Monthly Archives: March 2011

Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Tarapoto

The idea of crossing over the mountains from Mendoza, walking for 2 days to arrive to the town of San Marcos, and from there follow by car a few hours to Rioja (the actual first Spanish-founded city in the Peruvian jungle, in 1538), was not convincing for the 3 of us. Matt had an injured ankle, and myself not fully trusting my left leg yet after the injury, we ended up returning on our steps by bus to Chachapoyas, a 3 hour beautiful ride nevertheless. In the middle of the way, at Mariscal Benavides, lightning was storming the whole thing around and above us. It was actually scary. What a display of nature right there! We waited until the storm passed and then went on.

From Chacha we caught a ride with a driver who thought he was an F1 driver and made it to Pedro Ruiz in 45 minutes. Driver said there are others who do it in 30! At Pedro Ruiz, where the crossroads is, our bus was late ‘cause it was coming from Lima. That bus took us all the way to Tarapoto. Tough the idea originally was to go to Moyobamba, only 2 hours before Tarapoto, but we were tired and had had a long day.  A curious coincidence marked the catch. A young girl at the stop asked me if I was from San Roque, a little village near Tarapoto where I used to live between 2008-2009. She was the daughter of Keiner, the driver of one of three trucks that do service between Tarapoto and San Roque. I thought it was nice that she reminded me just from seeing me at the stop and that she would think I was from San Roque. I felt really honoured!

This type of coincidences have marked my arrival to Tarapoto. A prove of it is that as soon as I woke up at midday the next day after the lousy bus ride-sleep, I went for breakfast at a Menu around the corner from the nameless hostel of Don Alberto. And right there by the door passes my friend Trinnah! Trinnah is a British ex-pat who is married to Daniel, a Peruvian friend as well. Now they have a baby daughter and an artist-studio where they welcome artists for seasonal stay and work.  Check Sachaqa web page here if you are interested:

San Pablo de la Cruz St.

In 2 days in Tarapoto I have ran into several friends from the days when I used to live here, back in 2009. The assumption that things must have been set up to motion might have not been so pretentious as can seem. Somehow Tarapoto seems a bit more mature and grown. Might be the stability of the local government that was just re-elected past November. Speaking of politics, reading the paper today I learnt that Alejandro Toledo, an ex-president and  presidential candidate, was just in town to give a rally looking over the elections next April. The rally was poorly rated but it did mention that Toledo promised to build a road from Soritor to Mendoza, exactly the route of the ancient Inka Trail to the jungle the Spaniards followed to go and found Rioja and that we wanted to follow too! How ironic. However, I’m thinking I may not vote for Toledo after all because in that area roads mean deforestation in a very rich forest that is also protected. Of course he calls that progress. Progress it may be but at what cost? This area of Peru, San Martin and Amazonas regions, are the most deforested of the country and they have lost 1/3 of their native forests.

Cumbaza River after the rains.

After our arrival Erick and Matt have gone on their side. Our agendas are different in Tarapoto but I’m sure they will keep appearing on these lines. I went to San Roque to visit Javier and Claudia, good friends who are building their house. A unique construction designed by them and made from mostly local materials and respecting nature as much as it can, in the middle of the forest, simple yet beautiful. They have named it Chirapa Manta. Idea was to go and birdwatch on his land, all secondary and healthy hill forest right on the limit with protected area Cordillera Escalera. But the weather had planned differently and as soon as we arrived to San Roque it started raining and it went on for 2 consecutive days. You should have seen the river! This way we couldn’t birdwatch as much as we would have liked but we did see some good birds such as Spotted Sandpiper and Golden-headed Manakins displaying on a ‘lek’ or “flirting area” where male manakins “display” their ways of convincing female Golden-Headed Manakins to mate with them. And they go some distance to do this because manakins are credited for inventing the Moonwalk step that late King Michael stole.

Javier and Claudia’s place

A funny thing caused by the rain was that we had to go across Cumbaza River to get to the car and leave. There is another path to get across it but much it’s a longer walk and we were well packed. I say it was funny because there’s no bridge at the river and the current was strong with water almost up to our waist. Few dry clothes came back from my stay in San Roque, but I love that place. Staying at Javier’s place in the middle of the forest is really calming. Birdwatching from the house itself is almost perfect!

Now I’m back in Tarapoto. Last night I visited my favourite bar in town, the always popular Stonewasi. It was a great night with my friends. There’s a concert outside on the street tonight. It’s going to be huge! Street is closed, 2 big bands are playing and it’s carnival party, which means water balloons and powder!

Closing time at Stonewasi

The weekend is here.


Filed under Alternative tourism, Backpacking, Birdwatching, Food, North of Peru, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Limabamba.

One of the pools we found.

Like I wrote before, in this area the most beautiful women are said to come from here, but once we arrived to Limabamba we just saw a tiny village with nobody in it, literally nobody was on the streets. So we headed straight to the waterfalls. Asking around we found the path that follows the side of a mountain as it gets far from the village and the fields until on a forested creek there are the waterfalls. On our way we ran into an old lady and her niece who were waiting for the veterinarian of the town (also the mayor) to help them with their female horse who was laid on the side of the road not able to stand up. We stayed making conversation for a minute and petting the poor horse.

There are 14 waterfalls but we must have explored the first 6 or 7 and we would’ve explored more but time was an issue as we asked our driver to wait for us on the main square at 2pm. Also, once we found a deep enough pool to bathe we jumped right in. Water was very cold but nothing some jumps and swimming can’t take away.

