Thursday, 3 December 2009

Sevilla with The English Group

I convene a small group of Spanish and English learners in a pub in Croydon, unimaginatively known as Croydon-Spanish. Until recently my friend Jorge was a member of the group and now is a founding member of a similar group based in Sevilla called The English Group.

Well, we have been comparing notes and I took the opportunity of a £50 Ryanair deal to spend 4 less wet and cold November days. The group was incredibly kind, entertained and showed me around the city treating me to rides to and from the airport, (although Jorge's car died on the way back necessitating a fast change to a taxi)

I really like Sevilla and being shown the authentic and best bars and sampling great tapas was an excellent antidote to recent poor weather in London. We visited the museum of Modern Art where there was a great exhibition Máquinas de Mirar with all sorts of visual tricks and machines. I also enjoyed Reales Alcazares, Archivo de Indias, various parks, gardens and avenues, a wonderful exhibition of Art inspired by video games, 'Over the Game'. I was treated to dinner at one of the group's houses and visited the horse show SICAB

Thanks to all my hosts but especially those of you who showed me around. You all showed me great kindness. 

Some of you will know that I quite enjoy cycling so it was with some interest that I was able to try out the municipal cycle scheme. It worked pretty well, and with Sevilla being quite flat and and relatively safe, it was very well used by locals and some tourists. I spent a couple of enjoyable hours mainly on cycle paths by the river.

I had a amazing and memmorable 4 days mainly thanks to my newly found friends in Sevilla. I hope they will be able to come to London for a visit quite soon.

Sunday, 22 November 2009

Peru en Londres 2009

Those of you who read this blog know that it will be reignited on my return to peru, this time from January 6 to March 13 2010. At that time I aim to be blogging once or twice a week, mainly from

But recently there has been quite a lot of action here relating to Peru. I seem to have extended my contacts and am enjoying different activities. A couple of weeks ago I attended the Día de la Canción Criolla at the Inca Arch near Brixton. This was a well attended event with dancing and traditional food. I can't remember what I had to eat so maybe that was and indication of the fun we had. There were traditional dances and a disco.

Also this month saw the beginnings of a new London based Peruvian Association. I attended a meeting when they were hammering out a constitution, running into many pages, but when the food was ready all the business and laboured posturings about the constitution ceased and we had some nice traditional dishes and Pisco sours. Unfortunately I broke my tooth on some cake decorations.

Last week I joined the
Peru Support Group and attended its conference in Oxford. This is a broadly left leaning group devoted to supporting Peru. We had some interesting contributions most notably from a priest and potentially a cadidate for President of Peru in forthcoming elections. Marco Arena is an interesting character who seems to be trying to lever a coalition of leftish organisations with strong messages about the Peruvian economy and the current misuse of natural resources and their cost to human suffering. He is a commanding figure from Cajamarca where I will be living and he voices sensible and moderate policies for the sustainable development of Peru.

Cluadio of the
Peruap Project hosted the film La teta asustada. This is a magical film staring Magaly Solier. It won some awards at Berlin and is well regarded for its portrayal of the suffering of the indiginous people of the Andes in the times of Partido Comunista del Perú), more commonly known as the Shining Path (Sendero Luminoso)and their conflicts with the Government during a time of great uprising in Peru when it is estimated that 70,00 died, mostly peasants in rural areas. This has coincided with recent release of photos entitled Melting mountains: Helena Christensen on her pictures from Peru The supermodel turned photographer talks about her pictures documenting the environmental and human cost of climate change in her mother's native country. The exhibition of her photographs, in collaboration with Oxfam, opens to the public on 23 November at London's Proud Gallery. They can be found here

Lastly, I am looking forward to the Christmas Party of thee Anglo Peruvian association. This will be hosted in the Peruvian Embassy residence by the kind permission the Ambassador of Peruu, Ricardo Luna.

After that I will be getting ready for my trip. I am beginning to identify some contacts in Cajamarca and my fI will be meeting up with my friend Stuart in Lima.

Thanks for reading the blog. Hopefully you'll see more first hand accounts in January. In the meantime, have a great Christmas.

Feliz navidad

Friday, 6 November 2009

Friday, 21 August 2009

Music and Dance at Inca Arch

Last evening's offering in favour of the Apurimac project was a tour de force of Peruvian culture including music, dance, art, and food and poetry. The fact that you can find all this a stone's throw from central London never ceases to amaze me.

We (myself and Jorge a friend from Sevilla) arrived early and therefore received free complimentary Pisco Sours. The line up for the evening included a rich mix of Peruvian artists now domiciled in UK and Spain. We had every thing for a great evening - the line up included:

Chano Díaz Límaco

Sofía Buchuck (Singer and poet)

José Navarro (Scissors dancer, mime performer)

Juan Calle (singer, composer and poet)

David Mortara ( percussionist and "cajón" player)

Chano Diaz is an award winning musician and producer born in Ayacucho presented some songs from his latest albums. The proceeds of the concert went to Peru Apurimac Project.

We began the eveing with a presentation of recent support for impoverished communities in the high Andes and some of the work going on with remote communities to support more sustainable ways of life.

