Category Archives: Birdwatching

A Peruvian in Australia: a visa letdown, a sacred leave and a trip back home.

I didn’t get the visa. Not the Australian residence visa but the one to visit New Zealand.  We had plans to visit Mel’s friends in Auckland and also do the Milford Track in the South Island, a sort of Kiwi Inca Trail without the archaeological bits but so beautiful it actually is nicked the ‘finest walk in the world’. Had flights and accommodation booked, buses as well, etc. But the one thing we weren’t counting on was the visitor visa for me. Turns out the Kiwis are pretty thorough on their visa procedures and they do not joke around with the subject, no matter who you are. Recently they denied a Visitor Visa to Mike Tyson. Though his refusal was on very different grounds, and by that I mean worse than mine. My refusal was due to an event that took place 11 years ago: I was deported from the Netherlands.

No Milford Track this year. Maybe next time!

No Milford Track this year. Maybe next time!

It sounds bigger than what it actually was. When I say I was ‘deported’ I have the feeling it makes me sound like I am a criminal. And when you put it next to the fact that I am Peruvian, even worse. I’m pretty sure the drug smuggling association springs to the mind of common people when I say it. Now imagine what it sounds like in the mind of a visa officer in an embassy. When you consider that the event took place in The Netherlands (where some drugs are legal), well, I just deserve an Oscar for staging quite a dramatic anecdote don’t I?

I was simply a tourist with an expired visa. And I happened to be travelling on a train between The Hague and Brussels that was searched by police looking for illegal immigrants. All this in the context of massive deportations taking place in Spain (where I was living) and an ultra right-wing government in Brussels (obviously doing the same). The policemen who detained me decided that since I was coming from The Netherlands it was the Dutch business to deal with me, so I was sent back, hand-cuffed, escorted by 3 or 4 policemen and handed over; they placed me in a detainment centre for illegal immigrants.  They interviewed me, I spoke to my Consulate and was advised that nothing could be done for me. So I was deported at 21 back to Peru after 3 days detained.

At the time I thought that that was that and end of the story. Oh, how wrong I was. A deportation follows you for a long time. Sometimes I feel like I actually committed a crime.  If you are wondering why am I rambling bitterly about that episode, it’s because that is the reason why I didn’t go to NZ. I declared it and they asked for documents from the Netherlands which were impossible to get in time for our attempted travel dates, and so the whole trip fell through.

The next best thing was to go to Cairns, where we had been recently and loved it. So we changed our plans and carried on with our holiday. This time we had heaps of more time than the last time we were in Cairns (which, now that I think about it, was also a visa related trip following the pressure that involved submitting the Partner Visa application). We decided that the approach to employ our time should be more balanced with one day of doing nothing (proper relaxing according to Mel) and one day of exploring the area (proper travelling according to Pepe). The question on whether to watch the birds or not was put aside since Mel got herself a pair of binoculars (and good ones, I am a bit jealous in fact!).

We knew the rains were about to start but were not worried since checking on the weather report every day prior to the trip the results were always above 30C. We were also aware that it was low season so we didn’t expect much of a crowd there. In this last regard we were a little wrong as something unexpected was going to take place in Cairns that we hadn’t heard about: a solar eclipse. The first in ten or so years in Australia and the only total eclipse for the next years that I will be around to see one in Oz.

Solar Eclipse November 2012

Solar Eclipse November 2012

As soon as we arrived in Palm Cove we noticed businesses selling ‘eclipse postcards’, ‘eclipse t-shirts’ and ‘eclipse glasses’ plus other paraphernalia  Asking around we learnt 3 things: that Palm Cove was the best spot to watch it, that we were gonna miss it, and that anyway everything was fully booked to its top capacity. Oh well, too bad. I also learnt that the whole Cairns area would be flooded with around 50 thousand enthusiasts. A niche of tourism I hadn’t heard of, ‘eclipse-watchers’!

We focused our explorations more on the Atherton Tablelands this time as we missed that area on our short first visit and had heard wonderful things about it. We visited Davies Creek National Park and that was a great surprise. Such a beautiful walk and almost no one to spoil it! We visited Mount Lewis too looking for birds and found heaps of Birds of Paradise (Victoria Riflebird), as well as Tooth-billed Bowerbirds and Golden Bowerbirds displaying.

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

Davies Creek NP

 

We visited Mosman Gorge and its beautiful walk around the forest. It was interesting to witness that the indigenous village just before the gorge entry looks just like a village could look in the Peruvian rainforest. In general, the indigenous presence in the Cairns area is more abundant than in Melbourne, where is passes pretty much unnoticed. I am very interested in the aborigines and so seeing their villages, culture and life in a non- tourist fashion is quite enlightening. Sadly I have come to learn about their problems with alcohol abuse and how their bodies are not able to cope with it as they do not have the enzyme that processes alcohol, leading to a strong addiction to it and a quick decay of their bodies. Similar thing happens with other drugs. I have been able to witness this on homeless people hallucinating on the public transport and men drinking their fill on their own at lunchtime in pubs while playing the slots. And while of course that is not the whole of the population, it is a percentage that worries non-aboriginalAustralians too. This situation has often times reminded me of how is it in Peru, where alcohol is much-abused in indigenous communities yet this doesn’t seem to be a significant issue for the government or the rest of the population. And this leads me to think how in the History of conquests, alcohol has played a role in helping to submit the local natives to the new rulers. I guess it plays the same role today with the youth that abuses it, turning them to obedient goats. I think the one thing I would change about my youth would be precisely that, to not abuse alcohol and know that that wouldn’t make me uncool but quite the opposite.

