First Arrests Made in Odebrecht Corruption Scandal in Peru

22 Jan

Very little is being written about this story in the mainstream media, which seems odd is this is a huge story of corruption in Latin America, and one that involves one of the major names in the Operação Lava Jato (Operation Car Wash) scandal that was a big factor in Dilma’s recent impeachment as Brazilian president.

Following an investigation by Peruvian prosecutors the Brazilian construction firm Odebrecht have admitted to paying US$29 million in bribes between 2005 and 2014 to gain lucrative contracts. These bribes were paid during the governments of Alejandro Toledo, Alan Garcia and Ollanta Humala, which goes to show how widespread the problem is. The last of these, former President Humala and the former first lady Nadine Heredia are currently under investigation for the bribes and are banned from leaving the country.

According to the Comptroller General’s Office, public work contracts signed with Odebrecht between 1988 and 2015 led to an astonishing alleged US$283-million economic loss for Peru.

You can read more about the story at teleSUR.

Guide to Rio de Janeiro’s Music Scene

11 Jan


Last year I wrote an article for American Express on where to find good music in Rio de Janeiro. As well as talking about where to see samba, the article mentions the best places to dance samba, to hear tropicalia and bossa nova, as well as the best spots for dance music and alternative rock and indie. It’s a pretty good primer for getting your head around the Rio nightlife.

You can read the article at

Slow Hostel, João Pessoa

5 Jan

Was just looking through some photos and found this one of my stay at the Slow Hostel in João Pessoa, a hostel I would thoroughly recommend!

Hanging out with some new friends in Slow Hostel, Joao Pessoa

Being Watched

22 Aug

I just came across this note in my diary, dated 02/09/2009. I can’t remember if I was joking or not.

I think I’m being watched. Pousada 14 Bis is a very strange hostel. It has secret mirrors everywhere. I’m eating my breakfast alone in the dining area, yet I’m sure I’m being watched. Every now and again I will hear the crack of crockery on crockery. I eat another piece of cake, but feel guilty. What will they think, when they are watching? “What a glutton!” they must be saying to themselves. I’m just trying to fill up before a long day. I don’t think they understand. The wall behind me has six separate mirrors, they cover the entire surface. I know where they are. I take my time. They can’t rush me; I’m allowed to eat my breakfast in peace. I pour another cup of coffee. How good would a piece of cake be with coffee right now? I have another piece of cake. I didn’t realise they have fruit too. I have a slice of pineapple and some melon. I know they are waiting for me to leave. I thought I saw a reflection in the mirror. The cleaning lady walks past. She seems friendly. Maybe she was watching me from behind the mirrors. I can no longer eat. I get up and walk into the lounge. It is quiet except for a whirring sound. Maybe it’s the sound of a camera or tape recorder. Maybe it’s the sound of my brain. I scan the bookcase. Awful pulp fiction and romantic drivel, but there’s a Graham Greene novel, Our Man in Havana, I really want to read that. I think about taking it, but then I look behind; four huge mirrors, just waiting for me to swipe. I have to change my plan of action. Maybe I should get a camera. Take a picture of them. The watchers become the watched. It makes perfect sense. I take a shot, but it looks like me. It is me, it’s my reflection. I’m watching myself, this is the last thing I need, more eyes facing my way.


23 Mar

“It is not easy to write in a journal what interests us at any time, because to write about it is not what interests us.”

Henry David Thoreau

Big Party Coming Up In Bogota

19 Mar

For the past week I’ve been furiously trying to organise a party in Bogotá to celebrate the launch of the Sounds and Colours Colombia book. Finally everything has been confirmed and the line-up is looking pretty damn good.

There will be live music from both Andrés Gualdrón Y Los Animales Blancos (experimental pop) and Carmin Duo (folkloric sounds from the Caribbean coast), as well as La Blanquita Farm DJing what he calls “exquisite tropical tunes” all night. In addition, I’ll obviously be seeling a few copies of the Colombia book. I think it should be an interesting one.

If anyone reading this happens to be in Bogotá on Saturday 23rd March they should definitely come along. You can find more details on the Facebook event here:

Unwrapping The Economic Mystery of Venezuela

16 Mar

When it comes to finances Venezuela is the one country where it is hugely advisable to do some research. Recent devaluations of the Bolivar, constant inflation which ranks by far the highest in Latin America and a black market for dollars makes it one of the most complex places to work out how to get the best value.

