As if the feng shui requirements of the Wari civilization in pre-Columbian Peru weren’t terrible enough! The Wari were wont to sacrifice a dozen young virgins when breaking ground on new construction, burying them at strategic points beneath walls, columns and spiritually significant areas. They would even sacrifice three or four when they were just renovating a room, which was quite often, since their buildings were built on top of ruins of previous generations of the same culture, often eight or ten successive layers which archeologists have sifted through and catalogued, each with its quota of dead virgins meticulously murdered and buried in auspicious locations and positions
One would think that living, working, eating and sleeping among so many dead virgins would be spooky and odiferous, not to mention unhygienic, but the Wari were masters of mummification and the climate in costal Peru is hot and extremely dry, so it wasn’t a problem.
As to the Dutch escort agency, we wonder if they are offering franchise deals to area agents. If so, we want to wrap up Cambridge, Mass. as our personal territory. We could probably run a shuttle out of Logan….
It has started. Again. The wave of leftist governments spreading across Latin America got a cold, creepy wakeup call last night when the new, socialist, Minister of Defense of Ecuador, the first female to hold that position, was killed in a helicopter crash a few miles from the only major US Airbase in South America.
QUITO (Reuters) – Ecuador’s first female defense minister was killed in a mid-air collision of two helicopters Wednesday after only nine days in office, government and military officials said.
The accident in the Andean nation further rattled the leftist government of President Rafael Correa, who has clashed with Congress over his executive powers and prompted street protests since taking office along with his ministers on Jan 15.
Defense Minister Guadalupe Larriva, a 50-year-old former teacher and senior official of a socialist political party supporting Correa, died in the crash in a Pacific coastal province east of Quito, Correa told reporters.
Larriva took office only nine days ago, named by the newly elected President of Ecuador, Rafael Correa. In interests of full disclosure, Correa is an economist and a personal friend of our wife Norma Yvonne, from when they studied and worked together in the School of Economics of the Catholic University in Guayaquil.
Sweeping into office on a platform of reform and a break from the Bush policies for the hemisphere. Correa took the bold move of naming a woman who had never served in the military as Secretary of Defense.
Political observers (like the Dowbrigade) had wondered how the Ecusdorian military, long a bastion of Macho right-wing closet conservatives with links to the CIA, were going to take orders from a female socialist.
Now we know.
This modus operendi is not new. A quarter of a century ago, the Ecuadorians elected Jaime, Roldos a young Socialist college professor as President. A year later, he was killed in a very similar small plane accident. According to Wikipedia:
CARACAS, Venezuela – As university students clashed with the police in this country last May, attention focused not just on their demands to hold elections without government meddling but also on the names of the two leaders organizing the protests: Nixon Moreno and Stalin Gonz
JUNIN, Peru — In a small storefront on a bleak, wind-swept Andean plateau, Timotea Cordova offers an oxygen-deprived visitor a traditional elixir to ward off the breathless effect of the high altitude.
For hundreds of years, Quechua Indians have grown maca, the frost-resistant root that thrives in these frigid Andean highlands, to boost stamina and sex drive. The root, they believe, is nature’s bounty and belongs to everyone and to no one in particular.
Maca growers and indigenous organizations were outraged when, in 2001, a New Jersey-based company, PureWorld Botanicals, received a US patent for exclusive commercial distribution of an extract of maca’s active libido-enhancing compounds that it branded as MacaPure.
Peruvian officials called the patent an "emblematic case" of biopiracy and are preparing to challenge it in US courts.
The maca dispute is just the latest collision between indigenous people and commercial interests over so-called biological prospecting, the growing practice of scouring the globe for exotic plants, microbes, and other living things ripe for commercial exploitation.
Ah, the path not taken. For years this seemed to be the career path of the Dowbrigade, as he plied isolated Amazon tributaries and Andean valleys for shamen, curanderos, herbal medicines, psychotropic plants, substances and preparations. We (in this case the Dowbrigade and a small group of young grad students and researchers from Harvard and other schools working in South America in the 1970′s) called it Ethnobotany and generally fell into it while under the influence of samples of the substances which had found their way back to the campuses in question, or brilliant professors such as Richard Schultes, the father of modern ethnobotany, whose undergraduate course piqued our interest.