Mosman Gorge Aboriginal Community

Mosman Gorge Aboriginal Community

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

Mosman Gorge

 

Peru was present in the trip to Cairns in a strange fashion. We met a German…should I call him  hippie to illustrate to you; a nice fella. Anyway, he was selling coconuts on his wheel barrel in Palm Cove. He looked completely out of place there, yet that may be the reason why he was so appealing to me. He told me straight away, without me asking, ‘I have a Peruvian poncho with bright colours to attract the customers’ as he chewed something. I asked ‘is that coca leaves you are chewing?’. The man nodded. I bought a coconut from him and he chipped some coca leaves in for a bargain price. Mel had never had a coconut the way I have only had them, so we sat by the ocean, and in an typical Indiana Jones moment, I opened the coconut with my Swiss army knife after sucking all the juice out of it and ate the white sweet meat.

For those of you unfamiliar with the Coca leaves, here is a little bit of the speech I used to tell my travellers when I was a Tour Leader: Coca leaves are not to be confused with Cacao beans. Both sound similar when pronounced in Spanish. The latter are used to produce chocolate and cocoa. The first is (tragically) infamous for being used to produce cocaine. Yet what is unknown of this leaf, native of Peru and Bolivia, is that in natural shape, chewed or ground or in tea, is quite healthy and in fact a super-food as some call it. Some of its many properties are to be a great energy booster, to take away appetite (this is particular useful when you leave in the mountains and have to work far from home in the field), to help adapt to high-altitude conditions, helps protect teeth and gives you all your daily requirements of Vitamins A, B, B12, C, E, Minerals (Zinc, Magnesium, Potassium, Calcium)  and others  in just 2 grounded teaspoons or the equivalent of chewed leaves. In Peru and Bolivia it is considered sacred by the indigenous people and in fact it is a huge part of their culture. Why then, you may wonder, it is forbidden? Well, you may ask that to the geniuses who insist in waging their ‘war on drugs’ and spend billions of dollars on it, when the true fact is that that huge effort is just a scratch on the arm of the drug industry that uses Coca leaves that they buy from poor farmers to produce cocaine. Had all those millions be spent on improving the conditions in which those farmers live and you would have no one to supply the drug-dealers with their prime matter. Or you would have it easier to locate who is supplying it. Makes sense?

How do they make the drug then? By isolating the cocaine (an alkaloid from coca just like caffeine is an alkaloid from coffee) when mixing the leaves with kerosene, and later solidifying that mix with Clorhidric Acid, Sulphuric Acid, Benzine and at least 10 other super toxic chemicals. That’s what makes it harmful and addictive, not the pure natural cocaine. No one has died of overdose from chewing coca leaves (not that you wanna try chewing them to death to prove me wrong, that would miss the point).

Another famous product made from Coca leaves, perhaps more even so than cocaine, is Coca-Cola. COCA-Cola, uses the leaves in its recipe in a synthetic formula that eliminates the cocaine alkaloid from it, hence they do not get in trouble. Because what is forbidden in fact is the cocaine alkaloid, not the leaves themselves. And according to American law, you can’t sell a product named after an ingredient that does not have that ingredient. So Coca-Cola uses coca leaves and they get them from Peru.

Coca K'intu, the sacred shape in which the leaves are 'offered' to the apus or mountain gods.

Coca K’intu, the sacred shape in which the leaves are ‘offered’ to the apus or mountain gods.

So why can’t the rest of the world use such a nutritious and healthy natural product? Once again, logic fails to help. Luckily, you can find so-called hippies like that German mate who, in true coca fashion, just handed me a bunch of coca leaves as native Peruvians do when they greet each other (they exchange coca leaves instead of shaking hands). Those leaves were most helpful when we woke up early to go watch birds. I chewed them, Mel instead loves the tea.

That lucky encounter awoke a thirst for the sacred Incan leaf that lead me to find that our favourite breakfast spot, Vivo (Spanish for ‘alive’), had Pisco liquor and, more importantly, Peruvian Pisco, as well as Coca Leaf liquor. So Vivo became our favourite dinner place too!

The trip was great and we really made the best of our stay. We returned to Melbourne fresh, rested and tanned- that’s important, especially for a gringo like me who looks pale as a radish in Peru. Here I actually am a brown-skinned in comparison.

Once back we started planning our next big adventure: the return to my home country! We plan to visit Peru in 2013 and bring my mother in law to travel with us and meet my family. Hopefully that trip won’t bring any complications. You would think ‘but you are going back to your OWN country, you couldn’t have ANY complications’. I in fact need a visa to leave and return to Australia until I get my residence assessed.

Or maybe by 2013 the world will have already started changing in a way I dream of, and people won’t need visas anymore. Maybe Australia would be the first country to welcome such measures. After all, isn’t Australia a country that has moved ahead after being founded by convicts? If, speaking metaphorically, our past is not to be forgotten, let it at least be forgiven so that we can all move on.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Conservation, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

A Peruvian in Australia: Concert For The Kimberley

Last Friday I had the chance to go and attend a free concert at Flinders Square, the public heart and the Melbourne-equivalent to a Latin American ‘Plaza de Armas’ (Main Square). The concert was organised by The Wilderness Society and had the goal of attracting attention and support to the cause of opposing the construction of a gas plant in the Kimberley.

