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Peru Travels 2006:
Cusco, Quillabamba, San Martin, Huallaga, Tarapoto, Lamas, Etc.

I have been meaning to get to Peru, not because I think the coffee is so great, but because I know the potential is there. But in general the offerings are so disappointing. Sure, each year I have cupped many lots and always find something nice. But real cup quality is a product of consistency, and with that in mind, the Peru coffee market has nearly doomed itself to failure. The problem has many roots, but in general, Organic (and Fair Trade) certification has not been the answer for Peruano coffee farmers, nor the answer for coffee enthusiasts in terms of cup quality. Organic and FT coffees might have good cup quality, but it is almost as accidental as non-certified lots having good cup quality. In very few Associations and Coops is there a cupper who actually roasts and samples each separate lot as they come in. Incoming coffee is mixed before it is ever evaluated, in most cases, which results in the lowest common denominator in terms of the cup. Peru pinned its star to Organic certifications but has now become the "Vietnam" of Organic arabica coffee, the quantity (not quality) supplier, and that means a race for the bottom in terms of price. Another interesting fact: farmers do not know how much their coffee sells for, and do not know what they will receive. This is usually true in terms of the price paid by the importer, often true in terms of the exporting agent, but here the farmer doesn't even know what their own Coop gets for the coffee, the organization they are members of! Incredibly, the farmer doesn't know what the organic premium is, and most incredible of all, they don't know what they are supposed to receive even when the coffee is Fair Trade certified. It is an opaque system to the farmer, not an open transparent system. And, like many producing origins, the farmer does not cup ... when (and if) they drink coffee on their farm they drink Nescafe or the like. Farm practices are a problem too, especially moisture content and drying. Anyway, all of this makes Peru a challenge, but the fact is that the farmers and many others really, really want things to change, and the potential in terms of high altitude micro-climates is remarkable. The coffee culture, while sullied, is not at all down for the count, which makes me only want to work more to develop relationships and get some fantastic Peru coffees. And we want to do it in a totally open system, where we can be sure the farmer is paid well. Additionally, we are going to provide support for improvements in patio-drying of the coffee, and good handling to maximize cup quality. Don't take all my criticism the wrong way: I don't have the answers, but like many Peruanos I want to see the system get better and the cup quality improve. And I want all the farms to stay Organic, and make sure FT is doing what it is supposed to for the producer. After all, I haven't put in the work on behalf of Peru, but sometimes a first exposure to a situation offers the freshest look. If 395 photos (edited down from 800+) is an indication, I really do like Peru. - Tom
 
You can go through these by scanning thumbnail pages or by clicking on an image to see the large picture, and navigate 1 image at a time . Horrible Spelling Alert! We corrected spelling and grammer on the thumbnail pages, but not on the individual image pages. The text was written on a sticky-keyed laptop on red-eye flights in Peru and back to SFO, so please excuse the errors -Tom
 
I made a movie and uploaded it to Google Video ... a music Video essentially, the soundtrack being a genuine 1967 Peruvian surf/psych song: Peru Coffee Rumble 2006 or it can be viewed at the Google Video site.

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Early morning at Cusco airport: Lima was just a blur - arrived 3 hours late due to residual hurricane delays from Miami, time for a shower, 1 hour of sleep, and back to the airport to catch the LAN flight to Cusco. Cusco airport, a mere 11,000 feet above sea level, and you feel every bit of it. They try to sell you coca leaves in the parking lot. It's for tea, folks.
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Loading up the seriously macho Mitsubishi 4x4 with our manejador (driver) Juan. Basically, a rental car comes with a driver and that's that. It's a good idea, as you will see.
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Don't Smoke Turn off Your Motor, Turn off Your Cell Phone. Gas stations are paranoid, REALLY paranoid, about sparks from electronic devices.
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Looking around for straps to ensure that our Japanese friend's luggage would not fall off the roof and onto the roadside, I saw this handsome footballer. Hey, all you need is feet to play soccer.
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In Cusco, a unique use for advertising material turned into plastic awinings for small bodegas.
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Who needs a supermercado. This guy has the entire soda isle laid out on the sidewalk. The favorite bevrage is this piss yellow InkaCola ... each bottle contains several miligrams of ground Incan corpses.
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The main cathedral in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco.
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It's an amazing repository of Catholica weath, much of it melted down from Incan gold ... but you can't photograph anything but the insignificanly small entrance piece as you walk in the front doors.
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Side entrance at the main Catedral in the Plaza de Armas, Cusco.
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No main square is adquate without several other churches in the viscinity ... this one just to the left as you leave the central Cathedral. It is either Iglesia Santa Catalina or Iglesia de la Compania.
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Cusco was remarkably quiet at the Plaza de Armas when we arrived at 9 on Sunday morning. Apparently all the toursists were still laid up with hangovers. At this visit, there were few tourists but later it was like a great white tide of latte-sipping, alpaca-sweater wearing, boutique shopping foreigners. And yet, not a single blue eyed out-of-towner was found.
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To the Eternal Cusco. From, the Lion's Club
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Typical hillside view from old Cusco
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Saqsayhuaman - odd to spell it but it is pronounced just as a middle-eastern swinger might comment on a hot lady he spies. Ancient. pre-Incan
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The Sacred Valley (Valle Sagrado), fertile farmland that was basically the breadbasket for the Incan empire based in Cusco and nearby Macchu Piccu.
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3 of my 4 Japanese collegues, cuppers (catadores). From left, Hisashi Yamamoto from Unir Coffee, Hiroshi Hirano from Tower Coffee and Akiyo Itoi from Times Club at the Sacred Valley overlook
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Entering the town of Pisac
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Typical bicycle haulers in town bringing goods in and out of the marketplace.
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Pisac
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Waiting for the bus... Sunday is the big market day when everyone from the surrounding area comes in to sell and buy. Populations of towns double.
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The other uniquitous transport, the 3 wheel moto-car. You can cram in 3 people and the rate is 2 soles, about 60 cents, for most distances.
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What happened to Yoshiro 1 and Yoshiro 2? Another sign of the unusual relation between all things Japanese and the Peruanos of rural Peru
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Super Couger at Pisac, a crossroads for those taking the paved road to Machu Picchu and those of us headed out on dirt roads to the less traveled areas.
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I am a sucker for paintings, these on the sports facilty at Pisac.
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Not sure what game these futbolistas are playing .... but Cusco has the number 1 team in Peru. Perhaps it has something to do with the fact that Cusco home games are played at 11,000 feet, hmmm...
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I win, yahoo.
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The marketplace at Pisac was very lively and I could have spent hours there. Forget tourist nic-nacs, I love local markets.
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KC O'Keefe, a fella from Washington state who has lived 9 years in Peru, asks where we can find some local bread for a snack in the car.
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Typical Cusquena woman at the market
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Unbelievable variations of fresh and dried foods at the market. Here, tubers, potatos of many kinds, yuca, grains (lots of rice), nuts, etc.
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Local bread prepared on wood stoves.
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And what goes better with a mindblowing variety of fresh local produce than an equally diverse selection of pop!? Cusquenos are known for their elaborate silver fillings in the their teeth - perhaps there is a connection.
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Spices, and some unidentified colorful dots which might be cake decoration, or just paper confetti (?)
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U Dare Say What? I (Heart Grafitti)
