Wednesday, March 22, 2006

La Paz suffers two bomb attacks

As I was waking up I was surprised to find out that there were two bomb explosions in La Paz. Two persons died as a result. The police apparently captured some of the perpetrators. It seems that there is no organization responsible of the bombing, it is the work of fanatic individuals. The jury is still out on the motive. Read more at the following links:

Don't take away my coca tea!

It is pretty hard to keep a steady supply of Coca tea. The usual way to do it is to buy a big box when you happen to be in Bolivia and hope that nobody is going to care at the customs. Fortunately, I have never had my coca tea taken, nor I met someone else who had that problem.

Of course it would be nice to be able to buy coca tea at Albert Heijn, Dirk van de Broek, Konmar, Lidl or Aldi. However, coca leaves or their products are not present in international trade so exporting coca tea does not seem easy. This is something that the Bolivian government wants to fix. They want to convince the international community of the legitimate benefits of coca leaves so that these can be exported.

The campaign of the government will be pretty hard, considering that many people, when you invite them a warm cup of coca tea, think you are offering them a drug, no thanks they say.

This campaign will have to be backed by serious studies. Some time ago, the foreign affairs minister suggested that coca was so nutritious that it should be part of school breakfast. This statement obviously sparked a big debate (and some wacky ideas). More recently, two studies (mentioned in La Razon here and here) brought up negative points about natural consumption of coca. The first study stated that coca has no nutritious value, the second study tried to make a closer link between coca and cocaine. This last study, tested the levels of benzoylecgonine in three user groups of coca: coca tea drinkers, coca chewers and cocaine consumers. Wikipedia tells us that this substance is produced from cocaine by the liver. More amazing, some people tested for this substance in the Po river in Italy to estimate the number of cocaine consumers down there. Going back to the study, the levels of benzoylecgonine could not be used to differentiate between the three groups of consumers. What can we tell from it? Well, that we cannot differentiate between the three groups using this substance!!! However, the newspaper and the spokesman taint without further discussion the image of coca tea drinkers and chewers using this similarity with cocaine consumers. That makes me angry as a coca tea drinker. Such strong statements need a more elaborate explanation. I will download those papers, if I find them, to see what's all that about.

On the other hand, I do not contest the conclusions of the first study. I never intended to use coca as a diet supplement. I am happy enough using it as tea.

...and please buy my soya

I already posted about the "loss of the soya market" in Colombia. After reading a few articles, I understand now that Bolivia could previously sell soya to the Colombian market paying no import fees. That is unlike other big soya producers such as Argentina and Brazil who could not easily compete because of the import fees. Now this advantage is gone, since the US might be able to sell their soya production paying zero fees as well. Now, the government is frantically looking for solutions to this impasse, while soya producers happily bark at their black future.

Wednesday, March 08, 2006

A life from El Alto

I accidentally found the website of a Spanish family that moved to El Alto to do on-site development work. I did not see it mentioned before, so spread the word.
This is the story of a family and its project. One day, my brother Claudio and my sister-in-law Merche decided that it was time to start a new life. Their destination: the Bolivian city of El Alto. The goal: they were not sure, but amongst other things share the life of the poorest people in Bolivia, work as much as they could and give to their children a life that they could not get in Spain.

Sure enough, they left all they had in their city, they took their three children and together with four companions they decided to mingle with different people, different cultures and different poverty, the one from Bolivia.

This is the story, written in many emails, of a life from El Alto.
Read more at Una vida desde El Alto. I hope that the text in Spanish will not be a problem for most of you.


I was in Ljubljana

I was too late to book an affordable direct flight to Ljubljana. Fortunately, Easyjet saved the day, although I had to wait two to three hours in London before changing my plane. No big deal, I always carry a book with me when I am travelling. This time I had two. Oh, and I finished the two.

I enjoyed the journey itself. Part of the enjoyment comes from the anticipation of fun, the other part, I don't know. Maybe it is that I am not in a rush. I can just sit, walk and just enjoy the view. I especially enjoy departing from Schiphol airport, in Amsterdam. The lounges after the security checks show that a lot of thought went into their design. You are compelled to relax before your trip, unlike London Stansted where everyone seems to be rushing somewhere. Take a look at Schiphol.

The passport check in Ljubljana took longer than usual. The delay in the passport check hinted that Bolivians don't usually arrive there in crowds. Luckily I did not have a thorough baggage check as I had in Dubrovnik.

It was impossible to get lost in the journey from the airport to Ljubljana. Especially because my reception committee was waiting right outside the customs gate.


The following days consisted of waking up late, walking around the city center and eating at home or in some traditional restaurant.

When visiting museums, monuments and other famous buildings it is handy to have a student card, the entrance prices are often halved if you show it. I do not have a student card but eventually I started saying I forgot mine at home. Some of the ticket sellers were disapprovingly shaking their heads but they gave me the discount anyway. It is a sin to forget your student card, there are so many offers for them. At the entrance of the Postojna cave, one lady did not initially buy my forgotten-student-card-story. She then asked me where I come from. When I replied I could see how worried she was for me, this poor boy forgot his card in another continent, she must have thought. So, lucky me, I got my discount.

In the last weekend of my stay, we hit the Slovenian roads in a car that Metka and I rented. Since I do not master the art of driving, I left that pleasure to her. The first day we went to a town in the northwest called Bled. I like mountainous landscapes, especially now that I live in the flat Netherlands. Take a look at the views from the castle in Bled and at the lake in Bohinj.



That evening, in a typical restaurant in the small town of Radovlica, I was thrilled to discover tongue among other delicacies that are rare in European restaurants nowadays. This lovely dish of tongue was served with potatoes and grated horse radish. This last vegetable is a sure success among the lovers of spicy ingredients and watery eyes.

Radovlica: They eat tongue too!

The next day I visited the Postojna caves. Once again I established my poor reputation as underground photographer. I should have asked the email addresses of the Japanese tourists that did the visit with me. One of them took the picture of every stalactite, surely too busy to listen to the explanations of our guide. Another visitor was constantly chatting. After a while I realized it was a monologue, his friends were looking in awe at the cave, paying no attention to him. Maybe he was preparing a radio program about the caves.



The caves impressed me a great deal. The larger "rooms" reminded me of some passages in Jules Verne's Journey to the Center of the Earth.

We visited ten kilometers of the cave, the most of it in a small electric train. I am eager to one day try the real thing. That is, just go with a torch, some equipment and plenty of time.

The last part of the trip that day ended in Piran, a lovely Adriatic coastal town.



Friday, March 03, 2006

Lost soya market?

According to the newspapers (here, here, and here), Bolivia's soya bean producers are blaming the government's inaction on the loss of the Colombian market.

What I could gather from the articles is that Colombia is subscribing to a free trade treaty with the US. The treaty allows US soya bean producers to sell up to 900 thousand tons of soya beans and soya cake to Colombia. What this means is that Bolivian soya will have to compete with efficient and subsidized American soya bean producers. Although I don't know the numbers, the panic from Bolivian producers hint that American soya is more price competitive. The economical consequences are significant, since Colombia is the second biggest market for Bolivian soya.

I do not see how the government could have pressured Colombia into not accepting American soya. Maybe using the argument that subsidized agro-industry products are unfair for competition? Seeking support from other Andean countries? I don't know how these international negotiations work.

In a response to the producers' attacks, the government floated the idea of opening China's market. Critics however consider this option economically unsound.

Finally, I am unhappy at how the newspapers sell this piece of news. They alarmingly announce the loss of a market as though Colombia is saying we are buying no more Bolivian soya. The newspapers should instead put the spotlight on the additional competition and the subsidies. The intention of the headlines is to accuse the government of ineffectiveness (arguably they are indeed guilty of that) although the real problems seem to be bigger than that.


Trip over

Now that I am back from my trip I should get some time to post pictures. I discovered I am a ridiculously mediocre underground photographer. That makes me think that in future posts I might snatch some pictures from the web instead of using my own.

It is fortunate that it is possible for me to slowly get back to my working rhythm. At least now that I don't have any deadlines looming. The relaxing fun is over, let the stressing fun begin!

So, anyway, I am back in the Netherlands. Thanks for reading!