Sunday, December 23, 2007

Traveling With My Daughter

My daughter Marta recently finished her student teaching and took a break from her North American routine to visit me in Peru for a couple of weeks. We calculated that we spent a total of about 100 hours riding on buses! Fortunately a large part of that took place at night. Our longest single trip was the return from Cusco to Lima, which lasted 26 hours.

After spending a day getting to know Chorrillos, we took off for Huaraz, making tours of several towns and parks in a high mountain valley between the two mountain ranges of Peru. We visited Pastoruri, a popular glaciar at 5000 meters above sea level that is melting rapidly and expected to disappear within eight to ten years.

We found time to visit a zoo in Lima, and Lucy and Walter´s project in Lurin, too, where Marta taught the kids a way to create a simple biographical poem.

Marta managed to stay healthy during the trip (with an occasional dose of ciprofloxacin) but finally succumbed to a bug when she got back home. :-(

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Quick Tour of Cajamarca

I recently made a trip to the border with Ecuador to renew my visa, as I do every ninety days. This time Sonia decided to accompany me, so we included a little side trip to Cajamarca, a city in the mountains about halfway to the border. It´s the place where Francisco Pizarro and his mob began their conquest of the Inca empire, capturing the Inca king, holding him for a ransom of gold and silver, and then killing him. He and a few hundred soldiers killed the Inca´s five thousand defenders in the main plaza of Cajamarca without suffering a single casualty, thanks to their possesion of guns and horses. It has been estimated that over the next hundred years or so the population of South America was reduced by eighty to ninety percent, mostly because of diseases introduced by the Europeans.

Cajamarca is known as the dairy capital of Peru, and we visited one of the oldest haciendas in the region, where the cows are called by name to come to the trough and eat. (Actually the cows are lined up single file by one person, and another person calls them by name to enter the stall with their name over it. So it´s not as if the cows respond to their name, but they do seem to remember which stall belongs to each of them.)

We also took a couple of scenic tours, one to las Ventanillas de Otuzco (the windows of Otuzco), a pre-inca burial ground which was raided by the Spaniards looking for gold and silver objects that might have been buried with the dead in the small graves carved out of a cliff, leaving thousands of empty graves that now resemble windows. We also visited a regional park in Cumbemayo called El Bosque de Las Piedras (the Rock Forest). Besides having lots of interesting rock formations caused by erosion, it is home to the oldest known aqueduct in the Americas, a nine-kilometer canal carved out of the mountains around 1200 B.C.

Lord of the Miracles

October is known as the ¨purple month¨ in Lima. It´s the time when literally millions of people join processions to venerate a religious icon known as El Señor de los Milagros (Lord of the Miracles). The priests and other VIPs in the processions wear purple vestments. The icon is a replica of a famous painting of the crucified Christ that was made on an adobe wall by a black painter during the sixth century. An earthquake leveled almost all of the buildings in Lima in 1746, but the painting was untouched, and some viewed its survival as a case of divine intervention. Later, according to the legend, a young man who was suffering from an incurable disease went to the wall every day to pray, and was cured of his disease. He then organized a group of people to make weekly venerations at the wall, and over the years the practice developed into the more elaborate processions that now take place every year.

The largest and longest procession takes place on October 28 and 29. It begins in the morning and finishes on the following morning, and follows a simple rectangular circuit in the center of the city, making one detour into a hospital to offer hope to the ill. It covers only a few kilometers because the icon is very heavy (framed in lots of silver and gold) and requires about thirty people to carry the platform on which it sits. Each team of porters slowly walks a few blocks over a period of an hour, then hands it off to a new team. At each change of the guard, the flowers adorning the platform are removed and new ones placed on it. People decorate some parts of the route just hours before the procession arrives, making religious symbols in the street with colored sawdust and flower petals.

A group of veiled women walks in front of the icon carrying incense, and a group of men dressed in purple walks behind the icon. There are several stands set up along the route where the procession stops so that the dignitaries of the organizations who finance the event can be recognized and say a few words. And of course there are ambulatory vendors everywhere, most of them selling turrón, a very dense, dry cake with purple frosting, adorned with lots of sprinkles.

You can stand on one of the side streets and watch the procession go by, or you can take the plunge and join the ocean of humanity walking in front of, alongside and behind the icon. But once immersed in the flow, you pretty much lose control of your movement. Sonia and I decided to join the procession so that I could get closer to the icon and get some good pictures. The crowd pressed from behind, and when the street narrowed it pressed in from both sides. The best we could do was to stay on our feet and try to anticipate curbs and other obstacles, and then plan our exit a block in advance. It was the only time in my life that I feared that I could be trampled. Fortunately we survived the experience and managed to get some good photos.

