Category Archives: Travel Inspiration

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.

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.

 

Welcome to Ecuador Julian Assange

The Ecuadorian Government today announced that they will give Julian Assange political asylum. There’s only one small detail: he’s camped out in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London and the British police insist they will not let him leave the embassy, let alone fly to Ecuador, without being arrested.

As the owner of a travel guidebook company based in Quito, Ecuador I can say that Julian is really missing out by “being in Ecuador” while in reality he’s actually stuck in London. Bummer for him.

So Julian, why not make the most of your time in London and start planning out your trip to Ecuador?

In honor of ALL those around the world stuck somewhere miserable who have dreams of visiting Ecuador, here’s a coupon for a FREE copy of VIVA Travel Guides’ Ecuador eBook:

Ecuador eBook, welcome Julian Assange

Go here: http://shop.vivatravelguides.com/ecuador-1.html
And use this coupon code to download your free Ecuador eBook: WelcometoEcuadorJulian
(valid through August 31)

Note that this offer doesn’t include a stealth rescue helicopter or any other transportation arrangements for Julian or anyone else, but the ebook certainly will help out in planning and once you’re actually here in Ecuador!

Happy Travels,

Jason Halberstadt
Founder of VIVA Travel Guides

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 2

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

 

After learning about chicha de jora from Soncallay’s master chef, my next stop is Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa’s central market that was designed by Gustave Eiffel. I need to pick up on the ingredients for chicha morada, the non-alcoholic chicha beverage that is commonly served with restaurants’ daily special. I have asked Bárbara Gonzales, owner of Samana Wasi hostel, to teach me about this drink. She is an expert on classic Arequipeña cooking. For many years, she had restaurants, before opening her hostel, where she also offers cooking lessons to her guests.

 

I pull her list of ingredients out of my pocket as I walk by the stall serving up chicha de jora. In this late afternoon, the counter is crowded with customers.

 

Ingredients for chicha morada. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

The woman who sells me the coronta de maíz (purple corn cobs) tells me her secrets to preparing the drink. The spice woman pinches the bag of cloves, showing me how much she uses: Only five or six pieces. With the rest of the goods, I head back to the hostel.

 

The next morning, I meet doña Bárbara in her kitchen off the hostel’s courtyard. As she cuts the peel off of three slices of pineapple, she explains that chicha morada is used in folk medicine, for lowering high blood pressure and for curing cancer. It’s also good when you have digestive problems. It’s easy on the stomach and replaces electrolytes. Chicha morada is excellent for infants and old people, as is mazamorra, a pudding made of this chicha thickened with chuño (freeze-dried potato) starch.

 

Peeling the pineapple. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

With her stubby hands, doña Bárbara breaks 200 grams of coronta de maíz in half before placing them into three liters of hot water. Then the pineapple husks, 10 cloves (clavos de olor) and five small sticks of cinnamon are added to make our chicha morada. She puts the lid on the pot. “Now we have to let it boil for about 15 minutes. Then we’ll strain it and let it cool. After that, turbinado sugar and the juice of three or four limes go in.”

 

The simmering pot of chicha morada. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Throughout Peru, chicha morada commonly accompanies the daily lunch special. “You have to be careful, though,” doña Bárbara warns. “Many places either dilute it with beet juice, or prepare it from packets. Few actually serve the real thing.” This manner of chicha has a rich flavor. A similar preparation is made in Ecuador, using chunks of pineapple instead of the peel. In that country, it is usually only prepared for the Day of the Dead celebrations.

 

I ask doña Bárbara about the other type of chicha. “It’s very important in Arequipeña cooking, especially guiñapo, which she explains, is Arequipa’s own chicha. Half-crushed purple maize kernels are boiled with pineapple husk, cinnamon, cloves and anise. The mixture is then strained and turbinado sugar is mixed in. The liquid is left to ferment at least two weeks. Guiñapo is an essential ingredient in adobo arequipeña, the city’s famous, spicy pork stew.

