This is what your 4-star hotel in Cusco is built on top of

Have you heard about the latest archaeological “discoveries” at the Plaza de Armas in Cusco? Road work has been going on between Av. Sol and the Plaza de Armas, in the heart of historic downtown Cusco. As the old road was excavated, a number of historic Inca Walls have been “discovered” below the surface. Cusco has been abuzz about the new discoveries for the past few days, take a look:

Inca walls discovered in Cusco

Inca walls discovered during roadwork near the Plaza de Armas in Cusco

Inca walls below Plaza de Armas Cusco

Ongoing work/excavation between the Plaza de Armas and Av. Sol in Cusco

While it’s great these historic walls are being exposed, the word “discovery” seems to be a bit of a stretch being that 50-year old underground utility pipes appear to have been routed in and around these historic walls. “Discovery” in this case implies not something we recently found but “creating buzz to attract tourist $ that will help us clean up the archaeological treasures we covered up 50 years ago”. Or something like that.

It’s hard to tell from the pictures (taken over construction barriers) how much of the walls is original, quite a bit appears to be later work built on top of Inca ruins but some of the walls are clearly original Inca structures in very good condition. You can easily tell the difference because the original Inca walls are of exceptional quality, the form and fit of the rocks is nearly perfect, as are the angles and dimensions. Also, the Incas used no cement or filler of any kind between the rocks. In the pictures, the stairway and adjacent parts are clearly original Inca architecture. Later walls that were built by the Spanish Conquistadores or restored in later times aren’t of the same quality as the original Inca walls.

I don’t know what the plan is for this site going forward, now that it has been laid bare again I hope the site gets a full restoration. It’s sad to see such a piece of history strung full of sewer pipes. Of course any archaeologist, historian or architect worth his salt could tell you that the entire historic downtown area of Cusco must be sitting on top of similar Inca structures. When the Spanish Conquistadores first brought “their” God and King to the New World, they built churches on top of the existing Inca temples, to show the superiority of “their” God and King. Here in Cusco you can still see some original Inca structures but sadly most of the original Inca architecture in the historic downtown has been covered up with buildings from the Spanish Colonial era and beyond.

Progreso para todos – I’m part of it today!

If you know me, I can be a bit direct. I’m not proud of this but if you catch me at the wrong time you may get the non-sugercoated version of what’s on my mind. So it was the other night when I was taking the garbage out and a group of neighbors stopped me with “Sir we need to talk to you”. The “president” of our neighborhood was with them and I had just fussed at her a couple of days before because she lets her pitbull run loose, which is not OK. However turns out this wasn’t a dog issue.

The “president” of the neighborhood said they were making a list of the days where each neighbor would be supplying water and electricity to the construction crew of the “region” Cusco who are refurbishing parking areas and sidewalks in our neighborhood. The crews have been working for about a year, typical inefficient and slow Peruvian public works. I had mostly ignored the ongoing work because trying to improve anything would literally be like fighting city hall.

My not-sugercoated answer to the group of neighbors was something about the taxes I pay in this country and that if they wanted me to do the project they’d better pay me and get out of the way because I sure as cielos wasn’t going to support the cl********k that was the project in front of my house. Then the most startling thing happened: the neighbors explained to me that this is what they had agreed on with the leadership of the “region” Cusco, that if we wanted our 40-year old falling apart sidewalks to be fixed, that the people in the neighborhood would supply water and electricity to the workers. It had to be done like that because there are no other options, they said.

I always thought the utter incompetence of the Peruvian public works was “just the way it is” but it startled me to find out that educated people actually make high level decisions to make it be that way. It’s not the result of a bunch of guys being sent to a job without instructions or plans, it’s the result of a bunch of guys being sent to do a job with specific instructions how to screw it up. Educated, career bureaucrats who couldn’t milk a cow if you gave them a bucket, deciding how to do things they have no clue about whatsoever.

By that time I’d mellowed out a bit and I told the neighbors I really don’t care about the water or electricity that the workers may need, just knock my door and you can have anything you need. What startled me was the utter incompetence. Our sidewalks and parking lots need to be refurbished but the relevance of that project pales in comparison to what Peru really needs, there are people here who don’t have basic services. Forget about schools, health care in rural areas, traffic safety, etc. Those very necessary projects will never happen unless there is a wholesale change in how public works are accomplished.