Monday, November 05, 2007

A Sawdust-Burning Stove

I became interested in sawdust-burning stoves when I saw one in a comedor several weeks ago that hadn´t been used for quite a while. The owner said that the neighbors complained whenever they used it because it produced a lot of smoke. It seemed like a really good idea, since sawdust is at least 5 times cheaper than firewood. I decided to see if I could find a less polluting way to burn it. I found a couple different designs on the internet, the most promising one by a former Peace Corps volunteer. It consists of a metal container (recycled can or cylinder) with a hole in the bottom placed on top of a couple of bricks. A tube is inserted into the hole while you fill the container with sawdust and tamp it down. Then you carefully remove the tube, place a sheet metal donut over the top of it and seal the edges with a little sand or dirt. To light it, you just roll up a sheet of newspaper and light the bottom end. To use it as a stove you have to place a couple of metal bars across the top to support the pot. The cylinder I used is about 10 inches wide and 20 inches high. In my version of the stove, I riveted another, larger diameter cylinder to the one containing the sawdust, so that most of the pot sits down inside the cylinder, improving heat transfer to the pot.

I like my wood-burning bread oven and use it a lot. But sometimes I´d like to be doing other things while my bread or cake is baking. If I´m not monitoring it every four or five minutes and adding wood when needed, it´s impossible to maintain a constant temperature. So I´m hoping to use the same principle to convert my oven to use sawdust, too. But in the sawdust stove above, the diameter of the burning sawdust (and hence the surface area) slowly increases as the sawdust is consumed, causing the temperature to rise gradually but significantly. So I´ve built another version of a sawdust burner to use with my oven. It uses the same type of cylinder, but before packing it with sawdust I insert four triangular metal forms, creating four smaller columns of sawdust each with a constant width. I´ve tested it and it seems to burn at a pretty constant temperature. Now I just have to play with the size of the opening and the height of the sawdust column to achieve the particular temperature that I want for baking.

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Testing The Market For My Cakes

A couple of times a month I´ve made cakes to share with my friends, always with healthy stuff like wheat germ and bran and fruits or vegetables like pumpkin, bananas or coconut, nuts and raisins. Many of my friends have encouraged me to try to sell my cakes, so I decided I would give it a try. I made four cakes -- banana, pumpkin, apple and corn, and I sold sixty packaged pieces in a few hours just by walking around offering them to my neighbors, and I got a request for one whole extra cake. So I think I´ll start doing this every weekend, maybe more often when Sonia finally opens her stand in the market.

4th Anniversary of Lurín Workshop

Last week we celebrated the fourth anniversary of Lucy and Walter´s workshop for kids in Lurín. And a mini-documentary of the workshop was published recently on a web site called No Apta Para Adultos (Not Appropriate For Adults). You can view it at Just click on the ¨play¨ icon in the video window to start playing the video. The first several minutes of the program are about discrimination against speakers of the Quechua language, and the second part of the program is about Lucy´s kids. It´s all in Spanish, of course, but one thing that´s clear from the video portion alone is how much poise and confidence these kids have developed over the four years that Lucy and Walter and their volunteers have worked with them.

Sunday, October 14, 2007

Census, Peruvian Style

I´ve always said the Peruvians are creative people. But their approach to the 2007 census is one that I doubt any other country has ever used. The last detailed census that produced any information of value was over 20 years ago. It´s always been difficult to get people to cooperate, as they´re suspicious of any government official who comes around asking for personal information. But an even bigger impediment, as you know from my earlier postings, is that they can´t rely on the postal service to implement the census, so the questionnaires have to be done in person. And with many people working six or seven days a week, it´s almost possible to make contact with everyone on the same day.

So someone in the government decided that the they should just paralyze the country for a day, make everyone stay home, and send out an army of volunteer surveyors. And if everything goes as planned, not a person will stir from his or her house between 8 am and 6 pm this Sunday, October 21, except for a serious emergency (unless you work in the airport or a hospital or some other essential service). If you should happen to forget, or not know that it´s census day, your local policeman will invite you to return to your house. Even after you´ve completed your survey, you can´t leave your house. I guess they thought that if they allowed that, many people would just lie about it.

Well, this is just too tempting. I´m going to have to sneak out at least long enough to see whether they really succeed in shutting down the city, and go snap a couple pictures of the deserted streets.

Oh, and the army of volunteers? They figure they need about 600,000. At last count, ten days before the census was to begin, they had a total of just over 200,000.

