Tag Archives: featured

The Motorcycle Diaries

2 Feb

A week and a half ago, I bought a secondhand motorcycle off the street. While there were some things wrong with it (broken taillight, non-functioning speedometer and fuel indicator, and a worn out hand brake), the timing and the price worked out quite well. After some good ol’ fashioned haggling, I laid out S/. 1,150 in cash — about $430, to become the proud owner of a used bike.

My previous motorcycle experience was limited to a one weekend course at a community college I took a few years ago, when I had the intention of getting my license and buying a bike. Unfortunately, right after that, I got sent out of town long-term on work travel, and thereafter life as a traveling management consultant extinguished my desire.

Here in Tarapoto, though, where the personal car is still a rarity, virtually everyone gets around on two wheels. (Or three, technically, since half the population rides the three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaws called “mototaxis”.) Since I got here 4 months ago, I’ve had it in the back of my head that I wanted to get back into motorcycles. My Peruvian friend Jean explained the basics of the controls to me (as I had forgotten) and gave me a lesson once where I rode his bike — and that was the extent of my experience.

So of course it seemed like a good idea to just go ahead and buy my own here, to ride around like the locals, jouncing along the rocky dirt roads in my neighborhood or weaving and dodging at high-speed through the madcap traffic in the town center — sans helmet or any other protective gear. At the least, this must prove I don’t have any brain cells to lose in an accident, right?

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Buenas Fiestas

13 Jan Larcomar Mall in Lima at sunset

I spent the Christmas holidays, through New Year’s, traveling around Peru, specifically in and around the two largest cities — Lima, the capital, and Arequipa.  I was lucky to be joined by friends from the States — Abhi, his sister Adithi, and Glenn — for much of the time, and local friends for the rest.

Below, a few vignettes and some photos to illustrate the beauty and excitement of some parts of the country that are very different from my small town in the jungle.

El Misti casts an imposing presence over Tarapoto

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Consultor de Negocios

21 Dec

For nearly three months now, I have been working in rural Peru as an economic development consultant promoting entrepreneurship.  I’m assigned to a specific component of a USAID-funded development project, the inaugural business case competition Idea Tu Empresa (“Your Business Idea”), which has the goal of identifying high-potential entrepreneurs for goods and services primarily related to cocoa and coffee.  From an initial pool of roughly 200 ideas submitted, a whittling-down process which included hundreds of hours of business training for participants ultimately led to ~20 finalists who are being assisted by Technoserve consultants such as myself with the implementation of their business plans.

Discussing inventory with Warmitech socios and business manager

By now I’ve become quite familiar with the many cultural quirks and attributes that are an impediment to the success of many would-be businesspeople here.  Chronic tardiness (“la hora Peruana“, as it’s joked about here); unresponsiveness to emails or phone calls (unless those calls are of a frivolous nature and interrupt a meeting, in which case, it is seen as mandatory to take said call without a hint of self-consciousness); not doing something that was promised; and a general passivity / lack of urgency which one would normally find surprising from people trying to create their own livelihoods.  Within my own organization in-country too, I’ve had to deal with inefficiency, muddled or missing oversight, interminable and unproductive staff meetings, and petty annoyances like a shortage of fans to get through these hot jungle days.  Luckily for me, I had heard beforehand about similar trying experiences from friends who have worked for NGOs in other countries, so I knew going in how to set my expectations.

The good news is that, on most days, all of those challenges are more than offset by my pleasure at being my own boss, trying to figure out for myself what initiatives to pursue and how best to help my clients, and feeling genuine pride when I’m able to achieve results and have a tangible impact here.  So yes, although it takes hard work mixed with occasional pushing and prodding, progress can be achieved!  To do so effectively, I’ve had to take to heart several lessons — and undoubtedly will continue to learn more in the months ahead.

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3 Nov

This past weekend, I took advantage of the Nov 1 national holiday for Dia de Todos los Santos (All Saints’ Day), and took a 4-day trip to Pacaya-Samiriya National Reserve.  Pacaya-Samiriya is a vast expanse of dense Amazonian jungle, a bit difficult to access, and not heavily frequented by tourists.  In order to get to our destination, our group — myself, fellow TNS volunteer Yun, and a Canadian NGO worker I met recently named Veronique — had to take a colectivo from Tarapoto to Yurimaguas, a long ferry ride from Yurimaguas to the flyspeck town of Lagunas, and from there ride several hours in a canoe to get to our first campsite.

Holding a baby crocodile just snatched out of the water
Holding a baby crocodile pulled from the water by our canoe during a night-time excursion in the park

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48 Hours

10 Oct


Eight days into my Peruvian adventure, I don’t have much in the way of comparison as to a “typical weekend”, but in the past 48 hours I have survived an uncomfortably close call in a taxi, drank snake-infused liquor, eaten beetle larvae (video embedded below) and fried jungle ants, thrown a big house party, and seen/done a whole lot more worth remembering.

Video: I attempt to cajole Johan into eating grubs with me

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