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In the Rain on the Shores of Lake Titicaca---This Is a Potential Problem

I´m in Puno, Peru, on the shores of Lake Titicaca in heavy downpour. There is already massive flooding in Bolivia (I saw it on CNN en espanol tonight and heard about it from Kathryn Ledebur of the Andean Information Network a couple of days ago), so the rain here is not a good sign. Kathryn said her husband was lucky to get back from the Chapare a couple of days ago, and it´s only gotten worse. What does this mean? It means it may be impossible to get to either of the major coca regions in the next few days. I don´t know that for sure, but that road to Las Yungas (the world´s deadliest highway) is dirt, and with heavy rains, it sounds very iffy. And the Chapare is where the deadly flooding is (36 dead so far), so that sounds pretty iffy, too. I had hoped to be in Bolivia tonight, but it was not to be. By the time my rain-delayed bus from Cusco got here to Puno, it was late afternoon, and the Bolivians close the border crossing at 6:30 local time, and given that it´s another two or three hours to the border, I stopped here rather than face the prospect of getting trapped overnight in the middle of nowhere. I will arrive in La Paz tomorrow afternoon, God willin´ and the creek don´t rise (as my old man used to say, and it seems appropriate in these circumstances) and will probably meet up with Annie Murphy from the Bolivian embassy in Washington. She is in La Paz. Since Kathryn and the AIN are in Cochabamba, on the way to the Chapare, with the roads doubtful, and since the Drug War Chronicle deadline looms, I think I will just stay in La Paz Thursday and write from there. Of course, the Coca Museum is there, too. My return flight is a week from Friday, but it´s next Friday at 12:30am, which means I´m effectively gone as of Thursday since I will have to travel back to Lima to catch that flight. Maybe it´s worth investigating what it would cost to switch tickets and postpone my return for another week. I think I can afford the extra days of food and cheap hotels...Something to ponder. Otherwise, I will effectively have only six days in Bolivia, and I may not be able to go where we need to go. In other news, I managed to interview the owner of the Coca Shop in Cusco last night. Very interesting fellow and a nice little place he has. I took some photos, too, so I´ll blog about that one of these days.
Location: 
Puno, PU
Peru

Australian help sought for drug fight

Location: 
Australia
Publication/Source: 
Herald Sun (Australia)
URL: 
http://www.news.com.au/heraldsun/story/0,21985,21255046-663,00.html

Fight to control corridors on Arizona border turns violent

Location: 
Altar
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
The Kansas City Star
URL: 
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/news/world/16739557.htm

As Promised, More Pictures from Phil

Phil took a day off from his reporting to visit the famous Inca ruins of Machu Picchu, but coca seems to be everywhere... stunted coca plant in garden, Machu Picchu (click this post's title link or the "read full post" link for more pictures -- not coca or drug policy, but breathtaking) Machu Picchu, Rio Urubamba below Temple of the Sun Inca sundial, pointing to true magnetic north intrepid editor Phil Smith view of Machu Picchu
Location: 
United States

Coca at Machu Picchu--Who Knew?