After that the entertainment began with contributions from all the above mentioned artists. Chano played the the spanish guitar and the charango. Originally, Andean music consisted only of flutes and percussion. The charango resembles a small guitar with 10 strings. The strings are tuned in pairs of five notes, with the middle pair being an octave apart. The rest are tuned in unison. The sound is quite high, almost "tinny" in tone, with a sharp attack. Chano plays the charango in this clip The other instrument played was the cajon, basically a square wooden bok on which one sits and plays like a drum on the front side.

One of the most notable parts of the evening was the Scissor dance performed by José Navarro. This is an acrobatic dance accompanied by what look like two halves of a pair of metal scissors which are beaten rhythmically. You can see it performed here

All in all this was a great evening and they went on to have a disco after we left to catch a train.

If you want to know more about the project there is an informative blog

Saturday, 11 July 2009

Cycling adventures around Burgos

Perhaps one might think that Northern Central Spain has less to offer than the coastal regions - this is not the case and I can recommend the area. It is great for its scenic and historical qualities, the quality of the roads and the ease of cycling along quiet lanes and, even in the city where a cycle path follows the river to leave the city in either of two directions. Burgos is in the area of Castilla Leon and is situated on a high plateau. Thus it can be chilly even in summer. There is a local joke about the man from Burgos who went to a nudist camp but always carried a coat just in case!

I was in Spain for about 3 weeks and I managed to fit in a visit to Madrid and met up with friends there over 3 days before moving on to Burgos. This was for my second experience of Vaughantown. This is an immersion English course for Spanish speakers. Their English speaking counterparts or 'Anglos' receive 6 days of 4 star accommodation, food and wine in exchange for talking exclusively in English to a lively group of Spanish speakers, mainly corporate employees. They are improving their English speaking skills through intensive conversation. I reserved the subsequent 5 days for cycling around Burgos and getting to know the Cantabrian countryside.

As luck would have it a cycling group, Cycling-Centuries, an American company passed through the hotel en route with a group of Australians undertaking the Camino de Santiago. They had some spare bikes on board the support vehicle and rented me a pretty good hybrid with aluminum frame, carbon forks and mainly Shimano parts. I also managed a cheap deal with the hotel where I was staying. I can recommend it, a Hilton, Palicio de la Merced

Burgos is a historic city of some 200,000 people. It has a very well known Gothic cathedral and is situated on the Camino de Santigo, thus attracting many Peregrinos and other tourist.

My first day of cycling created some problems. A river runs through the city centre and there is about 5 miles of cycle path by it stretching each West and East to the city limits. Along one part of the path it gave way to an unexpected curb and I came off the bike suffering 4 significant abrasions. By luck there was a first a first aid station by a children's park so, like the children, I put on a brave face, wiped my tears and I was able to receive excellent treatment almost immediately. Riding out of the city a cyclist passed and waved as he went by so I caught on the back of his wheel and he showed me a good circular route out of the City. He was pretty fast but willing to pull me along and shield me from the wind. Rodrigo was a member of the local cycling club and he told me about some races over the weekend. His cycle club is phenomenal by UK standards, situated in a bar called the Burgos Cycle Club it comprises a very large room set out with photos and trophies. That weekend the club had sponsored 2 races at semi-professional level with some local teams and prizes of around £100 for the winners. I watched the start of the first race. There were a disappointing 50 starters considering the escort of 7 motorcycles and 4 or 5 support cars. The motor cyclist shown is in fact Rodrigo!

Cycling around Burgos is demanding. In one direction there are fairly steep climbs while in the other there are long drags. The wind is a constant and strong feature and one is reminded of it by the many wind generators. Spain is further ahead of other European countries in renewable energy but for cyclists these structures usually signify a demanding climb up to a ridge and a fierce chilling wind.

Mostly rides can be punctuated by rests in small villages where there is often a running tap of clean and cool fresh water. There is usually a cafe and opportunities to buy coffee, tapas and other drinks. At one such stop I managed to ride off leaving behind my camera, driving license, money and phone. Realising my mistake after some 15 km so I turned back. After 10 km I was flagged down by the Civil Guard in a squad car! They had been out looking for me to return my possessions after an elderly man who I befriended at lunch reported my error – I was so relieved that I collectively forgave the Civil Guard their history of support for the Franco dictatorship and set off agan to complete my ride. The extra miles gave me a 90 mile day and I was pretty tired at the end.

Cycling in the area is very agreeable; cars pass by carefully and give as much room as possible. On the main roads there is usually a metre wide margin for cyclists and there are plenty of other cyclists at the weekend, always offering a friendly wave. Over the 5 days I covered about 350 miles usually at an average of about 15.5mph which wasn't too bad considering some meandering exploration of villages and the cycle path which was always busy with other cyclists on their way to andd from the town centre. I enjoyed some beautiful scenery, views of lakes, mountains and the expansive sierra. I saw many animals including a stoat, lizards, a snake and butterflies. Bird life included birds of prey circling above reminding me to drink more water in the dry heat of midday.

In all this area offered some great cycling and is well worth a visit. Afterwards I rented a car and headed off for Oviedo in the Asturias, another great part of Spain. We stayed at Hotel de la Reconquista which has 5 stars and is worth every one of them!

There will be a few more photos over at my flickr site and i have added some relevant links to my blog page.

I am happy if you leave a comment

Sunday, 7 June 2009

Qhapaq Ñan, The Grand Route of the Andes

I recently attended a great talk and screening of a very personal journey by Megan Son and Laurent Granier. This posting is a bit of a crib form their website which you can find here

The route is huge and comprises a stone paving up to 20 meters wide, steps climbing heights of over 4500m, walkways over water and suspension bridges. Runners, chasquis, carrying messages on knotted strings called quipus ran in relay from one end of the Inca empire to the other, some 6000 kilometeres.

This royal road joined the cities of Quito, Ecuador to the north and Santiago, Chile in the south permitting the Inca to control his Empire and to send troops as needed from the capital, Cusco. Along the route were warehouses, relay stations, llama corrals, living quarters and military posts spaced intermittently of varying sizes and grandeur.

Much of this route stood at an altitude between 3500 and 5000 meters and with sections reaching 20 meters in width, it connected populated areas, administrative centers, agricultural and mining zones as well as ceremonial centers.

The Qhapaq Ñan unified this immense empire through a well organized political system of power. Today, it has the potential to strengthen the bond between the different peoples of the Andes, who share a longstanding common culture.

Megan and Laurent have have travelled for more than five years together on historic routes utilizing traditional modes of transportation.

Their adventure was of immense proportion and at times dangerous. They have written a beutiful book which is currently in French only but hopefully they will have it translated. In the future they hope that the route will become UNESCO protected and safeguard the habitats and lives of those that live near it.

At the moment I am planning next year's visit to Cajamarca which lies along the route so hope to walk some of it myself.

I have been trying to maintain some contact with Peruvians and other South Americans and have recently begun volunteering with a project called Latin American Disabled Peoples Project.(LADPP) This is based in Kennington, South london and you can see a link to it on the right of this posting. Hopefully I will be helping them put together a summer programme for children and young people. We recently all went to the Natural history museum and the children enjoyed a day of 'monsters'!

I am off to Spain next week, for a 3 week visit to Madrid, Burgos and Olviedo. I have put together an interesting programme of meeting up with buddies in Madrid, then a week doing immersion English with Spanish speakers in Burgos (Vaughantown), then 5 days cycle touring if I can rent a bike, and finally meeting up with my wife and staying a long weekend at a posh hotel in Olviedo.

Other than that I have been searching out contacts in Cajamarca and have made 1 friend on Skype but a nice lady at the Peruvian Embassy is helping me as well - more of this anon.

Thursday, 9 April 2009

Finding Peru in London

My last and most recent Peruvian outing was to the Embassy where I enjoyed a talk by Professor Juan Ossio on Peru's most famous chronicler, Guaman Poma de Ayala. His chronical is remarkable in many ways: it melds writing and fine line drawings in a huge volume that seems to explain and explore the relationships between the world of the Inca and the Conquistadores. Afterwards I was treated to Pisco Sours and Peruvian canapes and chatted to some of the other guests. I met a nice man who comes from Cajamarca which is one of the places I hope to visit in the future.

So, in conclusion, you can certainly find El Peru alive and well in London so Arriba Perú

My next outing was to go clubbing in Shoreditch and see an Afro-peruvian group called Novalima. I was at the Cargo club which is very atmospheric and has bars, resuarant and a space for gigs. Drinks wern't too expensive and there was a nice mixed crowd of Engish and Latinos. The group ir very percussive and worth a listen and you can ceck them out on Myspace

Surprising as it may seem one can enjoy Peru in London by engaging in some of its cultural events and occasionally meeting Peruvians.

The other week I enjoyed seeing the film Tinta Roja' (2000) by Francisco Lombardi The story evolves around Alfonso who signs on at a seedy tabloid newspaper, where he is assigned the police round. His initial horror at his colleagues' practices, both professional and personal, diminishes as he discovers their endearing and even admirable qualities. He develops a fondness for his boss which gradually blinds him to the squalor and amorality of tabloid journalism, until events provide a rude reminder.

This film gives you an insight of the real world and journalism in Lima, Peru. The actors are all great in their own ways especially Giovanni Ciccia who plays the lead character of Alfonso. He plays a sensitive young journalist turning more like his boss, Faundez, played by Gianfranco Brero. It is a comic yet tragic film and its setting in Lima brought back many memeories of the bustling city.

Sunday, 22 February 2009

Visit to Pachacarmac and signing out from Lima

My last few days involved flying from Tarapoto and from their finding my Hotel in the bohemian district of Baranco, Lima. I had elected to stay in a reasonably plush hotel and even had the benefits of a jacuzzi. The flight to Tarapoto was slighly delayed but we had the benefit of some wonderful cloud formations.

Baranco comprises more than I had time to visit but it has some fine and grand older residences, some bars, discos and plenty of restaurants. The area has bags of character and some fantastic views of the Pacific Ocean. You can just about walk from here to Miraflores, and the higher coastal route takes in some very expensive ocean-view apartment blocks. Muchachas (female help for the rich) walk their owner's dogs and entertain their children on the grassy embankments; the cosntrast between rich and poor in Perú are nowhere more obvious than here.