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Not the Adean who dresses up at the airport for tips ... this is the daughter of a sherherdess who was high up on the hill. (We had stopped for a picture of the view). I could hear her urging her daughter to come meet us in anticipation of coin or what have you. She ended up with a handsome bag of small breads.
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On the ascent to the pass, then down to the coffee lands. At this point ( and at Cusco) we are way above the altitudes coffee can be grown. Only in Bolivia have I experience this ... traveling DOWN TO the coffee farms.
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Most times, digital snapshot cameras flatten out the drama of steep, sheer spires or volcanic peaks. Here, that is nearly impossible: they still appear daunting.
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High altitude bogs - approaching 10000 feet.
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Tres macho at 4528 meters / , Abra Amparaes. I didn't use the oxygen thinking that going on and off it was going to be worse for my body. But I was definitely feeling the effects up there. Nonetheless....
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Aeropressin' it near 15k feet. This is now my favorite travel press because it is plastic , easy to clean up, and does a pretty good job under less than perfect circumstances.
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And here is the GPS to prove it: 4528 meters / 14,852 feet folks. You feel like a goldfish with your eyes bulging out, like someone is trying to squeeze your stomach out your mouth, and you get winded doing things like taking 3 steps up an incline. Hey, Okland altitude is 22 feet. I am 11059 feet out of my element. What can I say.
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IT"S COFFEE TIME! Highest coffee ever produced in Peru! .... well, by the cup. Brewing an excellent Peru Cusco coffee from San Antonio area at 4,528 meters.
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AND the highest cup evaluation ever performed - we discuss the finer points of the Cusqueno coffee while our eyes bulge with pressure and our chests feel like someone is bearhugging (or heimliching) from behind.
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KC doing the oxygen between sips. He couldn't get the regulator right, and I think it ended up doing more harm than good, seeing that he is the one who really got sick on the descent.
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Hiroshi takes a group picture. The car in the background is one of maybe 3 we saw on this road, a far cry from touristy Cusco and Machupicchu
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What can I say - it is intensely dramatic here. You go from hazy Lima at 65 degrees to refreshing Cusco at 55 degrees to frigid passes above the tree line at 45 degrees. But I DIDN'T go to forbidding cragged peaks at -0 c degrees!
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And what do the locals think?
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Trying to make friends with the locals - but they really down't trust us much. They litterally look like 1970's rugs on legs. These are Llamas, not Alpacas.
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Shepherders at a Quechuan village at 10000+ feet. Quechuan is the language spoken in rural Cusco and in fact most of Central/Southern Rural Peru. (North too I am sure but we did not go up there). Spanish is called Castillion and still reminds them of Pisarro somewhat. Quechuan is what politicians use when they want to "bro-down" with the village folks.
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Once again, just mind-blowing scenerey here, rivaled perhaps only by the Himilayas (which I have never seen).
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A stone house thatched with Carizo grass in the shadow of intensely vertical peaks
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Typical Cusqueno (Andean/Quechuan person of Cusco) hauling his Sunday purchases from the market back home with some 4 legged help.
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Traditional Andean dress for market day in the town of Ipal, Cusco province.
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Even though it is the dry season and the coffee trees are droopy and sad, there is plenty of water rushing down the Rio Yanatile
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Gotta get my mug in there every so othen
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There are moments when you see the natiive forest that once covered this area (this, with coffee planted beneath it). Most of the original damage was due to big ranching business in the early 20th century.
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We had to stop to check out this rather dubious bridge. The gorge below was a mere 40 feet, not much compared to the 1000 foot drops we were getting used to as we decended our route along the Yanatile.
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But this gives an idea how bad it was. The passengers walked and the driver, somewhat nonplussed, took it across with only one iffy moment for the right front tire (right there in the foreground).
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Maybe this picture shows it better....
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Typical political paintings on any abandoned building. They paint their party icon, someone crosses it out, they repaint, someone else alters it ... it's like a visual form of political snarking, with hints of gangland grafitti wars. (K.C. clarification: "The paintings for the political parties with an X over it is on purpose. ON the ballots in Peru the drawing appears and to vote for the party you want you put an X through it. In semi-nonliterate society pictures help a lot. Your picture of the pot “Olla” was for Olantaytambos party who lost the presidency by only 2%. He was a strong militant leftist who wanted to cut ties with the US and join Chavez in a movement to socialize south America.")

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