Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Happy Belated 4th / Marathon Time

Obviously, July 4th isn't as widely celebrated here in Peru as it is in the States. Although, I did catch a brief shoutout on a local radion station that said "felicidades a todos los gringos de gringlandia hoy" (congrats to all thos gringos from gringo land). That brought a smile to both Milene and my face as we were riding in a cramped combi for the 2-hour ride to Pacasmayo, a town of about 20,000 situated right on the beach in northern Peru. The reason for our trip on July 4th, you may ask? Well, thanks to the ingenuity and hard work of Steve Cambridge, a small business peace corps volunteer in Peru, Pacasmayo was hosting its second annual international marathon and we were on our way to participate and volunteer. In fact, about 80 other Peace Corps volunteers showed up for the race weekend, and it was a unique opportunity to see our friends from far off pueblos in different parts of Peru. The marathon weekend was designed by Steve as a business project, meant to bring an influx of tourism to the town and benefit the many local restaurants, hotels, and artisans.

On Saturday we all arrived and in the afternoon attended meetings for both runners and volunteers. (Many Peace Corps volunteers chose to register as official runners, but others decided to help out with many of the logistics. There were also many Peruvians who showed up as volunteers.) This was followed by a raffle drawing where literally every single runner won some kind of prize donated by local businesses. I won a free lunch and Milene won a free hour at the internet cafe--needless to say, awesome. Later that night, Steve had a spagghetti and meatball dinner provided for all the runners. It was incredibly delicious (especially because the head chef was a volunteer named Josh who is a great cook from Texas), and reminded us of home on a very nostalgic day. After sufficient carbo-loading, we headed back to the hostel for an early sleep in preparation for the next day. On Sunday, runners gathered and did some stretching, heard a few opening remarks, including a rendition of the Star Spangled Banner by one our volunteers, and the race started promptly at 8:30. Milene was a runner in the half-marathon competition (21 kilometers or about 13 miles). I was signed up for the full marathon (42 kilometers, 26 miles), and trained for about two and a half months, but unfortunately had to stop due to a problem I developed in my right knee. The course itself was a challenging all-terrain course, with sand, rocks, dirt and pavement, as well as a final stretch of boardwalk. I borrowed a bicycle and went out to a few of the check points along the way to see how Milene was doing and provide her with some snacks. Milene completed the race in 2 hours and 23minutes, a great time and good enough for 6th place among the women's section. Afterwards, everyone commented how she was constantly smiling throughout the race and never seemed to look tired. Later that evening, we all gathered for a post-marathon party which included a 32 person rock-paper-scissor tournament.

The winner of the full marathon was a volunteer named Greg, who finished it in 3 hours and 22 minutes, an excellent time considering the terrain of the course (qualifying time for the Boston Marathon is 3:10). Greg lives in Arequipa at 4,000 meters where his training makes Pacasmayo (at sea level) seem like a walk in the park. We overheard a group of Peruvian runners who had traveled up from Lima saying that they thought he must have been a professional runner. In reality, it was only his second marathon ever, his first being at the First International Pacasmayo Marathon last year.

All in all the weekend was spectacular, and we will certainly be returning next year (hopefully injury-free). And all of you are invited to come participate with us! In fact, there were several runners who flew down from the States, Canada, Mexico and Europe to participate. Next year that could be you! If you'd like to check out more info, they have a website which is

Looking back on the whole experience, I would say that the training itself was probably the most rewarding aspect for us both. Milene and I had never been runners before, and we mostly participated in team sports or gone to the gym as a means of exercise. In fact, before training, it was hard for us to even enjoy a few mile jog. But after training our bodies to get up at 6 every morning and go running, we began to feel a greater sense of well-being throughout the day. Our running trail itself passes along beautiful scenery and it felt great just to get out into nature and start our day off with some excercise. We soon came to think of 5 kilometer runs as "break" days, and regularly ran 10, 15 and even 20 kilometers. Our sneakers took a beating and are basically in the shoe morgue, so as soon as Milene's sister brings us some replacements at the end of this month, we'll be back in running action!

Sunday, June 28, 2009


Hey All! It's been a little while since our last post, but now that Tembladera has internet, we are going to try and be a little more consistent with our blog.

