Category Archives: Backpacking

Peru’s North-East route: Ojos de Agua

While I was in Alto Mayo I met Hugo. When he found out that I was interested on birdwatching he suggested I should go to Ojos de Agua, a dry-forest area of conservation located only one hour by car South of Tarapoto. I was definitely interested since dry forest offers a whole different set of birds and is a disappearing habitat due to human pressure for farming lands. Hugo happened to be the ex-director of an asociation of ‘campesinos’ (small farmers) who decided to actually create a conservation area. I asked him all the details of who to contact there and started planning the trip.

As I was leaving Tarapoto it started raining, which seemed a bit strange since it hadn’t for the past 3 weeks. I gave little attention to the rain knowing that the dry-forest is affected by a ‘rain-shadow’ effect, making rains go discharge on more eastern areas. Little I knew…Pablo Escudero, the current director of the association, and other members, greeted me at their office on the main square of a village named Pucacaca (‘Red Mud’ in Quechua language). “You brought the rains Pepe!” they exclaimed.

Pucacaca’s main square when we were ready to leave the first time. That motorcycla is the ‘furgoneta’ I mention forward.

I explained how I got in touch with them and my interest in visiting their area. They were all very kind and told me their fascinating story of how they went from ‘campesinos’ to conservationists: as rains were becoming rarer in that part of the Huallaga River valley, they thought it had to do with the accelerated pace of the deforestation in the, mainly due to corn plantations. Knowing that, I preferred to think of the rains I arrived with as a good omen. The area also has a demand to produce coal and dry forest trees are excellent for that. It’s fairly common to see the long chimneys of coal burning plants in th elittle town along the main road. They formed a society and started talking to people in their village searching for support. But people they wouldn’t understand that standing forest is important for rains. Still they went on trying to look for support to their idea of protecting a 2500 hectare forest. At one point a local timber mafia guy sent them to court alleging they were liars and just wanted to cut the forest for themselves (when that was actually that guy’s interest). The trial took 2 years during which they spent great amounts of money from their own pockets. But help would come. People of the Embassy of Finland (known in Peru for their support to nature conservation) offered them help. Other NGO’s offered technical and legal  assistance. Soon after they won the trial, a fund and their project was approved.

And so, in 2007 Bosque del Futuro-Ojos de Agua was officially the first Conservation Concession of San Martin region in North-East Peru. One listens to them tell their story and can’t help but believe them, not only cause truth is heard on their voice but because they seem (and later I realized they truly are) committed to conservation.

We decided to kill some time until the rains left and I offered to show them a presentation of a power point that me and a friend presented last year during a workshop in another village as an introduction to birdwatching with the purpose of training local guides. They called all available members of the society and we went on with that. Lunch passed and the rains stopped so we prepared everything to go to the starting point of our walk. From there we would walk for 2 hours until a cabin they had recently finished in the heart of the forest they protect. To get to the starting point we would take a ‘furgoneta’, a motorcycle with a small load box on the back. The road was very muddy and wet and the engine got soaked and turned off. We had to walk back and send to motorcycle to the mechanic and wait. After a second try with equal results we decided it was too late to leave that day. We would wait and meet at 3am that night at the office to go and do the walk without the heat and humidity of the day and to get to the cabin on time to do some birding, if the weather allowed it. I was given a room at one of the society member houses and hoped the weather was good the next day.

We were lucky, rain was light and motorcycle worked fine this time. The path was difficult because it was very muddy and with each step mud would stick to the rubber boots making each foot weigh 3 times more after a few minutes. There were 5 of us and some of them were carrying stuff to the cabin to set it up: a gas tank, a stove, and food. People here carry things with a band they call ‘pretina’ which they place on their forehead (where the weight sits), but the actual object is carried on the back where the ‘pretina’ ties it up, that way they can have free arms while they walk. I was amazed to see the man carrying the gas tank (35 kilos) on his forehead in such a miserable path. I have tried that method before and honestly I felt my head was about to break in 2. But we managed to get to the cabin at dawn. It was a beautiful spot.

Great Owl butterfly, check out the snake face on the lower right part of the wing.

After breakfast we went walking around the forest recording birds and whatever showed up. Along the way, giant snails were everywhere. They showed me a species of fern (Platycerium andinum) very rare that has only been recorded here and somewhere in Bolivia. Also trees such as Quinilla (Manilkara bidentada), a Giant Columnar Cacti (Cereus peruvianus), Shucshungo (Eugenia limbosa), Manchinga (Brosimun alicastrum) are all endangered and well present in the area, not to mention that they are very important and valuable trees for their wood (Quinilla) and nutritional possibilities (Manchinga. For more information on Manchinga check

Rare fern ‘Platycerium andinum’ anly found in these dry forests of Peru and Bolivia.