Banner

The Kimberley region is usually described as one of the last wild places on Earth. Certainly it is one of the last in Australia. It might seem hard to believe that such a huge island-continent lacks wild places of any kind. But the truth is that though there is still plenty of bush and desert, the forests of Australia are truly endangered. And forests are the hot spots of biodiversity.

Certainly Australia has a low population compared to landmass, and most of the people are concentrated on the East coast, in cities such as Sydney (5 million), Melbourne (4 million) and Brisbane (2 million). And while it is true that the white people have only been here for slightly over 200 years, during that time the Australian landscape has changed significantly. Several species have been introduced and become pests (rabbits, cane toads, foxes) and many other native species have disappeared  including 23 species of birds and 27 of mammals. The Kimberley region though, has never had an species gone.

The landscape has seen its forests greatly reduced and though the national park system is good and there are many protected areas (16% of native forests or 23 million hectares are protected), many others have lost connectivity. For species that’s like having a large river of urban/agricultural areas around and not being able to ‘swim’ across, so they are locked in until they are not able to reproduce with any other than their own relatives and from that point on it’s all downhill for that population.

Most importantly, Australia’s main source of income as a nation is mining. And mining is particularly popular in those little populated places that Australia is so famous for. One of those places is the Kimberley.

Woodside Co. wants to build an immense gas platform (it would be the world’s 2nd largest gas hub) in the ocean, in an area that is known to be a very important migratory route for whales. Not only that, the ocean in front of the Kimberley seems to be the largest Humpback Whale nursery on Earth. There are also coral reefs, 5 species of turtles, endangered Dugongs (Australian Manatees) and pristine forests. The land of the Kimberley keeps the largest dinosaur footprint in the world and other dino prints. More importantly, this land is home to aboriginal people who consider it sacred. These people, nor the people of Broome, have been asked if they agree to the construction of such platform.

At the concert, we were able to see and hear them via videocall. They invited people to come over and see for themselves what beauty is to be at risk. For the past 2 years these people have been involved in protesting, blocking roads and organising ways to show their disapproval. More than 70% of Broome´s population opposes the gas plant.

Albert Wiggan, a local from Broome who came to sing and speak.

And what´s more unreasonable is, why build it there in the ocean when today there are cleaner ways of doing so, without causing the disruption and damage a platform would? It was made clear that this protest was not against progress but searched to find the cleanest, more ecologically sound way to extract the gas. And that´s what´s being fought.

Personally, I find it funny that more developed countries like Australia have the exact same problems as Peru does. I wouldn´t have thought so. This means it is not a problem of developed or undeveloped countries. It’s not a mentality or a president’s issue. This is a transnational issue.

Logo for the concert and campaign

This scenario (transnational wanting to build multi-million project on a fragile ecosystem that also holds cultural value for people) is been heard of so many times. So my question is, if I am able to predict these issues, why can’t the multi-million companies with their experts and resources? Are they too archaic and conservative to understand that ecological policies and care is needed urgently and they, with their power and lobbies, are subject to it too? Are they too distracted from the real world because of their money and lifestyle? Is it pure stubbornness?

I´d like to think the best of them but they make it really hard for themselves. It is time that these people start acting with the responsibility it is expected from them. The good news is that people have power to stop these huge projects. That is probably the main thing that I take from this. The world has become more compassionate and aware. To deny or ignore it is plain stubborn and useless. The likely outcome of the gas project in the Kimberley is that it won´t happen. Surely they will keep trying but people will keep fighting. Why? Because it makes more sense to protest than to stare.

The Kimberley must remain untouched. For the sake of ALL of its inhabitants. You can watch live clips of the concert and listen to the speeches here:

http://www.concertforthekimberley.com.au

As for the concert itself, it was great! I discovered John Butler Trio, whom so many have reccomended me to hear. A very powerful message and a gifted musician who has fun with his band while playing. Claire Bowditch was there too and her melodic tunes were a pleasant surprise. They were joined by an estimated 10 thousand of us, many young people (it was a free concert after all). But the message was given, the connection was made. I got me a shirt so that the message keeps spreading. I hope the outcome favors the Kimberley.

For more information read:

www.wilderness.org.au/campaigns/kimberley/the-kimberley-worth-fighting-for

Happy crowd

John Butler

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A Peruvian In Australia: Far North Queensland

July saw us submit the visa application and a well-deserved break was needed. Besides winter had been a long few months and the Vitamin D reserves were running out. The body needed some sunshine. Specially my dear Mel who thinks anything below 25C is ‘cold’.

Cairns was the natural number one candidate spot. Not only was the weather we were looking for in full bloom there but we had the luck that my father-in-law has a place to stay. So we found a good flight offer, booked accomodation, rented a car, I designed an itinerary and we started counting the days…

One day, as I was showing the itinerary to Mel, she stopped me and said ‘You do realise it’s a holiday and not a birdwatching trip Pepe!’. I want to believe we stroke a balance between the two. Though lately Mel has been saying that she needs to get a pair of binoculars.