My evening meal in a Baranco restuarant was very tasty. I ordered mixed seafood anticuchos. Generally these consist of small pieces of grilled skewered meat. The meat may be marinated in vinegar and spices (such as cumin, aji pepper and garlic), and while anticuchos can be made of any type of meat, the most popular are made of beef heart (anticuchos de corazon). Anyway, mine were sea bass, octopus and prawns and really good.

The next day I visited Pachamarca. This first entailed a bus to Surco, then another on to the ruins, about an hour in all. Surco is a middle class enclave with lots of large consumer outlets and fast food places. It has a small but quite entertaining park with pedalos and an original narrow gauge railway, Tren del Parque de la Amistad, Surco- Lima. It is well kept and there is an arts comlex where I noticed children practising the famous Marinera dance. If you have young children this park would offer an entertaining respite form more well known tourists attractions.

Pachacarmac is a very extensive Pre-Inca and Inca ruin. I have provided a link to an archaeological project that gives some sense of it. There is a great museum and you can walk or drive to the various parts of the ruins. The scale is impressive offering an idea of the kind of society that existed here before the conquest. I hired a guide. Top tip for language learners is $6 spent on a guide to talk to you in Spanish is a pretty cheap conversation and listening opportunity.

I am afraid that the remainder of my stay in Lima was fairly frivolous. In the evening I met up with my friend Sergi who I had met in Tarapoto. He was bound for a 'hot' month in Brazil and even managed to pick up a girl in the bar where we were. In fact I opened the conversation with her and after some while left them to it. On the way home I was offered sex and drugs but declining both mentally terminated my Peruvian experience for this year.

The journey home to UK was long if uneventful and eventually I was pleased to be standing in the chilly night air of Heathrow Airport. I was collected, by my wife and daughter, Jennie. I was somewhat tired but pleased to be home after what has been an incredible 2 months in Northern Perú.

I doubt that I'll blog for a while now but will continue to write on any interesting London/Perú activities and trips to Spain; and occasionally completely off topic. I am always appreciative of comments and welcome followers here or on Twitter for which there is a link on the blog. I will also upload more photos to Flikr in the next dew days

Many thanks


Thursday, 19 February 2009

Laguna Azul

About 1 1/2 hours from Taropoto, half by road and half by piste you reach the Laguna by crossing Rio Huallaga. The crossing is made by a ferry that carries 4 cars at most. It is an ingenious system powered by the current of the river. By pointing the bow of the ferry up river it gains momentum and is held to the track across by a cable suspended above. It is therefore a very environmentally friendly mode of transport.

The lake was in fact greenish brown but substantial, about 5 x 2 km and 35m deep. The package included a 45 minute launch trip with explanations of some of the essential but not very memorable fact, like who owned what dwellings on the shore. When we landed at a ecology centre on the shore we were able to relax in hammocks or swim before a lunch of comida tipica. I did both and then walked around watching a couple of guys fishing from a hollowed out canoe and checking out the wildlife, including a sloth who seemed friendly enough but had giant claws. There were several types of birds to watch and after a longish afternoon's relax we went to another wildlife centre and watched some playful and distinctive animals which I think they called kuni but I can't identify it on the internet.

This amounted to a pretty good day at a cost of $27 all in. I had the company of 3 others and our driver/guide and was picked up and delivered to my hotel.

Sunday, 15 February 2009

Visit to PumaRinri

PumaRinri means the ears of a puma. Today PumaRinri is a lodge set overlooking Rio Huallaga in the sub-tropical selva about 30km drive from Tarapoto. When the river is low it reveals 2 rocks that resemble the cat's ears so hence its name. There are 7 bedrooms overlooking a spectacular view of the now swollen river. The lodges are constructed from local materials of bamboo and palm thatch and inside include all modern necessities including hot water. The view is spectacular and the sound of the river and wildlife provides great accompaniment to the visual scene.

I stayed in the lodge one night along with a Peruvian couple who were celebrating the Valentine's weekend and were in consequence non-communicative. No matter, we were well looked after by a team of 5 covering cleaning, cooking, maintenance and guide duties from Miguel and engaging and very helpful companion. Food was good and mainly cooked over a wood fired hob. The rest of the time was shared between bathing in the small dipping pools by the lodges, watching the wildlife and 2 local visits to waterfalls and some rapids.

Within a short while of being there I saw several different birds and later numerous moths, butterflies, lizards, frogs, a coupe of small monkeys and very large spider.
On the first day we went to the rapids which admittedly weren't that spectacular but included a walk along the river's edge to look at the fishing lodges. During the dry season when the river reduces in volume the fish swim up river and are caught in nets by the people that occupy these river dwellings.

At night the stars were fantastic and the sounds of the selva and the river were at their most prominent. Whilst the rooms were more or less bug-tight I did spend some time hunting down anything that I thought would cause me problems. I woke to a disappointingly cloudy dawn but the day picked up and after breakfast we visited some local waterfalls, Cataratas de Pucayacquillo within a 30 minute hike along a steepish jungle path. The falls were very nice, not spectacular in size but the setting was great and I was able to both bathe and shower.

