Category Archives: Food

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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Filed under Australia, Birdwatching, Cultural Differences, Food, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing, Trekking

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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Filed under Australia, Birdwatching, Conservation, Food, Immigration, Living Abroad, Travel, Travel Stories, Travel Writing

A Peruvian in Australia: Schooling (part 2)

I recently finished a 6 month course on Retail Travel Sales at NMIT. Here are some thoughts after that experience.

My background is in tourism and hospitality. I have worked in that industry for about 8 years. When I left Peru to come over to Australia I was working as a tour leader. I did not want to leave that industry so when the opportunity to study something came up I was sure Tourism was my choice. In the words of Robert, one of my classmates, I was ‘formalizing my experience’.

I was a bit concerned about this choice. Someone well-informed had told me that Tourism is one of the ‘typical’ choices of international students who attempt to ask for a visa.  They choose it because they think it’s easy. So there was that cliche. As soon as I was granted a my second student visa, off I went, back in school, at a TAFE (Technical and Further Education) which is the equivalent to an institute in Peru, but it is tertiary or university level education.

The course was expensive, over 5 thousand dollars (not a student budget-price if you think about it), so it was important for me that it was something I wanted to do. Having paid all that and being able to work only part-time under the conditions of my visa, my budget shrank and I was soon trying to save on money.

I got my student ID and with this I was able to get some discounts at the movies, entrances to museums and other attractions, like the zoo. Luckily the Preston campus is not too far from home. I rode my bike as much as I could while summer lasted; but then June came and with it winter and the days started to get chilly. I’d ride the bike as far as the bus stop and it was public transport after that. Have I mentioned that public transport is a sad shame in Melbourne? I have? Good, ’cause it is. Despite the late train departures, the cancellations, the dirty trains (all of which happen more often than one would wish for), one of the low points for me was discovering that as an international student I have no right for a discount on a ticket. I pay 6.6 dollars per round trip. Considering I was only allowed to work part-time and that the cost of life is high, it’s not cheap.

Food was another field for savings. There’s a market at Preston, just across the road from school, which is a cheap option for students to buy lunch. But most times I took my lunch (which I cooked of course) with me and only visited the market a couple times. Another pleasant surprise was that at school the chef students cooked and sold their products at the school’s restaurant. So every Tuesday I was able to buy nice food for very low prices.

Mostly the course taught me about the different destinations in Australia and what is there is to offer. Certainly some beautiful places such as The Kimberley, The Great Barrier Reef, The Murray River area, the train ride across the desert from Adelaide to Darwin know as The Ghan, and so many other spots this vast country has to offer to visitors. Ironically, Australians prefer to go abroad these days than to travel within their country. This has to do with the prices. It is cheaper to fly and stay in Bali for a week than to go spend the weekend in Cairns. It is cheaper to fly to New Zealand from Melbourne than to go to Perth. Obviously Perth is farther from Melbourne than NZ but that gives you an idea of how large is Australia.

Bungle Bungle Range National Park, near The Kimberley

I can’t wait to get my license and hire or buy a camper and just drive around this country with Mel. While in school I presented a power point on North-West Australia, on the exact opposite side of the country. That area is called The Kimberley. It is one of the last remaining native forests in Australia. On the East coast, where most of the 22 million people live, 75% of forests have disappeared. And though the national parks are great, many conservationists are leading a campaign to stop a large transnational from extracting gas in The Kimberleys.

In my course I also learnt about the business and the local know-how. Most of my teachers had worked in the industry and that was great. They knew the standards and the ways.

One of the low points was that in the class there were those who didn’t really care about the course. They enrolled just because, like those looking for a visa, they thought it was easy and required no talent. I remember a guy who wanted to work at the airport picking up luggage or a girl who wanted to work at the airport at an airline counter. You certainly don’t need this course to work there. Others enrolled because their parents forced them to. So they would come to class late and when in class just chat and interrupt. I thought it was very disrespectful to the teachers and other classmates. I was even more angry when I discovered that those kids were paying 350 dollars for a course that costed Mel and I more than 5 thousand.

Luckily there was Ken. Ken is a war veteran who had been to Viet-Nam and at 60-something he still drove a taxi and studied to be a travel agent. A very clever man who had been all over the globe. He stood up. He was from a different generation, one that didn’t get free things. He stood up and hushed them down. I want to dedicate this post to Ken, who was not able to finish the course against his will. I’m sure one day he will finish it and become a great travel agent.

Along the course we had to do several presentations on destinations, package tours, country profiles, set up a stand for a tourism fair, talk about cultural differences. Normally I picked Peru when it was about an international destination. I remember a comment from one of my classmates who said that through my presentations she had learnt so much about Peru that now she had it on her list of places to go. I thought that that was a great compliment and it proved to me that I can be a great travel agent too!

from left to right: Tim, Ashley, Danny, Salma, Tracey, Mou-mou, Vikki, Robert, Andrew, Tamara, Pepe and Tom

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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 www.mayanutinstitute.org).

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

Shucshungo Tree

Quinilla

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.

TO VISIT THIS WONDERFUL AREA CONTACT WILLIAM RODRIGUEZ (IN SPANISH IF POSSIBLE) AT abofoa@gmail.com

With my guide William and the path after the rains.

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

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:

http://www.sachaqacentrodearte.blog.com

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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