 

The finished product -- chicha morada. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

For lunch, she serves our homemade chicha morada with another classic Andean dish, cuy (guinea pig). Boiled yellow potatoes, olluco (another type of tuber), haba beans, corn on the cob and fresh chili sauce accompany our meal.

 

The day before I leave Arequipa, I decide to lunch at a popularly priced restaurant on the Plaza de Armas. The waitress tells me today’s drink is chicha. “Chicha morada?” “No, chicha de jora. Is that okay? I could get you something without alcohol,” she offers. No, no, it’s okay, I assure her.

 

It’ll give me one last opportunity to salute the splendor of Arequipa’s food and chicha, before heading out to the Peru’s jungle to learn about another of its chichas: 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.

 

 

On the Road – Peru: Chicha and Other Native Brews, Part 1

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

 

 

Chicha de maiz, chicha pujagua, chicha raizuda, pelo de maíz, goes the song by the Nicaraguan  musicians, Carlos and Luis Enrique Mejía Godoy. This fermented grain drink, usually made of corn, exists throughout Latin America, from México to Argentina. The Real Academia Española says the word came from the Kuna nation of Panama, for which “chichab” means corn. The beverage, which has been around since pre-Columbian times, has a low alcohol content. Non-alcoholic varieties exist: In Panama, chicha is a fruit drink. Peru and Ecuador have chicha morada, made of purple corn, pineapple and spices.

 

Chicha is especially common in the Andean countries. No matter where you go, you’ll find places flying a white flag, announcing that urns of the drink are available. When the combi breaks down in the middle of nowhere, deep in the Peruvian mountains, someone will scare some up from a local woman. The stranded passengers will pass the time waiting for repairs to be done, passing around a jug of chicha. In village feasts, celebrants will gather around the cook fires to share a mug, dispelling the chill of the altiplano night.

 

The Andes’ native brew is still a drink of the common people. Chicherías—chicha bars—exist even in Lima. When the owner of a hostel in that capital city was gossiping about a scandalous brawl that happened at one, I said, “Such places still exist?” She looked at me, up and down, “They aren’t for foreigners—and not for decent people.”

 

If you want to try this corn beer, you’ll most likely find it out in the smaller villages. In larger cities, like Arequipa in Southern Peru, the central markets may have a counter where a woman ladles up the brew into a customer’s recycled jug.

 

While in Arequipa, I decide to learn more about this traditional drink. I cross the city’s splendid Plaza de Armas. In the center, the fountain leaps into the sun, capturing pieces of light and showering them upon the pigeons pecking at the handfuls of crushed corn grain tossed by families posing for photos. On the north edge of the square is the imposing Cathedral built of the white sillar volcanic stone that gives this city its nickname: La Ciudad Blanca. The other three sides of the square are surrounded by two-story, portaled buildings. I enter one and climb the steps to Sonccollay, a restaurant specializing in pre-Incan cuisine.

 

Walter Bustamante Cano, owner of Sonccallay and master chef. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Out on the balcony overlooking the plaza, owner and master chef Walter Bustamante Cano is holding court in his realm. He speaks of the apu (spirits) of the three snow-capped volcanoes that edge the city: Misti, Chachani and Pichu Pichu.

 

His passion flares when he speaks of food. His thick eyebrows and waving hands accent the benefits of the ancient way of preparing foods. It is a union made of love and to promote health and wellbeing. It is a uniting of the universal energies of Wiracocha (Father Sky) with the material manifestations of Pachamama (Mother Earth) in the Kay Pacha, the world of the Here and Now where humans live.

 

Chef Walter explains that in Quechua and Aymará, chicha is called aswa. Peru has various types of aswa. In fact, there are over 300 types of this native beer, including ones made of peanut and all colors of corn. Here in the Andes, the traditional one is jora aswa and kinua aswa, made of quinoa grain.  In the north, maka, made of algarrobina (carob), is more common. The jungle region has masato, made of yucca. In some areas, the grain is chewed and then strained through straw, to help fermentation.

 

Kero: a traditional, ceramic cup of Peru's Andean region. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

He fills my traditional, clay kero cup with jora aswa. I drink the cloudy liquid pure, without the addition of sweetener. The taste is lighter than I expected and slightly bitter.

 

Chef Walter explains that the traditional way for making chicha consists of three steps. The first step is to let the fresh kernels of purple corn ferment at least three days. Then the juice and corn are boiled and strained into a chamba (large ceramic urn). In Northern Peru, the urn is buried—a custom that has faded in the south. Lastly, the liquid is fermented for three days to one year. The longer the fermentation, the stronger the brew will be.

 

An urn of fermenting chicha. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Chef Walter takes me to the entryway of his restaurant and pulls a colorful woven cloth from the top of a large amphora. The bitter smell of the chicha wafts up from the dark pool within.

 

My next stop is Mercado San Camilo, Arequipa’s central market, to pick up on the ingredients for another type of Peruvian native drink, chicha morada.

 

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: In Mourning

Since yesterday morning when I first heard the news, I have been in mourning — as have thousands around the world.

 

Ecuador and the Galápagos Islands have lost iconic Lonesome George, the last Pinta Island giant tortoise in the world.

 

Lonesome George. Photo by Rachel Tavel

 

Lonesome George (in Spanish, called Solitario Jorge) was found and captured on his native Pinta Island in 1972, whose landscape was devastated by goats introduced by humans. He was taken to the breeding grounds on Santa Cruz Islands, established to recuperate populations of giant tortoises whose populations were sorely diminished by centuries of hunting and destruction of habitat.

 

Solitario Jorge became a symbol of man’s devastation of the environment and the struggle to bring back species on the brink of extinction. For the next four decades, the Parque Nacional Galápagos (PNG), the Charles Darwin Research Station and scores of scientists combed Pinta Island and zoos around the globe looking for a pure-bred mate for George. Indeed, it appeared this Geochelone nigra abingdoni was alone in the world.

 

In 1993, the scientists decided to introduce Wolf Volcano (Isabela Island) females, a species closely related to the Pinta Island tortoise, into his corral, in hopes of preserving at least part of his species’ gene pool. The years rolled on with no results. Finally in 2008, the females laid eggs on several occasions. Unfortunately, the eggs proved to be infertile. Later these females were replaced with ones from Española, which species is even more closely related genetically. They remained with him until the end of his life.

 

Solitario Jorge was found dead in his corral on Sunday morning by Fausto Llerena, who took care of him for over 40 years. PNG scientists believe he died of a heart attack, but will perform an autopsy to determine the cause of death. His approximate age was 100 years. George’s body will be preserved for future generations of humans to learn about this species and environmental issues involving extinctions.

 

Today, the websites of international newspapers and NGOs are awash with the sad news, commemorations and calls for further conservation work to prevent the extinction of any more species. As Godfrey Merlen so eloquently expresses: “We need to take a certain risk to make every effort to stem the tide of extinction.  Let his name live on, not as a sight to see but as a symbol of our determination.”

 

During the months I spent in Galápagos volunteering with an international NGO, I often stopped by Lonesome George’s corral to pay him a visit. Sitting in the shade of the patio, watching him lumber across the rocks beneath giant opuntia cactus, I would ponder how it must be to be the last of one’s species. Is he cognizant he is the only one left, that of all his kin that were kidnapped and killed, he is the only survivor?

 

Lonesome George was an Everyperson’s pet. In every corner of the planet, people knew him, speculated about his sexual prowess and pondered his species’ future. We all knew it was the end of the road for ­­­­ Geochelone nigra abingdoni. But we hoped against all odds a pure-blood female could be found, that he would have offspring, that the Pinta tortoise would not become extinct. Extinction is forever. And we have seen another Earth species pass to that terminal state — and we have witnessed it with our minds and in that space Lonesome George occupied in our hearts.

 

The Guardian honors Lonesome George’s life with a wonderful slideshow. His life was chronicled in Henry Nicholls’ Lonesome George: The Life and Loves of a Conservation Icon (Macmillan, 2006).

 

During July, Parque Nacional Galápagos will have a special photographic exhibit of Solitario Jorge in his corral. The PNG requests anyone who would like to submit photos, to send them to: solitario-george@dpng.gob.ec.

 

To learn more about the Galápagos Islands and prepare for your trip there, pick up a copy of V!VA Travel Guides Galápagos, authored by official Galápagos resident Christopher Minster, PhD. It is available in e-book and print formats.

 

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: Surfing Safari

Anthony Walsh (Australia) and Eala Stewart (Hawai'i) conquered El Gringo. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

 

As the announcer began the awards ceremonies for the Maui and Sons Arica World Star Tour surf competition in Arica, Chile, the winners craned their necks to see the waves coming high and thick. Third place was a tie between Cristian Merello of Pichilemu, Chile, and Lucas Santamaría of Mar del Plata, Argentina. Eala Stewart from the cradle of surfing, Hawai’i, in came in second. The grand prize of $8,000 went to Anthony Walsh of Australia. As soon as the formalities were over, they hit the mighty El Gringo, to give it one last go.

 

These surfers were amongst the 69 who came from 12 countries to challenge El Gringo, also called the Chilean Pipeline, which forms off Isla Alacrán. Why is it called El Gringo? Because it is the man-eater of waves: a perfect A-frame, with barrels forming to the right and left, rolling over an uneven, submerged reef seabed and crashing upon a rocky shore. It has serious power and is fast. Hazards are impalement, death by drowning and having your ego bashed. Needless to say, this gnarly wave is only for experts.

 

Over three-quarters of the competitors came from Latin America, including eight Peruvians. But not even that country’s greatest surfers, Gabriel Villarán and Cristóbal de Col, could make it to the semi-finals. They packed their boards and headed back north to hit the surf in their own country.

Máncora has Peru's most famous waves. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Peru’s surfing safari trail stretches from south of Lima to the Ecuadorian border. Internationally, the most famous is Máncora, in the extreme north of the country. Legends like Fernando “Wawa” Paraud have schools here—in fact, novices can chose from over a half-dozen  places where they can learn to hang ten. The cold Humboldt Current veers off the coast here, making a wetsuit necessary some months of the year.

 

Several other good surfing spots are near Máncora. To the north, a mere 30 kilometers (18 miles) from the Ecuador border, is Zorritos. It is the only place where a wet suit is not necessary. Travelers may take lessons at Hands & Surf Escuela, established by the international organization Surfing Solidaridad.

 

Cabo Blanco, to the south of Máncora, hosts a Billabong competition ever year. It is an expert wave, with reef and riptides. This small fishing village has very limited services.

 

Ancient Peruvian surfing at Huanchaco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Further south is Huanchaco, where travelers can not only hit the waves on board, but also caballito de totora, the local reed boats that date from ancient times. This is another place where Peru’s great long boarders have opened schools and surf shops.

 

It may seem surprising, but some of the country’s other surfing beaches are right in the nation’s capital, Lima. The Miraflores district’s Costa Verde has several beaches perfect for beginning to intermediate surfers: Redondo, Makaha, Waikiki and La Pampilla. All breaks are fairly consistent year round but best with a swell from the southwest.

 

The better beaches, though, are to the south of the city. Experienced long boarders can hit the waves at Punta Hermosa, Punta Negra and Cerro Azul, immortalized in the Beach Boy’s song Surfin’  Safari.

 

Peru’s surfing team is one of the highest ranked in the world, not surprising since this is considered one of the birthplaces of the ancient sport. It has had several world champs, including Sofía Mulánovich of Punta Hermosa, who was the first South American to win the Association of Surfing Professionals women’s world title, in 2004. In 2007, she was the first South American to be inducted into the Surfers Hall of Fame.

 

So, let’s go surfing now. Come on a safari, hitting the shores of Peru.

 

 

 

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.

On the Road – Peru: A Tale of Two Cities

The midnight fireworks on June 7 eve seemed to recreate the battle that decided the fate of two cities: Tacna, Peru, and Arica, Chile. The sky above El Morro was ablaze with rockets, marking Arica’s anniversary. Not of its founding, but rather when it ceased being a Peruvian city and became Chilean in 1880. This was the day the Battle of Arica was wrought on the heights of El Morro, bringing an end to the War of the Pacific.

 

El Morro -- Where the Battle of Arica was wrought. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Once upon a time, Peru extended as far south as Iquique. Bolivia claimed Antofagasta as its territory. This entire region was rich in nitrates, a mineral essential in the making of 19th-century agricultural fertilizers and gunpowder. British and US companies, which administered most of the salitre mines, hoped Chile would give them more favorable, laissez-faire concessions. For this reason, they promoted the war Chile declared against Peru and Bolivia in 1879.

 

At the war’s end, the Treaty of Ancón turned administration of the entire zone to Chile, with the proviso that a plebiscite election would be held after 10 years to allow Arica and Tacna to decide to which country they would belong: Chile or Peru. Chile would not allow the referendum to occur until 1929.

 

Arica decided to stay with Chile. Tacna’s residents voted to return to Peru. Thus that city’s nickname: The Heroic City. The historic vote is celebrated in that southern Peruvian town every August 28.

 

Tacna Arch by Drawlight http://www.flickr.com/photos/nomorerice/156472549/

 

In these past few months, I have had opportunities to learn more about those missing 50 years of history between the end of the war and the plebiscite. The story of the region’s Chilenization, hidden for several generations, is now being told.

 

In Arequipa, native-son writer Oswaldo Reynoso started his presentation with a story pulled from his family’s past. His parents grew up in Chile-controlled Tacna where the Patriotic League threatened anyone who supported Tacna’s return to Peru. One morning dawned with his father’s door marked by the League—a sign to leave or be killed. He left for Bolivia, seeking refuge there. A few months later, his girlfriend’s door was similarly marked. She and her family had to leave by ship for Peru. Many years later, the two wayward lovers met again in Arequipa.

 

This history is now also being revealed in Arica. During the monthly tour of the city’s cemetery (last Wednesday of the month, 9 p.m.; free), the guide told us of the people who lay in the late-19th and early 20th century tombs. Some were Europeans that immigrated to the city, as part of the Chilenization of the region. When the referendum would finally be held, their votes would assuredly go for Chile. Some of the people in the more humble graves, however, were victims of the Liga Patriótica and its reign of terror.

 

The Chilenization of Arica continues to this day. So claimed the guide of the city’s Oficina Municipal de Gestión Patrimonial who led us around downtown.  The tour began inside the municipality building (Calle Sotomayor and Calle Baquedano) where remains of the 16th-century San Juan de Dios church are. In the parking lot behind the municipalidad are the ruins of the nave. As we wandered to the old Arica-La Paz railroad station and other historic buildings, he recounted how the national government won’t release funds to help Arica preserve any edifices dating from Peruvian times. Many of them are slated to be demolished, to make way for shopping centers, private clinics and parking lots—even if they have historical significance, like hosting saint-in-the-making Beato Alberto Hurtado. “It’s as if they are erasing any traces of Peru,” the guide said.

