Peru Travel Teachings No 2: El acceso a Internet es un privilegio

9 11 2009

In Santa Teresa, on an alternative route to Machu Picchu, my friend Mark and I stopped for the night before heading to the famous Inca citadel the next morning. Mark became thoroughly aggravated when we couldn’t access the Internet, despite the fact that there was a Cabina de Internet in the small town.

Well at least “Cabina de Internet” was how this burnt-out room full of PC’s had been advertised. When we finally got to a computer, it was unable to access our Hotmail accounts, let alone any web page at all. The guy in charge of the place was reluctant to give us another computer to try, given that all of his friends were busy trying to play World of Warcraft, Max Payne and other such games on the available machines. (On reflection, we realised that this was probably the reason the connection was so slow.)

As Mark stormed away in a rager, understandably ruffled by the guy’s lack of concern for his communication with home, I realised that I had become accustomed to public internet access here being totally shoddy and unreliable in the current absence of my own annoyance.

Internet connections in this part of South America are, for the most part, sporadic. The vast majority of people in Bolivia and Peru can get access through one of the many Cabinas de Internet; which usually come in the form of street-side stores that are full of PCs with a connection. For Cabinas de Internet per capita, Peru is one of the leading countries in the world.

Like the one in Santa Teresa, the connections can be woeful. During travel in Peru in Bolivia and living in Lima, I have uniformly had trouble accessing the internet through cabinas, with regular problems such as a painfully slow connection, websites and programs not working, and even power cuts taking their toll on some occasions.

I have learned that it is probably best not to expect too much when visiting a cabina; this way, when the internet does work, I take my internet time much less for granted, and realise just what a privilege this actually is. And apart from anything else the cost of using the internet is minimal when compared to expensive public access in the UK; perhaps not so minimal for those who need every last céntimo just to eat.

In the case of private connections, I’ve just been disconnected from the Internet since Sunday morning, essentially because the friend’s connection I had planned to use to write this blog was rigged off of another line. For people who can’t afford the high costs of the service providers, riggings are the most convenient form of home Internet access. I am currently sipping on an espresso to access this privelage.

In Peru, up until recently, private connections had been monopolised by company Teléfonica. This monopoly was handed on a plate by now incarcerated ex-president Fujimori to a Spanish company Teléfonica.  During his burst of privatisation in the early 90’s, his government sold off what was previously a nationally owned enterprise, through ENTEL Peru and Compañía Nacional de Teléfonos, for around two hundred million dollars. This was despite Fujimori stating in his campaign that he would do no such thing.

Teléfonica’s dominance has remained strong and has continued into the Internet age; it is rare to find a connection not provided by the company. This means they can keep the price of private connections high, and that cabinas remain by far the most affordable form of Internet use.

Even in some cases when people seek a legal Internet connection from Teléfonica, their service can be very inefficient. It took 18 months for them to respond to the friend whose connection I was using, never visiting said person’s home to install the line even after repeated phone calls. And in the end, it was actually a Teléfonica employee to whom they turned to rig the line, paying a one-off sum for unlimited internet access.

The competition is starting to get its act together, thankfully, as Teléfonica’s contract with the government has run out; maybe this will spur them to providing a better service.

Luckily for me, my work has provided me with an internet connection the entire time; quite simply, they have the plata to do so. Not wanting to spend the entire day on the computer, though (a previous concern of mine), I’ve never bothered with a private Internet connection, partly tempered by the fact that my humble Laptop has all but died.

Through my experience outside of the workplace I have learned that Internet access is absolutely a privilege. Of course, it should be a right; hopefully it wont hinder future blog posting….


Peru Travel Teachings No 1: Español

7 11 2009

After 16 months of sweat and hard graft, yesterday was my last day at work, prompting a partially obligatory leaving party, in which there was ample supply of Pisco, a popular Peruvian grape brandy best enjoyed with ginger ale, granadine, lime and ice, or in the renowned Pisco Sour cocktail, which is Pisco blended with ice, lime, syrup and topped with cinnamon. Quite delicious, and the pride of Peruvians, who have actually outlawed any other drink by the name of Pisco to enter the country in an attempt to stop the Chilean version creeping north, an ongoing and bitter dispute between the pair of old rivals: no sh*t.

I’m digressing. During the despidida (farewell party), I became aware just how far my Spanish has come in my time here, when I was asked to make an impromtu speech by heckling work companions, mostly Spanish speakers. I managed to thank everyone for the oppertunity, for how great they’d all been to me, talked about how much i’d learned and how much I had enjoyed my time in Peru, and i think everyone understood. Not bad for a gringo.

My Spanish now is probably about a hundred times better than the non-existent version I spoke when I first got here, but i would need to be a thousand times better to call myself fluent. It is a massive language, and words regularly pop up that I have never needed to use before, while the conjugation of more complex grammar is still very difficult.

Immersion definitely helps; it was certainly much easier to learn when i was living in a house full of Spanish speakers, and had no choice but to pick up words to communicate, while learning became a bit more difficult when I moved into a house of Australians.  And having a Peruvian girlfriend in the meantime has definitely helped me to keep the Spanish up, although her English is so good that Spanish sometimes needs to be sidelined.

There was a brief period when I was doing internal communication for my company, which needed to be in both English and Spanish, and so this helped me to pick up some written grammar.  The same position required me to correspond with job applicants who, can you believe, hadnt even bothered to learn English? And I even gave the odd job interview in Spanish, though my role was usually reduced to asking the applicant what sports they practiced.

Now i have the confidence to hold my own in a conversation, book a bus ticket and even order a pizza, but i still have problems with my accent and listening, because people speak very quickly and use alot of slang words. But then I had that problem in Aberdeen sometimes, too.

To master a language is a gradual process, built upon over several years. I have probably been too impatient at times when I havent understood something, and have learned that even in my lifetime I will perhaps never be perfect at Spanish, presuming of course that perfection is possible in any language. And I have to bear in mind i didnt even take a class.

So: immersion + girlfriend + work responsibilities + daily use in practice = I have become proficient in Spanish (at least thats what the CV says).


He regresado

7 11 2009

Bolivia? christ that happened almost a year ago. Well then, given that i’m leaving in about 6 or 7 days, I had better make some sort of decent attempt to finish what I started and actually complete this blog.

Far from not wanting to share photos, stories, annecdotes, trivia with all 6.5 billion of you since my last post in March, it simply became far too difficult to write about life and travel in Peru anymore. In short, when I originally started writing, everything in this country was still new and fresh, a new experience. Then everything became a bit more familiar, and it became harder and harder to write about, until eventually, I couldnt be bothered any more, and this blog became defunct.

Only temporarily though: with my immenent departure, i will soon no longer have the privelage of writing a Peru travel blog from within the country itself. So I’m going to attempt to round the whole thing off splendidly with a nice big fat red ribbon.

I’m not even going to attempt to give a day by day description, a blow by blow account: that would be manic and probably a bit crap given i can barely even remember what I did last weekend. So, well, I thought it would be more constructive if I looked back at my time here (aww) and figure out just exactly what I’ve learnt, if anything, and try and sort it into some sort of more coherent thought than the mess of ideas that is currently flying around in my head just now.

That is why we travel, right? To learn? well obviously minus booze cruises and beach holidays, work trips and …. ok, well the reason I am travelling is to learn. And learn I haved.

So here it is (uhm, or here it will be in the coming days), a series of posts engineered to assertain just exactly what the feck it is i’ve learned in 16 months in Peru.  Or something like that. Gosh, I can almost hear you gasping with anticipation already…