Day one saw us arrive at the airport with very little sleep due to the excitement of our trip. And we are not the lovely people we look like when we hadn’t slept enough. Tempers were short, luck was bad. Jetstar charged us for the baggage because a ‘newie’  clerk behind the counter didn’t know better than our bussiness class rights. That sat it off. And with the time we wasted trying to not pay the 60 dollars for 5 kilos of ‘excess’ there was no time for morning coffee at the lounge. To make things worse, during flight I realised that I had forgotten my camera at home! I had bought an extra card and battery for it. Oh dear, to think that once, in a not-too-distant-past, I was an efficient tour leader who could get up with 3 hours of sleep and a hangover with no problems the next day!

We arrived in paradise and the warmth and humidity were a soft caress on our faces. My pores immediately started choking in the sweet water of the air. We picked our white Hyundai from the airport and off we were to Palm Cove! Ah, the beauty of beach resorts! Everyone seems so chilled. But not us. Our room wasn’t ready until midday so we changed into lighter clothes and went for a recognition walk of Palm Cove.

Palm Cove Beach

It was nothing like I had imagined, and that’s a good thing. Palm Cove deserves a medal for being such a clean, cute little place. Maybe more oriented towards the ‘retired’ part of the population, but still a lovely spot. Our first 2 days were dedicated to that healthy and so often forgotten activity: being lazy.

Sunrise in Palm Cove

Sunbaking by the shore or by the pool, walking the beach, having a beer at the bar, getting some groceries for our appartment. The second morning I went for an early walk to check the birds in the nearby mangroves around Argentea Park. Turned out to be a very productive morning, with my first Rainbow Bee-eater and Metallic Starlings, as well as Orange-footed Scrubfowl (everywhere!), Pied Imperial-Pigeon and Double-Eyed Fig-Parrot.

I convinced Mel to drive to Cairns Botanic Gardens that afternoon and visit a bit of Cairns. The gardens are a lovely spot to have a stroll. In fact I started realising then that they really like their boardwalds in Queensland. They are everywhere and it’s a great way to see the forest without “walking off the path”. I like this “little things”. So far I can say that Australia had a very effective design and protection of the natural areas. In the gardens I caught sight of new birds like Australian Brush-Turkey  (very abundant), Magpie Goose and Radjah Shelduck.

One of the swampy lakes at Cairns Botanical Gardens

We walked the Cairns Esplanade towards the Lagoon. There was a circus show in the gardens there. Everyone seemed so relaxed and hippie. I guess that’s the outsiders view of a place, the grass is always greener on the other side isn’t it? Didn’t take long for me to imagine myself living in Cairns, of course me being a tourism industry born and bread. Mel did not dislike the idea mainly because it’s a warm place.

The Lagoon at Cairns Esplanade

On day 3 we drove to Port Douglas to catch a boat that would take us to see the coral reef. I had no idea what I was in for. I couldn’t help to compare it to Lake Titicaca (obviously in a much faster, nicer boat). The coral reef must be the number one attraction for foreign young tourists in Australia. I’m not forgetting Ulluru, but this one is much closer to main cities like Sydney or Brisbane and cheaper too. At the port I saw several boats leaving packed and the best thing is that the coral reef is so vast that there is no need that all boats go to the same place, so it doesn’t feel crowded, which would be the ultimate ruin for this sight, a common conplain at Lake Titicaca.

Port Douglas

We did it in a boat named Calypso (like Cousteau’s!) and it was great value for money. We paid AUD200 each and it was an all day tour including guides, snorkel gear, liquids (except alcoholic or sodas) and food. The boat was incredible, with several toilets (even showers), and several sundecks. The weather was beautiful. I had never snorkeled before. OK, maybe once, but choking in the pool is not exactly snorkeling. Yet, with reason, I was concerned. I didn’t want to drown or destroy the slow-growing coral with my split-splat.

Snorkeling the Great Barrier Reef.

Turned out to be easier than I thought and sooner than later I was an underwater ballerina admiring the beauty and colous of what is, deservedly, one of the wonders of the natural world. Fish of all colours and voltages, sizes and shapes swimming just at hand-reach. Schools of huge parrot-fish would pass next to us regarding like they had never seeing a human before. And the complex neon-like forest that is the coral reef is just a mind blowing event for me! I don’t care we didn’t see a Humpback Whale (we did see a dolphin though). I’m lucky I saw the Great Barrier Reef.

Coral Reef

Day 4 was MY day, birdwatching time. Time to see in depth the other reason why this area is a UNESCO World Heritage Site: the Tropical Rainforest. We drove very early in the morning to Daintree Village to reach a small birdwatching tour on the Daintree River. Caught sunrise as Mel drove what must be a record time and embarked on a beautiful and quiet two and a half hour tour spotting birds by the river. Caught many waterdragons, a record 6 according to Murray Hunt, owner and guide of Daintree Boatman Nature Tours.

The Daintree River

Great-billed Heron, one of the most sough-after local specialities opened the morning. A pair of Papuan Frogmouth perfectly camouflaged with branches, were asleep a couple of meters from us and the boat. Azure Kingfisher, Olive-backed Sunbird and Shining Flycatcher gave more colour to the green forest. The Saltwater Crocodile and the Amethystine Python eluded us. But the trip was worth it.

Can you see the Papuan Frogmouth?