Which leads us to our first announcement: drumroll please.....we have internet! As some of you might have known, we used to have to travel to larger cities several hours away such as Trujillo on the coast or Cajamarca in the mountains to get a fast enough internet connection for blogging. Well, Tembladera has now climbed one rung higher on the ladder of modernization with the recent installation of high speed internet cables. We are super psyched! Feel free to skype us anytime; we leave it on most evenings. My user name is nathan.haft.

Another BIG announcement: we have photos up from Sunny, Harmony and Ryman's recent visit! Check it out:

For about two weeks at the end of May, my brother (Sunny) and sister (Harmony) and her husband (Ryman) came to visit us here in Peru. We embarked on what can only be described as one of the most incredible road trips ever. From bull fights to epic dance-offs, water rafting to ancient pyramid hiking, town parties and 18-hour bus rides, bumming at the beach and summiting breathtaking peaks, we did it all. We started our journey in historic colonial downtown Lima, then took the long journey up to Tembladera for our town's 3 day annual festival, stopped by Trujillo on the coast to examine some pre-Incan ruins, crossed over to the Cordillera Blanca mountain range for an arduous 3 day trek, and after 24 hours of non-stop bus rides arrived in sunny Mancora beach near the equator to relax for our final few days.

Finally, I wanted to finish off with some opining on local news. Over the past month or so violent riots have been breaking out in the Amazon jungle of Peru. Natives have been protesting a recent law which gives new exploratory rights to foreign oil and gas companies looking to extract resources from the jungle. Natives are worried that the companies will begin to confiscate their land, much of which is occupied by locals without formal property deeds. Thus far approximately 30 police have been killed along with an equal number of natives in clashes between the two groups. Recently Congress voted to repeal the controversial Law of the Jungle, as it has come to be called, and search for new solutions. These incidents raise two important questions here in Peru and in many developing countries. First, where is the balance between pursuing policies which will promote the macroeconomic growth of a country much in need of such growth, and protecting the environmental and human rights of local populations? Second, is rioting/roadblocking/striking the only way for local peoples to gain the attention of the national government and make change happen, and if so, how is the government obligated to respond? In this case, locals lashed out when they felt their voice was not being heard by the central government, and in the end they got the change they wanted, change that in the end was probably just. The central government needed to do a better job from the start working and negotiating with local tribes to ensure that their rights would be protected as new companies searched for resources that could give a considerable boost to macroeconomic growth. The government argues that the resources which exist in the jungle are not sole property of the people in the surrounding regions, but rather of all Peruvians. It is not a decision to be made solely by the tribes, nor solely by the government. Ultimately, I believe there must be a balance. It is simply not economically feasible to say "Hey, let's just outlaw any and all types of natural resource exploitation in our country because we all know how horrible the consequences are." Even a country as powerful and rich as the United States hesitates to let up on its natural resource exploitation for fear of the economic consequences (see recent debates on the new Climate Bill). If Peru were not allowed to extract and sell its own gold, gas, calcium, oil, etc. (or at least tax the companies that do) the economic consequences would be crippling and Peru would be far poorer, with even more of its people lacking the basic services they need to live with dignity. Tembladera itself is a showcase of this dilemma: a local calcium mining company has gradually degraded the town's air quality (debatable according to them, but not according to the health post) but over the years has poured in millions of dollars for development projects in Tembladera and surrounding villages, including electricity, water, infrastructure, schools, etc. But as global consciousness is raised over man's effect on the environment and the meaning of universal human rights, Peru is also becoming more aware that its macroeconomic growth should be handled in a responsible manner. And that is why Congress repealed the Jungle Laws and said "hey, let's look at these laws again and make sure we do it in a way that respects the rights of the locals." I think it was the right move.

