Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Last few days in Lima, Peru

I generally try to pay attention to endings of trips. I had reserved 5 days in Lima thinking that there would be no end of things that I would like to do, but if truth be told, given an open agenda I have faltered somewhat in my motivation. My attention has turned to coming home, so a note to myself to always finalise in fully active mode with planned events and activities. That said, I have enjoyed some diversions; dabbled in a little salsa, spent 2 evenings at a jazz club, enjoyed cerviche with Maria Ynes and her family and tested some gourmet foodie places. Most notably I swam with sea lions, 'los lobos del mar'.

This latter trip was to the somewhat textured community of Callao about 8 miles up coast. Callao is a very large suburb but the part I visited is a commercial sea port, marina, army fortress and naval barracks. More than anywhere that I have visited in Peru people were very direct in their warnings for me not to stray into the barrios beyond the clearly defined limits around Plaza Grau a small tourist and commerce centre.

In view of the pending boat trip I lunched lightly on an empanada, tasting of Cornish pastie and fruit juice. This was the most costly tour of my time here in Peru and at $35 I was told it would last 4 hours. The company, Ecocruceros and the boat seemed of a high standard and I was joined by a group of 14 happy Belgians, a Flemish flag-waving group from the North who had been in Lima for a festival and were now in relax mode. It seems that flags and waving them are quite popular in Belgium something of which I was unaware.

We had to motor out for about an hour towards a collection of hilly brownish uninhabited sand islands, one of which was home to a high security prison back in the days of the 'Shining Path' revolutionaries, La Isla el fronton and the other, La Isla San Lorenzo we were told is the largest Island in Peru. Behind it were some smallish islands, Islas Palomino where a colony of sea lions reside. As we drew closer occasional groups of heads popped out of the water checking us out as if to welcome us to their home. We arrived to a cacophony of barking and a nauseating stink. The smell was from the next little island which is made mainly of bird poop or guano, now quite fashionable as a fertilizer on organic farms. The combination of the the sea swell and smell was too much for some of the flag wavers who heaved productively but without the aid of their flagpoles.

Four of us, myself included, gamely elected to swim with the guide and to brave the surprisingly cold waters. By this time they were teaming with ducking and diving mammals cheered on by hundreds of their neighbour onlookers from the vantage point of the island behind. Whilst I wasn't too frightened neither was I overly brave. I happily kept to the rear of our group but even so was approached and under-swum several times by these apparently playful and curious creatures. We were reassuringly told that they had never attacked tourists but nevertheless we should stay in a group so we appeared bigger. With the cold water and a certain rush of adrenalin 15 minutes up close and personal with these 7 foot doggy faced beasts was ample and truly exhilarating.

After our swim we returned to land enjoying Inca Cola and banana crisps in the fading afternoon sun. I returned to Miraflores by combi but was aware that the scent of bird shit was carried with me such that at least one person changed seats.

This is the last of my blog entries this time round and I am already thinking about next year. If you have followed any of these scribblings, my deepest thanks. I enjoyed the trip and writing about it and it is great to have a small often encouragingly positive audience.

Saludos, Alan

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Kuelap and Gocta, historic and beautiful Northern peru

Chachapoyas is the capital of the region Amazonas and as such reasonably busy. The plaza is pretty and from here one can take tours to the pre-Inca fortress of Kuelap. Setting off for the tour with a group of mainly younger tourist from European countries it felt strange to be in such company. Some of them had bussed through the night from Trujillo, about 12 hours and were immediately driving off on a tour – not my style of travel. The drive was about 3 hours on a narrow unpaved road with some great views as we took a wide arc to return high on the other side of a deep gorge.

Kuelap is impressive but probably doesn't have the wow factor of Machu Pichu. That said it is very much worth visiting and our guide made it all the more interesting with great descriptions of its purpose and the Chachapoyan culture. It is a huge complex with the remains of many circular dwellings and attractive angular and diamond details in its construction. On the way back we had lunch and in all it was a very successful tour.