We continued our drive after some breakfast at Daintree Village. Took the ferry across the river and stopped and every possible boardwalk and vista. We tried Jindalba Walk to see the Southern Cassowary but didn’t find it except in roadsigns and sculptures. The landscape made for all the wildlife we missed though. Jungle next to the ocean, a turquoise-blue ocean. That’s paradise to me.

A Cassowary sign

Cape Tribulation certainly looked like it. Open beach, no people and extreme beauty. No camping is allowed here because crocs have been know to assault on campers before. Every paradise has its guardians I guess.We drove back to Palm Cove so exhausted that we were asleep by 9pm.

Cape Tribulation Beach

The next day was a relaxing day. It was Mel’s birthday and we visited Kuranda, a small village near Cairns. Located between 2 protected areas, and among hills, Kuranda offers walks, markets, museums, a train ride and a telepheric ride over the forest. We enjoyed ourselves visiting the buttefly house, eating ice cream, walking around the market and the forest. At night we had dinner at NuNu, a fusion restaurant in Palm Cove. The food was delicious and based highly on fish.

Boardwalk to Barron Falls near Karunda

On our way to the airport I convinced Mel to do one last walk! She did not agree but knew that if we didn’t do it it would be painful. On the swamp next to the airport there is another boardwalk. I would have loved a croc to show up on one of these but it didn’t give. But I was satisfied as I spotted more than 30 new birds or lifers for me.

Guess next time we will go even further North, to the tip of Cape York. That would be quite an adventure. Mel did it when she was a kid with her family. We are thinking on doing it again sometime in a not too distant future.

Cairns Birdwing Butterfly

 

 

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A Peruvian in Australia: visas, holidays and life happening.

The last  two months have been pretty full-on. No wonder my last 2 post have been about music gigs. I have had little time to get my head around anything. If anything, all I wanted was to get my head out of anything. Floating, relaxed where it can forget itself for a minute or two. Maybe I should have come to write the blog when I was looking for such moments.

July saw Mel and I finalising all the gathering of documents for our Partner Visa. After all the certifying, the photocopying, the sending, signing, waiting, we managed a bulk the size of a folder filled with about 3 kilos of documents that basically demonstrate (we can only hope) that we have a genuine relationship, that we love each other and that we REALLY want to be together.

I have to say, after having it ready and looking at it, wondering if it actually is a good effort, you realise that it has been a huge effort. All the afternoons after work filling forms, all the money spent in sending letters, all the effort chasing and bothering friends and family explaining to them that you need a statement that says that they believe your relationship is true…

And it is all worth it. The sense of accomplishement is great. Though we have not achieved anything in the legal sense really. Now we need to wait for the Department Of Immigration to contact us and let us know the outcome. But personally I feel as if we just took a huge step in our relationship.  It´s like we just told the whole world “Hey! we are serious about this, make no mistake”. And that is empowering as a couple I guess.

July saw us going to the Peruvian National Day festivity, which is celebrated on the 28th. The party took place at the Public Centre of Tullamarine and was organised by one of the Peruvian Clubs of Melbourne. I learnt there that there are 3 in total and they all organised festivities but this was the one I heard of. We got there early (or everyone else got there on Peruvian time, however you want to look at it) and the day was getting rainy, so few outdoor activies could be enjoyed. That was OK with me. I was there for the food and eat I did! Ceviche, Lomo Saltado, Causa Rellena, Tamalitos, Flan, Alfajores, Cusqueña beer and Inka Cola were all tried and approved.

Ceviche, Cusquena, Inka Cola…

But the food was just the beginning of the celebration as then came typical dances performed. Music bands would play too but we had to leave soon after the dances. We were very happy to have attended. We made a couple of new friends in Cristian and his wife. Now I go on Tuesdays to play football with him and others. It was refreshing to see other Peruvians, know a little of their stories, see them (also) with their local partners, with their Aussie-Peruvian kids playing around. Mel said she had never seen such pretty kids altogether.

The “marinera” dance.

Andean dance

August has been pretty chilled. we are still doing paperwork as the visa is a constant thing. The pace is less hectic though. We decided it was time for a little bit of sunshine and we started planning a holiday to Cairns. It will be my first Australian holiday proper, as my trips before have been pretty quick and Mel was working during them. This one will be exclusively for leisure.

I can’t wait to check out the birds in that area. They are very different from those in Victoria as Cairns is located on the Eastern base of the Cape York peninsula, and holds a more humid, sunny weather with Tropical  Forests known as the Temperate Rainforest. This means a high concentration of wildlife, with over 400 bird species in the area, among them the Cassowaries (an Ostrich-like Australian relative), kangaroos, and the saltwater crocodiles that Steve Irwin made famous.

It is the only spot in Australia to see Birds of Paradise, there are 4 here with 46 in neighboring Papua-New Guinea (PNG). Doing some research on the subject I came on several videos of David Attenborough, including one where he states that birding in the Daintree River area (where we are going) can be even better than in the Amazon. So expectations are high and you can expect to read more about that on my next post.

Speaking of Sir David Attenborough, Mel got us tickets to go and see him a couple of weeks ago when he came to Melbourne for a series of interviews with audience. The first nice thing about it, besides the obvious excitement of going to see one of the heroes of my childhood, was the Regent Theatre. New to me, the Regent is located in the heart of Melbourne city and dates back from 1929, having survided many inclemencies and a few attempts to bring it down.

