Author Archives: Lorraine Caputo

Three Other Impressive Colombian Archaeological Sites

Colombia’s three most famous ancient archaeological sites are the impressive lost city, Teyuna, in the Sierra Nevada de Santa Marta on the country’s Caribbean Coast, and the enigmatic statues of San Agustín and the wondrous tombs of Tierradentro in the southern part of the nation.

 

Scattered throughout the country, though, are other, lesser-known ruins that travelers should add to their itineraries:

 

El Pueblito. Photo by Andrea Davoust.

  • Also on the Caribbean Coast, on a hilltop within Parque Nacional Tayrona, is another impressive city of the Tayrona people, called Chairama or El Pueblito. A stone road through the lush jungle leads up to these ruins that still preserve the engineering marvels of this nation. Also within Tayrona National Park are other ruins near Cañaveral and Bahía Neguanje.

 

  • Heading inland towards Bogotá, you arrive at the beautifully preserved colonial village of Villa de Leyva. Just to the north is one of Colombia’s most mysterious – and thought-provoking – archaeological ruins: El Infiernito. The main features of this site, officially called Parque Arqueológico de Monquirá, are two stone “forests.” One is an observatory that was used to track the sun’s course throughout the year. The other is a phallic forest that was used for fertility rites. Also on the grounds is an ancient tomb.

 

Muisca phallic monoliths at "El Infiernito" by Erik Cleves Kristensen http://www.flickr.com/photos/erikkristensen/4568477436/

  • Not all of Colombia’s archaeological riches are monuments. The country also has a plethora of petroglyphs, or rock paintings, and ancient stone roads. Near the village of Güicán and Parque Nacional El Cocuy, hikers can explore both. The Camino Deshecho leads past dozens of petroglyphs painted on rock out croppings, before arriving at some delicious hot springs.

 

 

Find out more about Colombia’s hidden archaeological riches in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

New Species Discovered in Peru

National Geographic reports that a new species of night monkey has been discovered in a cloud forest in northern Peru.

The as-yet unnamed species was found by a team of Peruvian and Mexican scientists during a 2009-2011 expedition in Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary, which lies east of Huancabamba, near the Euadorian border.

In total, the biologists found eight new species of mammals related to the common shrew opossum, enigmatic porcupine, small-eared shrew, gray fox, olingo (related to raccoons), and four types of rodents. Additionally, three new varieties of frogs were encountered, including Pristimantis bustamante.

The 28,000-hectare (70,000-acre) Santuario Nacional Tabaconas Namballe protects not only cloud forest, but also páramo grasslands. It is home to an estimated 326 species of bird, 85 species of mammals and 23 species of amphibians and reptiles. The threat of deforestation endangers this reserve, which is also habitat for the mountain tapir and the spectacled bear, both endangered species.

The team of researchers will be returning to Tabaconas Namballe National Sanctuary this November to continue their explorations for more new species, including an orange-skinned porcupine that locals report seeing.

To get a look at these new discoveries, check out the photos at Mongabay.

 

The new edition of V!VA Travel Guides Peru will soon be hitting bookshelves! Be sure to pick up yours – in print of e-book format – before heading out to Peru’s great national parks and ruins.

A New Season in Torres del Paine

After closing last year’s tourism season with a devastating wildfire, Torres del Paine National Park is gearing up for another high season. The thousands of tourists that will be arriving should expect changes.

 

The wildfire began at the end of December 2011, and raged for nearly two months. By the end of February 2012, an estimated 17,606 hectares (43,505 acres) of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine had been destroyed, according to Conaf, the national forest service. The entire park was forced closed until the blaze could be contained. Eventually the northern sector reopened.

 

The Puerto Natales hostel, erratic rock, informs V!VA Travel Guides that burned areas include along the trails in the Las Carretas, Paine Grande Italiano and Paine Grande Grey sectors. Ruth, an erratic rock volunteer says, “There is already new green grass growing, which makes the black even darker, so it is pretty impressive.”

 

Reforestation of the burnt areas of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine has been slow. Thus far, only 10,000 native lenga beech (Nothofagus pumilio) have been planted. Conaf takes national and international volunteers in a variety of positions.

 

The high season opened on October 1. Since then, regular bus service has begun and most refuges opened. The ones at Los Cuernos and Chileno are slated to open October 15, and Refugio Dikson, which forms part of the circuit, will be online November 1. Catamaran service also has begun once daily; at the end of October, it will run twice daily, and as of November 5, three times per day.