Overall this was a very worthwhile and enjoyable excursion and easily organised via my hotel

Thursday, 12 February 2009

Around Tarapoto

The weather has been somewhat changeable and we have had rain on and off the last few days. I have been ticking off my list of places to see around Tarapoto and the day before yesterday Marcelino took me to Lamas. He is 70 but quite fit and a real character, engaging in conversations with everyone and commenting on everything.
We hopped a motor taxi to the place from where cars leave for the town of Lamas 14 miles northwest of Tarapoto. This visit was a little disappointing as it is advertised as founded in 1656 and one of the oldest towns in the Peruvian jungle. It is about 1000 metres high so somewhat fresher in climate and there are some good views from the top of the hill. There are 2 museums and the more modern one is quite interesting although don't expect the guides to speak any English. The new museum is well presented with quite a few artifacts connected to local customs and nature. Please don't go to the second, older museum. The guide smelt of alcohol, stumbled through a presentation. Most of the rooms comprised models of local people/life which were disintegrating with age and lack of care.

Walking around, and from observation, it wasn't totally clear how the town differed from others and, although the square had some models of people in local costume I only saw one old lady wearing anything like it. There were a couple of shops selling locally made jewelery and cotton goods and I bought a couple of items which were reasonably priced. Further into town we saw a castle being constructed, maybe as a hotel or house. It looked out of character with the rest of the town and nobody seemed to know why was being built; it seemingly belonged to an American.

The next morning it was raining again and I chatted with Sergi and Daniel who work for an NGO connected to the hotel. It is dedicated to Re-forestation projects and has funding from the Balearic Islands in Spain. Sergi is from Barcelona and is working on a marketing strategy whilst Daniel is on a University placement and knows about forests and trees. They invited me to visit a remote community with whom they are contracting services to plant 30 acres of new trees. The path which is a 2,400 feet climb to and altitude of almost 3,000 feet begins a Pumarinri, which is a of lodge owned by the hotel where I am staying. It is set in a stunning location by Rio Huallga.

We traveled the 30 or so Km in a van and the journey was difficult owing to the recent rain. I thought that a 4 wheel drive would be more suitable as we got stuck and had to push the van to get back onto a more even and less muddy surface. On arrival at the Lodge we were greeted by others and provided with a meal. I have decided to stay at the lodge for a couple of days so will write about it further in due course.

After lunch were Joined by Miguel a technical assistant and began our climb. It was steep and muddy and thus quite arduous, but the effort was well worth it owing to the excellent views of the river and mountains and the enjoyment of passing through the forest. In places one could see tracts of hillside where, after deforestation the quality of the soil had been exhausted by 2 seasons of crop growth and then left infertile. It was in places like this that the reforestation is planned.

On reaching the community we were warmly greeted by the villagers. It is a community of about 80 people called Nueva Lamas and their thatched dwellings were dispersed around the hillside. Unexpectedly they had arranged a meeting for our arrival and we gathered in a wooden hut where the the locals asked questions to satisfy themselves about the viability of the project and its benefits. It was quite a complicated discussion and we were offered chincha locally produced from maize with one bowl and a plastic bucket for all to share. The meeting was made more interesting by the occasional entry of tiny chicks, the pigs grunting outside and children playing; but by the conclusion all was well and Sergi and myself descended the mountain leaving the other 2 to progress the planting of seeds.

After showering we returned to the hotel in the dark – this was a brilliant and informative experience and although I ached a bit the following day a really memorable trip.

Tuesday, 10 February 2009

To Tarapoto, La Selva

Getting to Tarapoto was somewhat exhausting. I took a bus to Chiclayo, some 3 hours and then a 6 hour wait for the next bus, 13 hours semi-cama. The whole thing cost about 20 pounds and included a meal on the second bus.

I was able to make good use of my time in Chiclayo. The town itself is unremarkable and quite busy. After asking around I found a car to take me to a museum of Senor de Sipan a pre Inca Lord. This was an incredible opportunity as the museum is extensive and the displays on par with those of Tuten Karman with tombs and many artifacts in gold, silver and copper. I paid 5 pounds for a guide and had an individual tour that was about 1 ½ hours.

The bus left late and after a airline style supper there was a movie, 'Taken' with Liam Neeson. This turned out to be super violent and deeply unsuitable considering the children on the bus. I had hoped to settle into a slumber but this woke me up and by the time it ended we were climbing high into the mountains. I had wondered why the bus attendant had been giving out plastic bags but understood as the bus lurched from side to side as it climbed the winding and roughly surfaced road. From time to time I could see the outline of the mountain and had a sense of the edge but couldn't see it. Needless to say sleep escaped me for some hours. Arriving at Tarapoto I negotiated a motor taxi to my hotel, Rio Shilcayo.

This is a semi-luxurious hotel and has a pool, reasonable facilities including air conditioned rooms and hot water. Now it feels like a holiday. I haven't done too much so far but found a path alongside the river and have visited a local centre with animals, plants and butterflies. On the walk there I must have seen 6 different types of butterfly and the vegetation is lush and green. I also came across Takiwasi, a centre for drug addiction treatment. This is probably a unique retreat specialising in the use of traditional medicines like Una de gato which means finger nails of cats but is actually bark and a natural anti-inflamatory; they also use more conventional therapies but you need basic Spanish and 9 months, of which the first 3 are without contact to the outside world.

Last evening I met up with Enoe and Marcelino the parents in law of Juan Miguel. They have a private primary school and we watched some of the girls practising volley ball and then went for a meal.

This morning the plan was to go walking with Marcelino but it is raining so if it stops this afternoon we will probably visit Lamas, one of the oldest towns in the Peruvian jungle It is populated by descendants of the fierce Chanca Indians, who maintain their traditional ancestral customs and there is a museum.

I have several days here and hope to visit most of the sights in the area and maybe take a couple of days in an isolated lodge higher in the hills at Pumarinri,

Sunday, 8 February 2009

At home with middle class Peru

I am increasingly taken by the rapid transformation to the middle classes that is taking place here in Peru. Whilst there is poverty that continues without abate for some, a large number are being lifted into the middle classes by the value of their enterprise.

The growth of construction of buildings is amply evidenced by the increasing number of new homes and apartments. Here in Piura, Miraflores is probably the most middle class enclave but there are many contradictions and the street scene represented by this newly acquisitive group is worthy of comment.

As I step into the street near where I live I firstly notice the watchmen, 2 of whom guard a block of apartments. At first I thought the name was a bit of Spanglish but it seems is derived from guachimanes, tough afro-peruanos of Criollan extraction who guarded the property and entertainment outlets of the post-colonial elite. They are in the street day and night, and they have a cosh and whistle, the latter of which is blown at regular intervals to let you know they are around. However you don't ever see police on the local beat; instead the Watchmen are complemented by a nightly patrol of 2 motorcyclists with a blue flashing light. All this is paid for locally by the residents.

Security is the most obvious preoccupation of the owner class. Nearly all of the houses are metal gated and windows are similarly clad. In the front of some there are large and fierce dogs and I am regularly scared witless by their sudden barking. This apart, the neighbourhood is pretty quiet. Children play in the street usually throwing globos (small balloons full of water) at each other. Outside the house there is grass and plants and these are watered regularly. Self-employed gardeners cut the grass either with shears or sometimes using a machette. By the way they call it grass not cesped

You don't need to go very far to buy the essentials, fizzy drinks, cigarettes, sweets as every street has at least 2 shops, again guarded by metal grills through which you can purchase goods. Some houses also cook food like empanadas or prepare deserts to sell.

Early evenings are the best time to be out in the street. Families congregate in their front courtyards and some times outside. The sit, chat, play music and try to keep cool outside their houses which have heated considerably in the afternoon sun. Near where I live there is a small park; this is well used by families and usually there are at least 5 young couples in affectionate embrace on the seats. I am not sure if these young people are more demonstrative than their UK counterpart or they are short of places to go but it is an obvious and attractive feature of Peruvian courtship.

I am less than impressed by the architecture of middle Peru. Many of the houses are a mix of influences, colonial, Aztec and modern and look slightly tacky and a bit brash. Also, many are built with the possibility of a 2nd floor and their metal reinforcement rods point to the sky awaiting concrete posts and in-filled walls. However, the tree lined streets soften the overall effect and the impression isn't too bad. In places r, for example beside a wall there is a lack of ownership and rubbish accumulates. That said, rubbish is officially collected 3 times a week from the elevated metal cages where it is placed outside houses. Before this happens, early in the morning, unofficial rubbish collectors with hand or donkey powered carts sort the rubbish and recycle anything valuable including glass and plastics.

Largely, life in this part of Piura is safe and tranquil and slightly more communal than similar streets in the UK, and of course, sunny and warm!

Tuesday, 3 February 2009

He has a social life

I have been so lucky with my contacts here in Piura and this weekend was busy and enjoyable. On Friday evening I joined a mass in memory of the death of Anitia Goulden, founer of the children's home in which I volunteer. It was good to see them turned out in their Sunday best and I later joined them for dinner.

On Saturday morning I decided to explore the Piura market. I had previously been put off by warnings of danger but I am sure it is no more dangerous than London markets. I left my watch at home and didn't carry a rucksack and did not experience any problems. The market is extensive and it offers everything from octopus to haircuts. I didn't like the meat section and heaved a bit at the smell but otherwise enjoyed the sounds and the sights, particularly the fruit and vegetables that are so varied and fresh. As usual I was the sole tourist so received more than a few looks, usually just curios and friendly.

In the afternoon I met up with Sebastian Yoo, my fellow student and a volunteer doctor. We visited the children's home and he brought gifts of medicines which were well received. We then went back to his house for a Korean lunch and were joined by our teacher Shirley and her husband. The meal was excellent and we had friendly chats about the differences between our respective countries.

In the evening I met up with Ana and her family and we went to the Chifa Canton, and enjoyed a meal of varied treats not unlike chinese res.taurants in the UK The service was excellent, very clean and generous portions. After I had said goodbye I headed for my favourite bar where there was some reasonable entertainment. I was distracted by a group of quite well off older ladies who were out for a night on the town. Already quite drunk they made a fair imitation of a Mexican tellynovella and tried to involve me in their action – I resisted telling them that I am really quite timid and just a bit married.

The next day, Sunday, myself and Juan who I am living with, headed for the beach. By chance we met Ana and her family who had the same idea. We shared the journey to Paita where we parted. In the queue for the bus there was a bit of an argument as some people tried to push in and others shouted la cola! la cola! which means the queue; it that should be observed. Some of this bad feeling spilled over into the bus but eventually people settled down and we had a quiet ride.

At Paita Juan and myself headed for Yacila a small and pretty fishing port with some attractive rocks and a pier from which young boys were diving into the water. I had a swim and later we walked through a rock tunnel to an adjoining and quieter beach. It was all very crowded but Juan told me that the last time he wast there it was empty. I waited for a haul of fish to be unloaded and was sad to see that they only landed 3 bags of shark fins, presumably to sell for soup. The remainder of Sunday passed quietly and while writing I am supping my customary beer.

This was my last weekend in Piura and a truly memorable one. I will be sad to leave but I feel ready to move on and it will be good to stay in a hotel. I have a 17 hour bus ride ahead of me which I am not relishing. Owards to tarapoto, La Selva.

Friday, 30 January 2009

Anita Goulden Home for those with physical and learning needs

This blog entry is different from previous ones as I aim to reach an audience that includes some ex colleagues and specialists in special educational needs. I hope that they may be able to offer some support or advice to the home. That said, it may of interest to others and I welcome all comments.

Anita Goulden's mission was to help children with disabilities who were poorly equipped to survive in their own communities. There is a link to the Trust's website at the top of the blog and many of its donors are based in the UK.

This view of the home is impressionistic based on several visits in a voluntary capacity. I got to know staff and residents fairly well as I visited 3 times a week over a period of a month. I engaged with children and young adults in order to provide some measure of enjoyable experience to their lives. My perspective is one of a welcomed visitor but I have a background in providing services for children and young people with disabilities.

The home is located in Piura in a sub-district called Miraflores in Northern coastal Peru. Miraflores is a middle class area comprised mainly of houses and apartments in tree lined roads. It is safe and patrolled day and night by private security staff paid for by the local people. There is a small and pretty park next to the home. The climate in this part of Peru is very hot. Think of the hottest summer day you can remember and you will be close to it – we are near the equator and the sun is therefore very strong and it rarely rains, even now in the rainy season.

The atmosphere in the home is warm and welcoming. Each of the residents is individually known and loved and staff are caring and respectful. The home is clean, hygienic and the food is simple, wholesome and plentiful. Care is good and personal relations are excellent. I felt very welcomed and enjoyed my visits.

The home is comprised of 2 main floors but the ground floor is where most of the activity takes place. There is a courtyard without the benefit of much shade, some dormitories, a therapy area, kitchen, bathroom, dining room and an inside sitting area; it is quite compact. The building is modern but in need of decoration. Upstairs there are a few more bedrooms, offices and a wide passage that can serve as a meeting point. There is no lift.

The home serves the needs of a very wide range of clients ncluding children and young people aged 6–34. Many have profound and multiple learning difficulties with complicating medical conditions, but others are ambulant and have mild learning needs. There is one young adult who is able bodied but is a social care placement. There are slightly more than 20 residents. Probably about half are in wheelchairs but only 2 or 3 can use them independently. There are few private areas and generally residents inhabit the same space and live collectively.

There is an experienced and cohesive group of 20+ staff who work in shifts, but mornings are most busy when children are bathed and some receive physiotherapy from an experienced staff member. There are always 2 or 3 nurses on call; many of the residents are incontinent and need other attention their duties are continuous and demanding. One child is fed by tube and some others have a mainly liquid diet. There are 2 directors who mange the staff and administration with the assistance of an administrative assistant; there is also a social worker/family liaison officer. There are cleaning, washing and cooking staff. There is a male attendant who acts as site manager and does most of the lifting and handling. There are no hoists.

All who lives in the home is valued and loved and their different personalities are allowed to emerge. There is friendly interaction between residents and the staff who are attentive and experienced in making life as tolerable as possible.

There isn't much equipment available. Some of the wheelchairs are of good quality and some of the residents wear body braces to help them sit upright or have specially fitted shoes.There are some walking frames. One or two of the residents have severe muscular and bone problems and are unable to do very much without assistance. Occasionally some of the residents exhibit distress and ritualised behaviours. The furniture is generally old with few adaptions.

During my visit it was school vacation time so many of the younger people would have normally been in school, but some were nevertheless attending catch-up classes. A special needs teacher visits 2 or three times a week during vacations and works with the children in school during term time.