Of course, in those days no one was hip to bio-prospecting. Maybe, if we had figured out that many of these magical substances had commercial value it would have influenced our selection of a profession. But probably not. Financial security was the furthest thing from our busy mind in those days, and in some ways it still is, unfortunately.
Oh, the stories we could tell. Sure, we remember maca, but it never did much for us. Perhaps we didn’t notice, as we seem to remember spending our 20′s in a more or less permanent state of arousal. But we were enormously impressed by Chuchuwasi.
Chuchuwasi was mostly an extract of a creeping vine known only to a few small tribes on tributaries of the Ucayali River, mixed by local Shamen with traces of chacropanga and other top-end additives. It was reputed to be the most powerful libido booster known, as far as the female libido was concerned. Sort of like the holy grail of current sex pharma research – a female viagra.
We were impressed because we have seen this stuff work – twice. After a convoluted series of trades and bargains, which involved our parting with both a prized black hooded Moroccan camel-hair cape and an authentic plastic mood ring, we had gotten our hands on a full bottle of fresh Chuchuwasi. It was contained in scratched and dirty bottle which had once contained Ron Cartavio, stopped with a cork and tied with twine.
The first night we had it, we shared it with three Danish backpackers, whom, up to that point, we had assumed by their dress and demeanor were militant dykes. Given their short, butch haircuts, it was impossible to imagine them letting their hair down. Until they tried the Chuchuwasi. Within two hours, they were dancing fiendishly in their underwear around a fire in a clearing. The effects lasted about five memorable hours.
Now, aware of the danger of making assumptions and jumping to conclusions (after all, our first subjects were Scandinavians, scandalously infamous in all things sexual, so the next night we were decided to put what was left of the bottle to a real test. In a nearby village was a small school, the Centro Educativa Santa Teresa, staffed by four young nuns sent from a monastery near Cuzco. They had previously invited us for a visit, and we decided to take them up on it – with the Chuchusasi.
They invited us to try some herbal tea. We got them to try the Chuchuwasi, telling them it was a mild aperitif we had been given by the chief of a village upriver. We had a pleasant chat.
The joy juice started to kick in after about 45 minutes. It was evening, school was out, and the school was somewhat isolated from the rest of the village. This is not the time or place for details, but let us say we were taken to school, for sure. We learned some lessons that night we will never forget, including what lies behind the habits of confirmed Christianity.
The nuns finished off what was left of the Chuchusasi, and we never managed to get our hands on another. We were soon off on the trail of a legendary tree, the result of dozens of generations of genetic tinkering on the part of a family of Colombian shamen. Reputedly, this tree, the end product of a hundred-year project, was the lone example of its genus and smoking a preparation of its bark allowed repeatable and reliable human telepathy.
But we remember where the Chuchuwasi came from, and believe we could find it again. A natural, female equivalent of Viagra could be worth billions to the right company. Maybe its not too late to return to our roots. Any interested backers out there?
It’s finally over, the semester that wouldn’t end. It started, if memory serves, on May 29, with a class of Business Professionals meeting in a weird wired classroom near the Business School, and ended this afternoon with a farewell lunch in a Thai joint a half-mile down Comm Ave.
Over the intervening 28 weeks, motivated by encroaching poverty, the Dowbrigade has been a veritable didactic machine. Calling in favors, leaning on management, volunteering for suicide missions, we loaded up our schedule with a hodgepodge of assignments, different departments, ad hoc electives and an eclectic collection of tutorees including personages of whom we dare not reminisce lest we run afoul of one of several foreign intelligence organizations.
Many times during the tough stretches, doing the dirty work in the academic trenches of American Higher Education, teaching three-a-days and getting home so tired we didn’t make it through the news, stacks of papers to correct so high we can’t see the TV behind them, the flat tire in the rain skipping lunch between classes to meet the man, mornings we could barely drag our sorry carcass out of bed, one thought kept us going. That thought – right now. The present moment. Looking back in stunned satisfaction, having run the gauntlet of placement, syllabus, midterm, term papers, finals, evaluations again and again till our head hurt. And now – We Are There.