The next day I set of for my 2 days of relative luxury at the Lodge/hotel belonging to Lluis my friend from Tarapoto. This is a newish project within sight of waterfalls at the little known Gocta. To get there I shared a car on a fast road following a river down deep gorge to the dusty hot bus interchange of Pedro Ruiz. In the car was a young Israeli woman working to conserve a species of monkey and doing her PhD from Kent Uni. By coincidence she is married to a man from Tooting and I was sorry that I didn't have time to visit their project which sounded very interesting. You can check in out HERE

The waterfalls are the 3rd highest in the world and are reached via a 2 hour walk along a recently constructed path from the village of Cocochimba. I had a companion for this walk, Javier, one of 15 local guides. He was great, pointing out interesting plants, explaining the method of processing sugar cane and recounting local legends about the waterfalls. On route I had a slight fall and was glad he was around. The walk was great and the whole area provides beautiful views of the surrounding cliffs and mountainside.

On returning for a light lunch I had no specific plans but managed to while away the rest of the day spotting various birds, listening to music and watching the sun set, until the Cusquena hour! Great day except for falling on my butt!

The next day I set off solo to see if I could reach the upper part of the waterfalls. Initially this needed a 12km walk to San Pablo on the other side of the valley. The road to San Pablo is crossed by a handy but steep path or iff you are lucky (I wasn't) you can catch a car going up.On the pathe I came across the smallest church ever. From San Pablo there a newly constructed path takes you to the falls. Passing first through small farms of cane, banana and maize the surface turns to white sandstone with tall erect cliffs on which there are ancient petroglyphs. From here you an see the hotel a white speck across the valley. Eventually it is expected that the two paths from Cocachimba and San Pablo will link up at the foot of the falls offering a 5 to 6 hour trek from one village to the other.

Presently the path enters a longish section of virgin forest giving an indication of the area prior to the now predominant farming. At this point I was somewhat worried by the possibility of bespectacled bear which I knew lived in the area so was pleased to come upon a upon a gang of workers completing the paths. I was the only walker out that day and they seemed surprised to see me without a guide. The last section is a bit of a scramble but I guess will be improved within a few months. The view of the upper falls is if anything more dramatic than seen from below and if you enjoy a walk provides a fulfilling tartget. I returned the way I came and stopped off at another viewing point which is where the path will eventfully descend to the base of the falls.

Arriving back at dusk I had been walking about 9 hours with some significant climbing and felt tired but happy that I had completed this journey on my last day at Gocta before returning the Chachapoyas and then Lima by way of a 22 hour bus ride!

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Leaving Celedin by Movil Tours we at once climbed into the high cordillera. Having woken with that Imodium feeling I had a few concerns when the driver passed round plastic bags. Movil Tours is one of the more respected bus companies and we had 2 drivers for our 6 hour trip, both wearing company uniforms and driving an old but clearly durable Mercedes Benz. I had a front seat and a great view.

It is hard to describe the experience but suffice to say it will count as my most memorable bus rides and at only £7.50 I would have paid that just for the buzz. We climbed to 12000 feet and descended to tropical levels twice and stopped for lunch along the way. The road wasn't asphalt but had a mainly good surface as we clung to the mountainside snaking round bends only inches from certain death drops.

Arriving at Leymebamba I was situated in an excellent hospedaje, Laguna de Dos Condores. This is a small town, quiet and very pretty, reminding me of North Wales with its stone church, fast running river and steep hills and rain, but with a tropical flavour. It is said that there are more horses here than people and hence one needs to keep an eye on the path ahead.

There is a museum here displaying many of the finds of burial chambers/platforms which were discovered some years earlier at a distant laguna. Unfortunately people began to rob the graves for artefacts to sell and in so doing caused great damage to these significant finds. Eventually, with the help of donors and support of local people they recovered many of the mommies and have created a truly excellent museum. Walking to and from the museum the views were incredible and I faltered for superlatives, but maybe sublime would cover it. This is a very fertile valley and you could sense the plants growing.

After visiting the museum I went for a coffee opposite and by chance met up with Rob, a guide from England who runs a tour service. You can fin him HERE It was nice to chat to someone from the UK. Later, realising there wouldn't be bus on Saturday I took the afternoon bus to Chachapoyas and found a reasonable hotel and later a pleasant bar, 'La Reina'.