arequipa Archive

Reth & Peru’s EPA

While in Arequipa, we decided to go hunting for a biodiesel company that had gotten a little bit of publicity in Lima’s newspapers. We had read that the company collected used vegetable oil from local restaurants and was looking into promoting the fuel for the city’s buses and combivans as a few cities, such as San Francsico, have done. I expected an informal, overall-wearing organization of young environmentalists. When we pulled our van into the right lot, alongside a swath of more likely mechanics & tire stores, we were greeted instead by an upscale office building and a lobby full of architectural models & hanging plants. From the lobby, we were led to an office filled with models of cars, trucks, and things that go. It was the office of Reth Córdova del Carpio, one of two brothers running Holding Quimera, a collection of diverse enterprises from waste management to hotel development.

The biodiesel company is a piece of one of those enterprises, under the larger environmentally focused venture, called, by coincidence, the Empresa de Protección Ambiental or EPA.  The EPA is Reth’s pet project, attempting to improve environmental conditions in Arequipa through a number of recycling and safe waste disposal projects. Among it’s more ambitious projects is a plan to build Arequipa’s first toxic waste treatment facility. Currently, the project has been stalled by a number of bureaucratic roadblocks. In the meantime, toxic waste goes untreated and ends up primarily in rivers in and surrounding Arequipa. Peru has only one toxic waste treatment site, and of course, it’s up in Lima. Other projects include recycling used tires and used motor oil, which otherwise is often illegally burned as fuel, a heavily polluting activity.

The biodiesel project is an attempt to recycle the biggest pollutant of Arequipa’s rivers, cooking oil, while making available a cleaner diesel fuel. Most cooking oil is simply poured down the drain after it has been used. Reth and his team have placed barrels around the city at willing restaurants to collect used cooking oil which is then processed and turned into biodiesel usable in any diesel vehicle. The biodiesel they produce gets an average of 5 km/gallon better than standard diesel and releases about half the pollutants by eliminating the presence of metals like lead in the exhaust.

Sadly, the EPA’s biofuel initiative is limited by inertia among restaurant owners and a black market for cooking oil. While the process of disposing used cooking oil in EPA containers is as easy as dumping it down the drain, many restaurant owners see no reason to change their practices. Furthermore, there is a black market for used cooking oil. Restaurants that change their vegetable oil with some regularity can sell their cooking oil to less expensive restaurants (particularly in Lima) who continue to use the oil, posing a serious health risk. As a result, the EPA collects less than 300 gallons a month of used vegetable oil, while they could easily be processing 3,000-6,000 gallons. Currently, the biodiesel is used for company cars, but once used oil collection reaches a higher level, the fuel will be commercially available. Reth believes that a major component of the solution is greater education of environmental issues in schools as well as an awareness campaign for the general population of Arequipa.

While telling us about the EPA, Reth is animated. A self-made man, Reth has reached a point in his career where he can work on projects with a broad social scope and he is clearly excited about the potential of the EPA. He is open as well about the frustration of attempting to change the practices of a city with little education on sustainability.  As Arequipa undergoes a transformation to a modern and booming city, Reth’s focus on environmental issues is timely and essential.

The following morning Reth takes us to his biodiesel workshop, which takes up a small building in a lot jammed with tires, newspapers, and car parts all waiting to be recycled. A chemical engineer, Kenyi, walks us through the process of making biodiesel through the tranestherification, which involves multiples steps to removing any cooking residues and oddly leaves behind a substance that looks surprisingly like fancy cheese.

If you’re interested in helping the EPA create the first commercially available source of recycled biofuels in Arequipa, Peru and helping promote recycling in the city in general along with initiating plans for public education of sustainability, you can contact Reth at

-Drew, Photos by Elliot

The Road to Arequipa

Puerto Inca’s Abbey Road. Click here for the socks version

We made tracks from Nazca on down to Arequipa, Peru’s white city, camping on sandy beaches in beautiful desert coves. First stop was Puerto Inca, once the main port of the Inca empire. From here, the Inca Chasqui relay runners ran the morning’s catch all the way up and over the towering Andes to the Inca capital of Cuzco, so the Inca could dine on fresh Corbina and Lenguado, or Sole.

Road’s end

After a morning swim, we toured the ruins of seaside Inca homes and storehouses that run up the hillside away from the cove, behind a cluster of bungalows built by the Puerto Inka resort.

A pensive moment

We took a long hike through desert moonscapes and down into rocky coves awash in foamy turquoise and emerald water.  Humboldt penguins are said to shack up around these parts, but we missed them.

Black pavement, pink sky. Mongo takes a sunset shot

Drew and Katarina went for an aborted, cove-hopping swim that ended with Drew gouging his foot on a sea urchin as he bolted to escape the icy waters. The southern Pacific’s Humboldt current is not for the light-hearted: the water temp felt like it dropped at least 10 degrees Fahrenheit in the 1,000 kilometers we traveled from my Lima surf spots. It was like taking a dip in Lake Tahoe in May, for those that have had the misfortune.

Burning man, meet Peru

On the road, Mongo proves to be strong like bull but slow like turtle. Though we didn’t get very far on any given day, the camping is great anywhere we pulled over along the Pan-American.

Camp at no place in particular on the side of the Pan-Americana

Our final stop came in La Punta beach, Camana. The long beach stretches past the horizon for miles on each end, but that Sunday you couldn’t see a speck of sand it was so full of day-trippers from Arequipa.

La Punta Beach = Little Tahiti

We tucked into a beachside hut for fresh cebiche and a couple of rounds of sweet Maracuja juice, spiking it with the last of La Blanco´s Pisco acholado from our T’inka sendoff celebration. As our food hangover kicked in we sat and watched kids whip past our perch in ATVs, and decided we needed one more day on the beach before heading up into the Andes. I think there’s an unwritten rule that says when you quit your job you have to spend at least a week with your shirt off near a body of water. If there isn’t, there is now.

Home, Sweet Home, La Punta Beach, Camana

By dusk La Punta is empty, and all ours. We are treated to a parade of bright orange crabs scuttling back and forth along the tide line as the sun goes down, and again the next day during our salty morning bath.

View from Arequipa rooftops up to Chichani and Pichu Pichu mountains: Lovely smogset…

Colonial Arequipa is a welcome respite from the road. Ringed by no longer white volcanic peaks, and built of pearly white volcanic stone, or sillar, the prosperous oasis city is in many ways Peru at its best. We tuck into delicious jumbo river shrimp soups, barhop down cobblestone alleys, and tour a dimly lit museum housing one of Peru’s strangest marvels – a fully preserved Inca ice princess under freezing glass – all under the benevolent gaze of the spectacular El Misti volcano.

Colonial Arequipa

Arequipa’s got the rep of being Peru’s elegant second city and a bastion of rich conservatism, even though it has the distinction of producing the messianic founder of the Maoist Shining Path, Abimael Guzman.

He eats, he sleeps: Burrito Miguelito

The city is also well known for its hospitality, however, and it didn’t disappoint, thanks to local green businessman Reth Córdova. After giving us a crash course in the pitfalls of Peruvian biodiesel production, Reth was kind enough to invite us out to Paladar, an excellent Turkish-Peruvian restaurant he partly owns, and to take us up to his second home in the majestic Colca Canyon. And of course, he loaded us up with a full tank of turbo juice.

Off to Colca Canyon. Nothing like a full tank of wegetables

- Andy, Photos by Elliot

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