The best thing you can do is to bring lots of foreign currency with you, either Colombian Pesos to change when you’re coming through the border or dollars to exchange once you’re in the country. Obviously, you may worry whether it’s wise to bring so much money with you into Venezuela but if you can hide it in enough places in your bag and on your person then it’s worth the gamble. I would obviously not recommend keeping all of your money in one place as the amount of stop-searches (especially if you’re travelling by bus as seemingly every state will want to search your bags when you enter) that will happen to you in Venezuela is huge and even if the police/military are good people it will save you a lot of stress if you know that it’s not TOO easy to access all of your money.

I entered Venezuela with the equivalent of a pocket full of change. This meant that I had to withdraw all my money from the cash machines, at the current exchange rate of £1 to 9.5 Bolivares (Bs.F.). The maximum amount that showed up for quick withdrawals was Bs.F. 600 so I would normally take out the equivalent of £60 at a time, an amount that would last me a day or so (accommodation is not cheap).

However, when I entered the country I had 150,000 Colombian Pesos and changed those for 1,500 Bolivares. 150,000 Colombian Pesos is the equivalent of £50 and so for the equivalent of £50 I got an amount of Bolivares that would have cost me £157 to withdraw from the bank! That is some crazy exchange rate!

On my last couple of days I stayed in Maracaíbo where I got a bed for $30 per night. As well as offering a price in dollars the guesthouse offered a price in Bolivares of Bs.F. 400, which amounts to just over $60 using the current exchange rate. So, for paying in dollars I got half the price of if I had paid in Bolivares.

When I spoke to a couple of friends in Maracaíbo they told me that both the dollars and the Bolivares prices were both ridiculously high. They told me that the current price of a dollar in Venezuela is Bs.F. 21 to $1, which meant that by paying in dollars I was actually paying the equivalent of Bs.F 630 per night, around 50% higher than the normal price in Bolivares. Confused? So am I. What it basically means is if I bought the dollars in Venezuela (not a very good idea) then I should have paid in Bolivares, but if I had brought the dollars from another country then I should pay in dollars. Even then I shouldn’t have paid in dollars as if I had got them converted first using the crazy exchange rate in Venezuela I would have got far more for my money.

The lesson I learnt is essentially not to trust the cash machines or pay for anything in dollars (as you’re better off changing them using the ludicrously high black market rates first). Next time I come to Venezuela (presuming there is a next time) I will arrive with a stack of Colombian Pesos and dollars and get them all changed on the border before hiding them in pockets, the many compartments of my rucksack, between books and in CD cases. Even if I lose a few notes on the way it’s well worth it for the potential of tripling (if you have Colombian Pesos) or quadrupling (if you have dollars) your currency.

It’s a situation that the Government has not turned a blind eye to, and the reason for the recent devaluation was partly to stop this black market. You can read the latest update on the situation here.

In Caracas: Mourning The Death Of Hugo Chavez

15 Mar

These photos were all taken around Fuerte Tiuna, a huge park and monument near the Banderas bus station in Caracas. This is where the Military Academy is based, the location where Hugo Chavez’s body was in display following his passing on Tuesday 5th March. His coffin arrived at the academy on Wednesday, followed by a parade of people which put Caracas to a standstill. In the first few days of his coffin being on display over 2 million Venezuelans arrived to see their former President, with a queue that has been estimated at 7km long. In total, his body was on display for 10 days before being moved to the Military Museum on the evening of Friday 15th March.

Fuerte Tiuna

Viva Siempre Chavez!

Chavez Merchandise

The quantity of Chavez memorabilia is quite incredible…

Soy Chavez

Typical Chavista

Chavez! Chavez! Chavez!

More Chavez Gubbins

Chavez The Toy

Water Delivery

Free water, oranges and juice were handed out to the people in the queue.

Chavez De Mi Patria

Colombia to Venezuela: A Popular Route

6 Mar

I met Waes on a bus going from the Colombian border to San Cristobal, a smallish Venezuelan town that acts as a gateway into the country. He moved here with his family quite a few years ago as he couldn’t pay for his mother’s medical bills in Colombia. In Venezuela even special treatment is much cheaper. He doesn’t agree with everything that Chavez has done – such as appropriation – but he feels he has undoubtedly done more good than bad. It’s for certain that he wouldn’t be able to dream about owning his own import/export business if he had had to pay for his mother’s treatment.

Arriving In Venezuela

6 Mar

Welcome to Venezuela