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.