Tuesday, October 02, 2007

Testing New Stoves for the Comedores

After measuring the pots used in the various comedores, I began looking around in the chatarreros (vendors of recycled stuff) to see what sizes of recycled barrels I could find that would be a good fit. One of the most commonly used pots is 40 cm in diameter, and I found a barrel that is 44 cm, almost a perfect fit after allowing a small space for the smoke to escape. I made a prototype and installed it in the comedor at Huaycan, the one that´s farthest away from where I live but where the people were the most enthusiastic about wanting my help. The stove has an opening at the bottom for feeding the wood, which leads into a brick-lined combustion chamber surrounded by insulation (in this case fiberglass wool, but ashes work fine, too). The pot is supported by a couple of steel rods which sit a few centimeters above the chamber. The hot air hits the bottom of the pot and then flows up along the sides of the pot before escaping from the barrel at the top. The combustion chamber gets very hot because of the insulation and the restricted entry of cold air, so there´s practically no irritating smoke emitted. At the right you can see how they have been cooking over an open fire, with a couple of bricks to support the pot. The new stove will use less than half as much wood as the old one, and it cost about $5 to make. Their current daily expense for wood (cooking three pots at a time) is $1.50, so the stove will pay for itself in just a few weeks.

The group who run the comedor also have a large (2 meter diameter) dome shaped bread oven that they had built to start a bakery. They´ve never gotten it to work well, and they want me to help them with that, too. Unfortunately the oven was built without a chimney, which is probably a large part of the reason that it´s difficult to heat up. We´ve pretty much ruled out modifying it, for fear of damaging it, so I´m going to take along a friend next time who has worked with such ovens for many years. Maybe he can find a way to make it usable.

September Headlines

A lot of interesting things have happened here during the past month. A large meteorite fell near Puno in the southernmost part of the country, leaving a crater 7 meters deep and 20 meters wide. After the local residents got over the shock and disproved the many rumors about toxic fumes and radioactivity coming from the site, they decided to make it a tourist site. They´ve built a fence around it to keep out treasure hunters and they´re going to put a roof over it to prevent erosion. But someone has convinced them that they should bring in a bulldozer and remove the meteor. Whether they´re planning to break it into pieces to sell to the tourists, or put it on display, I don´t know.

There was a referendum in several towns in the department of Piura over whether the residents want a mining company to begin operations there. The result was a resounding NO. A similar referendum was just completed in Ecuador with the same result. The last (and only other such) referendum in Peru produced a similar result despite intensive efforts by both the government and the mining company. This time the government claims that it isn´t bound by the results of the vote because of some technicality in the way it was organized, but a team of 30 international observers say that the voting was conducted fairly. Recently the Interior Ministry has proposed a new law that would make it possible for the goverment to take control over common use lands for purposes of national security. They claim it has nothing to do with the mine, but many suspect that it has everything to do with it, and that shortly the central government will take over the proposed mining site and lease it to the mining company.

Former Peruvian president Alberto Fujimori was finally extradited to Peru by Chile, where he´s been living under house arrest for more than a year after returning to South America with the intention of joining the presidential race. The irony is that the man he ousted from office and exiled from the country, Alan Garcia, is now president of Peru again, having won the election last year. So I don´t think Mr. Fujimori will be getting any breaks.

The long awaited mandatory vehicle inspections which were made law more than 19 years ago have finally become a reality. After years of legal wrangling over how and when and by whom the inspections would be performed, the city of Lima finally opened two processing centers, one in the far north of the city and the other in the far south, each capable of processing about a couple hundred vehicles per day. I don´t know how many vehicles there are in Lima, but there are about 8 million people, so even if everyone rode the buses, I don´t think they could inspect each vehicle once every year at that rate -- and the law requires publlic transit vehicles to be inspected twice per year! But capacity is only one of the issues to be solved. Mototaxis (mini taxis made from converted motorcycles) are also required to be inspected, but they´re not even allowed to drive on the major throughways, so how do they get to the inspection centers? So far the majority of vehicles have failed the tests, which include safety, structural integrity and emissions, Transit companies are complaining about the cost of the inspections and the long waits, but I think what really pisses them off is that they can´t find an inspector who will just accept a couple of extra bucks under the counter to let them pass the inspection.

A formerly unknown tribe of indigenouse people (known here as ¨uncontacted people¨) was observed by a helicopter flying over a region in the Amazon area. The sighting came at a very inconvenient time for a mining company which was in the middle of filing an environmental impact statement for a new development, and had claimed that the area was unpopulated.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Whirlwind Tour of Soup Kitchens

I went for a long ride around various parts of Lima with Anita and Sylvia, two members of the religious group that is trying to establish soup kitchens, to see what opportunities there might be to help them save on fuel. We only spent a few minutes at each one, taking pictures and measurements. They were using lots of different fuels -- gas, when they could afford it, kerosene, wood, and even sawdust. They prefer gas because it´s somewhat cheaper than kerosene and a lot cleaner burning, but since one can only buy a tankful at a time (at a cost of about $10), when they´re short on cash (almost always) they have to settle for kerosene, which they buy a liter a time for less than a dollar.