Shucshungo Tree


We saw the creek that gives name to this area, Ojos de Agua, a large rock platform where the running water of the rainy season has eroded “eyes of water” on it. Frogs are abundant and a study by expert Rainer Schulte showed that at least 3 species are rare and need conservation here. Birds were not showing themselves much because of the weather but a few interesting species were heard or spotted: Gray-headed Kite, White-eyed Tody-Tyrant, Planalto Hermit, among others.

Ojos de Agua

After returning to the cabin for lunch and some rest the plan was to bird the afternoon but the rains got stronger and didn’t stop until the next morning. At this point the creek was filled with running water and the whole forest was draining it. This forest, due to the hard, red clay soil, does not drain so much rain and so it floods. The path we walked on to get to the cabin was a river at portions upon return, sometimes with water up to our waists. But I was happy I met these people, true conservationists, people who have an ideal and work very hard cause they are convinced of something and they don’t mind not getting paid for it, though obviously they would prefer if that was the case. Hopefully one day they will reach that goal.


With my guide William and the path after the rains.


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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.


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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


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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.


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Peru´s North-Eastern Route: Rodriguez de Mendoza.

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.

Rodriguez de Mendoza

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.



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Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Sonche Canyon, Kuelap and more fun in Chachapoyas.

The last 3 days have been intense. Lots of coincidences, nice places and people. We decided to stay at Hotel Revash, an old and pretty house on the main square. Our room with view of the colonial plaza. The next day after arrival I met with Michell Leon, who lives and photographs Chachapoyas and its birds on the surroundings. He recommended us to go to Cañon del Sonche on Huancas, a short 30 minute ride from Chacha (as locals call it). There is a lookout or mirador overlooking the canyon. Views are breathtaking, specially if you have in mind that all of this land was under the ocean some millions years ago. We found out that there is another lookout point on the other side of the mountain and we decided to walk there. It was longer than we expected and we burned under the sun for 3 hours to get there. On the way we had to pass right next to a high security prison, a huge structure with towers and walls that looks completely out of place on the beautiful countryside.

Sonche Canyon with Erick

There at the mirador we met with 2 Chilean girls and we ended up going back to Chacha with them. The night was a bit chilly but anyway we headed up to the mirador of the city with a bottle of rum to enjoy the full moon over the city.

Sonche Canyon

It was not easy to wake up the next day to go to Kuelap. Added to the rum a bottle of the local Milk Liquor was downed. The road to Kuelap is full of cliffs that will make people cry their hearts out if the driver manuvers a reverse, something that is not strange at all considering that big trucks go that way too and at stretches the road is a single lane.

The mountains here look different to any others I’ve seen. They are not as rugged as in Cusco, rather green and square-like, with flat tops as tableaus have. Waterfalls hanging down producing oasis of lush green cloudforest on the ravines. Kuelap for instance is located on a dramatic mountain top. The city extends for 600 meters length and 100 meters wide of walled construction. The outer walls measure 20-30 meters in height and inside around 500 round houses and buildings with beautiful designs on their rock walls are found. Houses are so well preserved one can still see the holes built on the ground with rocks that were used as refrigerators, as well as guinea pig corrals. The inner part of the city is divided on 3 levels, each higher than the other one, as in a pyramid distribution. Only 2 of them can be seen because archaeologists are still excavating the third one. Kuelap was, according to some, the last refuge of the Chachapoyans, who resisted for several months there the siege of the Incas until they ran out of food and water. Then the Incas sent the fierce Chachapoyan warriors to work as slaves (“mitimaes” in Quechua) in the construction of Chokekirao, a huge archaeological complex nearby Cusco. In fact, I’ve been to Chokekirao and I must say that the decoration on the walls and the stone work is very similar to that of Kuelap. The area here is full of archeological sites of the Chachapoyans, so many that here it’s called the northern capital of archaeology in Peru. Places like Karajia, the Gran Vilaya trek, Revash, Laguna de los Condores are all impressive burial sites and constructions.

On our tour we met more travellers and once we were back in Chachapoyas we headed to one of the local pubs. Our guide joined us. We tried Blackberry Liquor, Pur Pur Liquor and Chuchuwasi Liquor, all made from tree barks and fruits macerated with alcohol. After we headed to the local club to dance some salsa and 80’s music, something I have learned to live with since I’m not a big fan of 80’s music but in Peru they play songs like “Down Under” and “Money for Nothing” like they came out yesterday fresh from the studio. There are only 3 clubs in Chachapoyas and it was the weekend so the place was packed and people seemed surprised that 5 gringos showed up at their disco. Some of them wanted to have a beer with us. So far people have been very kind and friendly around here.