So what do we have planned for the next six weeks, until the “Spring” semester starts up in the dog days of January? For the next few days, as little as possible, allowing the engine to cool down and the steam to dissipate. Then, the things we always like to do when our time is our own; read, eat, blog, learn new stuff, laugh, enjoy family, get lost and try to find our way home, get into trouble and try to find a way out. No travel on the schedule so far; last year we spent Christmas in the Andes and New Year on the Beach, and the year before Norma Yvonne was with her Mom in Ecuador, so this year we plan to spend the holidays together, at home, with a tree decorated, stockings hung, and family mustered. Hoping for a silent night and Peace on Earth. Fat chance.
At any rate, a chance to rest up and recharge our batteries after an exhausting though exhilarating run of close encounters of a classroom kind.
Actually, we should probably be ashamed of ourselves. Here we are whining about how hard we have to work, when compared to three-fourths of the people on the planet we live a life of unimaginable luxury and sloth. Why, compared to a Burmese peasant toiling endlessly in some rice paddy, or a Guatemalan Indian spending 70 hours a week in some firetrap factory carving cat scratchers for sale in Targets across America, or any one of millions of incarcerated souls forgotten by the outside world, working hard every day just to stay alive, and sane, the Dowbrigade is a pampered prince in a pleasure palace.
Besides, we’ve lived long enough to know by now that whenever things seems most placid, restful and blessedly boring, cacophonous chaos is right around the corner. Stay tuned….
CITY – Demonstrators pretend to smoke fake marijuana cigarettes during
a protest for the decriminalization of marijuana
in La Alameda park, in this May 4, 2002 file photo in Mexico City. Police
and business owners from Mexico’s beaches to border cities worried that
a measure just passed to decriminalize possession of cocaine, heroin
and other drugs could attract droves of tourists solely looking to get
high. (05/01/06 AP
Yep, that’s pretty much how we remember Mexican weed
from back in the day: cheap and plentiful, but you had to roll huge fucking
joints to get a decent buzz.
This whole Mexican drug fiasco seems to be another
example of the primacy of spin over substance. As we understand it,
measure was designed to strengthen prosecution by the Federal Drug Police
of dealers, narcotraficantes and major miscreants, while leaving the
nickel and dime trade (including foreign tourists) to the discretion
of the local cops.
Meaning that drugs wouldn’t be legal, exactly, just that the local gendarmes would have the choice of extracting reasonable
administrative costs for processing stoners caught possessing or consuming
drugs in public. Getting caught would cost 2 or 3 hours in some crummy
police station and 2 or 3 hundred bucks in "fines", without the necessity
of clogging the Mexican jails with idiot Gringo wastrels. Basically,
a more formal and efficient version of the time-honored payoff system
in place for generations.
Meanwhile, the Feds will go for the really big bribes
and payoffs concordant with prosecutions of the big fish, and everybody
will get a slice of the drug pie. So the whole thing was just a novel
and efficient distribution of law enforcement graft.
But once the US press got hold of the story, and miscast
it as a nefarious Drug Legalization aiming harpoons at the soft underbelly
of American indolence, the plan was doomed.
Too bad. Even if the reefer sucks, we’ve heard the mushrooms
An exquisitely preserved and elaborately tattooed
mummy of a young woman has been discovered deep inside a mud-brick pyramid
in northern Peru, archaeologists from Peru and the U.S. announced today.
The 1,500-year-old mummy may shed new light on the mysterious Moche culture,
which occupied Peru’s northern coastal valleys from about A.D. 100 to 800.
In addition to the heavily tattooed body, the tomb yielded a rich array
of funeral objects, from gold sewing needles and weaving tools to masterfully
worked metal jewelry. Peruvian archaeologists, under the direction of lead
scientist R?gulo Franco, made the discovery last year at an ancient ceremonial
site known as El Brujo.
