Wet, Wild

12 Mar

Maike and I during a whitewater rafting trip of the Rio Mayo

It’s now March, still in the rainy season here (the last 7 days have each featured heavy downpours), and I have now passed the half-way mark of my scheduled time here in Tarapoto. I’d be hard-pressed to think of another equivalent period of 5+ months which flew by and simultaneously seemed much, much longer due to the sheer number of new and interesting experiences and challenges packed into what is really a short amount of time.

Carnavale mayhem during a massive water balloon fight in the streets

While I haven’t written here as frequently in the new year, and will save the latest of many work-related advances for another post, 2012 has seen a lot of new events and people. Most notable has been the arrival of two McKinsey consultants, Sarah from San Francisco and Gaby from Mexico City, who have been welcome additions to our crew. While work has kept us all quite busy and I haven’t done much sexy travel of late, we have had our share of excitement, including a whitewater rafting trip on the Rio Mayo and engaging in a massive town-wide water balloon fight as part of a Carnavale celebration in the town of Rioja.

Additionally, there has been my unfortunate involvement playing on the office fulbito (a rough-and-tumble version of soccer played on a miniature field). Given how absolutely terrible I am at soccer, it’s a wonder I’m still allowed and encouraged to play in our weekly matches; I suspect I may be there just for humor value, like when a shot at close range hit me square in the nuts, and as I staggered about gasping for air the players on both teams and all the spectators in the stands spent a full minute chuckling heartily at the brown gringo…

While on the subject of activities which I ineptly embarrass myself at, I recently began taking weekly salsa lessons. After months here of envying the fluid and sexy dancing of the locals at bars and nightclubs, I finally signed up for classes with Tarapoto’s self-appointed “profesor de baile“, Fernando, who fits every stereotype of a Latino dancer with slick moves. I have now had my first two classes, which I am taking with a partner–a young single mother named Reina–and have confirmed that the intricacies and rhythm of dance do not come naturally to me. Still, I’m gamely trying, and remain amused that each time Fernando chastises Reina for not dancing sexily enough, he berates her for moving like an Americana instead of a Latina. (He then proceeds to very convincingly demonstrate the coquettish manner a Latina should dance in… oy!)


That's going to leave a mark

As alluded to in the comments of my last post, I did experience one hiccup with my motorcycle early on.  The very next day after writing about my triumphant early experiences, I took a pretty hard spill while going too fast on a wet road on which sand had been poured out onto.  As can be seen from the picture at right, I quite painfully took a chunk of skin off my forearm and sprained my wrist, the latter of which still hurts due to my ill-advised policy of “benign neglect”.

Worse yet was that in the sweaty, dusty setting that is Tarapoto, that wound quickly became infected.  A few days later I found myself using the scissors on my Swiss army knife to cut away loose clumps of infected skin from a surface that looked like moldy cream cheese.  That didn’t quite do the trick, and when my co-worker Renato saw my arm, he was rightly horrified.  What I didn’t expect him to do then was douse my arm in “oxygenated water” and then pull off all the infected skin with his bare hands.  Damn, that hurt!  But the resulting clean, smooth surface (seen in the photo at right) was desperately needed.  Doing my best to keep everything wrapped, it eventually started to heal correctly.

I kept riding, by the way, and actually went nearly a month without a working hand brake, smashed headlight and left taillight, a contorted kickstand, etc. — until finally getting all of those repaired recently.  The wound on my arm has closed up (again; the first time it burst open into a fountain of blood when as goalie during fulbito I blocked a ball right on that spot) and I reckon I will have a huge scar on my arm for years as a reminder of my time here in la selva.

Tarapoto Rising

Concert by Cuban group Charanga Habanera for the inauguration of discoteca Aqua

Meanwhile, the rapid pace of change in Tarapoto itself supports the notion that I must have been here for longer than just 5 months. I soon found when I got here that this was a town on the rise, with land prices supposedly skyrocketing; the formerly dirt-road avenues in the center paved to asphalt; and the local highways (admittedly, they are just single-lane roads in each direction) also completed in that approximate time frame dramatically shortening transportation times in between and out of the region. It was a testament, I recognized, to the recently booming Peruvian economy (7%+ average annual GDP growth since 2005) and significant government and private investment in infrastructure in the area.

More recently though have been the tangible signs of new money and people (from Lima and other cities) coming to Tarapoto. In the past few months, pretty much every week has seen some relatively upscale sort of establishment open, and in many cases defying my expectations by thriving. This includes the opening of the Exotic gourmet chocolate boutique in the plaza (with ingredients like sea salt and pisco in bombons); the reportedly $2.5 million (yes, USD) mega-nightclub Aqua in the Morales district, whose 8,000-person capacity and booming sound system dwarf my going-out experiences back home; an indoor, illuminated fulbito pitch with synthetic turf, a raised roof, bleachers, and concessions; a multiplex cinema under construction, as well as the outpost of Lima pizzeria Rustica; a new 24-hour restaurant called Fast Food Amazonico whose sleek, cosmopolitan design calls to mind the Vapiano’s chain back home; and the buzz that Lima grocery chains Metro and Plaza Vea are looking to open outposts here in the near future.

It’s easy to get carried away with the excitement of being in a place on the cusp of rapid transformation. I’m still sure I belong in a proper big city elsewhere — whether back in the States or remaining in Latin America remains to be seen — but I wouldn’t blame anyone for wanting to try and get a piece of the action here. That seems to be what my American roommate and co-worker Dan has decided: to stay here and start his own business… exact details TBD. For weeks now, I’ve enjoyed back-and-forth discussions about all sorts of possible ventures to get involved in, ranging from wholesale supplying of mini-marts to a marketing consulting service to an upscale coffee shop, and as a thought exercise fleshing some of these ideas out on paper. For example, embedded below is a pitch I developed to start my own bar/grill:

Well, for now at least, it’s a good bit of escapism that is more fun that confronting the reality of knowing what I will be doing with my life come July!


7 Responses to “Wet, Wild”

  1. Eli March 12, 2012 at 1:27 pm #

    Hmm, as your proposal for Gringos has a strong consulting feel, I am willing to offer my services as a burger consultant for an exorbitant hourly rate…

    Glad to read you’re doing well in Peru!


  2. nj March 12, 2012 at 1:31 pm #

    the title of this post is ‘wet, wild’
    it should be ‘scarred: my arm, dancing ability, and soccer skills’

    • jen March 19, 2012 at 4:11 pm #


      haha and leave it to nikhil… =p

      also – i noticed you used “sexy” twice in this post. perhaps the latina influence? 😉

    • Jay November 9, 2013 at 3:27 pm #

      Ha, I realize this post’s title made more sense when I had originally included an opening section about the torrential rains of the monsoon season.

  3. véro March 12, 2012 at 8:19 pm #

    Love your business proposal! It would probably work you know! But how about adding an organic and fair trade component to your business proposal…?? hehe

  4. Andrew T March 14, 2012 at 2:10 am #

    AUGH arm! I hope you got your hands on some real antiseptic after you scraped off that infection, man.

    That is crazy-sounding development going on – I’m sure it’s all due to the consulting efforts of your organization 🙂 I picture it as a time lapse video of a moderate town turning into, say, Rockville (or should I dream bigger?). Speaking of which, you MUST open Gringos now, if only to try to be the only place in Peru to get Old Bay seasoning!

    I’ve been wondering, is there a connotative equivalent to the “gringo” term in the US? I can’t really think of any slang for foreigners that isn’t vaguely offensive, so hopefully it strikes the right middle ground down there. I also wondered if you thought you’d do all the cooking and selling yourself, since I saw no mention of staff costs; seems like you might want some help to cover your butt when things get busy or you need a night off 🙂

    Nice catching-up post. Try not to take any more nut shots before next time!

    • AC April 2, 2012 at 4:30 pm #

      Now I feel bad that I forgot to leave my bottle of Cipro behind. Sounds like your arm could have used it…..

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