Day 7 – English lessons and Huancash

July 26, 2012

Yesterday evening I found a tour agency (not hard, it seems that every other shop offers tours!) who suggested that I went to see Huancas (pronounced, more or less, like a Geordie saying wankers) – a small village about 10 km North of here where there are a couple of viewpoints of a pretty valley and some handicrafts. Rather than try and sell me a tour for this he told me that you could get a shared taxi from a stop just round the corner for 3 soles, then you have to pay 1 sol to get into the viewing area itself. This seemed like a cheap and ‘light’ day out so this morning, after getting up relatively late (0830) and having a long breakfast in the hostel’s adjoining cafe (really good breakfast actually – fruit juice, coffee, fruit salad, fresh bread, jam , butter, eggs) I wandered out in the general direction of where I thought the collectivo stop was.


For people that have never used collectivos, they work a bit like this; Someone with a car/mini bus and some spare time on their hands writes a sign on a bit of cardboard with a destination on it. He then sits somewhere, known to locals, until the car is full (usually 5 people) of people wanting to go to that destination. Then they go. They do the same on the return journey (unless they KNOW there will be more people waiting at the starting point in which case they will go back empty or half empty). They cost less than taxis and go places that are too far for combis to go to.


On my way I was hailed by two young men who tried to talk to me in English, but quickly reverted to Spanish when they realised that my Spanish was much better than their English. They informed me that they were studying tourism and administration in a university here and as part of their basic English course they had to have an oral exam, with a native English speaker, in front of their teacher, and wondered if I’d help them. As I had the feeling that the trip to Huancas wouldn’t take all day I decided that I might as well. They apologetically informed me that their teacher wouldn’t be there for about 20 minutes and that if I’d wait they’d buy me a coffee. Agreed and they walked me over to the plaza to pick op the 3rd member of their little band. There were other students there too, with their own foreigners, all looking a little bemused. My little band took me off to a coffee shop on the plaza and then as we were chatting, shyly asked me if I’d look over their questions, check their pronunciation and practice with them, which, of course, I did. We also had a nice chat in Spanish about where I’d been in Peru, why I was here, football (Newcastle – yes the Urracas, Yes Solano) and why I hadn’t been to Kuelap yet. As we lwft to go to their English school they bought me a bag of Fair trade, organis locally produced coffee to say thank you.


The chatting turned out to be very useful later on when the teacher threw random questions at me to check their understanding. Most of the things we’d been talking about came up so they already knew, more or less, what I was going to say! The only problem they had was with numbers. They were fine with small numbers but anything over about 10 they just seemed to guess at! The teacher picked up on this and kept asking me questions about the ages of my siblings, how long I’d been teaching, when I left secondary school, the population of my home town (like I know that!?), the lowest temperature that it got to there and other such things. I tried to keep the numbers simple, but I felt a bit sorry for them! They did all pass though!


They then walked me to the collectivo stop, paid my fare for me, and told the driver to make sure I knew where to get off etc. They then went off. They were really lovely, nice to talk to and very keen to promote Peru. They couldn’t see why it amused me that two of them were called Lenin and Franco though. Once I’d explained why I found it odd they told me that have a friend called Stalin too, only he wasn’t there today as he was at work. I’m not really sure where this fashion for naming children after foreign dictators came from, but I have seen both here and in Huaraz, signs on walls asking you to vote for Hitler for mayor. I am assured that it has absolutely nothing to do with people’s personal philosophy – they just heard the names on foreign radio and liked the sound… I suppose I’m not really one to talk about getting named after things your parents heard on the media…


I sat and waited for about 20 minutes until the collectivo had enough people to go to Huancas. I was the only foreigner out of 8 (it was a people carrier, not a normal car) and got some funny looks. Unbeknown to me the driver decided to to an abnormal route – I was expecting to be dropped off in the Plaza in Huancas so I sat looking out of the window at more beautiful scenery as we went off through the streets of Chachpoyas, climed steeply along a road that was being resurfaced (with mud and stones) and arrived about 15 minutes later to a village I assumed was Huancas. We didn’t stop or pass through a square so I thought maybe there was another village. We then carried on to the Prison where everybody but me got off. He then turned around and I thought that we’d go to the square on the way back and he’d drop me off then. About 10 mins later, when we’d been round a lot of houses to pick up people I was completely disorientated. A couple of minutes later on I realised we were on the road back down to Chachapoyas and had just passed the 5km marker. I felt very silly! When we got back to Chachapoyas the driver looked at me very surprised and said ‘why didn’t you get off in Huancas?’ I replied ‘We didn’t stop – I didn’t know where to get off’ to which he said – ‘get back in then – I’ll take you back!’. I had nothing better to do so I said I would, but that I had to go to the toilet first (an hour of bouncing about on dirt roads after 3 cups of coffee is not the best thing for either kidneys or bladder!). I then waited another 20 mins for enough people to go. This time the car was full of school kids who had finished secondary school for the day (they only go for half days for some reason – they do 8 until 12.30). The other drivers refuse to take them as by law they only pay half fare, My driver would take them, but they had to sit suqished up; 1.5ish to a seat. One little boy, sick of being squashed by his sister, shouted out – ‘ If I give you 3 soles can I have a seat to myself?’ which made me laugh. This time we went to the square where myself, the one other tourist and 4 remaining school kids (the rest had been dropped off on the way) got out. It is an odd place. It has quite a large plaza, when you consider the size of the town, and a very well kept Municipal building; everything else seems a little dilapidated. There were a couple of shops on the plaza, but they were closed. So much for the handycrafts! I walked in the direction of an odd looking look out tower and on the way found one shop with a vast array of different textiles. I promised to go in on my way back. The tower is at the top of a flight of steps. At the bottom are a number of half built buildings. I have no idea whether it is supposed to be a holiday resort or if it will be more shops… there is also a little woman with the visitor’s log. She took my 1 sol and told me to fill the book in on my way back down.