There isn't really very much to do in the home but individual attention is sometimes provided by volunteers such as myself. However, the flow of volunteer helpers is sporadic. The residents like to be taken to the park and this is a regular jaunt enjoyed by all. There is one computer available but it is upstairs. There is one small TV. There is a newish table tennis table which is used occasionally. As far as I understand there is no work/occupational programme for older residents. It is the anniversary of the death of Anita Goulden so this evening there is a mass in a local church and on Monday we'll go to the cemetery to place flowers. At the weekend there is a visit to the beach which sadly I'll miss.

The needs of the residents vary greatly. Some are ambulant and withing the normal range of ability and social skills whilst others cannot move without assistance and have extreme communication and medical needs. Some of the older residents have communication difficulties and cannot converse except by gesture and a few words or sounds. There is no use of Makaton or similar visual sign language. One child is hyperactive and 3 are entering or going through a period of adolescence.

I have tried to offer my attention as widely as possible, engaging in a friendly and stimulating way matched to the needs of one or two individuals at a time. We have had several walks in the park, I have played number games with beads and number lines, brought in plasticine, played with my compass, ipod and camera, played table tennis and joined in with mealtimes. It seems little enough but my involvement seems to be valued, mostly I feel as a distraction from the daily routine. I chat with staff and seem to have been accepted as a friend of the home.

Yesterday, I visited with my friend Juan Miguel one of the projects being established by an ONG called Solcode, Maribel, its dynamic administrator, is in the process of setting up a direct sales shop of farmer produce; this is as a way of supporting poor farming communities high in the Sierras. The idea is that some of the residents from the Anita Goulden home would be able to assist with selling produce and other work in the shop. This could be as a form of work or work experience to help promte independence and offer a wider view of the world.. This is an excellent idea and opportunity and it felt good to be the vehicle by which this partnership might be achieved. Tomorrow my friend Sebastian will visit. He is a Korean doctor and may be able to help.I will be meeting up with the chair of the management committee next week and will visit the market to order supplies.

It will be sad to leave Piura and my friends at the home. I will miss the residents and staff – they have become an important part of my brief stay here in Northern Peru. Hopefully I can stay in touch and maybe even assist their progress in the future.

Please leave comments and let me know if you can help in any way.

Sunday, 25 January 2009

The day after the night before

I had planned to visit to Chulacanos, East of Piura leaving a little earlier than 10.30 am. It is the first town before crossing the Sierras towards the interior jungle so I thought that as well as offering some contrast to larger city of Piura, I might get a change of scenery.

I left late due to the previous evening's combined effects of too many drinks and a late night. Juan had enticed me out for a drink in town and and we spent a pleasant couple of hours chatting in the bar and then there were a couple of professional singers who livened up the place. On leaving Juan suggested we check out Queens, a disco in Miraflores, near where we live; so why not?

Entrance was only 15 Soles, about $5 and included a drink. It was an extensive and buzzing venue and seemed to comprise mainly couples dancing to vibrant Latin beats. There was ample use of lasers and smoke machines and and, of course, the dancers were mainly young. Earlier, Juan had explained the difference between enamorados and novios, the latter implying a wedding in prospect, the former, something else. Difficult to tell but probably there were some hot dates hereabouts.

I suppose my inhibitions had somewhat drifted and as the occasion took hold I began to dance. Usually this is the point where my family leave the room but it couldn't have been too bad because I soon attracted a couple of partners and we continued dancing for about 15 minutes until they found something better to do. Juan left me to it and I stayed a little longer, but realising my judgment may be erring a tad I walked the short distance home arriving at about 3.30 am.

So the next day brought a fragile beginning and after some fruit for breakfast I took a taxi to the bus station and paid my 3 Soles fare to Chulacanos, a ride of about an hour. It was headlined as the Tourist Bus, but I think this is speculative because as far as I could see I was the lone tourist in Chulacanos that day. I was pleased to notice the change in the scenery and we headed out of Piura. The scrubby sandy soil gave way to a richer brown and the recent rain had given it a greener effect feeling somehow more familiar. There wasn't much to see but we passed, small buildings with different livestock and the odd grove of trees. Eventually I spotted the mountains.

On reaching Chulacanos there were an enormous number of motor taxis. I avoided them and found my way to an extensive market and I grazed on the spectacle as I walked through each section. Later I came across a row of cycle repair shops and some ceramic stores where I bought a couple of small pieces. The ceramics here are of good quality and very cheap but the problems in carrying much with you or shipping it out seemed insurmountable, at least to the vendors. Generally one cant find much of high value or the means to ship it.

I had wanted to go to Vicus where there is an archaeological site but in the Plaza I met a nice man who described himself as a journalist. He told me there really wasn't much to see as most of it was underground and there wasn't the funding to develop the site. His journalism was the production a small weekly magazine, revistilla whereby he chronicled local events and accused the mayor of corruption. He mentioned that there had been a recent medical mission from USA visiting the town offering free services to families and he enjoyed the fact that my name Alan, is the same as president Alan Garcia and was set to impress his wife that he had just been chatting to 'Alan' in the street.

Finally, before leaving I walked a little way out of town to get a photo of the mountains and stopped by a street vendor who had a little petrol generator to power up her liquidizer and was selling freshly pulped pineapple juice, delicious and refreshing!