be on the barrel and not leaning up against it. The two red baskets in the background are for storing vegetables. I encouraged this purchase since before the veggies were stored on a tray or in a cardboard box where flies were free to hang out.

Dan putting bottles up on the roof of the kitchen to disinfect the water. The kitchen is made out of sticks and mud. It looks like a corral...especially when the chickens and turkeys are hanging out in it.

This is Flor. She's the mom of the family we live with. She's the coolest person in the house. She loves her sodis!

"Wages of Fear" Moments

If you have not had a chance to view this little gem of mid twentieth century film, directed by Henri-Georges Clouzot, the title of this entry will need some explanation. If you have, the accompanying photos will probably say it all, and you can then decide if you want to bother reading the rest.

The film in brief, revealing as few crucial details as possible: In a tiny backwater of Venezuela, not very long after the end of World War Two, the first noteworthy event since the arrival of Spanish conquistadors, which hasn’t seemed to have made much impression, is the recent arrival of an American oil company. A sad collection of ruined men from Europe and the United States have washed up here through bad luck, bad decisions, bad planning, or a need to get away from wherever they were before, often with the law close behind them. They provide new employment for local whores, and attempt to gain enough money off of the dregs and odd jobs of the American’s bonanza so that they can get out to anywhere else. Mostly they slowly rot and die there. A desperate chance appears in the form of a well fire that can only be put out by an emergency shipment of nitro glycerin to the well head. Two trucks will carry the explosives, which could go off at any bump in the road, driven by expendable men who must be willing to bet their lives. There are of course plenty of these. That’s the story, but of course it’s really all about how damned souls struggle in their own self made hells, while heartless capitalism and an uncaring jungle wait to devour them. Five dead bodies, three and a half breasts, plus tantalizing cleavage from Vera Clouzot, zero special effects explosion scene, and excellent white hair and teeth. Joe Bob says check it out!

I pass all of this along to tell you that if you like this movie, you will love the Peace Corps Peru experience!

This is not to say that our situation is much at all like the movie. Our chances of survival are significantly higher, and our work, even on bad days, is much more pleasant and rewarding. But many interactions with motorized transport could come straight from the film. No explosives (so far), but the same heartless and brutal relationships between men and machines and nature that doesn’t want to be tamed. (Women just get to suffer. Come on, what did you expect of this kind of narrative?)

Most parts of Peru have some form of major construction or reconstruction going on at all times, and work that can’t be done with no other tools than machetes (see earlier entries) requires trucks. Most of these have seen better days. Many buses appear about the same. The one road that attempts to unify the whole country, the Carretera Pan Americana, ignores the mountains in most places, has only recently had many of its bridges repaired after they were washed out by the last El Nino, and can be blocked off by a truck crash, a funeral procession, a very enthusiastic party, a very determined clown, or someone leaving rocks in the road to rob passing vehicles.

In the photo above we see the dump truck that the beekeepers hired to haul gravel to the apiary site, about three kilometers from the paved road, so that they could mix concrete to line a well (hand dug of course).

You don't want this man's job. A bucket full of dirt was dropped on his head last week. Fortunately for everyone, he survived.

This road needed to be improved significantly just to bear burro carts, and it was not all that passable for them. We had to push the cart to help the burro over the hill. Getting the dump truck over the hill took repaving the road with tree branches and brush. They did this several times, and the driver got very annoyed that we wouldn’t cut more trees.

Riding out with this truck was my second motorized adventure on this particular bit of dirt track. In the first, Fidel, treasurer of the beekeepers, decided that because the person who had agreed to bring their burro had failed to show for a work day, he would haul us and our equipment out to the apiary in the very busted down old jeep that had been rusting next to his house. This required siphoning gas from his truck and hotwiring the car. As he ground gears trying to push us through the sand he kept repeating, “Se sufre, pero se aprende!” (He/it suffers, but he/it learns). I wasn’t sure whether he was referring to the car or to me.

Riding with Fidel usually turns into an adventure. Last week he took the truck to a sister organization’s apiary so we could see their harvest methods. We were fine after leaving the highway, and going through several villages of decreasing size and increasing altitude. We were even okay driving up the dry streambed, bouncing over small boulders and hitting tree branches along the way. (The guys standing in back didn’t appreciate the tree branches, but they made a game of seeing who would get raked the most by the really thorny branches.)

The trouble came on the way back, when we found that the small concrete culvert that we had driven around in the morning, before crossing the stream that didn’t go anywhere near the culvert, had by mid afternoon acquired two dump trucks, a grader, and a large pile of gravel and boulders that effectively blocked our route back to the highway. Taking the natural approach of any healthy Peruvian male towards a roadblock, Fidel attempted to drive over the gravel pile. Only when the truck achieved a thirty degree angle and started to slip backwards and sideways in a sickening manner did he decide that he needed a different approach. One of the dump trucks pulled up behind and gently shoved Fidel’s over the gravel.

Lest I give the wrong impression of Fidel’s driving, I should note that the road itself, and the terrain it runs through, often provide plenty of drama. Arriving in the beach town of Mancora, where we vacationed during Semana Santa, the Pan Americana drops three or four hundred meters from the arid plateau of northern Piura, dotted here and there by oil derricks and showing signs of particularly savage El Nino damage, through seemingly endless switchbacks, to reach sea level. At each hairpin turn the breaks and transmission of our sad old bus protested deafeningly. Once there we realized that a Spring Break party had broken out in the middle of the one road connecting the border towns along the frontier with Ecuador to the rest of the country. No worries. When the semis wanted to get through they could just hit the horn and push people out of the way. That’s how you do it in little towns in South America where neither the arrival of Spaniards or oil companies or surfers from around the world really impresses the locals.