 

Prices for the 2012-2013 season are:

* Park entry: 18,000 Chilean pesos (CLP) or $36 USD

* Public bus from Puerto Natales: 15,000 CLP ($30 USD) round trip

* Lago Pehoe catamaran: 12,000 CLP ($24 USD) one way; 22,000 CLP ($44 USD) round trip

* Refuges: 22,500 CLP ($45 USD) per bed, without sheets or meals

* Meals: breakfast 5,500 CLP ($11 USD), lunch 8,000 CLP ($16 USD), dinner 11,000 CLP ($22 USD)

 

Tourists will face many more regulations, especially concerning camping, and more education about park rules. Also, many more patrols will be on the lookout for people who camp in non-designated areas. Drop by erratic rock’s free daily information sessions at 3 p.m. to learn about new changes and about all the challenges you’ll face in Torres del Paine National Park.

 

 

A big thank you to the staff of erratic rock for the above information. Pack along your V!VA Travel Guides Chile for the most complete coverage of Parque Nacional Torres del Paine and the other wonder destinations of the region than any other guidebook on the market.

Earthquake Shakes Colombia

Sunday morning, a 7.3 earthquake struck southern Colombia. The epicenter was at La Vega (Cauca Department), a small village located nine kilometers (six miles) north-northwest of San Agustín, a tourist destination popular for its archaeological statuary sites.

 

For centuries, San Agustín's statues have silently watched the earth move many times. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

The quake, which occurred at 11:31 a.m. local time, was felt in virtually all of Colombia, as well as the northern 10 provinces of Ecuador and in Quito. No deaths have been reported.

 

Fernando Alegría, secretary of the government of La Vega, stated to the newspaper El País (Colombia) that there was no destruction in that village.

 

In Cali, damages were a bit more extensive. Two clinics – Santillana and Rey David – suffered cracks in their walls. One woman was hurt while escaping from her home. In Timbiquí (Cauca Department), near the Pacific Coast, 20 homes were damaged. Popayán, 64 kilometers (40 miles) south-southeast of the epicenter, was only shaken.

 

Bouselahane Amid, general director of Magdalena Rafting in San Agustín, said people felt it very lightly in that town. René Suter, owner of Finca El Maco, states there have been no reports of damages in Colombia’s Archaeological Capital. Apparently none of the region’s numerous ancient sites were affected. The tremor was also slightly felt in Mocoa, 259 kilometers (158 miles) east of San Agustín, according to Felipe Goforit of Hostal Casa del Río.

 

Damage from the strong earthquake was minimal because of the depth of the seismic event –168.3 kilometers (104.6 miles) beneath the surface of the earth.

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

Three Argentine Authors to Read

In the Northern hemisphere, autumn has officially arrived. It is now time to prepare for either hunkering down for the winter, or be like a snowbird and head to warmer climes.

 

Whether you looking for a book to curl up with in front of the fireplace, or a tome to toss into your knapsack before hitting the open road, here are a few classic Argentine authors to read. Their works are available in English and other languages.

 

The epitome of gaucho literature is José Hernández’ Martín Fierro. This slim volume recounts the struggle of the gaucho underclass against the powerful ranch owners. The story is recounted in poetry.

 

Nahuel Sanata con Jorge Luis Borges, por Nahuel Santana http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/10319/fotos/177169/

The most famous of Argentina’s 20th century writers is Jorge Luis Borges. This Buenos Aires native wrote not only poetry, but also short stories. Borges often wove elements of the Kabbalah and other mysticism into his literature, in a pre-Magical Realism style. His opus includes Ficciones, El Aleph and Other Stories and Labyrinths.

 

A contemporary of Borges was Julio Cortázar, who went into exile during the 1976-1983 military dictatorship. His internationally acclaimed novel, Hopscotch (Rayuela) is an avant-garde reading adventure. Readers may choose to read the chapters in any order they wish—much like tossing a stone in the children’s game and skipping from block to block. If that proves a bit mind-boggling, try a collection of his short stories, which are wonderful vignettes of life’s bizarre adventures. Those published in English include Blow-Up: And Other Stories and All Fires the Fire and Other Stories.

Julio Cortázar por anastacia http://www.arteyfotografia.com.ar/4940/fotos/116440/

 

Pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina and venture through that remarkable country with our writers. It is loaded with special articles on the history and culture of Argentina—as well as the best places to go, from de rigueur Buenos Aires to off-the-beaten track pueblos. V!VA Travel Guides Argentina is available in print and e-book formats.

 

VIVA Travel Guides Photo Contests

After sharing your photos of your trip to Peru or Ecuador with family and friends, there’s one more place you can dazzle eyes: the V!VA Travel Guides’ community.

V!VA Travel Guides is having two contests for the best photo of Peru and Ecuador.

Each winner will have his or her photograph published on the cover of latest edition V!VA Travel Guides Ecuador & Galápagos and V!VA Travel Guides Peru, and each receive $100.

For complete guidelines, see the V!VA Travel Guides website. The deadline for entering photographs of Peru is Monday, October 1 and for Ecuador, the deadline is Thursday, November 1, 2012.

Winners will be chosen by the V!VA Travel Guides facebook community. To vote, like Viva Travel Guides – Peru and Viva Travel Guides – Ecuador on facebook, then choose your favorite shots.  Tell your family and friends to vote and show their pride in your photographic eye!

Voting ends the same day as the entry to the contest – So enter early, to have the best chance to receive a lot of votes.

Good luck!

 

Nine Great Jurassic Park Adventures in Argentina

Argentina is an ancient land, geologically speaking. Once upon a time, its landscape was covered by jungles and seas where dinosaurs and other mythical creatures roamed. Today, you can venture into those lands of Jurassic and other monsters.

Dinosaurs roaming across the Argentine plains. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

During the Permian Period of the Palaeozoic Era (251-299 million years ago), South America was still part of Pangaea. This supercontinent began tearing apart. South America and Africa were still one continent during the Jurassic Period (150 million years ago), the most famous dinosaur era. Those great jungle forests were covered with ash when this great continent tore apart, forming the Andes. The landscape then was covered by sea about 40 million years ago.

 

Fossils from all these eras scatter the pampas of western Argentina and the Patagonia. Some dinosaur species are unique to Argentina.

 

The most famous dinosaur fields are near Neuquén, on the northern edge of Argentina’s Lake District. Plaza Huincul (106 km / 65 mi) west of Neuquén towards Zapala) has a museum that displays dinosaur eggs and a skeleton of the 35-meter-long herbivore dinosaur Argentinosaurus huinculensis, the largest ever found in the world. You can see a replica of the biggest largest carnivorous dinosaur in the world, Giganotosaurus carolinii, at the museum in Villa El Chocón (80 km / 50 mi southwest of Neuquén). Three kilometers away, near Lake Ezequiel Ramos Mexia, are well-preserved, 120-million-year-old dinosaur footprints. Centro Paleontológico Lago Barreales, 95 kilometers (58 mi) northwest of Neuquén, is an active dig.

 

North of Neuquén, is San Agustín del Valle Fértil, located between San Juan and La Rioja cities. San Agustín is the gateway to two parks that preserve prehistoric remains. Parque Provincial Ischigualasto (Valle de la Luna) has rain and wind-sculpted, 45-50 million-year-old rocks that are said to be the best fossil fields in the country. The most primitive dinosaur, Eoraptor lunensis, was found here. Adjacent to the Valley of the Moon is Parque Nacional Talampaya, a national park protecting more dinosaur fossils.

 

To see life-size dinosaurs roaming across the Patagonian plains, head to Sarmiento and its Parque Temático Paleontológico Valle De Los Gigantes. This is a Cretaceous Park, featuring great—and small—reptiles from the last dinosaur era, like Aniksosaurus Darwini, which weighed only 50 kilograms (110 lb), Notohypsilophodon comodorensi (25 kg / 55 lb) and Epachthosaurus sciuttoi (10 metric tons / 11 tons). Some 38 kilometers (24 mi) southeast of Sarmiento is Monumento Natural Provincial Bosque Petrificado Sarmiento, a petrified forest created 65 million years ago during the great geologic upheavals.

 

The largest, most impressive petrified forest in Argentina is Monumento Natural Bosques Petrificados, also known as Bosque Petrificado Jaramilo, located 220 kilometers (132 mi) south of Caleta Olivia and 230 kilometers (138 mi) north of Puerto Deseado. This national park contains not only the remains of the semi-tropical forests that carpeted these prairies during the Devonic and  Jurassic periods, but also fossils of oysters, shark teeth and ancient other marine life from when this was a massive sea.

 

Cabo Curioso. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

More remnants of that sea can be seen at Cabo Curioso, 11 kilometers (6.6 mi) north of Puerto San Julián. The cliffs are rife with 35-75-million-year-old, gigantic oyster fossils that piqued the curiosity of Charles Darwin.

 

The dinosaurs and forests that once carpeted southern Argentina from Neuquén to Puerto Deseado left behind petroleum that the region’s economy thrives upon. The landscape is dotted with oil wells dipping and rising, pumping the rich, black blood to the surface.

 

With the austral spring approaching, it’s a great time to get to these and many other palaeontological sites. To help you dig Argentina’s Jurassic, Devonian and Cretaceous Parks, pack along a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Argentina.

BREAKING NEWS: 7.6 Earthquake Rattles Costa Rica

Today at 8:42 a.m. local time (14:42 UTC), a 7.6 earthquake hit the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. The epicenter was Nicoya Península in Guanacaste Province, 80 kilometers (50 mi) from Liberia.

 

Preliminary reports cite electrical outrages and highway damage. The cell phone network has collapsed.  Thus far, two people have been reported missing.

 

It was also strongly felt in San José and other parts of Costa Rica, as well as in Nicaragua and Panama.

 

A tsunami alert is still in effect for Costa Rica, Nicaragua and Panama. The warning was issued initially for the Pacific Ocean basin, as far north as Mexico and south to Chile, and for the Caribbean.

An End to Colombia’s Civil War?

With all the fanfare and excitement of the Olympic Games in London and the US’ presidential conventions, an event in Colombia has escaped the media’s eye: Peace negotiations between the Colombian government and the leftist guerrilla movement, Fuerzas Armadas Revolucionarias de Colombia (Farc), have resumed.

 

On August 26, news leaked that representatives of the two groups met in Havana, in preliminary rounds of negotiations held by Cuba and Norway. According to the Financial Times, in March, Colombia’s President Juan Manuel Santos met with Cuban President Raúl Castro and Venezuela’s President Hugo Chávez in Havana to lay the groundwork for initiating peace talks.

 

President Santos confirmed the rumors. He states that the talks would occur on three conditions: the Colombian military would continue anti-guerrilla operations throughout the country, the talks must lead to peace and that no errors of the past be repeated. He has extended the olive branch to the country’s other major leftist guerrilla organization, the ELN (Ejército de Liberación Nacional).

 

The Farc also confirmed these meetings in a conference held September 4 in Havana. The peace negotiations will begin in Oslo in October, and later move to Havana. Norway and Cuba will be the guarantors to the talks, with the additional presence of Venezuela and Chile.

 

OAS (Organization of American States) Secretary General José Miguel Insulza supports the peace process. He states, “May this process be carried out in good faith and with the conviction that its success can last to a lasting peace.”

 

The last time the Colombian government and the Farc sat down at the peace table was in 2002.

 

 

The third faction in Colombia’s on-going, 64-year-old civil war—the paramilitaries—are absent in these negotiations. During Álvaro Uribe’s eight years as president (2002-2010), this group was demilitarized in a highly publicized campaign. In the eyes of the government and the mainstream media, this group ceased to exist.

 

However, according to human and indigenous rights organizations, paramilitary forces continue to attack communities in isolated regions of the country. The Fellowship of Reconciliation’s Colombia Taskforce reports further attacks against San José de Apartadó, in northern Antioquia Department, which has spent 25 years as a peace community. In the deepest reaches of the Guajira, Comisión Intereclesial de Paz y Justicia cites cases against Wayu’u and Afro-Colombian settlements.

 

 

If successful, the peace talks between the Colombian government and the Farc may end attacks against other communities, like the Embera of the Chocó and the peace communities of the Nasa indigenous nation. In the remote countryside of Cauca Department, these villages mounted a protest against the presence of these two factions this past July, and talks were scheduled between the Nasa and government to deal with issues.

 

 

Find out more about Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guideavailable in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble. See why award-winning environmental-travel journalist, Tracy Barnett, says, “This edition of Viva Colombia! Adventure Guide does not disappoint; the insiders’ perspective, the detailed listings, the descriptive writing all add up to a guide you can count on.”

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 3

In this three-part series on chicha, we travel from the sierra to the jungle to discover Peru’s native brews.

 

Most chicha in Peru are made of corn. Except masato. This slightly alcoholic drink of the Amazon River jungle region is made from yucca. It is, I had been told in other parts of the country, the only one for which the grain is chewed to foment fermentation.

 

But once I hit the northern jungle, I began to learn a different story. I traveled the length of the Corredor Transoceánico, towards the river port of Yurimaguas. I arrived in Moyobamba in time for its patron saint feast day. On the first night, the Plaza de Armas was lined with food stalls offering traditional foods. Many had fried cecina (pemmican) and juanes, a round tamale made of chicken and rice steamed in a bijao leaf. A few women were grilling cuts of majaz (the agouti). The most common drink being poured into plastic cups was chicha de higo, a non-alcoholic drink made from figs.

 

Majaz with yucca and maduro. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Finally I saw a sign I was hoping to see: Masato con espuma. One woman was whisking eggs into a pale-lemon-colored froth. She then half-filled a styrofoam cup with masato and topped it off with a big dollop of the foam. I asked her if it were true the root is chewed before fermentation. “No,” she responded as she prepared my drink, “only in settlements deep in the jungle do they still make it that way. Most people now use sugar.”

 

In Yurimaguas, I was told the same thing.

 

Heading back to the coast, I stop in Tarapoto. One evening I walk up Jirón Alegría Areas de Morey. None of the restaurants catering to the foreign tourists appeal to me: not pizza or pasta, not over-priced plates of ceviche or cecina. After a few blocks, the street becomes dirt-paved. Motorcycle rickshaw taxis pull in front of a one-story building, dropping off passengers who head inside. Under the eaves, a couple digs into heaping plates of food. A long grill wafts smoke and meat aromas into the night air. Every table in the dining hall inside is packed.

 

The hand-printed sign outside the restaurant, Parrilladas El Bijao, promises locally produced cecina and chorizos, juanes, patarashca (a fish soup prepared and served in a “bowl” of bijao leaves, fish grilled in bijao leaves and other typical dishes. Another sign lists juices made from the tangy camu camu and other jungle fruits—and masato.

 

Making tacacho. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

At a table next to the grill, owner Betty is smashing steamed plantains in a batán (wooden trough) with a wooden mallet. I ask her if the masato is made the old-fashioned way, by chewing. She says no, but it is homemade. She invites me to sit down on the bench and begins to tell me the process.

 

“First, we steam the yucca until it is soft. Then in a batán like this, it is ground.” She breaks up lumps of plantain with one hand, and begins pounding the mixture again. “Into the water in which the yucca was cooked, we add sugar. That’s poured into the batán and kneaded into the yucca mash until it is a thick paste.”

 

She reaches over to a pot on the grill and ladles pork fat and cracklings onto the plantains. She works the dough. Then with quick hands, she forms a small ball. “Here, try this tacacho,” she says, handing it to me.

 

As she peels more plantains to smash, she continues her explanation of how to make masato. “The yucca mixture is placed into a tinaja (ceramic urn) and fermented for at least three days.”

 

As I eat the tacacho, I tell her about my search for masato. “Many told me the only place you’ll find the traditional one, made by chewing the yucca first, is deep in the jungle.”

 

She sets into making a new batch of tacacho. “No. You can find old-fashioned masato in Lamas. There they still chew the root for fermentation. They don’t use sugar.”

 

Her companion has prepared my order. I take a seat the couple’s long table to receive my plate of majaz, yucca and roasted maduros (ripe plantains). The waitress brings out a chilled glass of the house masato to accompany my repast. This 15-day-old brew is smooth—much different than the chicha de jora I had tried in Arequipa.

 

Masato. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

In that southern Peruvian city, chef Walter Bustamante Cano told me over three hundred varieties of chicha exist. I have tried four. To savor the others would take a lifetime.

 

I think of the Nicaraguan song about this native brew of the Americas. Perhaps the people of this country could do their own version: Chicha de jora, chicha morada, chicha de higo, masato …

 

 

Lorraine Caputo is one of V!VA’s longest-tenured writers. These days, she’s back on the road, updating our 2012 edition of  V!VA Peru. Check the blog for more of her updates from the road.