Kerosene is burned in Primus stoves that look sort of like Coleman camping stoves, with a little pressurized tank and a manual pump. (See photo.) In some kitchens they prefer to use wood, but the neighbors always complain about the smoke. To burn sawdust they use a large empty cooking oil can that has a small door cut in one side. They place a large round stick upright in the middle of the container and pack sawdust all around it. Then they remove the log and remove the sawdust between the door and the hollow center, and start a fire in the middle. The door allows air to enter for combustion. Unfortunately the sawdust holds its shape well only if it is slightly wet, and that makes it burn much less efficiently, creating lots of smoke.

During the next few days I´ll develop a strategy for each kitchen (pot skirts, retained heat cookers, high efficiency wood stoves) and start teaching the people how to make and use the devices. The plan is that they will pay for the materials from their fuel savings.

Thursday, August 23, 2007

A Darwinian Explanation of Bad Driving in Lima

As I was talking to the taxi driver recently on my trip across the border from Ecuador to Peru, it occurred to me that there´s a very simple explanation for the fact that drivers in Lima are among the worst in the world. If you haven´t been to Lima, it´s pretty easy to understand what it´s like. Just imagine that everyone who drives a car here is participating in a game where the object is to get to your destination in the minimum possible time, and there only three rules: (1) Your vehicle cannot make contact with another vehicle except for incidental bumping of mirrors that may occur when you try to squeeze between two lanes of traffic, (2) If there is a policewoman (virtually all of the traffic police are women) physically present at an intersection, you have to stop when the stoplight turns red, and (3) You can´t drive on sidewalks when pedestrians are present.

My revelation occurred when the taxi driver, who seemed like a very normal driver, told me that he had lived in Lima for nine years before moving to the northern extreme of the country. He said that he hated driving a taxi in Lima because there was so much competition. So in order to make a decent living in Lima, a taxi driver has to really hustle. (There are no meters in taxis, so income is strictly related to distance traveled, not time of travel.) He has virtually no control over the price of his service, since he´ll have no customers if he charges more than others. And he has a limited amount of time to earn his daily wage. Darwin would probably look at this situation and say, ¨Of course they drive that way. It´s the only way they can survive.¨

A Public Mail System In Need of a Public

Peru´s national mail system, SERPOST, is probably the most underutilized public service in the country. Hardly anyone trusts in its ability to deliver the mail. So the major utilities, for example, don´t use it to distribute their bills. They prefer to hire a private courier service or maintain their own staff of delivery people. Their customers generally don´t have bank accounts (partly because they don´t trust banks any more than they trust the postal service) and they certainly don´t trust postal employees to handle mail containing money. So they don´t use SERPOST to make utility payments, either. They prefer to ride a bus for half an hour to the nearest office of the utility and wait in line for an hour or more.

Consequently the volume of the service is so low that they have to charge very high prices for postage to cover their fixed costs (about $2 to mail a simple letter to the U.S. or $25 to send a two pound package -- both rates about double the rate for U.S. postage to Peru). And because they can only afford to place a couple of employees at each of their offices, many of the less frequently used services are offered in only a few locations. For example, if you want to purchase a $20 money order, you can go to any bank branch and pay a $10 commission to obtain one, while you can get one for just a $3 fee at SERPOST -- but only if you´re willing to go to their branch in Miraflores, about forty minutes from where I live.

As if to confirm the near invisibility of the postal service in Peru, the SERPOST office in Chorrillos doesn´t even have a sign anywhere identifying it as a post office. There is, however, one very positive aspect of this otherwise seemingly hopeless situation: nobody receives junk mail!

I Join a Doomsday Religious Sect

The Evangelical Association of the Israelite Mission of the New Universal Pact is a fundamentalist, Old Testament based Christian group that was founded in Peru forty years ago and preserves some of the most ancient of pre-Christian traditions. Every Saturday at their central temple in Cieneguilla, about two and a half hours from where I live, they hold a service at their central temple where the main event is the ¨holocaust¨: they slaughter a lamb and burn it along with other offerings on a large wooden pyre built of seven layers of seven logs each. (Sorry, I don´t have any pictures to show you other than the entrance to the temple because they wouldn´t allow me to take any photos inside.) The temple grounds has separate entrances for men and women, and in the temple itself the men sit on the right side of the main aisle and the women on the left. There are no statues or images other than a replica of the ten commandments. They believe that Machu Picchu is the ¨navel of the world¨ referenced by the Bible in Ezequiel 38:12, and that their founder (who was born in Cusco and died in 2000) was a messiah who was sent by God to bring people back to the correct path. Following the prescriptions of the Old Testament, they don´t consume anything that is made from grapes, the men don´t cut their hair or beards, and the women wear a veil over their hair.