The Regent´s foyer

But the Regent is just a building. Attenborough, at 86, and actually older than the theater. And should not be surprising that he is still going. After Australia he was going to Mozambique to do research presumably. The man speaks as if he had not been asked that same question before, responding with that beautiful calm with which old people speak their wisdom. And we would be fools if we weren’t listening.

The clarity wich which he remember events that took place 65 years ago, when he went to PNG looking for Birds of Paradise for the first time to shoot the first ever show on those and other strange looking creatures. You must realise that this man has seen  TV program-making change from black and white 35mm to colour HD and 3D and whatnot! He even admits that shooting such shows on B/W back then was a bit silly. But that is actually how one of the biggest icons (perhaps the biggest) of nature documenting started. And who knows how long Sir David will be around us. As long as he is still doing his passion work, I’m sure he will be with us for a good while.

Attenborough being interviewed

Personally, I felt so moved to listen to him that all I wanted to do when I left the theater was grab the first plane to the nearest jungle and hug a tree. A little more realistically though, I renewed my ties with my passion for nature and made me realise that with work, trust, luck and smart moves one will get where one wants.

Speaking of getting there, after the visa submission life has become much more interesting and pleasant. As if I had now ‘permission’ to be. Might just be the pressure release that was on my relationship and myself since I got to Australia. Mel and I were reminiscing recently and realised how quickly we’ve changed, grown, and how crazy we were to do some of the things we did!

The result is that I am enjoying myself more, and I go by more relaxed in general. Soon I will have been a year in Australia! I dunno what will I continue writing about then!

Se acabo la fiesta!

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A Peruvian in Australia: Friends Found Faraway.

I have friends that I made a long time ago. I even say these days that my best friends are those I haven’t seen in ages. Just the other day I was talking to one of them: Fufo, who lives in Sweden. It was the first time we had talked on Skype. We haven’t seen each other’s faces for, like, 7 years, at least. Now he is married to his long-time girlfriend, Nancy, whom we used to hang out with back in the days of Mexico.
It is hard not to be melancholic when one is away from home. Friends from a distant memory, far from home like me (or at home this time) is all it takes to feel better. They have seen me in other places and situations and know me better than almost anyone in Melbourne. They are friends, new friends, becoming friends, whatever you wanna call them.
I have had the luck to meet with several people I met over in Peru as far back as 2004. This happened with Catherine D, whom I met during my days as a bartender at the Flying Dog Bar in Lima. She showed me a cool pub in Melbourne’s CBD that I would have never discovered on my own, nevermind it being so close to my prior school! And where does one begin to resume 7 years of life and how on Earth one got here? We tried and promised a BBQ soon to meet our significant others.
I’ve also met with a couple of people from my tour leader days. It’s funny to see them in their country, doing what they do and telling them my stories as a tourist here. We have switched roles now and meeting with them actually brings lots of perspective to my life. That’s what happened with Catherine S, with whom I went for a drink and caught up in Fitzroy, one of the liveliest neighbourhoods of Melbourne. We had dinner at a super busy and popular veggie restaurant there and shared a couple of beers. Melbourne is becoming a mecca for small breweries and artisanal, organic beers. I don’t think I’ve been so happy beerwise since my days in Belgium! It was weird at first to meet. We hadn’t seen each other in at least 2 years, when she was in Peru and we walked the Lares trekk together. But it was great to see her and know she is well and nearby, so next time I promised to pay her a visit and go surfing together.
With Shalla I also went to Fitzroy while she was visiting Melbourne, something she luckily does frequently. She is somewhat of a music guru to me and we always talk about music and share new bands. We still have a pending date to go to a gig together. But we did go to a rooftop bar and talked for hours and hours reminiscing of the days when we got stranded in Aguascalientes due to a strike or a mudslide (whichever happens more often in Peru) a couple years ago. How time does fly! She gave me some clues about how to become a radio announcer, one of my long-time procrastinated dream-jobs.
Meeting these friends has brought me perspective. Not only perspective, but help. Zoe, with whom I struck a friendship after chatting at Positive Bar (best pub in Puno, Peru) recently contacted me. She is running a café here in Melbourne, Per Diem Café in Richmond (excellent coffee by the way) and she needed staff. I was in need of a job because the starting months of the year are really slow in the Hospitality bussiness, where I have my other job. She remembered something I didn’t: when we were in Peru I sort of organised a trip for her and her mum, who were traveling independently with little knowledge of the places. I guess I helped them out by just doing what I always do. Now I have a job in a cafe! How’s that for good karma ?
Life takes interesting turns. It’s like 6 degrees of separation all the time with me. And I love it. The idea of people traveling over the world, settling in places or just venturing to exotic places, meeting others, sometimes friends, sometimes lovers and then moving on, yet carrying all that memory. To me that’s the clearest way of expressing what interests me the most in this world: chance, coincidence, the unknown, love, choice.
So now, I’m about to catch a plane to Brisbane for my first aussie domestic adventure. Mel is going there for work and I decided to join her. I have traded my miles flown with LAN and so the trip is free. But there is another reason that I’m exited about going to Brisbane: I’m gonna get to meet with my friend Renata, whom I haven’t seen in what must be around 15 years at least! We were friends back in the days when I was studying secondary school in Cuernavaca, Mexico. Then I moved to Mexico City and I lost track of her. It was a few years after, with the marvel of email, chat and later Facebook that I started contacting a lot of friends whom I never got a chance to keep in touch with. Renata was one of them. We have continued our friendship ‘virtually’ all these years. And in a couple days we will meet. How will we recognise each other after all these years?
Well, the good news is that we did recognise each other! She came along with her partner Nick and we headed to a cool pub in Brisbane (The Joint) on one of those fews nights when the gods decided it was time to rain, and rain it did for all of the day and all of the night. Under a ceiling that cared little about doing its job, we begun to catch up and all of a sudden I was telling stories of my time in Europe, of when I left Mexico, of my journey to the jungle of Peru, of how I got to Oz…
She and Nick are both biologists and while she studies the ocean and its inhabitants, he studies birds. Together with Mel we visited Mt. Glorious the next day, and though it was still rainy, the forest was beautiful and with Nick´s help, I had the luck to spot a couple of never before seen birds. At one point, while driving back to Brisbane, I started sharing a story with everyone of how we used to hop in the back of a friend’s truck with buckets filled with cold water. We would drive to a nearby posh club and just splash the hell out of the people queing at the entrance! I had forgotten that Renata was there on that truck! Suddenly, as if a plug was removed, memories started pouring in. It is true what they say about memory: it is a muscle and it does need exercise. But how to remember so many things, so many wonderful things!? And what an amazing thing memory is that it can take you back so long ago!

