Monday, November 28, 2005

Huanuco to Lima

North of Cerro de Pasco, water flows out of a cliff. Soon after taking this picture, a couple drove up in their van and unloaded their laundry. It's wash day!

Started the day in Huanuco at 6:30, and was on the road about 8:00. Motivated to get going this morning. There was nothing in this town to hold me. Two small chocolate bars for "breakfast".

A good asphalt highway and clear direction to my destination, Lima. Suddenly there is time to think about more than the next challenging stretch of gravel or obstacles. There is a little space to reflect on the past few days. At the same time, I crave "my" music, another way in which the mind likes to divert attention.

Cruising along at 60 and 70 mph for hours on end felt almost therapeutic! The stark high plains around Lago de Junin remind me a lot of those in Modoc County, California, Eastern Oregon or Northern Nevada. The strong, cold wind is merciless. Snow-covered pinnacles jut upward along the western horizon. It takes a hearty soul to live out here.

Descending the canyons into La Oroya, the geologic formations are striking, and ever-changing from one bend in the road to the next.

Near La Oroya

Near La Oroya, wildly-varied landscape

Riverside laundromat

Brad had warned me about the city of La Oroya being ugly, so I was curious how bad things could be there. The industrial city is dominated by the "Doe Run" smelting plant, its towering black smokestack belching a continuous cloud high overhead.

I snuck into Doe Run's grounds to take this picture of the bucket conveyor delivering slag to enormous piles. I very quickly found myself choking from the sulfur dioxide in the air. It attacks the mucous membranes in the nasal passages, throat and lungs.

In the background, behind the plant, is the old town of La Oroya. Though the SO2 may be the most obvious hazardous emission, lead poisoning is the primary concern for the community. Most children in La Oroya have elevated levels of lead in their blood. The CDC went to La Oroya this year and found no plan in place to address lead and other contaminants.

Doe Run is in the process of implementing CDC's recommendations. By Doe Run's own measurements though, the maximum allowable SO2 emissions are 195 tons per day, September's actuals - the last month on their chart - were 803 tons per day! (SO2 is produced when lead ore is sintered in ovens to remove the sulfur.)

This is the Doe Run metal smelting plant in La Oroya, Peru, owned by "American billionaire Ira Rennert, who has been called 'the biggest private polluter in America.'" (See Friends of the Earth story about this plant.)

It is unfortunate that in such a dramatic setting, one's attention is drawn to this eyesore. But this is what fuels the economy and provides the livelihoods here. It's difficult for me to reconcile the two (just as being an "environmentalist" and "First World" citizen seem irreconcilable.)

I was both appalled and fascinated by the plant: the human ingenuity required to extract ores on such a massive scale and with such efficiency, contrasted with the pollution and devastation such technology produces (locally and globally.)

Also see: "More on the Doe Run smelting plant"

Capitalism's Flawed Paradigm

As humans, we have supreme confidence in our ability to overcome challenges, and we have been conditioned to believe (through past successes) that application of more and more sophisticated technology is the answer. (Witness the proposed solutions to clean up "Doe Run" with elaborate environmental systems.)

At the core of this confidence is our instinctive belief (again, based on collective experience) that resources are inexhaustible, that the Earth is too great for individual humans to impact. We still tend to consider our actions as discreet, or individual, rather than collective and compounding.

"If I drive an SUV (or a BMW motorcycle), it's not going to destroy the planet! I should be allowed to choose."

Well, what if everyone drives an SUV (or R1200GS, if Germany could produce enough)? That's the way we must begin to view it.

"Well, it's impossible for everyone to live like those in the 'First World'."

Quite right. So why are we trying so hard to make that a reality? Why does my country, more than any other, market "First World" values throughout the World?

That brings me to the flawed paradigm underlying Capitalism: growth must be continuous. The flow of goods and services must be ever-increasing. The velocity of this flow determines the "health" of an economy, and its people. This is the fatal flaw in our lifestyle. It is unsustainable within the reality of a closed system (the Earth.)