You may have heard of this group about eight years ago, when the end of the millenium was approaching. They were the ones who built a copy of Noah´s ark in the Amazon region to save some animal species and a few of their own members from the terrible deluge that would finish off the earth before the end of the year 2000.

I´m not sure how the group survived that disappointment, but they impress me as a group of people who are extremely dedicated to doing something about poverty, and not by looking for solutions from the outside. In fact, when I first sat down to talk with a couple of members about how I might be able to help them economize on fuel usage in the soup kitchens that their members run, the very first thing they told me was that if I wanted to work as a volunteer and share my knowledge, that was fine, but they were not interested in working with either government or non-government aid organizations. They feel that financial and material aid contributes to the culture of dependency, and the process of distribution of the aid is a strong temptation to corruption. And I think they´re exactly right on both counts.

OK, so I didn´t actually become a member. I´ve only joined their effort to help create self-sustaining comedores to provide an inexpensive daily meal in the hundreds of communities where their members live. One of my neighbors, Anita, is a member of the group. I´ve known her for a couple of years because she and her kids run the internet cafe on my street, but I had never known anything about her group until another of my neighbors recently told me that she was involved in working with these comedores. These groups are ideal candidates for the kinds of energy-saving technologies that I teach, because they cook such large quantities of food and a significant percentage of their operating budget goes to purchase fuel. And they use almost every kind of fuel available -- propane, kerosene, wood, charcoal, sawdust, maybe others -- so it will be an interesting challenge to adapt these technologies to all of the different fuels.

Saturday, August 18, 2007


I´m sure that by now everyone knows we had a pretty big earthquake here (7.0 on the Richter scale) on Wednesday, centered about a hundred miles southwest of Lima. Our power was out until yesterday, so I haven´t had any internet access. Lima was terrified and shaken but escaped with very little damage. The surprising thing was the duration of the quake -- almost two minutes. One report I heard on the radio said that there were actually quakes in two different places almost simultaneously. These pictures are from a Lima newspaper.

The major damage occurred in the province of Ica. A couple of churches were severely damaged (one during a mass, which resulted in a lot of deaths). Thousands of houses were damaged or destroyed. A tsunami warning was issued and was later canceled, but lots of fishing boats were driven ashore into buildings by high waves, so I assume there was at least a small tsunami.

We like to think that in times of disaster people come together and show their solidarity, but in this case an awful lot of people have been shamelessly taking advantage of the situation. Certainly there has been an outpouring of aid from people in other areas of the country and from other countries. But local residents have sacked stores whose walls were damaged by the quake; gangs of delinquents have roamed the affected areas at night stealing whatever they want from the damaged houses; bandits have robbed trucks carrying relief supplies at gunpoint as they edged slowly along the damaged roads; bus companies have doubled their fares from Lima to Ica.

The government has announced a program to compensate the victims, paying several thousand dollars to each family to help them rebuild. But that program will undoubtedly be abused too. My friend Walter, a psychologist who has worked in relief efforts for other quakes, says that he has often seen people whose houses were unaffected by the quake personally destroying their own houses so that the government would pay for a new one.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Independence Day Celebration

I invited my friends to a North American style barbecue last weekend to celebrate the independence days of both countries. (Peru´s independence day is July 28). I had hoped to serve BBQ ribs, but quickly discovered that no one sells slabs of ribs, only chopped up ribs with a very thick slab of fat, which are deep fried in more pig fat to make chicharrón, generally considered the tastiest way to prepare pork in Peru. A few stores sold prepackaged ribs already marinated in barbeque sauce, but they were charging about $5 per pound, way beyond my budget. So I bought a bunch of chickens and some bratwurst, and made cole slaw (one Peruvian cabbage is big enough to make cole slaw for 25 people) and bread rolls. I made a lot of extra rolls to have some left over, but they were all gone by the end of the afternoon.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Lots of Unrest in Peru

The last two weeks we have seen lots of strikes and protests, especially in the poorer southern part of the country, many of which have resulted in violent clashes with police trying to control them. And at least eight more major strikes are planned during the coming week, including teachers, health workers, municipal workers and others. Some are limited to a few days duration, but others are planned as actions of indefinite length until their demands are resolved.