The tomb lay near the top of a crumbling pyramid called Huaca Cao Viejo,
a ruin near the town of Trujillo (see Peru map) that has been well known
since colonial times.
El Brujo, of course, means The Wizard, The Witchdoctor,
The Shaman. We suspect the
tattooed chick has a back story that would make today’s most demented
Goth seem like a Princess in a Fairy Tale by comparison. See related
speculation in the New
The Moche, who ruled what today is the north coast of
Peru when the Roman Empire ruled the Ancient World, were without a doubt
the most blood-thirsty and ghoulish of the many sacrificial cults in
pre-Hispanic America. They sacrificed thousands of assorted victims every
year for hundreds of years. They especially liked to sacrifice children
They worshiped a sanguinary deity called The Decapitator,
usually depicted as a giant spider with one arm holding a knife at the
neck of its next victim and another holding the head by its hair. The
sacrifices, often dozens or hundreds at a time, featured not only, like
the Aztecs, removal of the still-beating heart using a special sacrificial
but also complete excarnation and
ritual consumption of human blood.
They couldn’t build a house or even an outhouse
without sacrificing several teenaged virgins and planting them at the
a sort of macabre feng shui. Much anthropological attention has been paid
to the source of so many human sacrifices, with no consensus conclusion.
Moche is a dark and haunted town to this day. It features worn,
slump-shouldered pyramids of weathered adobe brick, rising like brown
bales of sun-baked straw in the middle of irrigated fields of corn and
sugar cane, desultory agricultural workers and poverty-stricken peasants shuffling listlessly through said fields, and an occasional backpacking tourist. The tourists usually look around the corn fields and failing to locate a museum, gift shop, bathrooms or even a soda stand, usually leave without even seeing the pyramids up close.
We know whereof we speak, as we lived over 10 years
in the nearby Peruvian city
of Trujillo. In fact, perhaps not coincidentally, the Dowbrigade
was married (wife #1) in Moche, to a Peruvian Princess, daughter of a
local judge with shady connections in Moche which allowed us to avoid
legal prerequisites to matrimony required in more organized and supervised
The Moche marriage turned out to be almost as bloody
as the empire that preceded it, and these days our now ex-wife is looking
like the tattooed sweetheart above. But let’s not get nasty, or mean-spirited,
this late in the game. We’re bigger than that.
LIMA, Peru -A packed bus skidded off a highway and
flipped on its side in Peru’s southern Andes mountains, killing 13 people,
including one American, and injuring 40, police said Monday.
The accident occurred before dawn Sunday on an isolated road near the highland
district of Santa Lucia, about 800 kilometers (500 miles) southeast of
the capital of Lima.
Police said a U.S. citizen was among those killed. She was identified by
the Minneapolis Star Tribune as Meghan Sennott, 20, the daughter of one
of that newspaper’s photographers. He was notified about her death by U.S.
Consulate officials in Lima.
Officials were investigating the cause of the crash, but local media attributed
the crash to either the driver falling asleep or a mechanical failure that
had twice prompted the driver to pull over the vehicle, which carried about
Buses in Peru often are poorly maintained, and drivers frequently speed
and pass each other on blind mountain curves.
Overall, 557 people were killed in rural bus accidents between July 2004
and June 2005, according to Peru’s nonprofit Center for Investigation of
Our heart goes out to the family of Meghan Sennott.
seasoned traveler knows taking a bus on the Gringo Trail is taking one’s
life in one’s
is no other way to get around down there except hitch-hiking, which is
like dipping your life in grease before taking it in your own hands,
As a seasoned survivor of myriad treks, long hauls and
multi-country bus trips on the Gringo Trail, the Pan-American Highway,
and smaller roads across the breadth and depth of South America, we have
compiled a short list of tips for the less experienced adventurer.