In regards to the latter question, it seems that in Peru, yes, often the only way for rural peoples to get the change they want is through roadblocking, strikes and rioting. Peru is a democracy but it is underdeveloped, and it lacks the legal system whereby normal people can make their voice heard. A small anecdote while we are on this topic: One of the first weeks after we arrived in Tembladera I remember being stuck in a roadblock on the way getting back to site. Local farmers were upset that the highway had not been paved despite promises, because the dirt road was kicking up dust onto all of their crops as heavy traffic passed by. We had to deboard the bus, get all of our bags, trek across the roadblock line and find a car on the other side of the roadblock to turn back and get us to site. I remember thinking that it was such an inconvenience for travelers like us, and that the farmers were really disrupting business here. What right did they have? They were punishing us, the innocent ones in the whole affair; why not work it out with the government directly? Much to my surprise, most of the other passengers on the bus were thoroughly understanding of the necessity of the roadblock and the plight of the farmers. "Oh, it's really good they're doing this roadblock," I heard them say. How strange, I thought, that the very people who had to wait hours more to get where they were going were the ones sympathizing with the roadblockers. It would never happen this way in America, I thought. 9 months later, I found myself on a bus traveling on the same road back to town. Only this time, the potholes were worse and the dust was even more suffocating as it poured in through the open window. I turned to Milene, and instinctually said, "Lord, this is horrible, they need to organize some more roadblocks around here to get the message across." I couldn't help but think of the dozens and dozens of times the government had said they would fix the roads in the past 9 months and that construction would begin soon. I even remember once seeing a news conference on television of the president himself proclaiming that the main highway from Trujillo to Cajamarca had been remarkably improved. I laughed along with my host family and we said to each other, "I know he's not talking about our highway!" Only later did Milene and I realize the mental change we had undergone since that first roadblock.

Back to the jungle riots now: These people were essentially doing the same thing, but matters got out of hand when police arrived to disarm the roadblocks. Shots went off, some natives died. Then, large throngs of natives eventually surrounded the police, who then laid down their weapons, and were subsequently bound and massacred with their own weapons. The violence continued to escalate until eventually the Law of the Jungle was repealed by Congress. But what is the lesson people are taught here? That in a democracy, such as Peru, one can murder unarmed policemen in broad daylight, and not only avoid punishment but to the contrary be rewarded with the government's capitulation to your political demands? In the end, the whole situation was tragic. But by repealing the Jungle Law, Congress did what it thought necessary to placate the situation for the time being in hopes that they could get to the bottom of the whole conflict in a reasonable manner. I think, given the circumstances, it was the right choice. I hope that Congress and the central government can engage in a more equal and attentive discussion with natives as to how to find a compromise that respects the rights of locals as resources are tapped for exploitation. After all, Peru is world reknown for its policies which have protected of the Amazon from damage (unlike its neighbor Brazil) and I doubt it plans on ruining that reputation any time soon. Nevertheless, I am shocked by the government's hesitancy to investigate and arrest those natives responsible for the police murders. Perhaps they are biding their time for things to cool down, but there needs to be a serious investigation into the murders of the policeman as well as those of the natives, and all guilty parties should be punished severely giving the unequivocal message that violence is not acceptable when it comes to getting your message across.

That's all for now, but we'll be back on the blog soon!

Thursday, April 16, 2009

New Photos and Posts

Hey Everybody!

It’s been a long time since we have updated our blog, mostly because we haven’t had fast enough internet to upload all our photos. But we’ve been writing and recording memories on our laptop and now have posted numerous posts below (all appear to have the same post date but we’ve also included the actual dates of the entries which go back to January).

There are many more photos which we have put up on our Picassa web album:

Semana Santa in Ancash

April 15, 2009

By Milene

In Peru, the week leading up to Easter is known as Semana Santa or Saint Week and it is one of the most important national holidays of the year. Most schools and offices in small town such as where we live shut down for the week. As Peace Corps Volunteers in Peru, we receive four free vacation days. Nathan and I decided to take the opportunity to travel to Ancash. Ancash is a department in Peru that holds one of the most beautiful snow peaked mountain ranges in the Latin America and possibly in the world. Tourists from all around the globe come to Ancash to see the Cordillera Blanca and the Cordillera Negra mountain ranges. Huascaran, the highest mountain in Peru (6768m) and the second highest in South America, is one of the main attractions. Alpamayo, another peak in the range, was named “the most beautiful mountain in the world” by UNESCO. The region is also spotted with crystal turquoise glacial lakes supplied by the mountain runoff water and elegant waterfalls.