They valley is incredible, deep and narrow. You can see waterfalls, cliffs and streams stretching off in both directions. Later the driver told me that it is 1000m deep. It was also VERY windy and I soon got ear ache and had to put my hood up. I had my binoculars with me and spent about half an our wandering along the path, looking at stuff and taking photos. I say some Viscacha (or similar) poo, but didn’t see any live mammals. There were a handful of other people up there (5 to be exact) but the place still managed to feel completely desolate and isolated.


On the way back I went into the shop as promised, was informed by the man working there that the work was all done by 6 single mothers who used the money to send their kids to secondary school. I bought a bag. I think I like it. He also offered me a taste of an orange liqueur they make with the famous last words ‘just a little taste, it’s not very strong!’ It was nice, but reminded me a lot of cough mixture!


I had been thinking of doing a walk to another, less known, viewpoint 3 km further along the valley where there are the remains of a couple of round houses. However it was a lot later than I’d planned and looking like rain so I decided to go back to Chachapoyas. I only had to wait about 5 mins in the square for the collective man to get there – I was quite lucky really.


I got back to the hotel room feeling a little worse for wear and decided that an early tea, and early night would be a good idea. Jose arrives tomorrow so I’ll be off to see some more impressive sites over the next few days (an probably will have better things to do than sit on my own in cafes writing my blog! We’ll see…


Day 6 – Karajia and Quiocta

July 26, 2012

The day started out with breakfast in the peace and quiet of the Gocta Lodge followed by an early start to go to Chachapoyas via (although they are not really on the way!) the sarcophagi at Karajia and the cavern of Quiocta. To get to these places we had to leave the tarmacked road, cross the river and then climb to around 3000 meters to a small village called Lamud. In Lamud we (The driver, his friend who had never been to see those ruins, and me) met our guide. He had a very thick regional accent which I found difficult to understand when he spoke quickly and he gave me a leaflet about the area.  Besides telling me how many tourists from different countries came there in the last month he didn’t really give me any more information besides what was already in the leaflet.  I suppose it’s possible that so little is known about the remains that what was in the leaflet is all there was. Or possible he was a terrible guide. My suspicions about his poorness were first aroused when we got to the first site, Karajia, and all he did was walk to a spot, say ‘this is where you get a great pictue of this’, then walk somewhere else and say ‘ take a picture of this’. ‘Stand here – I’ll take a photo – it makes a great picture’ As if photos are the be all and end all. If I didn’t look immediately (for example if I was busy looking at something else) he got agitated and repeated himself again and again until I did as I was told. It was VERY annoying and really spoiled what was a beautiful place! I know very little about Karajia. What I do know (mostly from the tourism booklet) is that about 1000 years ago some people, who were probably important, were mummified and their mummies were placed in sarcophagi made of a mixture of hair and clay then they painted them and somehow placed them on ledges cut into a cliff above a 500 m drop, These ones are still in situ, facing the rising sun. They were discovered by Italians. I’m not sure if they took some of the mummies that were there away or not. Neither do I know anything at all about the other 2 types of mummy or the wall that had been built on one of the ledges, or the small pile of bones neatly laid out on the rocks underneath. That’s because about half way along the trail we met a pair of Hungarian tourists and,  for some reason, the guide then ignored me completely and showed them round. He also started with the ‘ stand there – it makes a great photo’ routine again, with them. They didn’t seem any fonder of it than I was. I took the opportunity to get my binoculars out and look at the mummies in more detail. The guide asked to borrow them, showed me a mummy that is well hidden in the rocks that he hadn’t mentioned before because ‘you need a telescopic zoom to take a photo of it’ then passed the binoculars to the Hungarians without asking me. They looked at me a bit sheepishly.

