Pan Pipes and Ping Pong

Sampling a Traditional Peruvian Meal

by Nick Neumann 


LIMA, PERU

We met a friendly Limeña while watching the 49ers game at an American sports bar in Lima’s upscale neighborhood of Miraflores. After chatting for a while, Yirka invited us over to her house on the weekend for a traditional Peruvian lunch. So on Saturday morning we met at her house in the outskirts of Lima and headed off to the local market to buy ingredients for Papa a la Huancaína, while grandma prepared the cuy (guinea pig).

Lima Lunch 6 We started off by buying Queso fresco, yellow pepper for the Huancaína sauce and lots of potatoes, of course, followed by onions, tomatoes, and avocados for the salad.  Produce in Lima is always extremely fresh and delicious, grown on small family farms in the highlands or in the jungle. There were many jungle fruits that neither of us had ever tried before. The friendly fruit vender let us sample a grenadine (a delicious, sweet passionfruit), a dragon fruit and a juicy golden pineapple.

IMG_7214After a quick juice break, we took a detour to the shamanistic section of the market. There are lots of weird things for sale in this part, including dried llama fetuses, dead frogs and snakes, hallucinogenic cacti and piles of coca leaves. The llama fetuses are buried under the foundations of many Peruvian houses as a sacred offering to the goddess Pachamama. 

IMG_7374We arrived back at the house and Yirka began preparing the Huancaína sauce and cooking the potatoes. Although the dishes name is derived from Huancayo, a city in the Peruvian highlands, it has become a staple throughout the country. 
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 The cuy, a traditional food of Peruvian Andean people, was in the oven. Grandma had prepared it simply with a stuffing of various Andean herbs and put it in the oven for about six hours. There isn’t much meat on their tiny bones, and their giant buck teeth are a bit off putting, but they are pretty tasty.
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After thoroughly enjoying lunch we spent the rest of the afternoon playing the pan pipes and ping pong with her family.

nick2 copyGrowing up in downtown San Francisco surrounded by tourists, hobos and crackheads gave Nick a unique perspective on inner city living. His diverse upbringing conditioned him for a globetrotting life of urban adventure. After traveling extensively through South Asia, he kicked it with Maasai warriors during a four month stay in Tanzania, majored in Diplomacy and World Affairs at Occidental College and recently spent seven months backpacking around South America making documentaries.

Tanzania’s Water Crisis (Video)

Katuma: River of Contradiction

Tanzania’s Water Crisis is caused by a convoluted mix of corruption and climate change, and heighten by competition between an exploding population and the dwindling wildlife.

Directed, filmed, and edited by Nick Neumann



In Tanzania water is not just a basic human need, it is a most vital resource that permeates every facet of society. Water ties people, communities, industry and wildlife together within a complex interconnected network. More than any other resource it determines the livelihood and well being of families, villages and entire regions; as such the inextricable link between water access and poverty is more visible here than almost anywhere else in the world. The relationship is complex, but at the same time simple tounderstand, boiling down to the fact that access to adequate amounts of clean water is essential for maintaining good health and access to water for agriculture is essential for food production.

In recent years in Mpanda, Tanzania access to water has actually been decreasing despite decades of national and international efforts to improve it. This can be attributed to various human factors and environmental changes. As Mpanda’s population continues to increase and investment into water infrastructure remains minimal at best, it appears as if the situation will only get worse.

This will have devastating ramifications for the majority of Mpanda residents who rely on crop production to support their family. It is also bad news for the women and children who already spend many hours each day collecting water for use in the home. Water collection and water born diseases contribute greatly to the loss of manpower on the farm and children unwillingly forgoing their education.

Furthermore, diminishing water levels could also spell a sharp decline in tourists, and the money they inject into the local economy. The fatal effects on the wildlife in neighboring Katavi National Park are clear to see, especially in the declining population of hippos, the key attraction of the park.