There are many reasons for the increase in discontent. At the root of the problem is the extreme inequality of economic development across the country. Peru´s economy has seen an average growth rate of about 6% for more than 6 years, and is currently growing at about 8%. But almost all of that growth has been along the coast in the central and northern part of the country, where the government has made significant investments or worked to obtain private investment. As one commentator recently pointed out, the difference in economic wellbeing between Lima and Huancavelica (the poorest district) is the same as the difference between Norway and Nigeria.
A second reason is that the Garcia government is finally starting to implement a move toward decentralization of the government, responding to the decades-long demands of regional governments for more autonomy. But the regional governments are not accustomed to accepting responsibility for their own destiny and hence often blame the central government in Lima when things go bad.
Another factor is that the government has recently given more attention to the areas where protests have occurred, sending the prime minister or one of his cronies to have talks with the groups behind the protests. As one of the marchers said, with tires burning in the background blocking a highway, ¨The only signals this government seems to respond to are smoke signals.¨

I´m glad that I don´t have any travel plans for the immediate future, because many of these strikes will block major transportation routes. And one of the groups planning a four day strike starting July 16 is the airport workers union.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Googling the Earth With Lucy´s Kids

On Father´s Day weekend I went to Lurín with Lucy and Walter (and Marcos and Lourdes, two other volunteers) to help them with their educational program for kids. They always have a planned lesson for each of the workshops that they teach to the kids and their parents, on themes such as leadership, assertiveness, surviving adolescence, etc. But there´s a two-hour slot with each group of kids called ¨Game Club¨, during which they usually play games that have been donated by volunteers and visitors. (Twister was a very popular one while it lasted, but the floor mat quickly disintegrated because of the rough dirt floor).

So when I visit the group, I usually take charge of Game Club time to teach the kids something new and interesting that they would not otherwise have an opportunity to learn. In the past I´ve taught them Sudoku, some magic tricks, how to make balloon animals, etc. This time I brought my laptop with me and showed them Google Earth. First we talked about satellites and the different purposes they serve. Then we turned on the computer and began our descent into South America, Peru, Lima and then Lurín, with the kids helping me to identify landmarks along the way. They were awed by the fact that they could see their own individual houses, and ¨fly¨ over the dunes that stand nearby. Some noticed that the photographs were several years old, and pointed out changes that had taken place in their neighborhood since they were taken.

Afterwards the kids presented Walter and Marcos and me with a cake that they had baked for us. Later we went to one of the internet cafes down the street and installed Google Earth on two of the computers there so that they could continue to explore.

Buying Jeans in Lima

I had a feeling that it would be difficult to find pants in my size (W34 L34), since the average Peruvian is about a foot shorter than me. So I went first to the largest department stores, figuring that they would have the largest selection. The first thing that I noticed was that there was only one size printed on each of the labels. I asked one of the attendants whether it was the waist size or the length. ¨The waist size.¨ Not wanting to appear the stupid gringo, I read the labels carefully for several different brands, trying to decipher the coded information that surely must include the length. But I couldn´t find any number that could possibly be the length.

I selected a pair of size 34 Lee jeans that I liked and took them to the same attendant to ask her what the length was. Without even glancing at the pants, she replied, ¨32¨. I scanned the label again, and couldn´t find a ¨32¨ anywhere. Dumbfounded, I asked her, ¨How do you know?¨. ¨They´re all 32¨, she replied.

And so it is in Peru. You can buy any waist size you want, but unless you want to pay more than $50 for jeans imported from the US, the length is always 32. That´s more than enough length for 95% of the customers, and it costs less than a dollar to have someone tailor them to your preferred length. So it doesn´t make economic sense for the stores to order and manage lots of different sizes when they can get a better price ordering larger lots of fewer sizes.

A few days later I went to the huge clothing market in the district of Gamarra, and after asking half a dozen people where to find extra long jeans, I finally found two pairs of jeans with a 33 inch length for less than $20 each, one of them in an off-the-street backroom store that sells Chinese imitations of American brands, and the other at a Chilean import store. After paying a lady at the market 90 cents to let the hems down, they fit me as well as my American-bought jeans.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Break For Graduation and Wedding

I went back to Indiana for most of the month of May to attend my daughter Marta´s graduation and my son Dan´s wedding. (Chris and Eric, my other two sons, are at the far right of the wedding picture). It was a short trip, but I was able to spend quite a bit of time with them and enjoy some really hot weather for a change. One of the highlights of the wedding celebration was the ¨after party¨. When the reception finished around 10:30 my kids and their significant others and I went in search of a bar to continue celebrating. Since Greencastle is a three bar town, we felt very lucky to find one that stayed open until 3:00 am, and a karaoke bar no less! You could choose pretty much any song as long as it was either a country tune or more than 20 years old. Chris´s wife Anne and I sang ¨Leavin´ On a Jet Plane¨.
I also made a short trip to visit my friend Larry Winiarski in Oregon, to help him with the construction of the aquaflector and to see it close up. We didn´t get as far as we had hoped (an actual test of its output) because it rained most of the time I was there.
I learned that Larry had converted his van to run on filtered used vegetable oil (discarded from restaurants that make deep fried food). It seemed to run very well on the free fuel, the only tricks necessary being the need to start the engine on regular diesel fuel, and the use of a heat exchanger to warm the oil before it is injected into the engine.