Yesterday, I visited the world class Inca ruins at Machu Picchu. Despite it being a cloudy, foggy, rainy day (it is that season, after all), it was a very impressive experience, one I cannot recommend too highly. Located atop a mountain peak several thousand feet above the raging Rio Urubamba (to enter its waters at this time of year is certain death), Machu Picchu was the primary center for scientific and philosophical research for the Inca empire and a place of retreat for the Inca nobility. Its stonework is amazingly well-hewn, and the complex is huge. About a thousand people lived there full-time, with others coming for special occasions along the Inca trail from Cusco, the capital of the empire. If you ever get to Peru, seeing Machu Picchu is an absolute must. I’m sure I haven’t done it justice with these brief comments. I benefited from traveling with a small group that had a very well-informed tour guide, and it was from him that I learned that coca was part of the Inca diet. In addition to using it for its hunger-suppressing and energy-providing qualities, the Incas used it to keep their teeth strong! The coca leaf is heavy in calcium, and because the Inca lacked cows and llamas provided only enough milk for their young, the coca leaf was their primary source of calcium. Our guide was quite proud of the fact that Inca skeletons always showed strong, healthy teeth, a fact he attributed to chewing the coca leaf. Among the ruins at Machu Picchu, there is a garden packed with plants used by the Inca. Among them is coca, even though it is ill-suited to grow well at such elevations. In fact, the coca plant in the garden there was stunted and scraggly, growing only about 18 inches high, or about one-half to one-fourth of the size obtained by coca plants at elevations to which it is more suited. Still, they grew it at Machu Picchu, for the reasons mentioned above. Today, I’m trying to catch up on emails and news and all that good stuff before heading for Bolivia tomorrow. One thing I will do today, though, is visit the Buen Pastor shop, that place I mentioned a blog post or two ago, where they sell coca products here in Cusco. Look for something about that later today or Wednesday, since tomorrow will be a long day of bus travel across the 12,000-foot altiplano past Lake Titicaca and up to La Paz. I think I will be heading on to Cochabamba the next day, where my friends from the Andean Information Network await me. The coca leaf is ubiquitous around here. My hotel provides some with breakfast every day. All the restaurants offer mate de coca (coca tea). Little indigenous women near Machu Picchu offer it to travelers getting ready to trek around the heights. And the US government wants to eradicate it all. Now, I'm off to visit the coca shops of Cusco. Stay tuned. Note: Dave Borden will be posting some Machu Picchu photos I sent him later today. Come back and check 'em out!
Location: 
CU
Peru

Calderon to send troops to border states

Location: 
Mexico City
Mexico
Publication/Source: 
The Houston Chronicle
URL: 
http://www.chron.com/disp/story.mpl/front/4563563.html

Algeria became drugs producer

Location: 
Algeria
Publication/Source: 
El Khabar (Algeria)
URL: 
http://www.elkhabar.com/FrEn/lire.php?ida=60218&idc=52

More Pictures from Coca Country -- Ayacucho and Cusco

Pictures from Phil, Ayacucho province and Cusco -- more of them (and good writing) can be found in Phil's Drug War Chronicle scene article here. Many more to come... cocalero Percy Ore in his fields, near the town of San Francisco, Ayacucho province coca waiting by the side of the road to go to market (Click the "read full post" link if you're not seeing the rest of the pictures.) Ayacucho highlands, seen from highway A washout (landslide) on the road back to Ayacucho kept Phil and other travelers waiting for three hours -- delaying publication of Drug War Chronicle in the process. at the market in Ayacucho overview of Ayacucho Cusco's main cathedral view of cathedral from Plaza de Armas
Location: 
Peru

On the Gringo Trail, Getting Whispered Solicitations, and Sipping Mate de Coca

I'm not sitting in Cusco, the old Inca capital, where the Spanish invaders built their churches and houses on the ruins of the Inca city. There is still that fine Inca rock work all over the place; in fact, the place I'm staying in, the Posada de Loreto, has exterior walls that are made of Inca stone, and the whole Callejon de Loreto is one of the streets most noted for its Inca stone work. In Ayachucho, mine was a rare white face; in the rural countryside of the high Andes and the Amazonian selva, mine was the only white face; one that men and women stared at and little child hid from. That's not the case here in Cusco, the gringo capital of Latin America. This city of about 400,000, with its incredible Inca cachet and closeness to the ruins of Machu Picchu, attracts droves of tourists, from tour groups of old people to the international youth backpacker set to the Andean hippies (you know the type, long haired, wearing indigenous ponchos and caps and playing flutes and beating on drums and getting quite messed up on local substances, could be American or German or Australian or even Peruvian). And where there are lots of gringo tourists, there are people wanting to sell them things, including drugs. I don't know what it is about me—is there a neon sign above my head?—but once again it didn’t take more than a few minutes from the time I ventured into the main square this afternoon to be offered cocaine, marijuana, and women. My worry-wart boss will be happen to know I passed on all them, although I feel remiss in not having inquired about prices. Maybe tomorrow. Cusco is high, some 11,000 feet, so I figured this was the time for me to try mate de coca (coca tea) for the first time. I've chewed the leaves before, several times in the last week, as a matter of fact, but I had never had the tea. It was basically a glass of hot water with coca leaves steeping in it. According to my waiter, I was supposed to chew the leaves as I sipped the tea. I did, and I got a nice coca jolt within seconds. Did it help me cope with the altitude? Well, it seems likely; I certainly felt more energetic. I also discovered that there is a store here in Cusco that sells various coca products, along with other hip, "socially conscious" stuff. It's name is the Buen Pastor (Good Shepherd), but they were closed by the time I tracked them down this evening. Since I'll spend the day at Machu Picchu tomorrow, I'll track them down on Monday and see what the deal is. And since I'll be gone all day—up at 5am to catch the train up the Sacred Valley, getting to Machu Picchu about 10am, spending the day at the site, and returning to Cusco about 8pm—you won't be hearing anything more from me for awhile. But there should be some pictures posted. I'm going back to my hotel right now to get the camera, so I can upload them and Borden can download them. On Tuesday, it's on to Bolivia…
Location: 
Peru