Poverty can be a result of political instability and ethnic conflict, but in peaceful Tanzania the greatest cause of poverty is the lack of access to water. This video follows the Katuma River,  the lifeline of the region, from its source along downstream past Mpanda town to the entrance of Katavi National Park. It explores the dynamic role of water in Tanzanian society with regard to poverty through interviews with villagers, officials and experts that were conducted while studying abroad with the School of International Training. Ultimately, I hope to draw attention to the importance of water in the development of societies and garner support to a region that desperately needs it.

Paulo’s Beach

By Rourke Healey


TANGALLE, SRI LANKA

In Sri Lanka, January marks the high season for tourism. Running from the winters of the north or capitalizing on summer breaks in the south, visitors flock to Sri Lanka for the holidays. For the better part of December, January and Febuary most hotels on the south shore of the island are fully booked. Paolo knows this.

Paulo's BeachAs the owner of Eva Lanka hotel on the Tangalle coast, he relies on the winter months to make up for the empty rooms of summer. Each year guests return and new ones flood in for Christmas and New Years celebrations. Yet, each year Paolo’s personal beach for surfing has remained untouched by the influx of tourists.

In the offseason Paolo’s duties of managing client services decrease and he has more time to perfect his art.  Each morning at 7 AM Paolo straps his board to his scooter and rides fifteen minutes to a neighboring beach. After an hour and a few good waves he’ll return for breakfast and begin the day.

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For years his small bay was occupied by a lone fisherman and occasionally graced by the local high school track team practicing their sprints. Even in the high season the beach was immune to tourism due to its remoteness.  Little changed when an Australian and several other surfers joined Paolo for morning sessions. After years of teaching himself the sport in the hidden bay, Paolo had become a seasoned surfer and a familiar face with the locals who frequented the beach.

All of this changed in 2014 when the Australian saw an opportunity to capitalize on what they found. During the low season summer months he began building a small hotel and beach bar. With no more than four rooms it posed little threat to the serenity of the bay.

IMG_1103Observing the Australian investing in the beach inspired the regular fisherman to do the same. Overnight the fisherman summed his savings and began building a ‘bed & beach bar’ next door. Though he started after the Australian, they both finished in late October – just in time for the high season. Each location had ‘tourist’ prices and an impressive amount of beach furniture.

In the two months between opening and New Years Day the number beach visitors ballooned in size. Now the sound of waves can barely be heard over the deafening dance music booming from the fisherman’s concert grade speakers. Trees lean over over to shade young guests in bathing suits while white foreigners littere the beach reading, swimming and surfing.

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Teams of Sri Lankan youths can be found lurking nearby, ready to sell trinkets to unweary tourists. Cars, bikes and bajaji’s are crammed into the car park just a few meters from the sand. In the shallows children with inflatable tubes play and novice surfers use the hotel’s foam boards. Deeper out a surf school has claimed a patch of water. Next to them several bikini clad paddle boarders hog the bigger breakers. Interspersed in the mess are dozens of surfers all waiting, trying to catch the same wave.

Paolo sits on the beach sharing his overpriced Lion beer with me. He sees his hotel guests that he referred to his personal beach. As he eyes the family enjoying themselves he notes that they will probably stay here instead of his place next time. As more people hear about Paolo’s beach he loses guests and surfing real estate.

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As we sit there the older Aussie walks past us, board in hand, still wet from surfing. “Remember the old days?” he jokes. Paolo laughs, remembering the days when he didn’t have to be mindful of who was in front of him on the wave. Though he never lets on, Paolo thinks to himself that the Australian is the main culprit.

Less than a decade ago Sri Lanka was in a civil war and its tourism industry suffered heavy losses because of it. The island was also devastated by the 2004 Indian Ocean earthquake and is still recovering.  But today the current revival has provided the hotels in the Tangalle area with more visitors than they can handle. As a first time visitor it is hard to believe that there was a time when the beach was not overflowing with tourists.

It is a blessing and curse. With each additional guest that visits his hotel, his beach floats farther from its pristine state. But the summer will attract fewer visitors, and with it a glimpse of Paolo’s old beach.

Rourke ProfileRourke Healey is a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major at Occidental College. He recently returned from conducting research on middle class consumerism in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He has also recently completed work with a microfinance group in Kathmandu, Nepal and visited Tangalle, Sri Lanka to cover presidential election.