Monday, April 30, 2007

The Ciclovía

From what I´m told by people here in Chorrillos, their mayor is a pretty good one. He hasn´t been seriously accused of corruption, and has been reelected twice. And every once in a while he has a really good idea, but sometimes the execution is a little lacking -- like the Ciclovía (cycle path) that was recently put into place. Traffic is heavy in most parts of the city from dawn to dusk, and lots of bicyclists have been killed by careless drivers. So a separate traffic lane for bicycles could have a big impact on safety and encourage more people to use bicycles, reducing auto traffic.

The Ciclovía in Chorrillos is similar to what a lot of North American cities have done, reserving a space in the public thoroughfares exclusively for bicycles. And in some areas where the road was recently widened, it was implemented very effectively. But for the most part it just consists of a couple of yellow stripes painted on top of whatever was already there. And human nature being what it is, it´s hard to imagine that the mototaxis that have always parked on a certain street, or the pedestrians who fill the sidewalk at one of the busiest bus stops in the city, are going to pay much attention to the new yellow lines. So while there will undoubtedly be a reduction in the number of bicyclists run over by vehicles, there will probably be an increase in the number of pedestrians run over by bicycles. I suppose it´s a good tradeoff.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

The Aquaflector

I´ve assembled a small scale model of the water pasteurization system that we hope to test in June or July. I´m trying to identify an organization that has experience with other water projects and has a presence in a sunny rural area where we can install it. My friend Larry Winiarski Jr. (whose father invented many of the stove and oven designs that I´ve been implementing) has invented a way to make a very inexpensive solar concentrator using strips of aluminized mylar stretched tightly in metal frames, and ganged together to track the sun. It could just as well be used as an economical way to increase the output of a solar electricity generator, which is the application he originally had in mind for it.

My contribution to the design is a yet-to-be-proven control system that uses an odd-shaped bucket of water with a slow leak, where a floating weight tied to the control arm falls at a varying velocity during the day to precisely follow the motion of the sun. (I haven´t yet calculated the exact shape of the bucket required, but it´s represented in the model by a sort of diamond shaped bucket, which is a very rough approximation of the needed shape).

This device takes advantage of the fact that purification of water doesn´t require boiling, but only pasteurization. That is, as long as the temperature is held at a certain temperature for a certain amount of time, all of the dangerous bacteria and viruses will be killed. The amount of time varies inversely with the temperature, but the absolute minimum is 65 degrees C, at which pasteurization requires about 30 minutes. Raising the temperature of water from room temperature to 65 degrees C requires only half as much energy as boiling the water! But holding it at that temperature requires either the expenditure of more energy or the use of a well insulated container.

In the aquaflector system (so named by Larry), the untreated water enters one end of a shallow, wide heating duct that is suspended about 4 meters above the ground. The top of the duct is covered with insulation, and the reflectors concentrate the sunlight on the bottom of the duct to heat the water. At the far end of the duct is an exit pipe with an automotive thermostat (the little red thing between the water duct and the retention tank) that opens at 71 degrees C. The heated water enters an insulated retention tank that has been sized to hold about half an hour´s output, and the bottom of the tank contains an exit pipe connected to a float valve so that when the tank is full, the coolest, densest water (which has spent the most time in the tank) is released for use.
A further improvement to the design which I haven´t yet reflected in the model is the use of a heat exchanger to improve the efficiency of the system. ¨Waste heat¨ from the treated water will be used to preheat the untreated water, increasing the output of the system by a factor of two or three.

Relleno picado -- a very Peruvian dish

Sonia has been teaching me to cook some new dishes lately, like guiso de calabacín (a delicious squash stew), estofado de pollo (a juicy chicken dish with large chunks of potato and a variety of other vegetables) and most recently, something called relleno picado (chopped blood sausage) that seems to combine a lot of the elements that are typical of Peruvian cuisine. The final product doesn´t look very interesting, so I´ve only captured a photo of the ingredients. But it doesn´t matter since you normally eat it as a sandwich filling.

The ingredients are:
  • a blood sausage called relleno (which is hard to find here in Lima, but Sonia knows a lady from Chincha who brings it to a market near my apartment once a week). It´s wrapped in a real intestine like old fashioned sausages, and sometimes contains rice.
  • a hot pepper called aji amarillo which is used in just about every Peruvian dish that is spicy

  • an onion (Peruvians prefer red ones for almost everything)

  • a couple cloves of garlic (essential for almost any Peruvian food -- even for plain white rice that you´re serving as a side dish)

  • a bunch of spearmint leaves (also very common in Peruvian cooking)

You just chop everything finely and fry it together. It´s hard to describe the flavor. The mint is a nice complement to the other flavors. It´s really tasty!