It was a beautiful location and the remoteness of it and the work that must have gone in to get the mummies there is staggering. The nearest village, which now has a visitor’s centre (consisting of a table with the visitors’ log book and a toilet) is another small Peruvian village suddenly learning the value of horses. The guide seemed quite surprised that I was prepared to walk. I checked the distance again – 1 km – and repeated that I’d walk. His reply was ‘maybe you can get one on the way back’. I didn’t get one, but I didn’t realise that of the 1 km to the remains about 700 m were more or less vertical (well steep switchbacks). I didn’t really notice it going down, but on the way back up my lungs reminded me that I’m not very fit anyway and a 700 m climb at 3000 meters is a LOT harder than the same walk would be in the Pennines! I ignored the guide trying to hurry me along on the way back and stopped to take the pictures I wanted to take! We drove from Karajia back to Lamud where we went to register for the caves, order the correct sized boots (‘really, 41? For you?’) and looked at the small museum (well – took photos of the things the the guide told me to take photos of!) and stopped for lunch. I wasn’t expecting much. To my surprise there was a restaurant the driver knew that actually looked like a restaurant, with wooden furniture and the tables set before we sat down! The decor was odd, but nice – the owner gets diners to write on the walls before they go (which I did). The food was really good and HUGE portions. I had duck, with some kind of turmericy potatoes and (of course – it is Peru after all!) rice.  Thank you David from El Batan de Don Mario for an Excellent lunch.  I highly recommend the place to any one else that happens to be in the area! Before we’d finished the guide came in looking for us to hurry us along. He had bumped into the Hungarian tourists and, without asking me, he had offered to take them with us to the caves and show them round too.

To get to the entrance to the cave we had to drive for about an hour out of Lamud, through stunning scenery, and then walk about 5 minutes to get to the entrance to the cave. There are reconstructed Chachapoyan huts just at the entrance too.  I’m still not really sure who the ancient remains in the caves belonged to or how long they have been there – there are obvious signs of fires inside and also what the guide said were alters – now little more than mudy mounds with skeletons on (although it is hard to tell if they were buried at one point and just being washed out each time the caves flood) and the remains of cocoa leaves.  Much more interesting than the skeletons were the bats – under each roost was a pile of dung, in which weird little beetles were living out their lives. The guide didn’t even mention the beetles… neither did he tell us anything about how the caves formed, how long they’ve been there, how long the stalagmites and stalactites would have taken to form. Again he just rushed us from one point to the next making us take photos, really irritatingly he would make sure the Hungarian had nice photos then move on whether I had taken mine or not. The thing that annoyed me the most, and really spoiled my day, was that he kept trying to get us to climb over the ropes, that have been put there to protect the formations,  so that we could have are photos taken next to them. He kept going on and on about it, even though we all said, very clearly, that we weren’t interested. The fact that an official guide, who is supposed to be protecting the natural heritage site for future generations, was not only encouraging us to break the rules, but getting quite cross with us when we wouldn’t, makes me very sad. This total disregard for other people and the ‘what I want now’ attitude that is prevalent in Peru is ruining their tourist destinations. The cave was about 500 m deep and consists of 8 ‘rooms’ connected by wide corridors, the roof in the corridors is about the height of a normal ceiling and was considerably higher in most of the ‘ rooms’ there a a number of really interesting formations, including some HUGE stalagmites and some lovely ‘church organ’ style stalactites. The guide had only brought 3 torches for 5 people (which I thought was particularly irresponsible) but I had my head torch with me; In the lower corridors the ceiling looked like it was covered in something glittering. At first I thought it was some kind of pyrites but I realised after a while that they were all individual droplets of water catching the light. It was fascinating! The floor of the caves was covered in sticky mud for which the best word would be clarty.  We didn’t go into the final room because the guide said it was a bit muddy – given that we all had wellies on, and had driven for 2 hours up a mountian to see the place, I think he could have asked, rather than just decided we weren’t going.

The guide began to rush us out, then stopped, made us all stand in a circle holding hands and turn all the lights off. It was pitch black. Far FAR darker than the night solo in Tambopata! It would have been nice to stand there for 5 minutes or so, but the guide yabbered on about how being in the dark gave you a chance to reflect and think about your life… It probably would have, if we’d been able to enjoy some silence! When the guide finally shut up the only sounds we could hear were the dripping of water and the chittering of bats. The rest was short lived and we were soon off again being rushed back out of the cave. I’d quite like to go back and have a proper look but it’s so far out of the way that I doubt I’ll ever get the chance! We dropped the guide back in Lamud and continued on to Chachapoyas.

We stopped to pick up people at one point – the driver obviously deciding that he couldn’t, in good conscience, leave a mother with a baby and a toddler in the middle of nowhere when we had many empty seats. However there was not good reason not to bring the other 5 people waiting too, so there was a car full when we got to Chachapoyas. The driver dropped everyone else in a square near the top of the town before asking for directions and dropping me at my hostal. He even carried my bags in for me. The hostal seems nice enough – the shower was hot, the towels and bedding are clean, the internet seems to work (occasionally). We’re a bit higher up here than we were in Gocta so I’m hoping the altitude isn’t going to stop me sleeping – it always seems to give me weird dreams. After my super high altitude exploits today I’m really tired so I think I’ll find food, find something ‘light’ to do tomorrow and then go to bed.


Winter holiday Day 5 – Lazy day in Cocachimba

July 24, 2012

I woke up at 0730 even though I didn’t really need to and couldn’t drift back off so I got up and had breakfast. The breakfast here is good. Very nice coffee, home made bread, plain or mushroom omelette, fresh fruit, juice, milk, yoghurt, honey, cheese, ham and cereal. After breakfast I found out that you could get a Claro signal at the far corner of the pool on the sun-deck area. It’s also a great central point to sit to look for birds so I got my binoculars and sat out there for about an hour, birdwatching, thinking and having a short text message chat with José. I then spent a few hours going through photos and putting more music onto my iPod (this took me a LONG time to do as it turns out that you can’t just drag and drop music onto an iPod in Windows explorer, you HAVE to use iTunes. I can move one song at a time, but I can’t work out how to select whole albums at once. Neither can I get it to organise things properly, probably because I haven’t bought the music from iTunes in the first place. You also can’t access iTunes help unless you have an internet connection.). After all this stress I had a delicious lunch (salad with fried cheese, olives, apple, almonds and a slightly too vinegary dressing) and then did nothing (well, I read my book) for another couple of hours. During this time it rained so I didn’t use the pool like I’d originally planned.


After the rain had cleared up I had a wander into the town of Cocachimba, the nearest town to the falls, where the hotel is situated. It consists of about 30 houses, one hostal, 2 restaurants, a primary school, a football pitch/car park health centre (open 0800 – 1200 Monday to Saturday), and 2 handicraft shops. One is also the visitors’ centre and has nice things, hand crafted by people in the region, the other has a little bit of everything from all over Peru. I’m really not sure how the second shop stays open as you can buy the same tat at any stall, anywhere in Peru. There were also 4 men making mud/straw bricks and putting them to ‘dry’ in the sun. They had picked the wrong day for it!


Back at the lodge I tried to identify the species of birds I had seen. It is an impossible task. There are around 124 species of humming bird in Peru, a handful of them are found only along the coast (and I have seen most of those species in my garden in Lima), the rest all seem to be found here. On top of that they are almost all green. You have to look at beak shape and length (hard because most of the time when you are looking at humming birds their beaks are inside flowers) and the shape of their tail. As they hum in and hum out again very quickly it can be difficult to get a good look. On top of that there are regional variations in colouring that means that in some places the live version doesn’t look the same colour as the ones in the book! I decided to remain in blissful ignorance and pack instead. Packing made me work up an appetite and I realised it was only an hour or so until dinner.


The food here is good. Again the portions are a bit on the small side, but I’m sure they’d be fine for normal people. The prices aren’t too bad either, considering they have you trapped! The menu has a choice of a lot of large salads, starters and soups. The main course is a choice of chicken, pork chops, thin beef, steak, or trout, with a choice of vegetable side dish (including yucca, chips, mash, quinua and salad) and a choice of sauce. My first evening I had trout in a pisco and aji sauce with quinua and vegetables. The vegetables were so delicious that I had them again the following evening with a pork chop and beer and rosemary sauce. As I’d done a lot of work that day I treated myself to a starter too – yucca croquettes wrapped in bacon and served with caramelised apples in a balsamic sauce. Nom nom nom. They also have a pudding of the day. It was pancake the first night (filled with manajar blanco and served with coconut icecream) and homemade, still hot from the oven, banana bread the second night. I bought a bottle of wine on the first night and they have put it away for me and brought it out again when I wanted it.


Tomorrow I leave the lodge here at Gocta and head up to Chachapoyas. I have decided to combine this with a tour so that I get to go to see some sarcophagi and a burial cave full of stalactites and stalagmites on the way (well, not really on the way; when the people here say things are close they mean within a 2 hour drive…).  


Winter Holiday Day 4 – Gocta

July 24, 2012

What a spectacularly amazing day! Woke up feeling awake before my alarm, could hear breakfast so got up and had my coffee standing overlooking an incredible view of the mountains. They are some kind of sedimentary rock that has been pushed up and the patterns you can see in the strata are really clear – I can’t even begin to imagine the forces or the time scale that has been involved in making them! You can also clearly see marks where water runs in the rainy season.


After breakfast I got changed into my walking gear, packed my bag and then had to wait for about 20 minutes while the family I would be walking with got ready… Apparently when the woman said ‘ leaving at 0830’ they heard ‘finish your breakfast at 0830 then go and get changed and get your bag while people wait for you’. I was slightly concerned that the girl was wearing pink Peruvian stripy trousers and matching pink converse slip on trainers that were obviously new, but decided not to comment – they are her feet… I couldn’t really get angry at their rudeness however as the tree by the door to the lodge was full of humming birds so I was really quite happy to wait.


The day started off hot and sunny (even at 9 am) and I started to worry about my lack of sun cream – I had presumed (because I can be as stupid as the next man!) that we’d be under cover for most of the walk as it is in forest, however the first hour or so is actually across farmland and quite open. I wasn’t so worried in the morning, but I was thinking ahead to the afternoon when we’d be coming back with the sun fully overhead.


The walk to the falls took about 3 hours, it is only 5.1 km however a lot of it is up and down; quite steeply in places. There are also 3 bridges to cross (one suspension bridge, one made of wood and one mad of concrete). Since the local village formed a ‘ tourism committee’ in 2006 they have done a lot of work on the trail and it was very well maintained, although I could see that in the rainy season it would become a bit more treacherous. The views of the surrounding countryside are spectacular! You can, if you want, hire horses to take you there and back. I personally think I’d feel less safe on a horse than on my feet – some of the drops were very long and very steep if you fell off at the wrong point!


The trail to the falls starts about 50m from the lodge, this meant that we were the second group to get on the trail (the first group being other guests at the lodge) about an hour before other tourists start to arrive. The beauty of this was that we walked in complete isolation all the way there and had a good 15 min of peace (which would have been longer if we’d left on time!) at the pool at the bottom of the falls. As we walked back though we passed people every 5 minutes or so and later on, about 30 mins from the lodge, people on horseback started passing us. I don’t think I’d have enjoyed it as much had we been walking a couple of hours later with everyone else (the people who had stayed in Chachapoyas for example!), although everyone assures me that it’s because it’s Sunday. No one has, as yet, given me any reason for Sunday being busyier than other days. Must be an organised tour thing.


The falls themselves are beautiful – your view of them changes as you get closer and closer on the walk, and they are very high (as you would expect from the world’s 3rd highest waterfall I suppose). In dry season there isn’t a lot of water in them, and it is something more like heavy rain that reaches the pool. However looking at the shape of the pool and the form of the cliff face, you can tell that in rainy season it is much MUCH more torrential! The rock formations themselves are at least as impressive, of not more so, than the waterfall. In one part the strata swirl, looking just like a fingerprint. I chickened out of going for a swim as the pool was in shade, there were very strong, cold, winds (the guide told us that the wind formed because of the movement of the water) and the water was FREEZING. It was also a rocky bottom and although I had my towel with me I didn’t really feel like walking 2 and a half hours back, slightly damp.


We realised that the masses were beginning to arrive and so started on the return journey. Luckily the sun was hidden behind some helpful clouds for most of the walk back and so my lack of sun cream and hat was not a major problem (I have caught the sun a little bit on my face though and my eyes are telling me that the best place for my sunglasses would be here with me, and not in my locker at school!). The smell as we walked was nothing short of heavenly – there are a number of aromatic plants that grow up here and these combined with the fresh air, slightly woody smell of the trees and the flowers make something that should be bottled and sold to stressed people to inhale as they listen to the pre-recorded sounds of the birds singing in the trees. Although to be fair I think a large part of the lack of stress comes from being somewhere with no internet, no phone signal and doing some seriously sweaty exercise with a beautiful destination in mind, while the local flora, fauna and landscape assaults all of your senses at the same time! There’s also nothing quite like a massive landscape that has taken hundreds of thousands of years to form and dwarfs you completely to remind you of your rather insignificant place in the universe! I was surprised at how little effect the altitude had, we’re not that high here, around 2000 meters, but that is usually enough for me to feel a little breathless on climbs. Hopefully I’m acclimatising nicely so that when I get to Chachapoyas which is a little higher still, and especially Kuelap at 3000 meters, I’ll be fine!


Not surprisingly the girl in the pink converse trainers had a massive blister on each heel by the time we reached the falls. Give her her due, she walked slowly on the way back, but she did it, and didn’t complain or ask for a horse! Given that the horses were being led by either teenage boys or 60 year old women I think she’d have felt a little self conscious though. Locals of the town near the falls, if they have nothing better to do, often ride up towards the falls in the afternoon in the hope of being able to convince one of the woefully inappropriately dressed Limeñans that they would be better off riding back now that they know what’s coming. I imagine, as most of the Limeñans that I know outside of school think that my 15 minute walk to school is long and the fact that I sometimes walk into Miraflores and back (maybe 40 min each way) is nothing short of crazy, that they are fairly successful with their beasts of burden.


One little rant, that I feel fairly often in Peru; if I would support corporal punishment for anything it would be for people that drop litter. Seriously – how heavy is a plastic wrapper or empty bottle that it is too hard for you to carry it even one second more? How can anyone have such a low opinion of everyone else on the planet that, now they have been to the lovely place, it doesn’t matter if they mess it up for the next people? What kind of completely self-absorbed, spoiled, thoughtless, lazy and ignorant person can’t be bothered to carry their rubbish home with them and put it in the bin? The part that gets me the most is that to get here you have to fly from Lima, THEN drive for at least 8 hours, THEN walk for at least 3 hours. The kind of people who can afford and can be bothered to do this can also afford basic manners and a better education surely? They should have their feet cut off, that would stop them doing it again… maybe just a toe for the first offence…


On the way back we saw, across the other side of the valley, a MASSIVE forest fire – it made the mountain look a little bit like a volcano. I couldn’t take any pictures as both of my camera batteries had run out. I must have forgotten to charge the spare when I came back from Huacachina. Apparently they are fairly common this time of year, not because it’s dry season and droplets of water act like a magnifying glass and focus the sun onto dry undergrowth, but because people hunting deer set fires to flush them out and then loose control.


Tomorrow I don’t think I’ll do anything. Just relax, get up late (or maybe even get up for breakfast then go back to bed – the luxury!), wander into the town to look at handy-crafts they make to sell to the tourists, maybe (if I can find sun lotion) have a swim in the pool, do a bit of sun bathing, read my book and look for birds. It’s been a while since I had a day on my own when I did absolutely nothing. The lodge has a brand new espresso machine too… 


Winter Holidays Day 3 – Puma Rinri to Gocta

July 24, 2012

The woman downstairs obviously couldn’t sleep and I was woken up at 0230 by her putting the TV on. It took me ages to get back to sleep. When my alarm went off at 0645 I felt really drowsy, but one look out of the window into the beautiful, misty, jungle, made me feel much better! At exactly 0730 we left the lodge and made our way towards Tarapoto. We had a slight delay at the land slide. The contractors had a deal with the locals that they would allow traffic through for the first 15 minutes every hour. We arrived at 0805 to be told by one officious JCB driver that ‘obviously’ that didn’t include 0800 – 0815 as they only start at 0800 and can’t stop again straight away. After a bit of arguing and some threats to call the mayor they let us, and the rest of the local traffic (that had timed their journey to arrive around 8), through. We picked up a box lunch at one of the villages we went through and I was dropped at the Plaza where Lluis (yes it is a double L – it’s Catalan not Spanish) met me to bring me to Gocta. The road from Tarapoto to Gocta is nothing short of spectacular in parts. I had been led to believe that it was a poor road, but it was well maintained and tarmacked all the way through past Pedro Ruiz. Only the last 11 km from the main road to Gocta was track. It is dry season though so there isn’t the same risk of land slides as there is at other times of the year.


It took about 2 hours to reach Moyabamba where we stopped for an hour so I could go and look at humming birds and orchids. Surprisingly my guide for this bit turned out to be a 9 year old girl (whose father owns the orquidario) who was very good – she told me about lots of different food plants (including giving me a citrus fruit that looked like a green orange but tasted like lemonade and some blackberry like things) she then took me to the observation tower to look at humming birds. She didn’t know the English names, but she did find them for me on the bird plates that they had there. She then took me around the orchids. I have no idea how many different sorts they have flowering in peak season. It’s off season now and they had about 30 different species in flower and my diminutive guide told me the common name and scientific name of all of them in addition to telling me about 10 different species of heliconia and showing me a mixed flock of birds including dacnis, tanagers, orupendula and a pair of parrots that she seemed completely in love with! She took great care of the plants, moving fallen leaves off them, straightening flower petals and generally treating the plants like small children! It was quite sweet!


I got back in the car and we went to have a coffee in the newly opened shop of the cooperative that the Gocta Lodge buys its coffee from. It was very good coffee…


A couple of hours later we started to climb in earnest, with switchbacks in the road and lots of ‘curvas peligrosas’! We entered the Alto Mayo Protected area and the scenery went from beautiful to absolutely stunning. The type of forest had changed during the ascent and now we were surrounded by trees laden down with lichen and bromiliads. It is SO green – when you have been living in Lima for a bit you kind of forget what green really looks like!


We passed a lot of small villages and towns along the road, some in much better repair than others. We also passed a lot of people who seemed to be walking aimlessly in the middle of nowhere! One large town we passed earlyish in the journey had a MASSIVE cement works and what is apparently the largest 7th Day Adventist Temple in Peru. Apparently that was all it took for the cement company to buy their way into the village when the villagers protested about the plant before it was built. A lot of the towns have weird biblical names too – the cement plant place was 2nd Jerusalem and we passed Nazareth, Bethlehem, Gethsemane amongst others. It generally denotes a town founded by missionaries out of Cajamarca apparently.


A lot of the area around Tarapoto/Moyabamba is given over to paddy fields, but as you go higher into the mountains this changes to coffee and you see large black sheets covered with drying coffee beans alongside the road in every town you pass. You also see chickens pecking through them, small children rolling in them, people turning them over so that they dry evenly using their bare feet, and, in one town, a dog pissing on them. None of that has managed to put me off coffee though!


We arrived in Gocta around 1630 and I can not believe how beautiful the hotel is. Again the layout has been thought out carefully and the rooms all overlook the falls (the 3rd highest waterfall in the world!) and the surrounding cliffs. The swimming pool is set lower than the rooms so that it too has a view of the falls, but doesn’t spoil the views from the rooms and the dining terrace is also angled so you can see the falls. There are nicely maintained gardens, with orchids and plants that attract humming birds and a nice restaurant. As I sit typing this I can hear parrots and other birds and could see a pair of king vultures circling. A chicken has just walked across the grass with her brood of chicks and the sun is setting behind the mountains. I imagine it will start to get cold quickly once the sun goes in! I think I’ll go and try and arrange some tours for tomorrow and then see what the restaurant has to offer. Dinner’s not included in the room rate so I hope they don’t take advantage of us now they have us captive (allbeit in beautiful surroundings).


Winter holidays Day 2 – Puma Rinri Lodge and surrounds

July 24, 2012

I woke up at about 6 to see the sun rise over the mountian through the fog that was hanging over the trees. It was a spookily different place! I then went back to bed for 2 hours and then got up for breakfast! It was standard Peruvian breakfast – eggs, bread, cheese, meat, coffee, yoghurt and cereal. Not necessarily in that order. I then went and got my bag contianing repellent, a towl, my camera and binoculars and water (and because I’m me, my head torch just in case). My guide, 2 other tourists from Lima and me got in the car, drove for 10 min to the start of the trail and then walked for about an hour, through the forest, to a waterfall. The waterfall was ‘owned’ by the nearest town and the lodge pay a concession each month to be allowed to use it. They are the only people around there that do – everyone else goes to the slightly bigger and better serviced waterfalls further along the road. That meant that we had the place completely to ourselves! It was beautiful. The rainforest has obviously been overused (the guide made overtures to the times of narcotraffickers and terrorism) at some point and has only just been protected so there is still virtually no large wildlife. There were plenty of birds around and we did see bullet ants en-route. There is one area that obviously used to be farmed and you can still see rows of pineapple and coca bushes (although there isn’t really enough altitude for them there!).


The waterfall is absolutely beautiful and the pool underneath (helped into existence by a bit of dam building by the locals) has a sandy bottom and at about 1030 when we got there was about half in and half out of the sun. They have built a small screen for those people who are shy about changing in front of others (I had put my bathers on under my clothes and just got dressed over the top when it was time to go – I was more or less dry by the time we got back to the car!). I spent about half an hour in the pool floating peacefully looking at the butterflies fluttering by or standing under the waterfall bemused by the rainbows I could see dancing around me as the water moved. We then walked back. We arrived back at the lodge at about 12.30 just in time to change clothes before lunch. Another odd, yet tasty meal. A Salad of lettuce, cheese, avocado, boiled egg and a delicious onion chutney type thing and fish (from the lodge’s own fish pools!) patacones (fried banana slices) and plain rice. Pudding was 3 sorbets made from local fruit – grape, cocona and maracuya. It was very nice.


There is a chef from Lima in the lodge at the moment trying to teach the cooks there how to present the dishes properly and suggesting more interesting meals that they can make with their local ingredients. It seems that the lodge has listened to the reviews on the internet and is trying to improve. The reason she is here NOW is that they are designing the new kitchen and the owner of the lodges was there along with the architect, to work on the plans with her making suggestions.


I then had an hour or so to rest before setting off on a boat on the river to look for wildlfe (of which there was very little – some egrets, a heron, a skimmer and some cows) and find a nice beach from which we could have a swim. It was very pleasant floating in the water, letting the current carry me a little and chatting with the guide.


We went back to the lodge where I had a shower and watched the sun set before reading a little. A different cook (I obviously scared the first one!) came and asked me what I wanted for dinner. I opted for ‘chuleta’ (chops) and ended up with another salad (lettuce and carrot with a peppery dressing), a chop of probably pork that was cooked really nicely and still juicy, served with rice cakes and yucca. Pudding was ice cream! I sat and chatted to the Lima chef woman for an hour or so about travelling, being unmarried and without children at 32, men and life in general (I actually did very little talking – I’m not sure she’d spoken to anyone for about a week!) and then went to my room to pack. I leave tomorrow for Gocta at 0730 am so I have to be ready for breakfast at 0700. The owner of the lodges is going back to Gocta tomorrow so he is going to drive me there rather than me getting the bus/taxi from Taropoto. I’m glad about this as it’s an 8 hour journey and I didn’t really want to do it in a collectivo! He’s said well stop off at the orquidario in Moyabamba too, even though it’s out of season, which is great!


Winter Holidays – Day 1 Lima to Tarapoto

July 24, 2012

I spent a frantic morning running round sorting out small details; standing in the queue in BCP, getting keys cut in Wong, going into school to scan some receipts to email to hotels in Chachapoyas, printing out receipts/boarding passes and generally making sure I had all of the info and things I needed. A friend of José’s, who now works as a taxi driver, arrived bang on time to take me to the airport which was FULL of foreign tourists (I don’t count myself as a foreign tourist any more, even though I act like one) wandering aimlessly and getting in the way.


A man pushed into the queue in front of me and, when I told him that there was a queue and pointed to the other 6 people in it, he said ‘ no, the queue goes this way, not that way’ pointing first straight out into the concourse, where stupid people in queues from other airlines were stopping any one else from being able to walk through the airport to find the correct desk and then pointing along the queue of 6 sensible people who were standing out of the way by doubling back parallel to the desks. When the next two people behind me also told him that this was, in fact, the queue he just said ‘ yes, well I was here before all of you’ . The woman behind me pointed out that this was, in fact a lie, that he had only just got here and he should go to the back of the queue and he just said, despite all of the evidence to the contrary ‘ No, I was here first’. Not much you can do about stubborn, bare-faced lies like that so we let him stay there. It cheered me up later when I saw him have to go through the security metal detectors about a million times, while those of us he pushed in front of sailed though. Does that make me a mean person?


The flight left bang on time and arrived 10 minutes early, always a nice feeling. I do get the impression that sometimes when I speak to people in Spanish it accidentally comes out in Russian… I asked the man on the plane for a coffee and a water, to which the man replied ‘ apple, orange or peach?’ I tried again thinking he must have misheard me and got the more sensible question ‘do you want sugar and creamer’ to which I replied ‘just creamer’. I then got given a glass of water and a cup of aniseed tea with sugar. I am still not sure how he got from café con leche to té de anis con azucar.


As I walked into the sauna that is Tarapoto in the dry season, I decided that jeans, whilst and excellent choice for a Lima winter, are not the best trousers to be worn in the jungle. My guide Miguel, picked me up from the airport and drove me the 45 mins, along newly tarmacked, and at one point even more newly landslid, road to the lodge stopping at a couple of ‘miradores ecoturisticos’. I am not sure exactly how a lay by with a nice view can be ‘ecotouristy’ but these ones had official signs, so they must be.


The setting of the lodge is absolutely beautiful and the grounds and buildings have been well designed to give each room a view over the river and jungle without being overlooked by any other rooms. The entire side of the room is made of floor to ceiling windows so the rooms are light and airy. The covered balcony runs the full width of the room too and is lighter and airier than inside the room. The beds are big and comfy, there are hangers and shelves for clothes, the bathroom is beautiful and everything is spotlessly clean. There are plenty of electricity points if you want to charge anything and there is a socket for a phone and TV. I don’t have either of the latter in my room, I think it’s because they only finished building my room 12 days ago and not all of the furniture has arrived yet. As I have no intention of watching TV when I could be watching a rainforest full of birds I don’t really mind! I do wish that the fool in the room below shared this view, or at least could watch TV on normal volume instead of a Lima volume. I can hear every word… What they had failed to tell me is that they are having building work done (a new larger swimming pool and a new larger dining area now that they have more rooms) and that they do not have internet any more but as I am here, on my own in a double room, at a discounted rate I can’t really complain.

The sunset was very strange. One minute I’m sat on my balcony reading and birdwatching as appropriate in full sunshine. It then seemed as if someone set the sun on a 3 minute slow fade after which it disappeared behind a mountain. Just then a man knocked on the door and asked me what I wanted him to cook me for dinner. When I asked him what there was he just looked perplexed, as if not expecting the question, and said after a long pause ‘pasta or meat or chicken or pork’. I tried in vain to get more details but he looked so shy that I took pity on him and ordered ‘pasta with meat’. What I got at 7 pm when I went to dinner, was spaghetti in a creamy garlic sauce, with parmesan cheese and some unidentified, yet tasty, meat that had obviously been smoked over the cooking fire at some point. This came with a jug of juice that tasted of lemon, a tasty salad with some kind of lettuce, palm heart strips and avocado and then a pudding consisting of fried sweet bananas and lucuma ice cream and meringue. It was presented a bit haphazardly, with obvious effort, but no real understanding of how posh food should look. The portions were normal, that is I ate all of it and still felt like I had room to spare, however I am a pig and need a diet so this is all good!


I paused on my way to bed to have a look at those stars that you could see in the small patch of sky between the mountains. I love looking at the stars when I’m not in Lima – there are so many of them. I reckon it’ll be even better in Chachapoyas, a couple of thousand meters higher up! I’m looking forward to a few hours of walking to visit a waterfall and have a swim before lunch and a boat ride and swim in the river in the afternoon tomorrow. Breakfast at 0830… slackers… you wouldn’t get that in Tambopata!