Some neighbors argued this was the right way to do things. How else could the workers do their job, without electricity or water? That is the type of thing that bugs me about Peru. I don’t know if it is the long working hours for the middle class or the silly emphasis on education but there are many people who are quite clueless about life in general making decisions about things they are entirely not qualified for. My neighbors were amazed when I explained to them the correct way to do the project would have been to get in touch with the utility companies and set up temporary connections for water, power, 220V, 480V, whatever the needs of the project are. Give the workers real tools (they are doing this with hammers, chisels and 1 electric jackhammer), machinery, training, safety gear, etc.

Today the workers are back at it, they’ve duck-taped a water hose to a faucet in the back of our house (there aren’t any in the front patio) and “routed” their water hose through our living room out to the parking lot. I’m not kidding: there is a water hose duct-taped to a faucet as I’m writing this. And the project is managed/implemented by “region” Cusco, not even our local municipality or city of Cusco. These are supposed to be the “big guys”.

Rant over. Sorry for the venting.

parking lot work

Parking lot work in front of our house


water hose

Water hose to the works in front of the house

Washington Post on Peru’s crackdown against illegal mining

Not a bad article and pictures at the Washington Post. Here’s the article and a quick excerpt:

“After years of ignoring the frantic gold rush fouling the Amazon forests of southeastern Peru’s Madre de Dios region, the government has launched a no-mercy campaign to crush it.”

Otto has lamented the environmental damage done by illegal mining in Peru for years. It remains to be seen if Peru’s weak institutions and government will persevere in this crackdown.

One small thing you can do is not buy any gold or silver when you visit Peru. The jewelry stores here won’t be able to show procedence of gold, they’ll just lie or make something up. View my Twitter conversation with Otto about my dilemma in having to buy rings for a friend’s upcoming wedding.

Isabella

Isabella

Isabella when she was maybe 8 or 9

I was rocking our baby to sleep the other night, listening to some music, when a song reminded me of a girl I used to know. Isabella isn’t her real name but when she was about 8 years old she’d say she wanted to change her name to Isabella. So I’ll call her Isabella here.

My baby had just fallen asleep on my shoulder and my thoughts drifted away to Isabella. I knew Isabella when she was a kid, she’s a young lady and a mom now. The song I was listening to reminded me of Isabella because of her grandfather, Joe – whom Isabella never knew. I never had the pleasure to meet Isabella’s grandfather either, he passed away young, but I knew Isabella’s mom well. This is how I know Joe.

Isabella’s mom is Sicilian, grew up in Buffalo NY. She always said Joe was in the Buffalo mafia, she wasn’t boasting or proud, in fact Isabella’s mom was embarrassed about that but it was just the way of life if you were born into the family like Joe was. Joe wasn’t a bad guy, he was just part of the family. Joe was a musician, Isabella’s mom always said her father had the greatest voice, a voice like Frank Sinatra. I think Joe played piano and drums, he would play in the Italian restaurants in Buffalo, in the restaurants of the family. Italian restaurants were always a favorite means for the mob to launder their money.

I think it’s safe to say Isabella’s mom had a complicated relationship with her father. I think she admired Joe as an artist, in fact Isabella’s mom was a drummer in her high school band before she got unceremoniously kicked out of high school at the age of 16. Isabella’s mom would go out to party but Joe would find her wherever she was out partying and would drag her out of the bars, drag her home. Joe died of a heart attack when Isabella’s mom was 18.

In a way I feel like I know Joe well, even though we never met. Not only through Isabella’s mom but also through the environment. I grew up in an industrial town in Europe and I know the old industrial towns in the US – like Buffalo – quite well, from the time I used to fly air cargo. We’d fly auto parts for manufacturers to places like Buffalo NY, Flint MI and of course down to the border with Mexico for all the outsourcing there. Peruvians who visit the US probably know no Italian restaurants other than a suburban Olive Garden or Carraba’s but I’ve been to a lot of old, authentic Italian restaurants. Heck, I’ve been to Italy. My best friend friend Bert and I used to hang out at an old-style piano bar when I lived in Florida, the type of place where you could imagine Joe play. As a side note, Bert knew the Italian mob well. He used to work with the US government and he’d always say when the FBI moved offices in New York, the mafia’s moving companies did the move. During Cold War detente when Bert did business with Amtorg, it was via a freight forwarding company owned by the New York mob. He knew the mob well.