Kathmandu’s 90% Off Sale

By Rourke Healey


KATHMANDU, NEPAL

Most people who visit Nepal will tell stories of the snow capped Himilayas or the preserved old cities of Kathmandu. They may even detail the chaotic traffic or the alarming number of face masks found on pedestrians. But most will forget to mention the 90% off sale found year round in Nepal.

Travelers in developing countries often enjoy a discounted cost of living and lowered prices, but rarely do the deals get better than Nepal. The most impressive prices are on outdoor trekking gear. Patagonia jackets sell for as low as $15, while North Face backpacks sell for a mere $20. And this gear can be seen everywhere in the city. Not just on the backs of tourists. Every taxi driver, shop owner and fruit vendor has a personal winter jacket from a brand name company.

But how?

The secret of the constant sale in Kathmandu comes from the source and quality of products. Nepal is sandwiched between the worlds two most populous countries on earth, India and China. These also happen to be two of the largest consumers and producers of goods.

From conversations with shop vendors, I learned most get their products from China. Some mumbled that they have sources in Nepal, but could not back this up with more specifics. The vendors who had a hook up in China were not much more clear; many said they receive bulk shipments from ‘factories’ in southern China.

Assuming this, the cost of transportation to Nepal is likely lower than to the US. The low cost is aided by transportation on trucks and passing Nepali customs, which are notoriously more relaxed than other inter nation checkpoints.

Nepali backpack salesmen also said they buy in bulk. Some vendors were kind enough to show us their store house of the backpacks and jackets. In one instance, a two vendors shared a dimly lit room full of backpacks piled from floor to ceiling. A sea of backpacks filled the center of the room up to my waist with a small pathway cut through it for access. We spent over thirty minutes searching for the right size and style of backpack, wading through the unwanted ones.

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Buying a large quantity at low prices helps explain the low sales price. But, as our tour of the backpack inventory was ending we asked the vendor if he paid for sea of backpacks up front. There were over 1000 backpacks in that store room, all from North Face, Mamut and the other big name outdoor producers. He mumbled something in Nepali. Basically he said he neither paid for all the backpacks up front, but also did not buy them on credit.

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This got us thinking that maybe there was a larger supplier between China and the Nepali store fronts. Our imagination conjured up images of a big time backpack dealer; a kingpin with different store fronts. For a moment we thought this was the answer because every store front had the same asking price of 2,500 rupees ($25) and could consistently be bargained down to 1,700-1,800 rupees ($17-18).

The best explanation came from our program coordinator Santosh, who described it as a collective. A number of backpack stores will work with a single importer. That middle man will take the goods from China across the Himilayas to Kathmandu, where he might distribute the truck of goods between many different stores. Those that cannot pay for all the backpacks buy some on credit.

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Toward the end of our stay in Kathmandu we wandered into the official North Face store and checked the prices. $200+ for the bigger backpacks. $150 for the smaller ones. The fabric and quality of the zippers differentiated them from the local products.

Returning to some of the local backpack shops, small defects were noticeable- A label was peeling off of one, a zipper was sticky on another. On some jackets the down was synthetic and the ‘Patagonia’ logos on some were clearly not from Patagonia. It became apparent that a portion of the local goods were knock offs.

Not all vendors were cheating their customers however, many of the local goods were simply cheaper because the cost to obtain them was cheaper. Some of the cheap backpacks were labelled as overstocked items from the company factories or just cost less to transport.

For those scammed by the eye-popping prices of Kathmandu consolation comes in the form of functionality. If a jacket keeps you warm and a backpack holds your gear, does it matter if its off brand? Whatever the secret, the deals in Kathmandu are hard to beat.


Cover photo by Jonah M. Kessel

Rourke ProfileRourke Healey is a senior Diplomacy and World Affairs major at Occidental College. He recently returned from conducting research on middle class consumerism in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania. He has also recently completed work with a microfinance group in Kathmandu, Nepal and visited Tangalle, Sri Lanka to cover presidential election.
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