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Land of the Cloud People

14 Jun

Standing over the valley which the ancient fortress of Kuelap overlooks

This past weekend I traveled to Chachapoyas, a town in northern Perú which shares its name with the province which it lies in.  Although the area is relatively undeveloped and lacking in infrastructure, it features a wealth of stunning natural beauty and some impressive archaeological sites — a supremely underrated tourist destination.  The drive up from San Martin was 5 hours in a combi (shared van) from Moyobamba, itself 2 hours from Tarapoto.  Far from being taxed, though, I was enthralled by the beautiful scenery, especially the ethereal “cloud forests” we drove through on the route: lush valleys and seemingly enchanted mountains where the treetops — and at times, the highway — disappeared into the fog. Chachapoyas sits at over 7,500 feet over sea level, and the night’s chill which greeted my arrival was a firm reminder that I wasn’t in my hot-and-humid jungle anymore.

My fellow Technoserve consultant Rachelle and I had come up here to see Kuelap, the so-called “Machu Picchu of the north”. But first on the agenda, thanks to fortuitous timing, was attending the massive Raymi Llacta street festival. All day Saturday and for much of the night, Chachapoyas was the scene of a colorful, vibrant party. Thousands of people from dozens of nearby little towns participated in a snaking, hours-long parade; many wore traditional garb, danced, and sang; they celebrated native culture, agriculture, and pop culture; and at night, bonfires burned on the four corners of the town’s main square while loud music boomed out.

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Citadels and Sunsets

16 Apr

My family at Machu Picchu

I’m back in Tarapoto after a week-long vacation, one which got off to a rough start when I was robbed in Lima of my laptop and camera.  Luckily, the ensuing arrival of my family and our subsequent adventures went a long way in helping me put that incident behind me.

Like President Ollanta Humala and his family, my family’s Semana Santa (Easter week) was spent visiting Cusco and Machu Picchu before returning to Lima.

Due to the short nature of this visit, they could not come see what my life in Tarapoto is like, but between seeing Peru’s most famous tourist site, the capital city, and having less-common experiences like piling into a colectivo (shared taxi) on rural roads–my mom’s eyes popped at seeing a family stuffed into the trunk of the car we were riding in–they nonetheless had an unforgettable time.

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Robbed in Lima

4 Apr

I arrived in Lima two days ago for a week-long vacation scheduled to really get under way tomorrow with the arrival of my family in Peru.  Unfortunately, I hit a bit of a speed bump this evening.

While sitting at an outdoor cafe right off Parque Kennedy in Miraflores around 8:30pm, catching up with my friend Maike, my little drawstring backpack was stolen.  In the space of just a few minutes between us ordering and receiving our drinks, a man managed to use a knife or something to slit the straps of the backpack, which was slung securely over the chair I was sitting in, and carry it off without me feeling it.  Maike–who was sitting right next to me and looking at me the entire time–didn´t notice a thing.  Neither did the couple who was sitting right behind me, nor the security guard standing just feet away.  Inside my backpack was my trusty Canon S90 digital camera, and more consequentially, my laptop.

While in the States I make use of an external hard drive to backup my files, that is a luxury I have not had in Tarapoto.  I just lost all of my photos from 6+ months in Peru, the entirety of my Technoserve work files, all of my music, personal documents, Photoshop, etc.  While many things are replaceable or replaceable at a cost (guess I know what my just-received 2011 tax refund is going toward), the first two items are mostly not, and that is truly a crushing blow.

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Buenas Fiestas

13 Jan Larcomar Mall in Lima at sunset

I spent the Christmas holidays, through New Year’s, traveling around Peru, specifically in and around the two largest cities — Lima, the capital, and Arequipa.  I was lucky to be joined by friends from the States — Abhi, his sister Adithi, and Glenn — for much of the time, and local friends for the rest.

Below, a few vignettes and some photos to illustrate the beauty and excitement of some parts of the country that are very different from my small town in the jungle.

El Misti casts an imposing presence over Tarapoto

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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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