Rules of the Road for Andean Bus Trips
Try to find a bus younger than you are, and which has
no visible welding or patched tires
Make sure the bus has at least TWO decent spare tires
Before leaving, identify the driver, and engage in some
casual conversation, to establish his sobriety
When in the mountains, avoid taking overnight buses
If unable to avoid night buses, make sure to hit a
pharmacy near the bus station
before leaving, and stock up on barbiturates,
pain-killers and anti-anxiety medication (no prescription needed)
Bring your own bread, fruit and water, or fast, because
the dives the driver stops at are all operated by syphallitic relatives
as part of the Dysentery City chain
Avoid taking buses the day before a holiday, because
everyone will be drunk
Avoid taking buses the day OF a holiday, because
everyone will be drunk
Avoid taking buses the day AFTER a holiday, because
everyone will be hung over
Finally, we have had great success (we are writing this,
aren’t we) with a favorite personal technique; we always try to board
buses which have among the passengers several Priests or Nuns, on
this will keep the driver on his best behavior. It’s worked for me,
Anyone with a yen for adventure would be well advised to get in touch with the Dowbrigade’s son Joey at his Andean Adventure Hotel in the Switzerland of Peru. Have a Great Trip!
QUITO, Ecuador — Ecuador’s Tungurahua volcano is
emitting its loudest and most frequent explosions since it rumbled back
to life nearly seven years ago after eight decades of inactivity, scientists
The volcano registered 133 explosions of vapor and gas between Wednesday
and Friday, Ecuador’s Geophysics Institute reported.
"It has been rumbling constantly in the last six years, always registering
explosions, emitting ash," he told The Associated Press.
"What’s happening now is that since May 10, we have had times in which
there are 10 explosions per hour, booms so powerful that they broke some
windows in sectors like Cusua," a village on the western slopes
of the volcano, Yepes added.
Residents say the thunderous explosions have not been so loud since 1999,
In October of that year, the volcano spewed huge columns of ash into
the air, forcing the evacuation of 17,000 residents of Ba
Why would Bolivia blow off the International Oil industry
unless they already had a long-term, pressure immune alternate buyer
BOGOTA — When President Evo Morales nationalized
Bolivia’s gas industry this week, he fulfilled a popular campaign promise
to return his country’s riches to its people. But he may have done more
harm than good to Bolivia’s interests and those of the region, analysts
Bolivia boasts the second-largest hydrocarbon reserves in South America,
with an estimated potential value of $70 billion and including nearly
$1 billion in natural gas exports last year. If foreign investors
off by nationalization, the poorest country in the continent cannot afford
to fully exploit its hydrocarbons sector alone, the analysts say.
Bolivia is easily the most foreign foreign
country we have visited in our peripatetic voyages around the Western
Hemisphere. It is different
in so many ways and on so many levels that
a visit to Bolivia is more like a trip to another planet than
From the impossibly high Lake Titicaca, the highest
navigable body of water in the world, where people live on stilt houses
over the water, or on masses of interwoven vegetation floating on it,
to the Upper Amazon black market town Santa Cruz, known as the "White
City" and famous as the seat of Bolivia’s two most profitable industries,
oil and cocaine, and as a sort of spook central for the entire Amazon
Basin, the entire landlocked redoubt is a series of unsolvable, inscrutable
Andean and Amazonian riddles.
The last time we were in La Paz (world’s highest
national capital unless you include Lhasa. Tibet, which we do), the
city of winding,
climbing stone streets of Incan origin or inspiration which literally
takes ones breath away, seemed to be populated entirely by Indians and
In fact, Bolivia is the most ethnically Native American
country in the world. About 2/3 of the country are full-blooded Indians,
and most of the rest are Mestizos. And at the time the Dowbrigade last
visited, in the mid-70′s, La Paz still had a large and vibrant community
of ex-Nazis (for by then, after all, nobody was a Nazi anymore), refugees
and sympathizers, whose paperwork had been conveniently destroyed in
the war, but who had managed to escape with something valuable enough
that they had ingratiated themselves with the local power structure,
which had inclinations in those directions (fascism and graft) anyway.
