Words from Sepahua

I am now writing from the small town of Sepahua, located at the confluence of the Urubamba and Sepahua Rivers. My wife Chris and I arrived here this morning from a trip to the Machiguenga communities of the Camisea and Urubamba basins, and we hope to be heading tomorrow back downriver, en route, eventually, to our new lives in Berkeley.

I am quite surprised to be writing a post from Sepahua. I predicted that with the economic decline in the region brought on by the collapse of the logging industry, the fledgling internet service here would be an early casualty. It seems I was half right.

The signs of economic decline are clear in Sepahua. Over half the stores have closed down, and in the ones that remain open, the goods that are offered are the cheapest possible. A small number of people are working with the oil and gas companies that are active in the region, but most people are very worried about how they are going to survive. Many people we know have already left Sepahua for other places, and I suspect that this trend will accelerate.

As I predicted, the previous internet service, managed by the municipality, has closed down. But to my great surprise, two new internet businesses have been launched in Sepahua, and they seem to be doing well. It is presently 8 pm, and eight of the ten computers are in use at the internet cabinas from which I am writing. It seems that communication and access to information are a high priority for people in Sepahua, despite their shrinking budgets. This seems to be an instance of a more general pattern I have seen here in Peru, namely, that people are willing to spend a relatively large fraction of their income on communication (especially cell phones), even when their financial situation is precarious.

Tomorrow is the next leg: by river down to Atalaya, where we will be waiting for a small plane to Pucallpa.


Notes from Atalaya

I am writing from the humid environs of Atalaya, a town of some 5,000 people located at the point where the Urubamba and Tambo Rivers meet to form the Ucayali. As the major town of the region, it is the only place with internet within two days travel by local means. The machine is a battered seven year old IBM that looks like it has been repaired many times, and the internet connection is struggling to deal with the WordPress server. But the presence of internet is impressive nevertheless. I still remember from my first visits to this part of Peruvian Amazonia in the early 90s that telephones were scarce to non-existent, never mind internet.

I am on my way from Loreto, and fieldwork on Iquito (in northern Peruvian Amazonia), to a brief visit to the Lower Urubamba region for about two weeks of humanitarian aid and linguistic work in the Matsigenka and Nanti communities on the Camisea River (in southern Peruvian Amazonia). My time working with the Iquito speakers we know was very productive, and yielded some suprising results. I plan to blog about those experiences when I am back in places with reliable internet connections, probably in early August.

We arrived in Atalaya this morning from the major jungle city of Pucallpa by plane — a six seater into which they crammed eight passengers. Tomorrow my wife Chris and I will be heading upriver on the next stage of the trip, to the town of Sepahua, where we will obtain a boat and crew to take us up the Camisea. Unless the internet connection is still working in Sepahua, which I doubt, I will be out of touch until the end of the present month.