Teachers strike continues – avoid Cusco

Teachers have been on strike in Cusco for over a month. There have been near daily protest marches, road blocks and difficulty getting to or from the airport. Recently parts of the railroad to Machu Picchu and an airport wall have been damaged by striking teachers. In the past few days the tourism industry workers have been protesting against the disruptions caused by the teachers, ostensibly supporting the “peaceful” protests but I’m sure if you asked most tourism workers what they really think about the striking teachers you’d get quite an earful.

Nobody, not the teachers union, not the regional government (who, as I understand, are responsible for the teacher’s salaries) not the national government seems to give a rat’s behind about only ones who are really done wrong here: the kids who haven’t gotten classes in over a month.

I’m done with the “everything is wonderful in Cusco” thingy because it’s not, leadership in Cusco is an embarrassment.

The sad state of Peru

Former Peru President Ollanta Humala and his wife Nadine both got sent to prison yesterday, ostensibly over the Odebrecht bribe scandal that’s rocked South America politics. This has all been covered in world media but the context is truly sad.

If you think about recent Peru politics, the list goes like this: most recent ex-Prez Humala is in jail, before him came Alan Garcia, before Alan Garcia came Alejandro Toledo who’s hiding out in the US while arrest warrants are out for him in Peru, before Toledo came Alberto Fujimori who’s in jail (I’m skipping the transition gov’t between Fujimori and Toledo).

Walking into the office today I pondered about one of our developers, Carlos. He’s a young guy, 20-something, got a university degree, makes a small bundle of money, has a girlfriend who’s probably going to be Mrs. Carlos soon. Sure he’s still young but he’s also not a kid. How sad is this: with exception of Alan Garcia, everybody who’s been President of Peru in this young man’s lifetime is either in jail or on the run from justice in Peru.

Carlos is not too far from the median age in Peru. That means half of all Peruvians have only known 1 President in their lifetimes who’s not in jail or on the run from the law. Think about that for a moment.

Sadly, the only 2 takeaways are that Alan Garcia is the best political animal in Peru (Otto says so too) and that Peru has very serious structural problems.

Don’t come to Cusco today or tomorrow

There’s a big strike in the entire Cusco region today, July 12, and tomorrow as well. Roads are blocked, transportation is largely shut down, most business are closed or operating in limited capacity. I believe the reason for the strike is to demand the start of construction of the “new” airport in Chincheros, which on a scale of stupidity 1 to 10 is about a 400. If PPK had a spine, he’d cancel the entire Chincheros airport concession contract and start over.

In fact, at risk of incurring the collective wrath of the internet and Peru at large, I think this might be the first post in a series as to why you should not come to Cusco, period. Essentially 2 reasons: 1) you can probably find better ways to spend your vacation dollars and 2) the tremendous amount of tourist dollars flowing to Cusco, free money if you will, is not improving the quality of life in Cusco, rather the opposite is happening: free tourist money is bad for Cusco, IMHO.

Gregg Allman, QEPD

Once upon a time I set out to look for a date to take to the Allman Brothers Band and Lynyrd Skynyrd concert. I ended up going to the concert alone but I did meet a Peruvian princess on that fateful night and now I live on top of a mountain in Peru with said Peruvian princess and 3 wawachas. Needless to say, that concert was a defining moment in my life.

Since Gregg Allman passed away recently I’ve been listening more to Allman Brothers Band music again. If you’re a music fan, especially someone who likes to get carried away by music, you’ll want to check out the Allman Brothers “At Fillmore East” album, considered one of the greatest live albums in classic rock.

But on a lighter note, I stumbled across this Youtube and 3 things came to mind:

  • I was in diapers when this was recorded.
  • Gregg Allman has now passed away, QEPD.
  • Cher, still looks the same. Life is not fair!

New wheels

Our 4 year old got her first “real” bike this week. Look at that baby, at night she’s lit up like a fair ride and she’s got better headlights than my dad’s Oldsmobile Diesel did. Then there’s the stereo system. None of my first 5 cars had a USB stereo! Although I did own a ’78 Cadillac with an 8-track tape system in it many moons ago and yes do I ever regret selling that baby!

But back to the bicycle, I’ve flown airplanes with less electronics in them than my 4-year old’s bike. Think I’m kidding? I’m not. (hint, search for “electrical system”)

Missed connections

I had a birthday last week so we had a small party at the house with family and friends. If my grandfather were still with us he would’ve said something like “God willing, you’re about halfway there!”

I’m a pretty traditional party food guy – the pizza and wings type – but this time around we’d decided to get Chifa for our guests, Peruvian style oriental food. Mamacita Linda called in a big take out order to Chifa Status and my brother in law and I set out to pick up the food. The restaurant was busy so we sat down and had a drink waiting for our order.

