Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Second week in the Amazon, Leticia: City, A Constitution, Dock Materials, and The French Connection

I begin this post with a photo of the outside of the restaurant Applebee’s, in Thomaston, Maine. We had a meeting of the project’s director at Applebee’s in February, five days before I left for Colombia. This was one of the many snow storms that hit Maine this winter. I place it here to contrast with the week of temperatures in the 90’s that we had in Leticia for the week in which this post covers.

Applebee's parking lot in Thomaston, Maine, February 2014

Hotel and City Life

For this Colombia trip I am spending a fairly large amount of time in the city of Leticia, about half of my Amazon time. When in Leticia I stay at the Hotel Fernando Real. The price is $20 per night, without air conditioning. The hotel is clean, but very tiny ants and an occasional cockroach may be found in almost every room. But these things are found everywhere in the Amazon. The hotel is run by a woman in her 60’s and her family. As a family-run hotel they know their staff very well. I have never had a problem with stolen items. Their decorations go well with the Amazon, and while colorful, are not tacky. There are other hotels that are “nicer” (some charging up to $200/night –almost a month’s salary for Colombian minimum wage workers) and there are hostels for $8/night (if you don’t mind sleeping in the same room as strangers). I find Fernando Real to be the best value. But, maybe the $200 hotels are bug-free. I will probably never find out.

Lobby at Hotel Fernando Real, Leticia, Colombia

For a Colombian city Leticia is fairly quiet in the night. I have never experienced or seen crime in the city center. Further out from the city center, within a few hundred yards of the jungle’s edge, I have been told that crime is found and may include violent armed robbery. After dark I never venture far from the center. This is also the area of greatest police presence. A policeman or soldier is usually found walking around and, seemingly, at every third corner. In order to avoid bad publicity the tourist areas are heavily patrolled. When a foreigner is the target of crime, the police react quickly.

Main Street Leticia, Colombia

Lechona (stuffed pig), a traditional Colombian food

The food in Leticia is fairly standard for Colombia, but a bit expensive (about 25% more) then the same food found in Bogota. The restaurants serve mostly rice, bean, salad, and meat or chicken plates for lunch. These lunches include a choice of fresh juice. The price is around $3.50. Comida rapida, fast food, may also be purchased. However, the prices are about the same as the lunch plate and the quality of food is very questionable. All meat seems to be a mixture of processed beef and pork, and includes meat byproducts. I have only found one restaurant, Buffalo Bill’s, which has what I consider to be good pizza. Bill’s is run by a family from Colombia’s northern coast. The price of pizza is comparable to that of the USA, which is to say that it is costly by Colombian standards. I hope to have a restaurant guide blog post for the summer.

Cheese-less pizza from Buffalo Bill's in Leticia

Forms, Association, Constitution

The reason for my time in the city is mainly due to the amount of time that I needed to devote to filling out the forms for the constitution of association (non-profit business co-op for La Libertad). The previous week the villagers decided to go forward with forming the non-profit association, now was the time for the work to make it happen. I spent time with the lawyer in the business bureau, time in the copy center, time in the Internet cafes, and time working in my hotel room. One of my next blog posts will go into more detail about what is needed to form a business in Colombia.

My favorite copy center in Leticia

The other reason for my time in Leticia was to get all the materials, with exception of the wood, needed for the dock. From the motor store I picked up the chain and lubricant needed for the chain saw, which would be doing A LOT of cutting.

The motor shop, in the port zone of Leticia

From the construction store we picked up cement, tiles and paint for the bathroom/kitchen (which is already experiencing substantial rot due to the high moisture around the areas in which we use water). We also needed steel bars which would be used to help hold the dock together. (This is La Libertad’s second attempt to build a dock. The first, started two years ago, failed because, in a cost-saving measure, the builders used half the amount of steel bars that were needed. The bars weakened and broke due to the constant wave motion from the river. More bars would have stopped the looseness and resulted in a much stronger dock. When the dock (which had been half built) failed, the work and money put into the dock was lost.) Many, many nails and 40 aluminum roofing sheets rounded out our shopping list.

Leticia's version of Home Depot

While walking to the warehouse for the steel bars we passed an elegant-looking ruin. I asked Gustavo what the ruin was. He said it was the estate of a fallen drug lord.

The former home of a fallen drug lord

The French Connection

Arcecio Rendon is the president of the association of cacao growers in the village to the west of La Libertad, San Francisco. He currently has 10,000 cacao trees in production. However, in his quest to bring cacao to the Amazon he seems to have become almost personally bankrupted. He has some problems with the labor in the village, the method in which his cacao is processed, and a lack of buyers. We hope to avoid this fate in our cacao production in La Libertad. But things are looking up for Arcecio. He is receiving help from the Colombian government for the next phase of his project, he recently met with a fine-chocolate maker from France who may be a chocolate buyer, and he is now receiving some small amounts of help, and encouragement, from the Amazon Pueblo project!

Arcecio, the president of the cacao growers in San Francisco, Colombia

I will end this post with a photo of Gustavo loading his boat with the steel bars needed for the dock. We purchased four, six-yard lengths of ¾ inch steel bar. We do not want a repeat of what happened to the last dock.

Gustavo loading bars into his boat

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