The road to get to Rodriguez de Mendoza goes over spectacular landscapes of mountains, rivers, cloudforests, the palm tree forest of Ocol, and finally the Valley of the Huayabamba River, where Mendoza lies, at 1600 meters.
We had heard that the people from this area were very kind but what we experienced on the bus was unbelievable. At first everyone seemed stranged that 3 gringos were on the bus. Not a lot of tourists go to Mendoza. At halfway we had already been invited to Longar, a nearby village, on Saturday for a local carnival party and a concert of famous cumbia band Los Caribeños; and we had found a guide for the route from Mendoza to Rioja, an ancient Inka Trail that the Spaniards themselves crossed on their way to Moyobamba. We plan to do the same to get there, otherwise we’d have to go back to Chachapoyas and catch a bus to Moyobamba.
We had heard something else about the people from this area: that the women here are the most beautiful in Peru. A high claim you might think but in fact, if you ask a Peruvian where the most beautiful women are in the country, chances are he or she will respond “in the North”. If you go North and ask the same question, people will say “go to Rodriguez de Mendoza”. And once we arrived here we asked and people answered “go to Limabamba”. We might be doing that in the next few days. Women here are definitely beautiful and my 2 gringo friends are already thinking on getting married with a local. But there is an explanation for this beauty. When locals are asked they say that it comes from the Spaniards who settled here on their way to Moyobamba, the first Spanish-founded city in the Peruvian jungle. But also there’s the legendary saying that the Chachapoyans were ‘white and blonde’. Fact is people here are blonde in a much larger amount that anywhere else I’ve seen in Peru. They call themselves Huayachos and if I say I am from here, people believes me. I´m sure that gives you an idea. There were also some German settlers in the area that came in the 1800’s, and the isolated this valley has been for 4 centuries have contributed to this local mix of beauty.
We checked in at Hostal Paraiso, next to the police station. We figured it would be the safest place to rest but truly we have nothing to worry about as everyone here has been very kind and helpful. Even the locals will say “people don’t steal here”. The terrace of the hostal has quickly become a favourite place to watch the surroundings and wash our clothes. The balcony is the perfect spot for my preferred urban hobby: people watching, and since we are right next to the market too, ours is a busy street.
The morning after we arrived I went up to the ‘chacra’ (field) of Alfonso Saldaña, a local elder who is a guide and offered me his services. He wanted me to admire the view from his property and show me his ‘sacha inchi’ plantation. I’ve learned that this area grows lots of sacha inchi, a phenomenal pod that produces a kind of peanut with high level of Omega 3 and Omega 6, the healthiest natural fat. Also coffee and sugar cane are popular plantations in the surroundings. There are still some sugar “moliendas” or “trapiches”, the old mills moved by a horse to get the cane’s juice and turn it into honey or into ‘guarapo’, a typical strong liquor. As for coffee we visited the local cooperative where they have excellent coffee that they export. We have also chosen a little spot for breakfasts based on “humitas” (corn tamales), fried bananas, good local coffee and juice. Also the owner, Elisa is charming and, you guessed, beautiful.
I have run several times with Don Alfonso on the streets in the last couple days. Just the other day he was at the main square with his friends and I joined them for a chat. I asked them how come that Mendoza has an airport and they told me that actually the airport came first, back in 1945, and it remained the only major way of communication until the road to Chachapoyas was finished in 1968. They mentioned the current mayor wants to revive the airport, something that would be great for the area since the Chachapoyas airport is too dangerous and has remained shut since 2003. With an active airport Mendoza would become the entrance to this part of the jungle. I can only hope this great place never gets spoiled by being exposed, knowing that the cause of its charisma is precisely its isolation.
I also asked them about how was life in the days of terrorism back in the 80’s and they seemed to have skipped most of the horror of those days. Nevertheless there were, and apparently still are, poppy plantations in the area that go to the drug-trafficking business.
Don Alfonso encouraged me to go to Huamanpata with him by showing me a document where lists of birds and other fauna and flora. The area is very promising for bird watching and presents many endemics. But this time I’m avoiding tough walks as the one to Huamanpata, a beautiful seasonal lagoon next to primary forests. It will have to be next time for me to go to this new protected area.
Thursdays and Sundays are market days, so today we visited the market. Yuca (cassava), peanuts, sacha inchi, bananas, sugar cane, guava, cane honey, potatoes, fish, etc. were all offered by the women in loud voice. A seller called me “gringo aleman” (German gringo) as if I was from Limabamba, a nearby village where the blonder people from this area come from. They must have German blood there I guess. I am intrigued so I have decided to go there tomorrow with Erick and Matt and check out the town and some waterfalls nearby.
This Thursday was a very hot day and asking around we learned that there is a pool in the town so we headed there. It’s a huge water reservoir used as a pool. The water comes from a natural spring and it’s fresh. Local kids go there to play and impress the young girls. It was so hot today you could see kids with balloons filled with water playing carnival on the streets.
As for the food today the best surprise was breakfast on the Restaurant Tivoli, across the street from our hostal, where I asked for a coffee (already a pleasant custom here) and a Juane. I suspected Juanes could be different here but I never expected them to be so different. This dish has a sort of evolution as one goes along North-East Peru. In Chachapoyas for example they make it with yuca and chorizo (sausage), while in Mendoza is made with rice and yuca and is fried not boiled; whereas in Tarapoto and Moyobamba is prepared with boiled rice and cilantro (coriander). I can safely say that this morning’s Juane has been the best I’ve had ever and I can’t wait for tomorrow’s breakfast to go across the street and ask for another.