They met at the old Hotel Italia, pulling up before
its stone and mortar porticos in chaffer-driven Mercedes, trim intense
men in their 50s and 60s, dressed in great, long woolen coats and high
leather boots against the mountain chill. We watched them come and go
because there wasn’t much else to do. La Paz didn’t seem to go in much
for public entertainment, and it was almost impossible to score. Plus,
the Italia was one of the few places to get a decent European-style meal.
But we digress. The conclusion that is stunningly obvious
to the Dowbrigade, and which we are incredulous that no one else is writing
about, is that Evo Morales would not be telling his traditional customers
(Brazil and Argentina, as well as the international oil companies represented
in Bolivia by Brazil’s Petrobras, Spanish-Argentine
Repsol YFP, and France’s Total to go take a flying fuck UNLESS HE ALREADY
HAD ANOTHER SIGNED DEAL IN HIS POCKET.
Who would dare deal with a rogue state like Bolivia
after they had blown off the US and international oil? Let’s think here
a minute, folks, its not nuclear fusion. Who can’t be bullied by George
Bush and the international oil cartel he is fronting for? Who would find
Evos brand of leftist populism and state control of vital industries
downright comforting? Who is desperately scurrying around the globe these
days to hunt down and tie up energy reserves in anticipation of the frantic
competition sure to ensue as demand increases and supply dwindles?
Meanwhile, business leaders in Santa Cruz, the headquarters
of Bolivia’s petroleum industry and its financial capital, have called
for a general strike today to protest the occupation by soldiers of 56
gas installations around the country.
Santa Cruz has long been controlled by a series
of Bolivian Army Colonels, who established themselves there as sort
of Western Warlords,
out of the effective reach of the capital, and smack atop the drug, smuggling
and spying nexus between Bolivia, Brazil and Paraguay. A few years before
the Dowbrigade visited the place, Che Guevara was finally run to ground
by a CIA ht squad in the jungle less than a day’s march from town. The
Colonel de Jour took public credit, but the lesson seemed to be you could
get away with anything in Santa Cruz, if you knew who to talk to.
When we blew through town, three sleepless days
and nights on our way to Itagua, a tiny Paraguayan river port reputed
have the finest embroidery in the hemisphere (they did), before we finally
caught "The Train of Death" through the pestilent swamp to
anthropologists. Just because we were young and American, they
assumed we were drug dealers. Three times during our stay, runners came
up to us on the street and palmed us packets with 2 or 3 grams of pure
Bolivian flake inside, and a phone number written on the back
But wee are digressing again. A hazard of accumulated
experience. Everything reminds us of something else, these days.
In fact, representatives from the Chinese Oil Ministry
and China’s National Petroleum Company have been spotted in Santa Cruz
and La Paz often during the past six months. China has the capital, the
need and the will to take control of Bolivia’s huge natural gas resources
until they are empty. And why stop at gas? China has an understandable desire to make friends in the Americas as a counterbalance to US influence in Asia. In a few years, expect Bolivia to function as a fully-funded franchise of China, Inc.
The fact that Latin American countries are feeling freer
to abrogate deals signed by previous governments, levy new taxes and
fees in the face of the unprecedented capital accumulation represented
by the run-up in oil prices, and now even taking over their oil industries,
infrastructure and all, does not bode well for the future of American
For whatever reason, be it our overextended military,
our clear lack of national resolve, or our increasingly obvious moral
bankruptcy, our brother and sister nations are no longer willing to follow
our lead, or our instructions.
Today they are dissing our oil companies, breaking
deals and stealing equipment. Next thing you know they will be refusing
pay their loans, or deal with the IMF! And if it starts with our American
brethren, pretty soon we won’t be able to push people around in Asia,
Africa or the Middle East! Gadzooks, the American century just started,
and its already slipping out of control!
But what can we do? Invade Bolivia? And Venezuela,
Ecuador, Peru and Brazil? Is this the final battle of the Indian Wars which have been going on for the past 500 years, since White Men began displacing Red Men from the seats of power? Are we finally seeing the systemic readjustment
of the relative
value of raw and finished goods some economists have been predicting since the 60′s?
Or is it just the opening acts of Armageddon? Stay tuned…..