Day 21 – Explaining quinoa markets in Poopo.

Day 21 – Explaining quinoa markets in Poopo.

I was invited to the mid-sized altiplano mining town of Poopo by the indigenous leaders in charge of local development.  They were not in the Royal Quinoa export growing region, but produced quinoa for their own local markets and consumption and wanted to learn more about what was happening in the quinoa industry.  We set up a workshop date with the Mayor and for two weeks, broadcast it over the radio and through local networks.  The mayor’s secretary had a copy of my presentation on her laptop and I had made copies to distribute as well.

The day of the workshop came and I waited in the mayor’s courtyard as the time passed.  The workshop was to be at 2pm but it was now almost 2:30 and no one was to be seen.  This brought back memories of times 15 years ago when I ran a rural newspaper in the valley regions of Cochabamba.  Meetings in these sleepy towns would always happen an hour after they were scheduled and change and events passed slowly.  I was reminded that the punctual, market motivated people of the quinoa lands were not the norm of all of Bolivia.

Eventually, staff began to appear and it was confirmed that there was in fact a quinoa presentation scheduled for today.  A quinoa farmer appeared, Primo Quispe Cheqa from Quilla.  A few phone calls were made and eventually, Fausto Flores from Tola Pampa also arrived.  We were set.  It was a sunny afternoon in the cool altiplano.  Both gentlemen decided they would prefer to hold the workshop in the mayor’s courtyard instead of a cold meeting room.  So we did.

The quinoa in Poopo is grown in addition to incomes earned in mining and animal production.  Families there often had a few llamas, cows or pigs that they raised for food and extra income, mostly selling locally in their own market.  The Poopo market prices were a bit higher (about 10-15%) than those in the city an hour away.  This is because there was less competition to drive down prices and the miners had money to buy products with.  Families also farmed maintaining several parcels, which were largely 1 acre lots that were located in different micro-climate zones with varying soil types.  Her people grew largely wheat, fava beans, potatoes and quinoa for themselves and alfalfa for their cows.  In some regions where there was irrigation, small crops of lettuce and onions were also planted.

Primo and Fausto were fascinated with the markets, prices and consumer demands in the US.  How the crops arrived there and the distribution channels.  They had no desire to enter these markets, nor had the production necessary to do so.  Their quinoa yields were substantially smaller than those of the Quinoa Real region with production being about 5-8 quintals produced per family per year.  In comparison in the quinoa region families produce an average of 150 quintales a year – valued at about $1,200.

Soon the skies darkened, wind began to blow and a hail storm appeared on the horizon.  We ended our workshop in a friendly manner and enjoyed the time we had to talk informally about quinoa markets and how they worked.

Day 32 – A family festival – Santiago Yonguyo de Espana Celebration in Poopo.

Day 32 – A family festival – Santiago Yonguyo de Espana Celebration in Poopo.

WIth the kids and cousins in Poopo!

WIth the kids and cousins in Poopo!

This weekend long festival, the family and I spent in the family hometown of Poopo (pronounced Poe Poe), a well-known small, mining town located about 30 minutes from the city of Oruro. Celebrated all around the country, Santiago Yonguyo de Espana, is about Santiago, a Spanish priest who arrived in Bolivia and was very much in favor of the rural people. Later, the “force of G-d” found him and “cured” him of his erroneous ways, making him a very pro-Catholic priest. After explaining this to me, one celebrator reflected a moment and remarked, “I don´t know why we are celebrating this but we are. It´s more habit than anything.”

Leaving the city of Oruro for Poopo became a challenge as more and more neighborhood folklore dance troops hit the streets, oblivious to the local traffic that had to stop and wait as they danced up and down the avenues. Finally we arrived in Poopo, just in time for the dancers in the plaza to reach a new level of cheer and celebration.

My son and cousins swimming in the Poopo hot springs pool.

My son and cousins swimming in the Poopo hot springs pool.

My Bolivian family was there and many “aunts” and “uncles” from the rural countryside too. In Poopo they use the terms tia and tio instead of hermano and hermana like they do in Salinas, so instead of brothers and sisters and I have aunts and uncles. I have been a part of the community for over 18 years, and as the only foreign community member, I am usually pretty well known and recognized. It was my first time at this particular festival though. Many people came up welcoming me back, asking where I had been, how long I was staying, when the last time I was there way, etc…. Beer flowed freely and the olsito (my neighbor dressed up like a bear) took me to dance in the plaza. Soon everyone was dancing as musicians played traditional flutes and drums, circling in ponchos, as is the indigenous tradition. As the hours passed the dancing became more staggered as people started appearing more and more drunk.

2 doctors, me and my cousin.

2 doctors, me and my cousin.

Finally with the fading light, all retreated to the numerous house parties being held around this town of about 1,500. Plates overflowed with rehydrated dried potatoes (chuno) in a ground peanut sauce, potatoes fresh from the countryside and grilled lamb also from the neighboring farms. Beer continued to flow and loud, amplified dance music pounded out late into the night, finally quieting down around 4am.

I observed to others that the people in Poopo celebrate, much harder than for example, the farmers in Salinas. The folks in Poopo dance more, drink more and stay around until much later than other towns I have gone too (not just Salinas). I ventured to guess it was the touch constitution of the miners and the dangerous lives that they led that led to Poopo being such robust celebrators. Others agreed and a cheer went around to the strong miners of Poopo who really know how to celebrate!

Grandpa's grave.

Grandpa’s grave.

The next day we went about the town visiting friends, the hot springs, and the cemetery where my children’s grandfather, a minor, is buried. Here’s the photo essay…

(PS: Tomorrow I’m off to the quinoa growing community of Quillacas and may be out of communication for a week or so.)