For Peace Corps volunteers, Ancash is an attractive place to visit not only for its views, but also for its great cafes, restaurants, and hostels all catered to the tourist population. It was the first time since being in Peru that we saw bagels and hummus. We also found Indian curries and Mexican burritos, which satisfied some long-held cravings. We stayed in a really cute hostel with a fireplace café on the fifth floor that had a panoramic window with a view of the Cordillera Blanca. The hostel served breakfast each morning with fresh fruit juice, bread, jam, cheese, coffee and tea. The atmosphere reminded us of a ski resort since the weather outside was cold and inside was warm and cozy with friendly people everywhere. While there we met up with several other Peace Corps volunteers from Peru 9 (a previous group) who we rarely get to hang out with.

We took a one day visit to a glacial lake, which was gorgeous. We took a refreshing dip in the freezing cold water as is Peace Corps Ancash tradition. Then we stopped at a town called Yungay, which was destroyed by a mudslide caused by an earthquake in 1970. We took a description off of Wikipedia of what happened:

“On 31 May 1970, the Ancash earthquake caused a substantial part of the north side of [Huascaran] to collapse. The block of ice and rocks was about 1 mile long, half a mile wide, and half a mile deep. In about five minutes it flowed 11 miles to Yungay, burying the entire town under ice and rock, and causing the deaths of more than 20,000 people.”

It was a surreal experience to stand on the very earth which buried the town and look up at Huascaran, thinking of how powerful the natural force must have been to cause such destruction. The only remnants left were the grass field that has grown over the area that used to be the town, a bus that was completely twisted by the mudslide, and pieces of buildings that had been torn off and relocated. Ironically, the only structure that was not damaged was the cemetery since it was built on an elevated hill. We found out that the only survivors of the mudslide were 300 children who were off at a circus in a nearby sports stadium.

The trip as a whole was great, and we look forward to going back and doing a three day trek in the Cordillera Blanca with Nathan’s siblings when they come visit in May!

Lots more pics at:

Valley of the Pyramids

April 4, 2009

We took a day trip with our host family to the nearby department of Lambayeque which is well-known for its many pre-Incan archaeological sites. First we visited the museum of "Señor de Sipán" which showcases the mummy of the supreme leader of the Moche civilization (pre-Incan). Unfortunately, cameras were not allowed inside the museum in order to preserve all the ancient artifacts housed there, so we only have photos of the outside of the museum. We spent the second half of the day in Túcume, located in the Valley of the Pyramids. After climbing to the top of a nearby mountain, you can see 26 ancient adobe pyramids spread throughout the valley which were built over 1,000 years ago by the Lambayeque civilization (pre-Incan).

Without Water in Tembladera

March 21, 2009

In the mountains of Peru it rains consistently from December through April, making life a bit difficult. Fortunately, Tembladera is located lower down the mountains in a valley where it does not rain as intensely nor as frequently. In fact, the rain is often a nice respite from the heat for us. But after several months of heavy rains further up the mountains, and a constant increase in our river flow, the waters washed away the town's water pipes. There is only one source of water to our town, located in some treatment facility further up the mountains. That water arrives to our town via one set of pipes, and if anything ever happens to those access pipes, the entire town is cut off from its water supply. Unfortunately, the water pipes are located precipitously close to the river. When the river floods, the pipes get washed away. And that’s exactly what happened.

So our town was without water for about 2 weeks, which made life a little more exciting. Every day people had to go to the river and fill buckets for their house. Clothes washing also had to be done in the river. Fortunately the local cement mining company sent around a truck twice a day which unloaded water into the waiting buckets which lined the town’s streets. On the plus side, we learned how incredibly refreshing it feels to bathe in a mountain stream instead of a shower. One tip for anyone who goes this route: always tie your soap to your wrist—several of our bars fell victim to slippery hands and a quick current.

More pics at:

Ken Visits Tembladera

March 17, 2009

Our friend and fellow Peace Corps volunteer Ken visited us for the day in Tembladera. He is the volunteer closest to us in the department of Cajamarca at about 3 hours distance by bus. We went to nearby archaeological sites, did some rock climbing, visited my shrimp farm and caught some dinner, and then went back to town where Ken showed off his culinary skills preparing a shrimp pasta for us all.