A large group was seated at the next table. The group consisted of about 12 or 15 young men and one beautiful young girl. The men were all dressed alike in black leather jackets and the girl also dressed in black. The men all acted confident, almost cocky, as if they owned the place. Rarely any of them made eye contact outside their group. I started to get a bit suspicious. If you’d ever been to a restaurant owned by the Italian mob in NY, you’d expect the mob family to look just like the group of young men I was seated next to. Was I seated next to a gang? Or maybe not? Peruvian gangs don’t exactly get dressed up to go out to the best Chifa in town. The guys all looked confident and slightly cocky but didn’t look they were up to anything.

When one of the guys got up I had a chance to look at the design on the back of his black leather jacket, and the words “Rosita de Espinar.” Wait, what?! All these guys were wearing “Rosita de Espinar” jackets. And I’m her biggest number one gringo fan! So 12 guys with one girl, the girl has to be Rosita de Espinar right?

Unlike me, many middle class Peruvians would rather die than to be caught listening to Peruvian folkloric music. Me, on the other hand I’ll go nuts playing air-banjo, air-guitar, air-drums and air-anything else in the car when some Peruvian folk music comes on the radio. With the kids all yelling “change the station you’re embarrassing us!”

Now I wish I could tell you I ran over, got a picture and an autograph from Rosita de Espinar for my best birthday present ever but I didn’t 😦

I couldn’t believe this group of guys who – save for polyester pants – could’ve come straight out of “Saturday Night Fever” were a group of Peruvian folkloric singers. Frankly, I wasn’t even sure if the girl was Rosita de Espinar. I’ve never seen her perform live or seen her pictures other than where she’s always dressed in traditional folkloric costume promoting her shows. Here she was all cosmopolitan, the girl in black dressed to the hilt, looking nothing like those folkloric images. In fact, she’s much prettier in real life than in the pictures where she’s in costume.

Right about this time the group started to leave and our food was ready so we left as well. We got to the house and of course Mamacita Linda was fully understanding of my idiocy:

“What do you mean you didn’t know if it was Rosita de Espinar??? Do you think 12 guys with Rosita de Espinar jackets are going to be hanging out with Dina Paucar or Lady Gaga? You missed your chance you big idiot!!!”

Hey Rosita, come back and have Chifa with us another day, my kids would love to meet your musicians!

Rosemary

At breakfast today, during a conversation Mamacita Linda was having with our maid Vasilia, I learned that the Spanish word “romero” means Rosemary, the herb. I didn’t know that before. Mamacita Linda has been bothered for a while by a minor discomfort in her ear and our maid Vasilia suggested some natural concoction with “romero” would help ease the discomfort.

I didn’t know “romero” means Rosemary so you can imagine the surprised look I got from the two of them when I blurted out “If I ever have another son – which I’m not – I’d want to call him Romero.” They looked at me all puzzled so I added “After Bishop Romero.”

More puzzled looks.

I was surprised neither my wife nor our maid knew anything about Bishop Romero. It’s not polite to talk about girls’ ages but both Vasilia and Mamacita Linda are old enough to remember when poverty and social injustice were far more obvious in Latin America than today.

When you have 3 little ones, you live in the moment, the experience of 3 little kids is just so overwhelming. So on the rare occasions we discuss life before marriage and kids, it feels almost foreign, like a previous life. I explained to Mamacita Linda and Vasilia how I used to fly shrimp larvae from a shrimp farm in the Florida Keys to Honduras many moons ago and got to know Central America a little bit. Even though I didn’t know him well, I attended a few meetings with the late Ambassador White who spoke out against social injustice and the geopolitical forces that perpetuated it in Central America for too long.

Neither Vasilia nor Mamacita Linda knew much about the complicated history of El Salvador but our conversation quickly turned to Peru. Not unlike El Salvador, the latter part of the 20th century was a very tough chapter in the history of Peru, with hyperinflation and the Shining Path terrorism. Mamacita Linda talked about how the Shining Path terrorism wasn’t felt too badly here in Cusco but she remembers as a kid seeing the reports about car bombs in Lima on TV.

“It was bad in Lima”.

There’s no such thing as a lesser evil or trauma when it comes to kids living in a world marred by violence but when Vasilia finally spoke up, her story was much more personal. Growing up in the country she didn’t experience Shining Path terrorism over the TV but very personally. Her parents would hide out behind the house whenever the Shining Path guerillas came to town, or at least hide the kids. The guerillas would come and take whatever they’d want and terrorize the town. Fortunately Vasilia and her family all lived through it. Her grandfather wasn’t so lucky, one day the Shining Path guerillas came to town, took Vasilia’s grandfather away and he was never seen again.

To the average tourist or casual observer there isn’t much history of terrorism in Peru nowadays but for those who were affected the wounds are still there.

El Niño Peru 2017

This is all over the news in Peru today, a woman miraculously escapes a landslide caused by El Niño rains by Punta Hermosa, just south of Lima.

El Niño related rains have caused devastation in many parts of Peru this year, Piura and the North of Peru have been hit hard and now Lima.