Mt Glorious eerie forest

I am so happy to see someone that I enjoyed talking to so much when I was younger and how she has grown and how our paths have crossed again. It makes me happy and makes me feel lucky to witness that. Normally people meet again after so long when they are 45 or something like that and cliché says they are usually dissapointed and end up depressed of the meeting. I don’t like judging people but I like seeing the people I care for well and happy. In my case meeting all of these friends is a proof of the magic of travel and life.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Cultural Immersion, Education Abroad, Immigration, Living Abroad, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Work

A Peruvian in Australia: Getting Around (part 1)

A few days ago a friend of Melissa was asking her where has she showed me around. We were impressed of how much we´ve seen in such a short period of time. First we visited Healesville and Marysville, two villages not far from Melbourne. The first maintains an animal Sanctuary focused on Australian wildlife. Here I saw my first live Kangaroos and Koalas. Also venomous snakes, many possums, Tasmanian devils, Dingos, Wallabies and some of the strangest animals I have ever seen. Even Platypuses, they are all here present, alive and seemingly happy.  We even had the chance to see a Wombat being cared for by a nurse who told us he was an orphan. For the birds they had large aviaries that represented their habitats. We had a chance to see Helmeted Honeyeaters, of which is said only 80 pairs remain in the wild, not far from the Sanctuary.

They also had a show where trainers ‘introduced’ parrots and prey birds to the audience while the birds performed their acrobatics barely above our heads. I didn’t know that Australia is considered the ‘country of parrots’ with 56 species present. We met a few Cockatoos that were trained to talk and were quite funny, and Parrots of gorgeous colours.  This was very unusual ‘cause in Peru green is the main colour of most of our parrots since 60% of my country is Amazonian evergreen rainforest that makes a lot of sense, but here there is gray, vibrant red, bright pink, creamy yellow. The reason is not the of the landscape but the lack of large mammal predators that threaten the parrots.

Barking Owl

Black-breasted Buzzard

The prey birds were incredible. An owl was sent by the trainer to catch his ‘prey’ among the sitting crowd. He proved his point. The Barking Owl made no noise and was so accurate when moving between our heads that it was both scary and impressive. A falcon showed us how he uses a rock to break the hard shelled eggs he likes to eat. The ‘wham’ that he produced every time he hit the egg was so loud it might as well had been thrown by an adult person. And he wouldn’t miss! On the third try the egg was broken and the falcon got his prize. But the most impressive was a massive Wedge-Tailed Eagle, the largest prey bird in this country.

We then went to Marysville following a beautiful winding road in the middle of a forest that had noticeably been damaged by a fire. Mel told me that Marysville had been practically wiped out of the map by a fire just recently. She wasn’t joking. The town, though peaceful and pretty, was in honest reconstruction and everywhere there were bulldozers and trucks and signs offering houses. She told me that some inhabitants didn’t want to leave their houses and they died in them. It was treated as a national tragedy by the media. I had heard about the fires in Australia but this was my first time looking at an area that had been badly hit by them. I was shocked.

Burned forest near Marysville

A bit further up on the road we stopped at a waterfall. Mel was so shocked to see that all the forest around the creek was just recovering yet it was far from the dense vegetation that once kept this place secret. But people were still visiting and if no more fires showed up maybe the forest will recover in just a few more years.

Great Ocean Road came after. Perhaps this is the most popular visit to do when in Melbourne. Most travel agencies will offer this tour that takes busloads of Asian visitors to see the 12 Apostles, a spectacular series of rock formations on the wild southern Australian shores. Eroded by rain and wind, the 12 Apostles are no longer 12 and someday will be none but meanwhile it’s quite a sight. Though a couple Brazilians at school told me later that any road in Brazil is like that and they were not impressed, and I found it similar to Paracas National Reserve in Peru, Great Ocean Road and the 12 Apostles are a beautiful scenary, specially under sunny weather, which we luckily had.

