Sunday, 31 January 2010

Waterfall a plenty

In the last few days I have visited 2 sets of waterfalls within traveling distance of Cajamarca. The first at is only about 13km and just a stone's throw from the pretty village of Llancora. We went on a Sunday and there were several others enjoying the short and pleasant walk to the falls. From the  attractive plaza and its gardens there is an easily found path at first passing some small bodegas, one of which sold great chicharrones and mote at 2 soles a bag. They were very tasty. The waterfall weren't stunning but attractive enough and it was amusing to watch some of the locals were enjoying trying to get under them.

The next day we visited San Marcos a small and somewhat grubby town about an hour and quarter's drive, 63 km on route 3N South East of Cajamarca. The road is good but we left early without breakfast and I felt a little sick in the back of the Combi which cost us 7 Soles, less than 2 pounds. St Marcos is a small rural and somewhat dusty town but it has a nice square and church and we had a chicken soup breakfast, a variety of breafast that I am still coming to terms with.

At around 8.30 we were collected by Amparo and Ronald is a Combi which looked as if it had seen better days. Amparo is project leader running a Swiss funded eco/agro tourism project in a tiny village of Huayanay about half an hour further up in the hills. The village is set around a grass plaza and comprises 12 families and dwellings including a shop and church. It has no electricity or constant water but has a satellite telephone.

The project for this week is to render 1 of the 2 waterfalls about 60 metres below accessible by creating stone steps winding down a steep incline. The point of this is to attract tourists and this funds to this pretty isolated location.

Luckily Amparo is a highly resourceful person and with wit and charm she helped organise chains of workers passing large uneven stones down to others below who were constructing the path. More or less the whole of the village was engaged in this with women and children passing down some large and very heavy rocks. At lunch time we stopped and had a good meal of rice, fried egg, soup and potato with lots of fruit juice to wash it down.

The waterfalls are really quite attractive and the whole site is a repository for different plant types and some wildlife. Two charming boys guided us to the second lower falls and the views of the valley from here are quite stunning.

At the day's end Amparo convened an informal town meeting where she reinforced some of the aims of the project and outlined new tasks and asked for support for the continuation of the labours. She distribited about 6 small eucalyptus plants to each family. Althouh this species is not native to Peru it grows quickly and provides firewood and prevents the cropping of indigenous trees.

As dark fell we headed back to San Marcos extremely tired but very satisfied by the day's work, made all the more fun by the kindness of our hosts, their good humour and honest endevours. I plan to visit again to help next week.

If you feel like helping in any way with this project let me know and I can put you in touch. Everyone is welcome and every penny spent seems to go to good use; the funding of only $7000 for this and some educational activities is small beer compared to the benefits being acrued.

Sunday, 24 January 2010

Cajamarca 2 Cycling

Cycling Near Cajamarca

4 weeks off the bike except for a couple of spinning sessions isn't sound preparation for 60km on and off road at an altitude of around 9,000 feet. But hey ho here we go.

When I first saw Richard and his brother cycling out of Cajamarca, looking like real cyclists on real bikes instead of the usual piles of steely 'Monarch' contraptions that pass for cycles around here I took careful note. They too noticed my interest and smiled hello. It passed that I soon met them again.

They are members of a family of about 6 brothers and a couple of sisters and among other interests they run a cycle repair yard close to the cemetery. It isn't much more than a corrugated plastic covered yard with a dirt floor, some tools and lots of cycle junk. They dont even have a bike stand. They are part of a small but enthusiastic cycling scene here in Cajamarca and have already organized a couple of events locally including a criterium around the city centre and a downhill from the ancient site of Cumbe Mayo, probably 2,400 feet on a dusty wide track.

Luckily they are friends of Vicky with whom I am lodging and she negotiated a morning's accompanied ride, guide and hire of bike for 70 Soles or about £17.50. The bike had an unknown aluminum frame, Shimano Deore groupset and Mavic rims, so not bad and good to go. We set off in the direction of the Inca Baths along the only cycle/running path in Cajamarca and then on to Llancora a pretty mountain village where there are waterfall of which I will say more next time. We then climbed for about 1 hour and 20 minutes towards Namora where we left the road for a stony track. After some tough terrain we descended on a beautiful lake, lago Coller which is not listed in the guides.

The lake appeared black and on closer scrutiny it contained herbs which a few farmers were harvesting and there were fine reeds which I was told were used to make the distinctive hats worn mainly by the campesino women. There was a lot of bird life, mainly ducks and a few people fishing. Apart from this and with the exception of one family picnicking we had the lake to ourselves and we stpped for soe time to appreciate it.

On leaving I felt quite exhausted but knew that we had about 25km left to cover, luckily more of which was downhill. On reaching Cajamarca I was well and truly cooked but it had been a fascinating ride through magnificent and verdant countryside. Richard, my companion is a strong cyclist and I fell far short of his climbing performance though mentally discounting age, altitude and time off the bike as compensating factors. He was good company too and tolld me he has a girlfriend, Zoe in Nottingham, an evangelist ballet dancer he told me.

I have decided to try and help this group of cyclists get some support and funding and I will aim to work with them to develop a proposition to garner funds from cycling interests world-wide, for from what I can see there is a great deal of talent and enthusiasm without the means to easily achieve their goals. So if you have any ideas on how we can support and nurture this talent and in a small way help this developing and generally impoverished group to help themselves through the sport of cycling, kindly leave a comment and your ideas.