What a trip it's been, and it's only the end of week one!

Since last I blogged, I've gone by overnight bus from Lima to the Andean highlands city of Ayacucho, thence over the top of the Andes and down into the Amazonian selva (actually, the "ceja de selva," the eyebrow of the jungle) to the small towns of San Francisco, Ayacucho, and Kirimbiri, Cusco, on the other side of the rain-swollen Rio Apurimac deep in the heart of the coca growing region known as the VRAE (Valleys of the Apurimac and Ene Rivers), and then back to Ayacucho. It has been brutal—hours of travel on crappy, crappy dirt roads over mountains and across flooded out stretches of road through some of the poorest land in the country. Tomorrow (Saturday) morning, I get up a 5AM to catch a flight back to Lima and then on to Cusco, for a little rest and tourism at Machu Picchu. (Ayacucho is halfway between Lima and Cusco, but as they say, "you can’t get there from here." There are no city to city flights in Peru except to and from Lima. Go figure. An Aero Condor rep told me it's because they're a Fourth World country.) The travel to coca country was mind-bending: Huge mountains, endless switchbacks on dirt roads with no shoulder and a thousand-foot drop-off, indigenous people herding sheep and goats and burros and horses, the women wearing those funny Andean hats. (I hope Dave Borden will be good enough to post some more pictures here.) It is rainy season, so water is pouring down the mountains in spectacular cascades, but also ripping the road open and causing landslides that block the road. Local people come out to fix it, but put rocks in the road to collect a toll for their labors. From the crest of the Andes, somewhere at about 12,000 feet near Tambo, it was downhill all the way to the Apurimac River, a tributary of the Amazon. You go from jacket weather to dripping with sweat in the heat and humidity of the Amazon, pine trees turn to palm trees and tropical fronds. It was in some towns along the Apurimac that I hooked up with some local cocalero leaders and went out into the poverty-stricken countryside to view the fields myself. I've seen a lot of poverty in my day, but the conditions in which the coca farmers live are truly grim. They have to walk miles just to get to the nearest town, they have no running water or electricity, and even with four coca crops a year, they barely make enough money to feed and clothe their children. One of the highlights was one of the cocalero leaders pointing out the houses (more like shanties) of the cocaleros and demanding to know "Where are the narco mansions?" Well, certainly not around here. Every cocalero I've talked to has had the same refrain: This is our sacred plant, we have nothing to do with the drug trade, either leave us alone or provide real agricultural development assistance. And that refrain resonates: Of 70 municipalities in the VRAE, cocaleros hold power in all 70. This is also the home of the country's premier cocalero leader, Nelson Palomino of CONCPACCP, with whom I talked in Lima earlier this week. Will it be pretty much the same in Bolivia? I don't know. Check back later. Editor's Note: I certainly will post Phil's pictures, but it will be a little later this weekend. In the meanwhile, be sure to read Phil's Drug War Chronicle article from Peru, published earlier today -- three pictures, interviews with key people and lots of good info. -- Dave
Location: 
AY
Peru

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