Pan Pipes and Ping Pong

Sampling a Traditional Peruvian Meal

by Nick Neumann 


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. 
 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.

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


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.


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.


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.


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.

Lose Yourself in Varanasi’s Ancient Alleyways

By Nick Neumann

There is one moment that stands out when I conjure up images of my gap year journey through South Asia. During my five month trip I lounged on empty Sri Lankan beaches, cruised the crowded streets of Dhaka in colorful rickshaws, and conquered the Thar Desert by camel, yet it was the crooked alleyways of Varanasi that left the most vivid and lasting impression.

Flower vendor in narrow old city alley at night. Photo by Q.T. Luong.
Flower vendor in narrow old city alley at night. Photo by Q.T. Luong.

It was hottest time of the year because monsoon season was just around the corner. The pungent 120 degree air was thick with humidity, spices and smoke. Gusts of fiery wind did nothing to cool my scorched face. Walker and I found our way to the Ganpati Guest House located deep within the labyrinthine Old City near the banks of the River Ganges. From the rooftop terrace you could see smoke billowing up from the Burning Ghat and hear the clamor from the Main Ghat a bit further up river. The debilitating midday heat made it impossible to do anything other than spent hours on the terrace sipping bhang lassis, an age old Sadhu yogurt drink infused with weed, chatting with grizzled backpackers, and taking in beating heart of the Hindu universe from above.

The view from Ganpati Guest House overlooking the old city as a sand storm approaches.
The view from Ganpati Guest House overlooking the old city as a sand storm approaches. Photo by Nick Neumann

Almost inevitably, every time I left the hostel I would get lost in the maze of ancient alleyways enveloping my hostel. Initially, I was overwhelmed, hot, and claustrophobic, however after a few days passed I began looking forward to getting lost. I realized that in the serpentine passages of the Old City, strewn with trash, cracked clay chai cups and the occasional dead animal, I could avoid the onslaught of beggars and touts who were more persistent and annoying than anywhere else in India. These alleyways were home to impossibly small silk, ivory, brass and gold shops. Many of the storefronts were simply small windows in thousand year old homes; in my favorite such window was a chai shop I often stumbled upon.

Chaiwala pouring his goodness. Photo by bnilesh

When I close my eyes I can immediately transport myself to the wooden chai shop bench. In my hand is a warm cup of delicious, sweet chai. I would sit for hours simply watching Raj, the chaiwala, mix and pour chai while life unfolded in the alleyway. Every so often the relative calm would be broken by stampeding water buffalo heading toward the Ganges for their cooling afternoon bath. As I finished my first cup of chai, I was not ready to leave just yet, so I tossed my biodegradable clay cup and asked Raj for another.

Buffalo cooling off in the Ganges. Photo by Nick Neumann
Buffalo cooling off in the Ganges. Photo by Nick Neumann

The buffalo were followed by a more solemn procession headed in the direction of the Burning Ghat. A group of elderly men shuffled past with a body draped in colorful silk, billowing beautifully in the breeze resting on their shoulder. The silent procession soon faded back into the maze. As more time passed, and more sweat dripped, I zoned out to the lonesome movements of Holy cows and Sadhus until the buffalo returned triumphantly.

While observing life ebb and flow in the unrelenting chaos I imagined myself being transported back in time. Varanasi is one of the world’s oldest continually inhabited cities and it feels like it. It occurred to me that I could have sipped chai in this very same alleyway thousands of years ago and my experience would have been very nearly the same. I wondered how many cups of chai had been drunk in this very spot and how many pilgrims had passed by to wash away a lifetime of sins in the sacred waters of Ganges.

My favorite Indian sweet, Jalebi, deep fried wheat flower with sweat, lime juice and rose water syrup.
My favorite Indian sweet, Jalebi, a deep fried wheat flower with sweat, lime juice and rose water syrup. Photo by Nick Neumann

Varanasi is a enchanting city, but it is not for the faint of heart. If you can handle the dirt, smells, and chaos, then go lose yourself in the ancient alleyways of Varanasi and you’ll discover a strikingly beautiful amalgamation of Hindu and Muslim faith, man and animal, and above all life and death.

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