Wednesday, 20 January 2010

Cajamarca 1

After leaving Lima I traveled overnight on Cruz de Sur to meet my friend Anna and her sister Lesley from Piura. The bus was very comfortable and I managed to sleep 7 hours, so arrived fresh and spent a very agreeable few hours comprising of cocktails, a lunch of duck with rice (a Chiclayo specialty). In truth the duck was a bit dry but we enjoyed catching up and we took in some pleasant gardens set out in Roman classical design and paid a visit to Ripley, the Debenhams of Peru and air conditioned.

The next day I was booked on a Linea bus,(I have since learned the buses are on strike) less comfortable but with some great views of the countryside. The journey of about 150 km took 7 hours giving you some idea of the terrain as we climbed to more than 11000 feet. At times the paved road gave way to dirt and some of the edges were just bit on the close side. Anyway, as we dropped down from the high plateau I had my first view of Cajamarca, a substantial city situated in a green valley surrounded by mountains on all sides, some of which were cloaked in cloud, for it is the rainy season.

Cajamarca has many attractions but it is mostly known for the downfall of the Inca Empire as Francisco Pizarro with about 170 soldiers, 29 horses and one canon conquered a culturally advanced empire stretching from Columbia to Chile. Atahualpa, the Inca Emperor was tricked into entering the city with his retinue which was duly massacred by the better armed and ferocious Spanish contingent. He was then held ransom for gold and silver to fill a large room (the Rescate) but his only gain from this was to be spared death by burning and he was eventually hanged. From then on the empire fell into disarray and was decimated by systematic subjugation and the spread of disease – and so it ended.

Arriving in Cajamarca at first I stayed in a hotel but by luck I have found a lovely family with whom to lodge. Vicky is an official guide and her extended family live in 3 connected dwellings. Mirita cooks and keeps house and cousins, aunts, nieces and nephews come and go so the house is always lively and fun. I am treated a bit like visiting royalty but am normalising relations and I have just got them to stop calling me Senor Alan. I get a room of my own, a shower next door and 3 meals a day for about £52 a week. To be honest I probably spend more than that on food alone at home.

Since arriving I have participated in some of the usual tourist activities. Firstly visiting some museums and the Rescate which is where the gold and silver was stored. I have also been to the Inca Baths, a complex of hot springs serving a complex of individual bathroom where for just over £1 you can spend 30 minutes bathing and absorbing some of the minerals said to be present in the waters. I also walked to Otuzco via a river path. Here one can visit the ventanillas, a complex of burial chambers niched out in the rocks. Yesterday I visited Cumbe Mayo a huge outcrop or 'forest of rocks with a 3000 year old aqueduct which has been precision engineered to supply water into the valley. There are also strange petroglyphs which so far haven't been deciphered.

The town of Cajamarca is busy and well supplied with places to eat and drink. Holanda Ice cream company takes advantage of the ample supply of dairy produce and has some great and typical Peruvian flavours. So far i have not had any luck in tracking down a NGO to work with but I think I have identified a Spanish teacher and I am supposed to be meeting up with a TV reporter who says he will interview me about cycling; on which not as yet I haven't bought a bike but have joined Fitness First and will be doing a spinning session later today.

Ending this edition on a slightly sour note I was robbed in the market losing about £30 and a couple of credit cards. In part at least this was my own fault in not taking sufficient precautions but the team that robbed me were pretty accomplished and I guess one can learn from any experience. Reporting the event has been somewhat comical necessitating several visits to the police station and back and forth to the national bank. Getting me a supply of money and plastic is a chore that has sadly fallen to my resourceful wife.

Sunday, 17 January 2010

Back in Lima

Well I am back in Peru and remembering its funny ways. The journey was uneventful except for some extreme turbulence which unnerved me somewhat. I was to have been collected from th airport by my friend Stuart but emails went astray and in the end I selected the most reliable oldest taxista from the Green Taxi company. I chose him partly to annoy one of his colleagues who was shadowing my every move in the hope of a fare.

My stay in Lima was hugely enhanced by my hotel which was a real cultural treat. The house of Victor Delfin, artist of Peru is a hotel, gallery and his studio. Almost 100 years old its architecture defies classification but maybe owes something to the combined influences of Tudor, Bauhaus and Swiss country cottage. The house is situated in the so called bohemian district of Barranco, just outside Lima and it looks out on the Paciffic.

Lilian, Victor's daughter is a petite 40 something with military precision in the B and B arrangements, a quality probably inherited from her father whose studio is orderly and not stereotypically arty. A huge brightly lit cross over at Chorillo to the South dominates the night sky and and reflects off the water.

The house is huge with 3 large double bedrooms for guests – these cost considerably more than the £40 per night that I paid for the only en suite single room. Breakfasts are a friendly affair with all guests sharing the same table.

On entering the garden you are greeted by 2 large friendly dogs Zeus and Diana, but most of all treated to a continual revealing of Victor's considerable body of work and talent. This is in the form of sculptures, paintings, artifacts and even windows and door furniture which have been artistically interpreted.

Aside from the hotel i enjoyed a great meal with Stuart and his Peruvian wife Anette, did some research on Cajamarca at South American Explorers and enjoyed some walks along the beach and into Chorillas a nearby busy town about which people warned me that it was unsafe but on visiting seemed much the same as any other Peruvian commercial centre. I also explored Barranco and found a friendly bar and hit a few museums.

So, a good 3 days and then I took a super luxury night bus to Chiclayo where I was to meet Ana and her sister, friend from lst year's visit to Piura. Overall a good start to the trip.