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The Motorcycle Diaries

2 Feb

A week and a half ago, I bought a secondhand motorcycle off the street. While there were some things wrong with it (broken taillight, non-functioning speedometer and fuel indicator, and a worn out hand brake), the timing and the price worked out quite well. After some good ol’ fashioned haggling, I laid out S/. 1,150 in cash — about $430, to become the proud owner of a used bike.

My previous motorcycle experience was limited to a one weekend course at a community college I took a few years ago, when I had the intention of getting my license and buying a bike. Unfortunately, right after that, I got sent out of town long-term on work travel, and thereafter life as a traveling management consultant extinguished my desire.

Here in Tarapoto, though, where the personal car is still a rarity, virtually everyone gets around on two wheels. (Or three, technically, since half the population rides the three-wheeled motorcycle rickshaws called “mototaxis”.) Since I got here 4 months ago, I’ve had it in the back of my head that I wanted to get back into motorcycles. My Peruvian friend Jean explained the basics of the controls to me (as I had forgotten) and gave me a lesson once where I rode his bike — and that was the extent of my experience.

So of course it seemed like a good idea to just go ahead and buy my own here, to ride around like the locals, jouncing along the rocky dirt roads in my neighborhood or weaving and dodging at high-speed through the madcap traffic in the town center — sans helmet or any other protective gear. At the least, this must prove I don’t have any brain cells to lose in an accident, right?

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Peruvian Thanksgiving

30 Nov

A late Thanksgiving post is better than no Thanksgiving post, right?  Unfortunately I’ve had some stomach woes the past few days, likely stemming from a little over-adventurousness at an out-of-town street food fair.  It’s a little ironic because when I started writing this entry, one of the things I mentioned being thankful for was having been relatively completely healthy after my first week here.  Oops.

But no worries.  What some people call “dysentery”, I call my patented Third World Diet TM, which I hope to someday turn into a successful business catering to supermodels.  “Why deal with the unpleasantness and cravings of starving yourself,” I’ll tell them, “when you can eat all of these delicious  juanes, cebiche, and paiches a la parilla, and still melt away the pounds?”

Below, details of my Peruvian Thanksgiving (Dia de Acción de Gracias), hosting a “North American-style” barbecue, trying “pantie rippers” and local “drunk food”, and more.

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Chasing Waterfalls

14 Nov

The alarm clock went off on Sunday morning at what seemed like mere minutes after my head had hit the pillow.  After a late night dancing at the discoteca my beauty rest was being sacrificed because Yun, Vero, our Liman buddies Fernando and Jean, Vero’s visiting friend Camille, and I had made plans to visit the nearby Catarata de Huacamaillo — a scenic local waterfall that we had been told would be a pleasant 45 minutes with a hired guide.

We met up at the colectivo station near my house, squeezing the 6 of us into one taxi by having Fernando and I sit in the trunk.  The ride to the town of San Antonio de Cumbaza actually wasn’t uncomfortable, though along the way we encountered yet another one of the vigilante groups in this area manning a makeshift roadblock.  It’s pretty customary here to see these groups, often featuring a few armed men and some assorted hangers-on, stopping all cars and asking (demanding) for small donations (bribes) before they let you pass.  The vigilantes claim they are providing security on the road — the idea being, I suppose, that legitimized highway robbers are better than the alternative.

Fording the River > Caulking the Wagons and Floating

The hike itself was a lot of fun, reminiscent in many ways of Great Falls back home in the D.C. area with big rock scrambles and a trail following a river.  That said, it was very different from what we were anticipating, thanks to us not hiring a guide and the route being entirely unmarked and often difficult to make out.  Also, the previous two days of torrential rains had turned the tiny stream intersecting the trail in several places into something else entirely — we had to wade through waist or even chest-high water during multiple crossings of the Cumbaza River, clambered over huge and slippery boulders, squelched through mud, and frequently lost the proper trail.  Luckily, the nearest we came to an Oregon Trail-style disaster was Yun losing a sandal and Fernando falling headlong into the water during separate crossings.  But after roughly 3 hours, we finally reached our destination.

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48 Hours

10 Oct


Eight days into my Peruvian adventure, I don’t have much in the way of comparison as to a “typical weekend”, but in the past 48 hours I have survived an uncomfortably close call in a taxi, drank snake-infused liquor, eaten beetle larvae (video embedded below) and fried jungle ants, thrown a big house party, and seen/done a whole lot more worth remembering.

Video: I attempt to cajole Johan into eating grubs with me

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Hot in Herre

5 Oct

I Wanna Take My Clothes Off

The first thing you notice when you arrive in Tarapoto is the heat.  It’s stifling.  The second thing you notice is the humidity.  It leaves you drenched in sweat at all times.  Office life (and Office Space) back in the States had me convinced that an air-conditioned cubicle farm is where dreams go to die, but after my time in Peru I’m sure I’ll be able to see a little value in filing “TPS reports” as long as it’s in a climate-controlled environment.

Mercifully, the office shuts down from 1-3pm, which is about the hottest part of the day.  This Tarapotan siesta is both a lunch break and sometimes the opportunity to return home for a shower.  (Other times, it’s the only chance to even have a semi-functional Internet connection in the office, since otherwise a few dozen people are sharing one not-that-broadband connection, hijacked from the router of another NGO based on the first-floor of our two-story building.)

Per, the average monthly highs in my town:

Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec
91° 90° 89° 89° 89° 88° 88° 91° 90° 90° 91° 91°

Darn, too bad I wasn’t here during the “winter” — I bet July’s crisp, cool 88° would feel marvelous…

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