Needless to say the next day I didn’t go to the Gocta waterfall tour with Erick and Matt. I had been there before and I felt like sleeping in. On my wanders around the city I coincidentally ran into Jorge, a good friend from Tarapoto. We chatted a little about my idea of the agency and he expressed interest in be a part of it, a great thing because he is one of the people I wanted to work with in Tarapoto. Later that day Erick and Matt told me they met a guy from Tarapoto on their Gocta tour and we saw him, once again coincidentally, at the main square. He turned out to be another friend of mine, Chelo. We stayed talking with Chelo about our idea and things have begun taking shape. It’s as if the people who we could work this out are simply coming our way. And that always gives me the feeling that the universe is conspiring, that life is happening, that something has been set up to motion…


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Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Chachapoyas

My trip to Northern Peru is about to begin. I got my ticket to Chachapoyas, the bus leaves tomorrow at 4pm and I should not arrive there until next day around lunch. It’s a shame the airport there is too dangerous and remains closed after the airplane crash there on 2003. I hope the weather, specially the rains are good with me. I leave on the wettest month in the jungle, and Chachapoyas is where the jungle begins, the Cloudforest. In fact the word “Chacha-poya” means “People of the Clouds”, or at least it meant that for the Chachapoyans.

I made a simulation with my backpack, which is huge and heavy (23 K). I’m carrying the tent and rubber boots plus the lap top (otherwise these lines would be impossible) and a lot of other gadgets among my binoculars, camera, ipod, etc. This has made me concerned about the security of these things along the trip. I have to say I have never been robbed from a hostel or on the streets of Peru, ever. But traveling with all this expensive gadgets makes me know in silence I carry a lot of expensive stuff in city streets where few gringos are commonly seen. My other concern is my back and leg, just being recovered from a muscle strain in January that sent me to physical rehab after 3 days without walking.

I do know the area somewhat. My aim with this visit is to organize everything for the tours I’m designing. Do some birdwatching too. Meet with my friends Erick and Matt and help them with their aim of writing a book on Peruvian cuisine and travels. And enjoy it of course. I can say I love the area and I would live there if I could.

I arrived to Chachapoyas today at 3pm. Just before arriving Erick called to say he and Matt  were on their way too from Cajamarca through a different route. They would arrive 2 hours later than me. So I went in search of a hostel for all of us and after checking 8 hostels we decided to spend the night at Hostel Revash on the main square. The price is a bit higher than we expected to pay (25 soles each) but it’s a treat as it’s on the main square and close to everything, it has wi-fi, good beds and a delicious hot shower. The bed is what I’m more interested in after the terrible night I spent in the bus last night. My leg started hurting as it did today even though I have done my exercises.

Chacha Church.

With the boys we visited the main market area and got a menu for 3.5 soles and later walked up to the viewpoint to check the sunset. Just before that we were introduced to a friend of the owners of our hostel, Janet, who owns a restaurant in town with typical dishes. She spent some time talking to us about local dishes and invited us to a “Yunsa” on Saturday, a local festivity held usually this time of the year. A yunsa is like a carnival party where they place a tree, previously cut, and they replant it in the middle of an open area where the party takes place. Sometimes in the middle of a street. Then the tree is adorned with gifts and colors in the fashion of a pinata. The host family usually cooks and gets drinks for all the people, who can be hundreds. There is a band playing and as they music fills the air, the typical food is served and the beers flow, the attendants dance around the tree and they also ax the trunk of it. That’s right, you just read the words ‘beer’, ‘dancing’ and ‘ax’ in the same sentence. But you gotta be clever with your strokes (add that up to the formula) because he or she who brings down the tree has to organise the yunsa party for next year.

The weather is been nice with no rains so far. Chachapoyas is looking beautiful and I can see a few more tourists here than I did on my last visit 2 years ago. Women are very beautiful here, with a beauty quite unique. It has been said by some Spanish chroniclers that among the Chachapoyans there were white or “fair skin” people. Also there’s the fact that the Incans, once they conquered the Chachapoyans, brought here people from other parts of Peru. And then during the Republic, German immigrants came here too, so all that mixture shows on their women here. At least that’s where I see it.

Chachapoyas under an almost full moon.

The trip has begun!


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