There isn’t a point to all of this, in case you were wondering, just me reminiscing about a kid who’s now all grown up. It all seems so long ago now. Not that my experiences in life are any more interesting than anyone else’s but I’ve lived a more unconventional life than most, I’ve been very fortunate to meet some extraordinary people. In a country like Peru, where the median age is 27 and half of the population barely has living memory of the 20th century, some of my experiences seem downright surreal.

I haven’t seen Isabella in many moons. I hope to see her someday, perhaps we can meet in an Italian restaurant.

We won’t fire you because you quit!

Mamacita linda went out with her girlfriends last night. To this day, some of her closest friends are friends from her first “real” job, many moons ago, when she worked with one of the leading banks in Peru. Not many of her friends still work at the same bank but most have moved around in various banking/finance jobs here in Cusco.

The get together last night involved pizza, a few (I’m told) adult beverages and catching up on where old friends are now working. One hot topic of conversation was how some big banks are trying to get their long-time employees to quit so they don’t have to fire them. Ever. You see, there’s apparently a rule here in Peru that employees with 12 or more years service to the same company are entitled to a significant severance pay should they ever be fired (but not if they resign on their own accord). Somewhere in the blink of an eye, middle age is sneaking up on us which means that some of Mamacita linda’s friends are coming up on 12 years with the same company.

What apparently is going on at one or more leading banks, is that the managers are looking for excuses to force long-time employees to voluntarily “resign” but continue working. Say you showed up late for work this morning, earning you an hour of docked pay or letter of reprimand. Now your manager politely suggests that if you write a “letter of resignation”, we’ll put that letter in your files and waive the docked pay or letter of reprimand. Then you continue working as normal. Until one day when the bank doesn’t need you anymore. When that day comes, we won’t have to fire you, we’ll just dig up that “letter of resignation” you wrote so the bank saves the big severance pay.

You see, we won’t fire you because you quit!

The saddest part about this is that these are supposed to be leading institutions in Peru. Care to imagine how 2nd or 3rd tier companies treat their employees?

mother's day in Peru

This too is Peru

Could I still do a 5-year old’s homework without Google?

How times change.  A while back I wrote about flying to Mexico without GPS.  Not that long ago, GPS didn’t exist.  Now, I found other pilots along the way who could barely comprehend that I would even attempt flying that far without a GPS.

GPS and Google have a lot in common: we now rely on them without fail for simple tasks that not too long ago we used to do perfectly well on our own.

Like a 5 year old’s homework.

Mamacita linda came into my office yesterday: “Type this in Google!” It was Brianna’s homework. I started to type the text in Google but no answers came up. That made me happy on 2 fronts: I like that her teacher uses homework that isn’t swiped from Google and I like to believe that there are still answers in this world that aren’t found on Google. I have to admit, at first I couldn’t figure out the homework but after sleeping on it I now think I have the answer.

Here it is, can you figure out the answer?


ADJUJNANZA

Adivina adivinador
al inicio de ula ula
al final de Malú
en medio de día
a los costados en asa
y dos veces en estrella
a que no adivinas quienes somos

(adorna creativamente)

A 5 year old’s homework from Cusco. Let me know if you figure it out. I have an idea but until Monday I won’t know for sure :)

When was this map ordered and by whom?

Check out this map at Adam Isacson’s LatAm blog, showing the hometowns of the unaccompanied children the U.S. Customs and Border Protection has apprehended between January 1 and May 14, 2014.

The very first comment by “teapartyimmigrationcoalition”:

“When was this map ordered and by whom?”

So just to be clear, the problem is not that there are thousands of children who decide to leave their home, alone, to escape violence or abject poverty and search for a better future. No no no. The problem is that somebody made a map about it.

Look you Tea Party nuts, no matter how hard you try, you will never ever be able to make a reasonable argument that the immigrants of your great-grandparents’ era and before were “good immigrants” and today’s immigrants are “bad immigrants”. Don’t take my word for it, ask a Native Indian.

On a side note, last week marked the 60th anniversary of the 1954 Guatemalan Coup. Didn’t hear much about that on Fox News I take it? Without a shadow of a doubt, US intervention in Guatemala and other parts of LatAm has influenced life in LatAm as we know it today. But the right wing nuts don’t see that as an issue now, no no no, the problem is that somebody made a map of it.

tumblr_n7u34nFuGU1qlvx6ko1_500

Capulí ñawi Cusqueñita

Capulí ñawi Cusqueñita
capulí ñawi Cusqueñita
tus ojos tienen la culpa
para padecer tanto,
tus ojos tienen la culpa
para padecer tanto
Cuando me miran tus ojitos,
cuando me miran tus ojitos
parece que me alumbrarán
las estrellas del cielo
parece que me alumbrarán
las estrellas del cielo
sutiquitari cuncaymanchu
sutiquitari cuncaymanchu
ese nombre tan bonito
con que me engañaste

* * *

You’re welcome :)

Brianna’s weekend homework is to practice a different song with her papis each week. I am devoid of talent so Youtube is my best friend on weekends.

Let The President Pay You!

Sorry, not much blogging as of late, I’ve been so busy with work and family that I haven’t had much time for it. A while back I contemplated shutting the blog down but Stuart told me that’d be like book burning. Not a particularly good book in this case but I can see his point. At any rate, jungledrums have it that Stuart is a proud new first-time papi so congratulations are due!

Not to change the subject too much but our maid came in this morning with a very Peruvian story. I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry. She rides a “combi” to our house and back – “combis” are Peru’s horrible version of private enterprise public transportation. That’s to say combi routes are assigned by local municipalities to “qualified bidders” and the owners of the route then hire drivers and busses. Many or perhaps most of the busses are privately owned, one-man type operations, where the driver pays a very significant royalty for the privilege of running the route to the route owners. The combis are mostly old and dilapidated and also a favorite hangout of petty criminals, a good place to lose your wallet or cellphone.

All this not to complain about the combis or the drivers, it’s the system that’s the problem but it would take leadership with cojones to fix it.

When our maid passed by a large public school on her way in this morning, a kid in his school uniform jumped out of the combi and ran. He was maybe 8-10 but looked younger. The boletero (the person who rides on the combi to collect fares) ran after him and shouted for his fare. The kid was too quick but when he was out of reach of the boletero he turned around and shouted:

Let the President pay you!!!

Our maid said it was sort of a funny moment at the time but sad when you think about it, the kid is largely a product of his environment and obviously it isn’t good. As a sidenote, public schools in Peru are woefully underfunded and the particular school where this kid jumped out is known as a tough school. The kid’s probably left to his own devices most of the day while his parents are out working just to get by, then he’s in a 50+ class of kids in similar situations.

Saqra dance

Saqra dance for Father’s Day. If Joan Jett was Peruvian?

Flying to the Yucatan

Not much flying for me lately but I did have a nice trip to the Yucatan last month.

Peru – country of almost

Happy birthday Milagros! Twenty-something years ago today, my Peruvian sister-in-law was born in the back seat of a taxi here in Cusco. True story. Mother and baby are fine – in case you were worried. Anytime my mother-in-law tells the story of how her youngest daughter was born in a taxi, the most entertaining part to me is that she always insists that “we were ALMOST to the hospital”.

As the saying goes, “Almost” only counts in horse shoes.

Here in Peru one thing that I find frustrating is that people tend to accept things that are “almost” right, “almost” finished, “almost” useable, etc. People put a lot of effort into something but stop short of finishing or doing it right. And they’re happy with it.

We live a privileged life and I don’t want to sound fussy, but sometimes a small discrepancy makes a big difference.

Would you eat a piece of chicken if it was almost cooked?
Would you get on a flight to Hawaii if the plane had almost enough fuel to get there?

Of course you wouldn’t.

In Peru people do accept things that are “almost good enough”. For example, we are supposed to be in the middle of a construction boom. Real estate prices have skyrocketed and there are new buildings going up everywhere. Most new buildings leave the sides unfinished, sloppy looking bricks between concrete columns. Looks very redneck. A (comparatively) small effort to finish and paint the sides would make a big difference.

That holds true in more important things as well, such as education. The public schools in Peru have classes of 50 kids or more. If you think about the combined effort of kids, parents, teachers and administrators that goes into someone’s education, hiring some more teachers and building some more classrooms isn’t a huge additional effort. In fact, for society as a whole it would be a trivial burden but the difference in the quality of education would be huge, if the kids sat in a class of 25 or 30 instead of a class of 50.

The same could be said for other important aspects of life in Peru, such public transportation, occupational safety, environmental protection, etc. The quality or results don’t reflect the effort or investment, in part because the society accepts “almost” as good enough.

sunset in Huanchaco Peru

Beautiful sunset in Huanchaco. We just returned from a short vacation at the beach.