On our way back the vet was with the horse, still not able to stand. Our car was gone though we arrived only 5 minutes late, so we had to wait for any car going to Mendoza that could give us a ride. Found a little restaurant and asked for lunch without even asking what was for menu. We got “locro de frijoles” a thick soup made of yucca and beans that was delicious. Main was “picante de carne”, a stew of potatoes, beef and spices. The owners of the place were very kind and we noticed they looked completely Spanish-like. Don Waldo was green eyed and we invited him to join our table, share a few beers and tell us the history of the village. “Wayayayayayaya” he exclaimed. Little we knew he was in fact very interested in the subject and when he was a local mayor he had done his own research on the subject, but he says that most documents are lost now. He talked to us about pre-hispanic local tribes in the area and the legends of them being tall, blonde and clear –eyed. But he also mentioned this village as being on the route of the Spaniards to the jungle and being one of the first places they explored in Peru. They must have left some people here and then it is documented that they brought artists from Germany, England and Italy, as some local last names suggest. I believe him. We saw a red-headed man who could have been perfectly placed somewhere in Dublin or London without looking foreign. But here in Peru?

With Don Waldo

Also, he mentioned, the fact that people in the village have been very closed to outside influence and didn’t leave much or got married with foreigners until in 1978 the first school was built in town and with it the arrival of new teachers. But other foreigners arrived too, such as cops and merchants. Then the population started getting mixed even more and people started migrating to places such as Lima, Cajamarca or Chiclayo. Don Waldo suggested that’s when the most beautiful women left Limabamba.

Truth be told we saw a few young girls on the streets and Erick couldn’t help but getting a picture with them. We have noticed that women here, even when they are very young, say 14, have no problem about talking to older men even when they are with their mothers. And I mean that they can be quite straightforward for a 14 year old. They will even be flirtatious in front of us, a typical attitude of jungle women. I guess is simply the fact that we also look foreign to them but I suspect that also it’s involved the idea that a foreigner might be a good husband, so it seems socially accepted that a young girl kind of flits with an older man from outside their village. And I suspect the story of Limabamba must be one of many secrets and intrigues as I can imagine that this tiny village must have experienced some in-breeding between families being so little and isolated over the centuries. 

Erick and young girls of Limabamba.

In any case we did find the proof of why Limabamba has such a reputation for their beautiful women. And the walk to the waterfalls was great too. To crown our short visit Don Waldo invited us a bottle of ‘cañazo’, a local liquor made of sugar cane, a good digestive that we downed as we were riding on the back of a truck back to Mendoza. There we were immediately invited to play ‘carnival’ with the locals and we took refuge on our balcony with buckets full of balloons filled with water and the war begun as sun was setting. Each day is a surprise here.

Carnival time

1 Comment

Filed under Alternative tourism, Backpacking, Cultural Immersion, Food, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Tocuya and Omia.

We decided to try this full day on our own, took a car to Tocuya and 45 minutes later we were walking towards a beautiful setting for 2 large pools with hot springs right next to a natural stream. The water is bluish and smells mildly to sulphur but the exact chemicals and medicinal properties are unknown. We spent the morning laughing and splashing on the pool, jumping from a tree and taking pics.

Tocuya Hot Springs

Underwater fun.

We walked our way back to Restaurant Magaly on the side of the road and had lunch. This tiny little restaurant has been so far the best surprise on the trip for me. Food was truly delicious and local. I had Cecina (pork jerky) with rice and fried bananas. Erick had Chorizo with beans and salad and Matt had Gallina (Chicken).

Sopita de verduras

Transport can be a pain in these isolated areas. We waited for a taxi for 40 minutes and when finally a driver was available we fit 9 people in a station wagon to Omia, just 15 minutes back on the road to visit Leo’s cave.

“Why is it named Leo’s cave?” Erick asked before getting there. “Because Leo is the owner of the land there, he will be our guide” I answered. Leo welcomed us and asked us if we had lamps. He tried to evade our answers and said “I prefer we get there and you see it, then I will answer all your questions”. We had the option of visiting the Quiocta caves near Chachapoyas, but my friend Michell Leon had said that Leo’s cave was far more impressive. And he was very right.

Cave’s entrance

I had never seen anything like it! We entered by a little hole on the rocks that breaths in the middle of Leo’s coffee plantation. He bought the land in 1986 and didn’t find the cave until 2007. He has worked himself the steps that guide us on the cave; “Imagine working here, a work-day in here becomes a week” he says as we enter. On the way Leo lights up with his powerful torch the beautiful rock formations on the cave. Millions of years of liquid history solidified and turned into galleries where columns, stalactites, stalagmites, quartzes, etc. can be found.

Leo hasn’t explored the whole cave but he says it’s about 80 meters deep n the second level and a little shorter on the first level. He has even found the skeletons of 3 people in here!

We are very happy we came here and we return to Mendoza ready for another great meal at Restaurant Elenita on the main square. I had Chicken in Huacatay sauce and it was delicious. So far food has been great. We eat cheap menus near markets and they have proved delicious and satisfactory for the research on Peruvian and local cuisine. In all this area the dairy products are very popular and so far the Lucuma yogurt, the different cheeses, breads and sweets we’ve tried have been excellent.

1 Comment

Filed under Alternative tourism, Backpacking, Food, North of Peru, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking