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En Perú. Me voy con ganas de quedarme. ¿Quién no querría seguir de vacaciones? viajando, preocupándose solo de elegir que comer cada dia, o de hacer deportes o de planear donde salir o donde viajar en los próximos dias.

Obviamente que no quiero que termine.

Quize postergar el pasaje pero ya no es posible postergarlo más. Pensé en perderlo y tomar otro luego. No me sale a cuenta, podría pasar una semana en Cuba agregando un poco más de dinero. Luego pensé en viajar a Miami e ir “caleteando” hasta NY y luego en tren o bus a Montreal. Pero llevo demasiadas cosas, más de las que traje y para viajar de esa manera debo ir más ligero. Tampoco es que me fascinen los US, básicamente es barato comprar allá. Así que de regreso. Si quiero vagar más, vagaré un mes allá en Montreal yendo al gimnasio y viendo un nuevo empleo, para un mes mas tarde.

He conocido muchos de los lugares que me quedaban por conocer y he visto a la mayoría de la gente que quería ver. Pero siempre hay más.

Han sido muy buenos meses y siempre hay más cosas que uno puede hacer, especialmente en Perú. Verdaderamente Perú, país de aventura.

Serán para la próxima.

relax

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Yurimaguas

The car came on time, a little before 4 AM. I got a seat by a window, my fleece jacket and we were on our way. Our driver was a very clean and proper guy that seemed to have legs and arms too short for his body and the smile of the 50’s Mickey Mouse.

The road is in pretty good condition, a part is being worked on, so not all is paved.

On the way, daylight having arrived, you can see mist surrounding the vegetation. It’s eerie and fascinating at the same time.

Arriving to Yurimaguas you seem to be assaulted by all motocar drivers at once: one talks to you, another one does it too, a third one opens the trunk and another one points at your pack while you see yet another one picking it up looking at you, convinced you will pick him for the ride. I use a costal plástico -a large bag used locally for grains but also to transport stuff in lieu of proper packing- imagine how crazy they get when they see a large backpack that may mean people not having a clue about local motocar fares.

Anyway, picked up one to drive me to the dock to check the ship to Iquitos. Got to the port, checked the ship, the prices and went back to the city to have breakfast after booking a place in the 3rd deck.

Went around town next and no hotel would take my backpack in custody so I carried it along and went shopping for goods and water to the market area. Got bored soon and went to the ship to just wait for departure. You can see my hammock and pack there.

upper deck with my hammock and pack

Here is an interesting tip: beware of motocar drivers or the guys who are at the port entrance, they want to carry your luggage or tag along with you to offer you a hammock for a higher price -20 or 25 soles- than the one you would pay in the ship that is 6 for small hammocks or 10 for larger ones to rent.

About the ship: there are several options but the larger and probably the safer ones are the Eduardo ships to Iquitos. They have a cargo deck -that takes almost anything from oranges to cows or a 4WD-, a passenger deck -60 soles- and an upper deck where you can go in a hammock -120 soles- or a cabin with a bed sizes ranging from a sofa-width (1/2 plaza – 140 soles) to a single bed (1 1/2 plazas 250 soles) and a twin (2 plazas – dunno) bed. The last two have private bathrooms and a fan.

Both decks serve meals to passengers but in the 2nd one you have to provide your cup, dish, fork, spoon and knife. In the 3rd one all that is provided to you.

Food appears to be the same.

Laguna Azul

If you are Peruvian you have probably heard of la Laguna Azul as a vacation spot. You can take a tour there from Tarapoto, they ask 70 soles including lunch.

But this time I chose to go by my own. Got a motocar to take to the combi and car stop that drives to El Sauce, the village in front of the Lake. They leave when they are full so, some waiting time there. Cars are 10 soles when taking 5 or 12.50 when taking 4 people. Combis are 7 or 8 soles.

While seating I spoke a bit with the driver and a woman, who came to ask for a package, got into the conversation. Probably in her 30’s simply dressed and with that tanned skin tone usual in the people around here. She had a charapa -a name for the people from Loreto, or the jungle in general- accent and after asking me a few questions about where I came and if I traveled alone we started joking about another woman’s butt and sex in the way they usually do around here, openly and explicitly. I just followed along and had fun. She was a Saucina -born in El Sauce-. Later she sat by my side and asked me if I was married or something, I explained to her I was not but had met and lived with a girl from Pucallpa before. And then something caught my attention, I can’t recall it right now, I think it was the possibility of the combi departure so I looked away for a while. When I turned back she was walking away saying that she had to leave and wishing me a good trip.

I had enjoyed her company for a moment and regretted a bit that she left. Oh well…

The drive to El Sauce is a paved way that later becomes a road that reaches the river where a floating platform to cross to the other side awaits.

crossing the river on the way to El Sauce and Laguna Azul

On the way to El Sauce there is a detour a little after having crossed the river, that leads to hot springs. The place seems interesting, with several pools of different temperatures and a house / hostel where to have something to eat and possibly to stay. I found out too late…

After the river, the road cuts through a real jungle forest, trees and vegetation paint the surroundings in green just until you see a small lake -not the Laguna Azul- but a sulfurous lake that has no fish in it. Later the road goes higher and then you have the first glimpse of the Laguna Azul and some lodges by the lake side before reaching El Sauce.

I arrived around midday and stepped down in the main square, before the car stop. Took a look around, not much to see and went to the pier looking for a boat ride. Empty. No people around.

a pier facing Laguna Azul

Laguna Azul is not blue.

Laguna Azul is not blue

The place was nice though, peaceful and surrounded by deep green hills. I went to eat and came back to contemplate the lake before going back. Some hotels were nice, even at El Sauce they looked really like lodges with cabins and even saw a kayak around but even though they were opened no one was around to answer my questions. I even yelled hello waiting for somebody to come but nothing. Perhaps they were having lunch. Who knows.

While waiting at the pier, a guy arrived and seated a little behind. Later two other guys came along with a local who offered them a boat ride. For 35 soles. They refused and left. When the guy asked me I haggled a little and I got the ride for 30 soles. And we would take the first guy who was a boy that only had 2 soles for free. The ride for a cheaper price and taking a poor boy along for free seemed a good deal to me.

We left a little later, after an old man came along offering us the same ride for 25 soles. But he had a different attitude, not really like somebody I’d like to spend time with so I refused and he left grumbling. Our guide was kind and good humored and told us many stories about El Sauce and the surroundings. He took us to the piscicultura -fish farm- already abandoned but still owned by the government. The place was wonderful, I was so in awe that I didn’t take a picture of it until we had arrived. He said some people chooses to camp there to spend the night at the lake and the guardian is a friend of him who doesn’t charge nor mind people camping as long as they don’t pollute. In fact the guardian and his wife welcome the company as they live alone in there all year long. The place was really beautiful and I was very very tempted to stay, even offered a mattress where to sleep, but had left my backpack at the Hotel Cielo with my fleece jacked and thermals. I really wasn’t prepared for this and had never heard or read that you could stay here for free. There is a path that leads to 2 de Mayo -another village 1.5 hrs away by foot- where you can take a motocar back to El Sauce.

Fish farm at the Laguna Azul

Resting at this spot with full sunlight I was thinking of the saucina women. I should have asked her to come along, she may have agreed. And it would have been good company to spend the night.

On the way back I asked the captain to stop as I wanted to swim in the middle of the lake. And I took a swim, a short one as I soon felt tired, perhaps by the lake waves. The boat moved away and for a second I though they were going to leave me to drown and take my stuff with them. It was a terrible thought that got me frightened for a moment. So I turned yelled him asking to come pick me up instead of waiting for me and floated to relax and wait. I saw the boat going right first and then turning around to meet me. I pulled myself in and got my towel and smiled.

That was probably the most frightening moment of my whole trip up to now.

Back to El Sauce I waited for the car to have all the seats taken so we could leave and met two Lima guys who were in serious party mode, speaking of girls, sex and alcohol. At first I didn’t quite felt like interacting with them but later in the car they started talking to me and telling me the story of their trip from Lima to here. They were fun but a little noisy. They had got a Licor de Acerola, a drink made of some rounded yellow fruits that seemed a bit like cherries but who knows what their name is, that is produced there in El Sauce. The stuff didn’t tasted bad so we shared a few drinks, and experiences. The info about Morales was right, they had gone the night before and all was empty or closed, they got to the only whorehouse opened that had only a girl who they took out to their hotel. Well, that was more that I needed to know. Later they told me they belong to a salsa band, and one -or both- were singers there, and that they had the girl’s phone number so we could call her and make a foursome. That was more than I wanted to do with them at least, so I thanked their offer but refused politely.

Back in Tarapoto I picked up my backpack at Hotel Cielo to switch hotels to Patarasca lodge. Yes, they also own the Patarasca restaurant. The lodge was nice, with more personality and vegetation than Hotel Cielo, I would chose to stay there anytime over Hotel Cielo but it is not completely an improvement in all senses. Rooms smell a bit old and there is no pool, they accept visa cards and I got a rate of 30 soles there, including private bathroom and cable TV.

It’s an interesting choice anyway, and just a block away from the main square.

I hesitated a lot again to leave Tarapoto the next morning. Wanted to go back to El Sauce and stay a the piscicultura. Wanted to meet again the woman as well. Wanted to have another lunch at the Patarasca. Oh well, if I wanted to reach Iquitos by the weekend I should leave to Yurimaguas the next morning in order to catch a boat and navigate to Iquitos.

So, with much regret I booked a car to Yurimaguas for the early morning. 25 soles.

We’ll see how it goes.

Tarapoto

I arrived to Tarapoto earlier than expected, a little after 4 AM. Arriving at night is not ideal you will soon see why.

Got a motocar that would take me to the Hotel Cielo, a tip from the guy I met in Kuelap. Well all seemed fine until we arrived to a building with no sign and metal doors that the motocar driver insisted was the Hotel Cielo. As nobody would open the door I agreed to see some other options. I didn’t like any of them as I was sure Hotel Cielo accepted my visa card and had a pool. So I told the guy after like 30 min. of going around to leave me there that I would wait until they open. And gave him 4 soles which was plenty it seemed. After standing there for a while I walked to another hotel that looked nice -3 or 4 starts- but they told me they were full and that Hotel Cielo was not there but in the 3rd block of San Martin ave.

Fuck the motocar drivers, I thought.

It was around 5 AM so I went to the main square thinking that there should be a bar o a restaurant open and that I could have something to drink and wait for daylight. It just happens that everything was closed in Tarapoto. Not even a place for a coffee. So I walked around the square looking for even an emolientera but found a weird group of people sitting around a corner. Didn’t look friendly nor much safe so I just looked at the night sky and whistled away to go back and seat in the sidewalk in front of the tourist information office.

I waited around the main square until daylight came. In the meantime, I saw some men wearing orange overalls. A few were around the square, later many came and sat by the steps at the Continental bank office. They were the workers building the highway between Tarapoto and Yurimaguas. Later, as I thought of taking them a picture and was taking my camera out they started yelling “picture!, picture!” in English. I hesitated. And a bus came and parked between us. It was their time to go have breakfast before starting to work.

Daylight came, got to the Hotel Cielo -3 blocks away from the main square- 45 soles, including private bathroom, cable TV, a fun -no air conditioning at that fare- and pool use. The hotel is clean, looks quiet but square all around. Functional and clean.

Points of interest here are the tourist information office -that as usual has limited information-, La Muyuna ice cream just a couple of blocks from the main square -they have a shop also at Lima in Angamos with Arequipa ave. so you can try aguaje, camu-camu, copahiba and other exotic flavors without leaving Lima- and La Patarasca. This last one is a restaurant perhaps the best of my trip up to now. They take visa cards and have local dishes with an international touch. You can see here my lunch, a large piece of fresh Paiche fish grilled, a ball of tacacho -smashed bananas with small pieces of chicharron-, some small fried platanitos -sweet bananas- and Chonta salad -the stuff that looks like tagliatelle pasta- over a couch of fresh avocado and tomatos. This tastes like heaven, you gotta try it to believe it. They have many dishes but I can only eat one at a time.

grilled Paiche with Chonta salad

Being a Monday there was not much to do at Tarapoto, even the places at Morales district -including the red light stuff- I was told were not opened or barely. So I stayed downtown, ate nicely and walked a bit planning my visit to Laguna Azul -the Blue Lagoon- next day.

Pedro Ruiz

There is not much to be said about this town. In order to reach Tarapoto from Chachapoyas you have to go to Pedro Ruiz and catch a bus there as no direct buses are available

The cheapest way to go happens to be the most comfortable one as well. CIVA buses going to Chiclayo leave at around 6 PM every day and charge 7 soles to Pedro Ruiz. Mine left at 7 PM but you know how it is. If you are average or a little tall you will appreciate the extra leg room. There are also cars -like taxis- that charge 15 soles and leave when they are full.

CIVA buses leave you in an intersection with the main highway from the coast to Tarapoto. You have to wait there until a bus arrives and stops to pick passengers. Don’t listen to the car drivers that wait there, they told me that “the only” way to reach Tarapoto was from Nueva Cajamarca, so I had to take a ride with them to there and they asked 30 soles. A complete lie.

I just waited less than 45 minutes and got a bus -also from CIVA- that charged me 35 soles to Tarapoto.

Got a seat by a window and slept a bit of the way.

Kuelap

The journey to Kuelap started at 5:30 AM. We were only two people -Andy, a guy from the UK and me- in a station wagon taxi cab. Weather was good. We went by a few small villages like this one, New Tingo built after the river took off “old” Tingo

New Tingo main square

There I noticed that while boys went to school with boots and thick rubber sole shoes most of the girls were using only flip-flops or similar shoes. Wondered if that was related to families expending -or “investing”- more in boys than in girls in the same family. Who knows.

Finally we arrived to Choctamal where we would have breakfast and pick up 2 more passengers.

Breakfast took forever -I only asked for a coca tea at first but requested scrambled eggs a little later. A funny detail was to notice they served us pop corn in a small dish as part of the breakfast. The two other passengers were a French speaking couple, although the guy was Peruvian as he could appropriately use “rapidito nomás”, “caaarajo”, “su yapita” and other of our expressions.

On the way

A few turns and ups and downs later we were arriving to the parking lot close to the ruins. A short path took us to the starting point.

Entrance to Kuelap

from the entrance

The site consists of a series of platforms, each built as the city evolved. About 500 circular houses -more like huts- are found here and Archaeologists say that approximately 4000 people inhabited this city, all with different tasks and occupations. The ones having the rhomboid ornamentation are supposed to belong to the the higher ranking members as no utilitarian objects -like “batanes”- were found there.

Houses

frisos

This is an impressive place

And it is huge indeed.

Not all of this is yet cleaned up, some areas have trees and forest all around and some ruins are still covered in mud or heavy vegetation. A nice thing to find are the many wild orchids that grow among other trees and bushes.

Orchids

This view is part of the way out -or in, who knows for sure?- of the site. Watching in person is more impressive as the sheer height of the walls and stonework make you feel small in comparison.

On the way out

Chacha people seem to have had a sense of ornamentation that goes beyond rhomboid stones only, as shown by this carved figure, one of the many on the stone passage above.

Cat like?

We were the only people in the whole site. While walking around and listening to Edgar explanations I found out that the French couple was actually Pedro, a Peruvian guide who traveled all around Peru with the people who booked his services through the internet in trips customized to the traveler’s request.

I told him about my time climbing and traveling and later guiding. We got kind of a good connection as we knew places and had experienced many of the most wonderful places this country has to offer. Sadly, places unknown for most of the people living here.

After all was seen and done we were supposed to return to Choctamal to have lunch. But Pedro proposed to walk down to Tingo. There is a path that leaving Tingo reaches Kuelap in 5 hrs up and supposedly 3 hrs down. Checking with Edgar and Pedro the descent was supposed to be 800 m. that is the difference in altitude between Kuelap and Tingo, not the linear distance that we would walk. I made a wild guess, it’s been a long while since my last trek and in spite of the many treks, climbs and adventures I did in the past I had not really done anything like that recently. But I had been in the gym till last October, and swam pretty often after that. So I thought it should be OK.

We decided to walk down to Tingo and requested Edgar to have our lunch taken there.

Andean paths have usually two ways, a swervy one with a gentler slope, usually employed when taking cargo in animals, and another almost vertical that cuts through the turns of the first one, to descend as fast as possible.

For using this second one you need strong legs, good reflexes and also good sense of equilibrium as your feet will slide down due to the ground composition and you will bounce in the larger rocks in order to quickly switch directions and/or reduce your speed. Or perhaps step onto a small flat area and stop.

You don’t really descend, you control your fall.

A bit like skying.

And it’s great fun.

So I was having great fun while doing this and remembering times and places past. For 2/3 of the way until we reached a large stone slope. We had descended +900 m. and rain was coming as we could see in the hills up front. Soon. The Hi-Tech trekking boots I got in Lima were comfortable to travel but not really good for trekking as I could feel the small stones through the rubber sole.

That’s the point I stopped as I felt my legs weak. Had something to drink and then continued. But as I said, my legs were a bit shaky and i could not really continue as fast as I had been doing it. So I started to walk slowlier with a more rigid step -robocop like- as my muscles were sore. Rain started. More than raining it was pouring down and I got wet in no time. I mean, soaking wet. Went past the rocky area and the path continued over the hillside, a muddy path as water was running down through it. Never mind, I am used to rely on my boots and step into some streams like this and continue with dry feet, protected by the boots. For that the Hi-Techs worked Ok. But with the mud in the soles my boots felt like Frankenstein shoes.

Suffice to say that the last part of the way, enjoyable as it was along the riverside was a bit of a pain to me as I had stretched beyond my current capabilities. I was walking completely wet with the pace of an old man. It took me an hour more than Andy and Pedro, as both started running down the last part -which was gentler- as the rain started.

Me, I wanted to jump in the river as I felt I swam better than I could trek at that point. And float along until the Tingo village.

Finally I arrived to Tingo.

They thought something had happened to me as they saw me running down along with them and then disappeared from sight. I explained I got really tired legs in the last part so I slowed down. To my pride, I was the only one not falling and getting his pants -or back- soiled.

But I was reaaly tired.

Checking the GPS the vertical distance was +1300 m. A little more than I was told.

Do it if you can, the sights are nice, as the path goes aside people’s homes and you can have some nice sights of Andean life.

You will not regret it.

And you can then spend the next day lazing around the town.