("Heck, we'll just go to the moon for resources, if necessary!" Wrong.)

Outrage doesn't help much. We need to create a new paradigm, that teaches conservation of resources (minimization of flow: quite opposite to today's "disposable", "super-size me" mentality), while deriving maximum utilization and benefit from existing resources; that is the only survivable path.

Unfortunately, from what I see in Latin America, the American message of Consumption is being received loud and clear, and our lifestyle emulated to the extent possible. If everyone needs a lead cell battery, there will need to be many more "Doe Runs"!

So when will we actually understand this, and begin broadcasting the correct message?


Traveling west from La Oroya, the highway climbs steadily to the 4,843-meter pass (15,889 feet), Abra de Anticona. At highway speeds, the BMW showed no signs of lugging, or loss of power. Here one passes "the highest passenger station in the World"! (Check that one off: "been there, done that.")

Beyond the pass, dropping toward Lima, is an amazing, winding descent through immense canyons. The scenery is so dramatic, that it's easy to forget to slow approaching the many sharp curves. Here, when the sign says "Curva Peligrosa", it is no exaggeration. Numerous times, I hit the brakes hard. (And lately I have been trying to go gently on them, to stretch out their lifespan.) Reaching the foothills east of Lima, the temperature climbed and the atmosphere grew thick and hazy.

You need to be in the right frame of mind to drive in Lima. This is especially true on motorcycle. No special courtesies or considerations are forthcoming. "This is war!"

On one of the primary highways leading into the city, a woman darted through traffic in front of me. I was probably moving along at 50 mph, and could not have reacted in time. She abruptly froze in place and I missed her by perhaps a few feet. A momentary delay in her reflexes would have been disastrous.

Much to my relief, I reached "El Carmelo" unscathed, rolling up to their gate around 4:00 p.m.

Carolina ordered some dinner for me while I quickly unpacked, then showered. Back in the "lap of luxury"! Met J.D. in the lobby and he welcomed me back. He complained of the horns and sirens in Lima too. I was relieved to hear I'm not alone in thinking there's something basically insane about these drivers!

And, oh yes! Carolina said my new front tire had arrived from Vermont via DHL and was delivered to the hotel! There were no import duties, as the declared value was about $70, below the $100 duty threshold.

Many thanks to Sean and the rest of the crew at "Frank's Motorcycle Sales and Service" in Essex Junction, VT! Great customer service. And thanks also, to brothers Drew and Jeff for their research and support! Great sibling service.

I took the box up to my room and opened it. A new Metzler! It's a beautiful thing!!! I'll get it mounted at the Honda Shop in the next day or two.

(Update: the final cost for the tire was $486.45, including $323.26 in shipping charges!)


Dicky Neely said...

I couldn't agree more with your comments on "growth!"
That is all the politicians, especially local ones, can think of. They always run on a platform of "More growth!" as if that was the magic elixir to cure all the ills of our community/state. They tell us that this will "increase the tax base!" thus alleviating the need to raise property and other taxes. Then they turn around a give huge tax breaks to lure companies and industry thus placing more of the tax burden on those who have lived here all along. And so on....
I wrote an article about this some years ago when I worked for a local weekly. If I can find it I will send it in an email.
Buena Suerte.

Anonymous said...

6 comments (relocated here due to consolidation of posts):

Dicky Neely said...

I just read the story about Does Run. What a crime! I have to stop and hold my breath for a moment to keep from raging at this!
I am basically an optimistic person but sometimes that optimism gets beaten about a bit!

Buen viaje!

timtraveler said...


As I said in my e-mail, we're also implicated in this type of damage. This plant makes lead for car batteries (among other things).

Most of the people I know drive cars (or motorcycles.) So whether the damage is done in Peru, or in St. Louis, MO, it hardly matters.

It's all the same planet. It's all the same people.

E. BAIG P. said...



timtraveler said...

Muchas gracias, amigo!


Genevieve said... plan in place to address lead and other contaminants...

That's sickening.

timtraveler said...