Water For San Genaro -- part 5

I went to San Genaro last weekend to see how the neighbors are getting along with their new water resource. Freddy invited me and Sonia to eat lunch with his family, and told me that so far their monthly water bills have been much lower than we anticipated. Each family has had to pay a grand total of $1.60 for the first two months of usage. That´s about a tenth of what they used to pay! Unfortunately there are a few neighbors who don´t like the idea that someone else might receive more savings than themselves, and are insisting that people pay for the amount of time that they use the water rather than just splitting the bill evenly each month. But monitoring the amount of time each family uses would take a extraordinary amount of effort for the small improvement in ¨fairness¨.

Now that the neighbors have one success under their belt, they´re meeting every month to discuss other ways to improve their neighborhood. Lately, discussion has turned toward the construction of an illegal connection to the sewer system! I told Freddy that I thought it was a very bad idea and that it would leave them liable to severe penalties if it were discovered. But I was encouraged by the fact that the neighbors are realizing that they can accomplish more when they organize themselves. I guess empowerment has its good side and its bad side.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Getting Around Lima

It´s usually very easy to get around Lima, except when one or more of the transport workers associations calls a general strike, like today. Almost everyone uses public transportation, since only the upper middle class owns cars.

You have four or five choices in public transportation within the city, depending on when you´re leaving from and how far you plan to go. Naturally there are lots of taxis, and these are the most expensive and (usually) most comfortable option. But lately there has been an increase in kidnappings by phony taxistas, who ransom their captives to earn a living. So I generally avoid taxis unless I´m in a really big hurry to get somewhere, or unless I know the driver.

If you´re just hauling a lot of groceries from the market and don´t want to carry them home on foot, you can take a moto, which is a motorcycle converted into a two passenger taxi. I´m told that it is a Peruvian invention. Since these are relatively slow vehicles, they don´t venture very far outside the neighborhood, except in rural areas where they are sometimes the only option.

If you want the comfort of a taxi but not the expense, you might be able to take a collectivo, depending on where you´re going. These are regular taxi cabs that travel fixed routes in the busiest areas, and charge a lot less than a taxi and about double what the buses charge. So if you are willing to walk a couple of blocks to a location where they pass by, this is often a very good choice, especially if you are in a hurry. Once they fill up with four passengers, they don´t make any stops until someone wants to get off.

At the opposite end of the expense/comfort spectrum are the combis, no larger than an extended minivan, which generally have three rows of seats behind the cab, plus a row of thin seats facing the opposite direction just behind the cab. When all the seats are full, they continue to stop for any potential passenger and try to stuff as many extra people in as possible. But they´re the cheapest way to get around.

On some routes there are full-size or medium-size buses. These are usually more comfortable than the combis and charge about the same. So they´re always preferable to a combi when one is available.

Interurban routes are served by three different classes of buses. The least expensive are crowded and offer no services. The tourist class buses have lots of leg room and generally have a toilet. They sometimes have two levels, with seats that convert to beds in the bottom level. The most expensive class of buses have air conditioning and heating. As far as I can tell, none of the drivers observe the speed limits or the double yellow lines on the highway.

I think one of the most difficult jobs in Lima is that of the cobrador, the driver´s assistant on a bus or combi who tells the driver when someone wants to get on or off, collects the fares, makes change, keeps track of who has paid and who hasn´t, and throws people off the bus when they become unruly or attempt to steal from someone.

Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Summer in Lima -- ¡Qué calor!

I´m back in Peru again, and this is the first time I´ve spent part of the summer in Lima. The temperature doesn´t get extremely high -- only the mid-80s -- but with the near-100% humidity and lack of wind, the heat is hard to get used to. Some other things that I have trouble adjusting to every time I return:
  • pollution -- as usual I developed a respiratory infection the first week I was here.
  • noise -- Saturday nights are usually sleepless nights because there´s almost always an all night party within earshot
  • water -- bathing with 7 liters of water (the capacity of my solar heater)
  • dust -- leaving a window open on a windy day (a necessity during summer) means having to sweep the floor the next day.

The one thing that I always seem to adapt to rapidly is the food. I love the many creative ways they use potatoes, and I especially like the variety of the fruits, many of which we don´t have in the states, like maracuyá, lúcuma and guanabana.

I´ll be here until May, laying the groundwork for some projects that won´t get into full swing until June and July. After attending my daughter´s graduation and my son´s wedding, I´ll return at the end of May. This year we have another group of Canadian students from Global Youth coming to Peru, and they´ll be spending a week here in Lima and another week working with my friend Ernesto in Cai Cay to complete the adobe building that will house his educational center. In July, two students from the University of Dayton will join me for several months to help me with my investigations of efficiency improvements for gas stoves and of a new solar device for water purification that we will be installing for the first time anywhere in the world.