Mundo de Chocolate

10 Jul

Beautifully crafted bombons of Lima-based Roselen Chocolatier

Last week, I attended the 4th annual “Salon del Cacao y Chocolate” in Lima, a showcase for cocoa growers and chocolate makers from all over Perú to present their products to an audience of chocolate industry players, international dignitaries such as the U.S. and French ambassadors, culinary superstars such as Astrid Gutsche, and the general public.

With Cecilia Ortiz, owner of Chocolates D’Cecy

I was there, aside from personal motives of scarfing down diabetes-inducing quantities of free samples, to support three businesses that Technoserve works with in Tarapoto: Exotic Chocolatier (the first chocolate boutique in San Martin province, and producer of amazing bonbons); Nativos Chocolicores (a remarkable success story of a woman entrepreneur who sells chocolates filled with “aphrodisiac” liquor of the region, and who has in the time I have been in Tarapoto, gone from having nothing more than a business plan to making appearances on the national stage); and D’Cecy, a successful local manufacturer of chocolates and snack products such as plantain chips, potato straws, and popcorn.  Over the latter part of my time in Tarapoto, I have worked most closely with Cecy, the namesake owner of the business.

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Festival de San Juan

25 Jun

Estaba lloviendo cerveza en un concierto en Moyobamba para celebrar el festival San Juan

“Va a ser full juerga,” me prometió mi amiga Pilar cuando me invitó a asistir el festival de San Juan en Moyobamba.  Es un feriado para celebrar San Juan el Bautista, y acá en la selva la gente come “juanes” — el plato típico que es un símbolo de la cabeza decapitada de San Juan. Estuve el fin de semana pasado con Pilé y mi amiga americana Rachelle.  Disfrutamos tres días divertidos lleno de comida, cervezas, y música.

Con el hacha para tumbar la umsha

Llegamos viernes en la noche y fuimos directamente a una fiesta de cumpleaños en la casa del hermano de Pilar.  Después fuimos a la discoteca Boulevard 110 (que hace poco se llamaba “Kovashi”) donde nos quedamos hasta las 3 en la mañana.

Casi al final, la música cambió de cumbia y reggaetón a algo nuevo, y me vi bailando algo como la conga alrededor de un poste y tenia un hacha en mi mano.  En ese momento no supe el significado pero lo descubrí el siguiente día.  Esa noche no dormimos más de 3 horas porque nos levantamos tempranito en sábado para ir al centro y armar nuestra umsha.

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Dunes & Degustaciones

18 Jun

Posing with dune buggy at Huacachina

The town of Ica, and the neighboring flyspeck outpost Huacachina, are a five hour bus ride from Lima. Via the Soyuz/PeruBus company (cheaper and less comfortable than Cruz del Sur), tickets run between $10-$15 one-way, and there are departures around the clock every ten minutes on average. My friend Eugene, visiting from the States, made the roundtrip with me this weekend; we were treated on one bus to the Pixar movie Up!, evidently a bootleg DVD with all of its scenes played out of order. (None of the Peruvians on the bus seemed to notice, though perhaps they believed they were watching an animated version of Memento…)

Ica isn’t appealing to look at or spend much time in. But visitors here, if not passing through to view the nearby Nazca Lines, come for largely one reason: the sand dunes. Huacachina is a genuine desert oasis surrounded by miles and miles of sand dunes. Adventurous backpackers flock here for the experience of riding dune buggies and sandboarding down the dunes — which is exactly what Euge and I did this past Sunday morning.

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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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Selva Soundtrack

3 Jun

Rock stars: us with the lead singer and guitarist of Tarapoto’s Sonido 2000

Wedding Crashers

A few weeks ago, on a weekend trip to the nearby lakeside town of Sauce with fellow Technoserve consultants Sarah, Rachelle, and Gaby, we had what passes for here as a major celebrity encounter. Waiting for the same ferry as us to cross the Rio Huallaga was the tour mini-bus of Sonido 2000, Tarapoto’s homegrown most popular band, whose modern style of cumbia is played throughout the region.  Their lead singer, Cheryl Trigozo, happens to be my roommate Dan’s fantasy woman, and it was to his great chagrin later that he wasn’t with us.

Cheryl (wearing a hat in the photo above) was intrigued to meet Americans, especially ones like me who knew a number of the group’s songs and had seen them in concert before.  I tried to facilitate a storybook romance by asking Cheryl to speak to “her biggest American fan”, Dan, via my phone — but was thwarted by the lack of cell signal in the area.  Oh well…  During our brief chat the group let us know that they were playing a private concert for a wedding that afternoon at Laguna Azul.

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