12 Apostles

12 Apostles

In truth 12 Apostles is the end of the road. On the way there the ‘road’ goes through gorgeous little town like Lorne and Apollo Bay where Melbournians come to spend the summer days. On the way, a famous surfing spot is Bell’s Beach, where the movie Break Point was shot. I am in fact tempted to go back there to camp and swim a little. But I must confess that I’m a bit concerned about my safety in the Australian waters since as soon as I got here I heard of 3 mortal shark attacks. People will say ‘keep between the flags’ but who´s telling the sharks that!?

We rented a lovely cabin at Apollo Bay and Lily had lots of room to go around and run free. Oh, I didn’t mention, on this trip we decided to bring Mel’s Golden Retriever Lily.  Should someone had told her that there were sharks in the water I don’t think she would have minded. What a big mess Lily did in the car: sand, water and golden hairs all over the place! But we were one happy family on the way back.

La playa with Lily

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Immersion, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

Peru’s North-Eastern Route: Alto Mayo

Alto Mayo is one of my favourite places to birdwatch. The cloudforest has spectacular views from a road that twists and turns through it, the Fernando Belaunde Terry highway, finished  during the late 70’s to finally reach the jungle of Northern Peru. The place where I was going was the campsite of one of the many fronts of workers who I’m sure must have suffered to build a road over these mountains. In fact the camp’s name, Venceremos (“We will win”), gives an idea of the epic struggle it must have been, but also offers a perception of the purpose nature serves around here: to extract, defeat and tame.

Fernando Belaunde Terry highway

My friend Marco Leon works in the area studying orchids but also his NGO, INIBICO, recently received a fund to create an interpretation center right at Venceremos, so now the campsite is no longer abandoned. I have worked with Marco in the past and this time I went there to do some birding and give him the lists of what birds I found to add some value to his project.

Interpretation center at Venceremos

I was at Venceremos one year ago and I must say that the work they have done there has produced an amazing change in the aspect of the campsite! Now it looks like a place to visit, with a building where the proper interpretation center will be, with explanations and photographs of the Alto Mayo Protected Area. On the building next door the park guards live and they have their kitchen, toilet facilities and rooms. I’m happy for this means that protection will be enabled though this is too positive for an area that faces extremely difficult conditions to manage.

Alto Mayo extends over cloudforest, a delicate and relatively small habitat, yet a very rich and biodiverse one; in fact the most biodiverse habitat in relation to its size in Peru. This diversity has attracted people from far places such as Cajamarca and Chiclayo, cities where opportunities are less and poverty abounds. They come here and claim a piece of land as theirs.  With no law enforcement from the authorities (many times authorities themselves are involved in “land trafficking”),  they start practicing the Andean way of agriculture: slash and burn, a technique that makes no sense in such poor soils as those of cloudforest. The steep hills are ideal for coffee. We are losing our forests to give coffee to a world already too hyperactive. That and cows, and what once was a beautiful forest full of ferns, moss, epyphites and bromeliads is now grazing green grass for cows. Of course, on the way to deforestation all the wood is taken care of and the hunger of the world for cedar will soon realize there’s no more of it.

It’s hard to be positive when one looks at the reality of things for the local people. I haven’t even listed all of the problems of the Alto Mayo. But we try to do something. I think the simple fact that truckdrivers see me looking for birds on the side of the road can at least raise the question of ‘what the hell is that gringo doing by the side of the road?’, and maybe the spontaneous answer will come too ‘oh, he’s watching birds and nature….maybe then I won’t throw my thrash out the window’. If all drivers would think that, because the amounts of thrash I saw on the side of the road are a shame. Even the bus companies throw their rubbish from the meals they give their passengers off the window!

But Alto Mayo remains beautiful and biodiverse nevermind all the trouble closing in around it. I dedicated my second day there to walk the side of the road until the afternoon and saw amazing birds: my first ever Blackburnian Warbler, a tiny bird that migrates from North America. Also a female Royal Sunangel, a hummingbird endemic of Peru.

Flame-faced Tanager

Cinnamon Flycatcher

In the afternoon we drove to the other side of the high pass to a village named Buenos Aires. There Marco works with Doroteo Valle, a man with a passion for orchids who is growing hybrids on his greenhouse. The pressure for orchids is great here and is common to see locals picking them up on the side of the road to

sell them to drivers passing by for ridiculously low prices.  That’s how Mr. Kovach got a flower of Phragmipedium kovachii, he bought it illegally for a few soles and took it (illegally) to the US where he quickly published the new species description getting ahead of a team of Peruvians who were doing just the same. He even put his name on the scientific name of the flower (kovachii). And though Mr. Kovac is in jail now, most people don’t run that luck and they get away with it.  The orchids of Alto Mayo are beautiful and abundant but some of them are extremely rare, like Phragmipedium kovachii which only grows in Alto Mayo. We must be able to reproduce it so that it doesn’t have to be extracted from its natural places and that’s what Marco wants too. Not only he works with Doroteo but with many other locals who have their green houses next to the road giving them assistance in how to reproduce the orchids so they don’t have to go and extract more from the wild.

Phragmipedium kovachii

Doroteo

Next day is long with some birding in the morning and a lot of driving to return to Tarapoto. On the way we visit a huge plantation of Stevia, a plant that replaces sugar, especially recommended for diabetics ‘cause it doesn’t contain any glucose.

 

 

There are good things happening out there, we just need to find them.

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Filed under Alternative tourism, Birdwatching, Conservation, Immigration, North of Peru, Peru, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking