The Adventure has started. After flying half a day and an entire night ( Tucson – Dallas – Miami – Lima – Iquitos – it was a free flight) with no sleep, as I cannot sleep sitting up, I crashed at the Hostel Friday and didn’t get up until the next morning.
Ebencio, one of the villagers who now lives in Iquitos, picked me up at the airport and took me on today’s excursion. He owns a motocarro, a motorcycle to which is attached a seat, wide enough for three Peruvians or two Americans, on two wheels with good shocks and a metal frame with a plastic roof. The breeze is nice, but all of the emissions are right in your face. Nobody rides bicycles in this town. I must have seen a thousand motorcycles, another thousand motocarros, a couple of trucks, one or two cars, and a few buses, only one of which had glass in its windows. I guess most people would consider this ahead of China, where most everyone is on a bicycle.
I am taller than most of the populace who range from a nice carmel color to crème caramel, all with black hair. (A few kids have stared at my blonde hair.) Here in Iquitos the women are most often in spray-on jeans or shorts, and sandals, except for los indigenes who wear nicely embroidered blouses and skirts. I’ve seen a few pairs of high heels, worn with jeans. The men wear sensible shoes and slacks or jeans or knee-length shorts and sandals. Our hostel (Hostal La Pascana, www.pascana.com ) is not air-conditioned, nor was the place I ate lunch, and the humidity is high, but pleasant with a fan.
My guide is Eulogio. His speaks his native language, as does Ebencio, Spanish, and some English. Both men are very nice and quite young. Today we first bought me the rain boots I need for the jungle, S/.18 (S/. = soles, the national currency) at 2.75 soles to the dollar, much cheaper than the US. I’ll leave them here when I depart.
Then we went to the Quistacocha Parque-Zoologico on the outskirts of town. Saw the jungle animals, pumas, jaguars (immense!), ocelots, tigrillos, parrots, only one of which could say helo, many different kinds of turtle and caiman, huge tapirs, cavies and large capybaras (see photo), all in relatively small cages. In small aquariums there were electric eels and piranhas (both reasons not to swim in the river!). In large concrete pools fishes two meters long that we barely could see as the water was so murky. And one sad dolphin (mammal) who, wanting attention, brought us a few stones from the bottom of the pool, put his head up on the side to look at us better, and lay his tailfin on the side, I guess to say Helo. Poor thing had nothing to do and no one to play with. Thousands of leaf-cutter ants crossing the paths. Not the Desert Museum, although our pumas have little space (albeit sculpted nicely as rocks) either. Many different kinds of monkeys. The monkeys and the dolphin looked so sad, the big cats bored (except at one point when a family with two young children stepped next to us and the jaguar prowled up with a look that said Food), and the poor owls and hawks had no space to fly.
My friends arrived and we dined at their favorite restaurant where they have gotten to know the owner and her family, who live upstairs. They brought simple presents and spent the first quarter hour hugging and talking; the 11-year-old son loved his small Lego set, the mother was very pleased with the low-cut blouse, but the 13-year old daughter had grown and probably wouldn’t fit into her new T-shirt. The upstairs porch looks out to the malecon (see photo), the walkway along the river, full of people and music, but not a breeze. It is very humid here, but Mary says it is “cool”. Right. I have the fan on in my room on high.
Jim is working with cinco amigos from the village. In the morning a discussion (over breakfast at lo mismo restaurante) on which fruit trees that he bought last year survived and which died.
Talked about buying chicken wire to build a coupe so that the vampire bats don’t kill the ducks, geese, guinea hens. (The bats don’t regulate themselves well and over weeks kill their prey, cows, chickens, whatever.) Jim brought, from the US, Peking and Muscovy duck eggs, Chinese goose eggs, and guinea hen eggs which he now has incubating.
Jim says that if they’ll make a communal garden he’ll buy them a water tank with a solar panel on top to power a pump to bring water from the river so that they needn’t carry l’agua in buckets for the garden. (All of this en Espanol; wish I’d gotten Spanish tapes to listen to before I came and wish I’d remembered my Spanish phrase book.) This photo of Jim and his men at their La Noche “office”.
Meanwhile, Mary gave me an earful on who started which tourist business or research project, and all of the infighting. That’s why I say man is descended from the warlike chimps rather than the peaceful bonobos.
I argued that we divide and conquer. Assigned two guys to buy 26 notebooks and pens for the schools kids and two English/Spanish dictionarios for the two of our group who didn’t have them. We estimated the cost and Mary gave them dinero. Note: Mary said that Fujimori, when he was Prez, had elementary schools built in all of the small villages across the country. So in Nuevo Jerusalen (sic) the children should learn to read and write Spanish and glean some knowledge of the world beyond the jungle.
The Boat Builder
We spent a few boring hours at the boat builder´s while Jim worked on convincing the guy that his internet plans for a large wood canoe could be made in aluminum. In the cavernous and dusty shop were three old boats of different sizes, two gigantic tanks for water (?), a few guard rails, many huge rolls of heavy-gauge aluminum, light-weight plywood patterns, and in the back, one guy cutting a sheet, with much difficulty, with a small electric saw. Inspected the welds, and they were pretty bulky and not filed clean, but cutting a circle, por ejemplo, esta dificile and the cut may not be smooth, so the large weld fills in the voids.
The Internet Café
Then we (en mass), driving and riding in three motocarros, went to one of the internet cafes (couldn’t find one air-conditioned) where Jim and Ebencio, the only computer literate one of the group, worked with the other four for an hour on individual computers. I showed them my blog, but as none of them can speak or read English, they just looked at the photos on my Amazon blog. (The entire back of the “café” was full of boys playing war games and whooping it up.)
The Lost City of Z
I just finished reading David Grann’s The Lost City of Z (on the NY Times best-seller list), true accounts of explorations around here 100+ years ago. Here is the best paragraph:
…it wasn’t the big predators that he and his companions fretted about most. It was the ceaseless pests. The samba ants that could reduce the men’s clothes and rucksacks to threads in a single night. The ticks that attached like leeches (another scourge) and the red hairy chiggers that consumed human tissue. The cyanide-squirting millipedes. The parasitic worms that caused blindness. The berne flies that drove their ovipositors through clothing and deposited larval eggs that hatched and burrowed under the skin. The almost invisible biting flies called piums that left the explorers’ bodies covered in lesions. Then there were the “kissing bugs” which bite their victim on the lips, transferring a protozoan; twenty years later, the person, thinking he has escaped the jungle unharmed, would begin to die of heart or brain swelling. Nothing, though was more hazardous than the mosquitoes. They transmitted everything from malaria to dengue fever to elephantiasis to yellow fever…
The banks were closed from noon to 2:30 Saturday when I was out and about so I missed changing more money and was down to my last dos soles. Dumb, dumb, dumb. Should have changed todos mis dolares a el aeropuerto en Lima viernes. Mary hadn’t changed much money either. So while Jim was working with his guys on the design of the lodge (Jim had brought a balsa model that he had constructed), we went to a bank. You took a number and screens showed you which teller window to go to, just like the Tucson DMV. First we took tickets from one machine, but noticed that the screen above the teller windows had single letters while our tickets had double. In my very poor Spanish I asked the woman sitting next to me. We figured out we’d used the wrong number machine; ours was for people opening accounts. So we went to the other machine. One button was for account holders, the other for non. We pushed non and got new tickets, but the man behind us put his card through a few times to give us new tickets, which, as he pointed out (in Spanish) looked like they were ready to be called, as opposed to the others which might have been a half-hour wait.
Ok, we were called. First the teller looked at every single bill and rejected any if it had been folded too much and the face (Jackson or Franklin) was slightly obscured or if the bill had a tiny rip or a pen mark on it. $260 rejected! When she counted out the soles, Mary pointed out that many were folded too much or ripped. (Hah!) The teller said that they were only soles. Anyway, she didn’t have enough soles to give us so we had to sit and wait for half an hour. I imagined a runner exiting by the back door with our money, going to the exchangers on the street (which we are warned not to use) for enough soles for us. After he sneaked back in by the back door, we were called and given the rest of our soles. The whole operation took an hour and a half.
After we reconnoitered with the group at the restaurant, Mary, with the help from los hombres del pueblo (and the waiter, who was fascinated) made uno listo of provisions that we would need for the next tres semaines in the village. I worked on the Spanish translation and questioned los hombres on quantities. Arroz (rice) for doce (12) hombres (et mujeres) por tres semaines (3 weeks). The waiter came up with 66 kilos. The large bags are 50 K so we compromised with one sack. Cuantos evaporated milk – which had to be in small cans because they have no electricity (except from friend Jim’s small solar panel for recharging batteries for the cameras and netbook) and no refrigerator. (Note: in Jamaica people with money in “the bush” have kerosene refrigerators, but these people are too poor.)
Following my divide and conquer we assigned two guys to purchase 20 five-gallon pails with lids, used for everything, including toilets, as my friends bring two toilet seats each year which click onto the buckets. We mujeres went to market with the other three men, who, although only my height, can lift those 50K sacks. Friend Jim had left earlier with the one guy who now lives in Iquitos and has a motocarro, to the boat builder again.
Small open stores along the sidewalk and covered tables in the wide street. Una calle de pollos et huevos. Una calle de arroz. A street of bananas, ropes of bananas covering half of the street, a skinny pig sleeping under a truck, I guess to be sold for food too. Mary bought a bag (50K) of the best rice. (We found no brown rice). Next she wanted a good choice of frijoles, so we walked a few blocks. Rice and beans is lunch todos los días. We found a store with 7 choices : large white, pequito blanco, amarillo (yellow), brown, two kinds of red, and black-eyed peas, plus split peas, but no frijoles negros. We got a kilo of each. A kilo de ajo (garlic), small amounts of bulk oregano, ginger root, bay leaves, cumin, a half-kilo of ground pepper, another half of peppercorns. The villagers use the herb in the soup which they eat daily. Evaporated milk, 24 small cans, 8 rolls of toilet paper, two boxes of tissue, three boxes of herbal tea, a large can of instant cofee from the top shelf, 4 meters up, 10K of spaghetti, which the guys love, dos kilos de sal, dos de azucar, four scouring pads, Clorox to disinfect water, three bath soaps, a large container of a cream hand soap.
All of a sudden the skies opened. The merchants with their tables in the street quickly hang plastic sides around their booths. The motocarro drivers have 2-foot by 3-foot obscure plastic panels hung on strings in front of them with only 2” of viewing area at the top. Pronto, the buses with no window glass now have at least some closed windows. Waves of water splash up the curb and a few optimistic merchants are trying to sweep the water away from their stalls with brooms. A couple of parents put rain ponchos on their young children, but Patti, our desk clerk, has clued us in that it is dorky (not her word) for adults to wear them. (I guess we’ll save ours for the jungle.)
After about 20 minutes it lets up and we continue along the bazaar. Then back to the hostel where the guys piled the buckets, bag of rice, large box of groceries, and whatever else in my friends’ room and we had lunch.
The Department Store
After lunch we plied to the “Chinese Store” as the locals refer to it. Mary finds that the only pillowcases she can purchase, without sheets, are either shocking pink, bright orange, or chartruese. She buys two. The guys direct us to the sports department where she purchases a garish volleyball (yellow, red, blue, green, etc y yo digo que en los estados unidos los vollyballes estan blancos), a volleyball net, and a mid-priced futbol (blanco).
A child – age five – is dancing outside my room in the courtyard in the rain; Lluvia, lluvia in that small voice.
I am finding the people here non-judgmental regarding my espanol. Because I am scooting around Iquitos with friend Mary and our “bodyguards” who speak no English, and she speaks essentially no Spanish, I am trying to remember my three years of high school Spanish, lo cual fue muchos anos atras. (I’m asking the hostel clerk to help me with these words.) Accompanied with a splash of Ingles and much hand signals. I’ve gone from words to sentences to paragraphs (all in present tense, no matter if it’s about manana or ayer), and our guys, young men from the village with as much English as Mary’s Spanish, dice hablo bueno en espanol. (They obviously are trying to curry favor.) My friend Nan, the retired Spanish teacher, would be aghast.
My friends’ room is filling with provisions. Today four cases of beer (S/.3 = $1/ bottle + S/.12/case deposit for plastic caja to be returned), three office-sized jugs of drinking water, T-shirts with Darvinia Reserva and a butterfly (mariposa) on the front, but they had only completed 13 of the 24. Mas tarde aqui. My friends have been paying for most of this , so I get to pay the guy in the village to catch fish and gather vegetables from the community garden for our dinner.
The Drunken American
Met an American this morning at breakfast, very friendly, who said hat he is a structural and seismic engineer, and has done work all over the world (including one section of the road to Mt Lemmon outside of Tucson), has now settled in Iquitos and is married to a native woman. I told him that we ate all of our meals at that restaurant, but he hadn’t’ believed me until we showed up for lunch and he was there again (or still), now drinking his lunch. Jim was already upstairs (which is practically our private office) so I invited Shane to join us.
The more he drank the more he forgot his English, having lived in Iquitos for four years. He and Jim got into a heated discussion on how the Big Powers are ripping off the Indigenes and what can be done about it. Shane had shared his breakfast with a young kid, so I asked about that. Said his mother had died and he became a street urchin, selling drugs, sleeping on the malecon. Shane had befriended him and has been teaching him snatches of reading and writing of Spanish for years. (He also teaches English at the University, he said.) He is now disaffected by the culture, told stories of the poor monkeys in cages being sold on the malecon, and other such tales, hence the drinking.
The Scavenger Hunt
I spent the morning typing this blog into my friend’s netbook, joined them for lunch, and off to The Road of Building Supplies, particularly cement to set posts, a metal roof ridge, and five large rolls of welded wire for the goose/duck/guinea hen enclosure. (All of this piled in the back of our motocarros. We are paying two extra drivers by the hour.)
At three corners of the intersection were live chick and feed stores, and one also had parakeets, rabbits, and guinea pigs (for pets or eating?) The guys discussed how much bird food to buy for the existing birds (Jim bought 2 ducks last year and now they have 12, but some are probably the Muscovy ducks they previously had) and the incubating-eggs-that-should-soon-be-birds. Decided to try for a month of food and if it molds more quickly they’ll have to boat into Iquitos for more. They grow rice, which they will plant as soon as the flood goes down, corn, sorghum, and millet, but the first crop, rice, won’t be ready for harvest for 3 months.)
Then at a stop at a pharmacy because Juan has a bad fungus on one arm and the doctor’s medicine hasn’t helped. During all of this scavenger hunt it is pouring rain so I’ve borrowed Mary’s tiny point and shoot to get a picture of the motocarros which now have primitive rain screens, a plastic sheet, either semi-transparent or a primary color, although I saw two turquoise, sandwiched between thin pieces of wood top and bottom, and attached to the motocarro roof frame with string. The people on motorcycles are drenched, except for three who are wearing the dorky plastic parkas.
On a two lane road, the yellow line down the center is more of a suggestion. The lane in each direction will hold one bus or 1½ motocarros or 3 motorcycles, and passing seems kinda competitive.
Finally we take off for the nurseries, on the edge of town. The first no longer has a large selection of fruit trees, just a few avocado, so we buy two and zip down the road to the next. The second nursery is huge, going on forever, itself a container jungle within the jungle. Because of the rain (which had stopped), the paths without boards had became thick med. I tried to walk between the pots where plastic had been laid to keep out weeds, but my sandals and feet are all mud. One gorgeous large owl butterfly (the kind that try to rip each other to pieces) flits away before Mary can snap a photo. (This photo from the net.) Mary, unfortunately, brushes against a tree and is showered with tiny biting bugs. (At first she thought that she had hives, but the next morning she had tons of bites with white heads. She tried antihistamine but that didn’t seen to help. She is on the lookout for calamine lotion.) Anyway, the guys decide on a few sweet orange trees and a few mandarin oranges that we’ll have to pick up tomorrow because the small storage area on all three of the motocarros we’re using are already full of building supplies. Envision my friends’ room with all of theses supplies filling it up; luckily they got the one suite of rooms so that they still have a place to sleep.
Small frogs are peeping in the night. When I was a kid there were small toys called crickets, maybe two inches long, two pieces of light-weight metal attached at one end. You clicked the two pieces together and they sounded like a cricket chirp. The frogs sound like that. The proprietor’s dog, enclosed next to my room, has started barking, no doubt at the neighbor cat, a pretty calico, who walks on the wall above him, just to irritate him I think. The bass rhythm reverberates in the walls from a bar a few doorrs down; the music as repetitive as a broken record, and the rhythm doesn’t match the soft whining of the fan above. A faint light shines through the louver.
I just saw a second man with a tie and yesterday the first motorcyclist with a helmet.
Started today (despues de desayuno) at the Scotia Bank, another attempt to exchange our wrinkled American money for wrinkled Peruvian money. Air-conditioned! Got our numbers (at the correct machine!) and while waiting a man dropped a better number in my lap, no doubt noticing our confusion, or maybe it’s Be Nice to Tourists month. So we only had half an hour wait and the teller took all of our money!! These had been the rejected bills! We’re now flush with soles. Of course, we ‘d told our “bodyguards” we’d be at least an hour, so they’d gone off on another errand, purchasing large plastic sacks to hang food from tree limbs to keep it dry, while we sat in the air-conditioning. Darn!
First went to the International Bookstore where I thought I’d find a kids’ book about Peru in English. Not so. All kids books in Spanish. (Jim has a great one, On the Banks of the Amazon/En las orillas del amazonas, by Nancy Kelly Allen, in Spanish and English, that I’ll order from Amazon – notice the coincidence – for my granddaughter and Mary suggested Capyboppy by Bill Peet, a story – in English – about a capybara.) Mary also showed me a nice book about our area (Forest of Visions by Alex Polari de Alverga, for myself); it was $16.95 but S/.68, n ot the best exchange rate. Guess I’ll get that in the US too.
Next to the used bookstore where the guys go. From the S/. bin got a condensed version of Les Miserables in Spanish which I gave to Orlando (our usual “bodyguard”) and he picked out a bunch of books for the school kids, for me to buy. Mary got similar stuff for them.
The Boat builder, Part 3
Jim and his driver, Ebencio, went back to the aluminum boat builder to find that the guy couldn’t figure out the plans, so wouldn’t take the job (for S/.10,000!) Ebencio said he’d make the plywood patterns (for which Jim had already bought the plywood) and put them together to show the beat builder how to do it. We’ll see how that goes. Then they went on a wild goose chase trying to find a simple lawn sprinkler which Jim thinks should be used on the 100 duck eggs incubating, as wet ducks usually sit on them. None in Iquitos.
After lunch went back to the hostel to type this blog, first on Mary’s netbook so that I’m not paying for internet time, then after transferring it to my thumb drive (which I had put in a special place in my suitcase which took quite a time to find), then to the hostel’s one internet computer (although they do have wifi, Mary can’t seen to connect on her netbook so thinks there’s a chip not working.) The “@” isn’t where it’s supposed to be. Turns out it’s a CTRL ALT 2. Who knows why. And wordpress won’t take bmp’s, only jpg’s; I had to convert some photos. So after fighting with the netbook, which seems to jump from paragraph to paragraph as I’m tying , right in the middle of a word, I know I’m hitting the keys but I can’t catch myself doing it, I have to deal with a computer totally in Spanish. Don’t even know where REFRESH is. The proprietor, Rosa, helps. (Her English is excellent, as the hostel has been in the family for generations.) Obviously I got it right ‘cause you’re reading this.
Peru´s National Drink
I asked the waiter what was the Peruvian national drink. Pisco he said and suggested a Pisco Sour, so I had one for dinner. Not as good as a margarita, but good.
During the XVI century grape vines were brought to Peru from the Canary Islands by the conquistador Marquis Francisco de Caravantes. In the first years of Spanish colonisation, the production of wine expanded throughout Peru. It must be pointed out that the first wine making in South America took place at the Marcahuasi farm in Cuzco in 1560.
Such was the success, that the wine began to be exported from Peru to other Spanish colonies. The worried Spanish wine producers negotiated a ban on this trade with Felipe II in 1614. As a result of this ban, the farming Jesuit monks shifted the emphasis of their trade and intensified production of grape liqueurs using pre-Inca style earthenware containers also known as Piscos. These entrepreneurs went out and found new markets throughout Christendom.
These early endeavours established the foundation for major international growth in the trading of Pisco during the XVII and XVIII centuries. This resulted in new centres of production particularly Ica and Moquegua, where production was further enhanced by developing viticulture techniques.
Types of grapes used
Pisco was initially made from ‘Quebranta’ grapes, a local non aromatic variety of the black grape brought from Spain, that gives it a very particular and characteristic flavour. This drink is known as ‘Pure Pisco’ and is also obtained from the distillation of other non-aromatic selected grapes, such as ‘Mollar’ and ‘Negra Corriente’. There is also an ‘Aromatic Pisco’ obtained from the distillation of aromatic Muscat grapes such as ‘Italia’, ‘Moscatel’, ‘Torontel’ and ‘Albilla’. A third type is the ‘Acholado’, obtained from the mixture of aromatic and non-aromatic grapes. Finally, you can find the ‘Mosto Verde’, which is distilled from unfermented grape juice.
The only Pisco producing areas in the world are located within the coastal areas of the Departments of Lima, Ica, Arequipa, Moquegua and the valleys of Locumba, Sama and Caplina in the Department of Tacna in Peru.
Pisco is produced using both ancient and modern techniques and can be enjoyed in its pure form or used to prepare various cocktails, such as the well-known “Pisco Sour”. This is served in the best restaurants in Latin America and throughout the world. It can also be mixed with other liqueurs, fruit juice or soft drinks. The main markets for Pisco are currently United States, Chile, Costa Rica, Venezuela and Canada.
Ingredients: 3 shots Pisco, 2 shots sugar, 1 shot lime juice, 1 egg white, 6 ice cubes
Preparation: The sugar should be dissolved in the Pisco before adding the lime. Whizz in a blender, or shake. Add a dash of Angostura.
My feet are incredibly swollen. Maybe I’ve gotten elephantiasis .
We’re wrapping up here in Iquitos. The boatman who is transporting us tomorrow to the village wanted to see how much stuff we have. After looking at my friends’ room, he said we needed two boats. The 8-person one that we had reserved (after scrambling down a muddy bank, balancing on narrow wobbly boards over the water, and boating in a rowboat through thick water hyacinths, past the house boats, complete with kids not in school, laundry hung on line, chickens and a dog or two, to the boatman’s abode), can only hold us three, one of our guys, and most (not all) of the supplies, for S/.2,500! I think it’s the red one in the photo. The other four guys will take a bus, with the rest of the stuff, to Nauta, catch a boat to the village of Jaldar, then hike for about half an hour to Nuevo Jerusalen. We’ll be boating down the river all day.
Met an Austrian at “our” restaurant and invited him to join us at lunch. He has worked all around the world, speaks, in addition to his native German, English, and Spanish, Turkish, Afrikaans, and another language I’ve forgotten. He met a Peruvian woman here and after a few years back and forth, settled here for an early retirement. Bought a couple of acres out of town, built a house, and has a little daughter. Told us about the Campinsano movement, where the government confiscated land and gave it to the Indigenes with the proviso that they must use it or it gets taken away. That goes for everybody; if anyone doesn’t use the land for crops, house, whatever, it will be confiscated. Also told us he was friends with Walter Saxer, who was the producer of Fitzcarraldo, among many other movies, and who takes tourists through Casa Fitzcarraldo. (If you haven’t seen the movie, Fitzcarraldo, rent it. Another Saxer movie you may know is Nosferatu.)
Just a note: On my friends´ last trip Mary said the guides found a Fer-de-lance. Just in case I don´t return, you´ll know why.
Fer-de-lance is a venomous pitviper species found in the tropical lowlands of northern South America east of the Andes. This species is very dangerous and is the cause of more human fatalities than any other American reptile.