Words from Sepahua
July 23, 2008
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.