 

The old Arica-La Paz railroad station. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

As the couples dance—scarves fluttering, spurs jangling in rhythm to the music—in the national cueca competition in Arica, the Guerra del Pacífico’s aftereffects continue to be felt until this day. With Chile’s victory, Bolivia lost its access to the sea. Once again, Bolivia will be presenting to international courts its complaint of non-compliance of the treaties that guarantees it access to Pacific ports. Reportedly, after more than two decades of inactivity, the Arica-La Paz will be back on line later this year—but only cargo service. Perhaps this promise will finally be fulfilled.

 

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.

 

On the Road – Peru: Three Events to Mark on Your Calendar

June is festival time in Peru. With the end of the rainy season, campesinos have been sowing the fields for this year’s harvests of corn, potatoes and other necessities. Now it is season for the raymi—or festivals—that mark the solstice and other events. So get out your calendar and red letter these days.

 

But first, a non-holiday to mark: Travelers heading south into Chile should know that collective taxi, truck and other drivers have declared a strike and will be blocking the border next Monday, June 11. One of the complaints on the table is that buses carrying travelers across the border have their own lines, whereas colectivos have to share a block of immigration and customs windows with everyone else. They say this holds them up on getting their customers quickly from one city to another.

 

 

Now for the dancing, music, pageantry and down-right fun.

 

Raymi Llacta in Chachapoyas

This past weekend, Raymi Llaqta—Great Festival of the People—began in Chachapoyas, capital of Amazonas Department. This is one of Peru’s most blessed departments, as it includes terrain as diverse as high mountains to lowland jungles, and just as diverse an indigenous population.

 

At this raymi, all the nations gather in the regional capital to meet, sharing their unique cuisines, songs and dances. The big day is Saturday, June 9. Beginning at 10 a.m., the parade begins through Chachapoyas’ narrow streets, featuring the traditional clothing and dances of all of the department’s native and campesino communities. That same evening will be the Nina Raymi (Fire Festival), with dancing around bonfires on the main plaza.

 

This will be the perfect time to head to Chachapoyas and take in its awesome Kuélap ruins—just named by National Geographic as one of the 50 Tours of a Lifetime.

 

Inti Raymi

 

The biggest festival of the season is Inti Raymi in Cusco. Celebrated at the time of the June solstice, this celebration honors the Sun God, asking for a good harvest. With street vendors, daily activities and nightly concerts by the country’s best musicians, the celebration climaxes on June 24, the day of Inti Raymi.

This grand pageant features over 500 actors re-enacting the traditional ceremonies of Inca times. The action begins at Qorikancha square in front of the Santo Domingo church, where the Temple of the Sun had been. Sapa Inca is carried on a golden throne to Sacsayhuamán where the grand ceremony is held. The day culminates with evening bonfires.

 

Travelers looking for a more modern festival should head to Oxapampa for the Selvámonos 2012 Music Festival. This is part of the week-long Festival de Música y Artes de la Selva Centra (The Central Jungle Music and Arts Festival), which presents free musical, theatrical and other cultural events. Over 10,000 people are expected to attend the huge concert on June 30, with groups from the entire region. Reggae, Quechua blues-rock, cumbia and other musical genres will rock the jungle. For a complete listing of groups and events, check out the Selvámonos website.

 

Have fun partying down with the locals!

 

 

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.

 

On the Road – Peru: Mystery, Adventure and Deep Chill

A trio of topics for this week’s blog, taking you from coast to jungle and altiplano: The mysterious deaths continue on the North Coast, a trio’s adventuresome ride down the Amazon and deep freeze on the shores of Lago Titicaca.

 

 

As reported in  On the Road—Peru: Mysterious Deaths on the North Coast, thousands of dolphins, pelicans and boobies have appeared dead on Peru’s northern coast. Still no culprit for these deaths has been found.

 

At the beginning of May, Raúl Castillo, director of Imarpe (the governmental marine institute), stated that US laboratories pinpointed the cause to morbillivirus. The Peruvian daily newspaper, La República (May 16, 2012), however, reports that Elisa Goya, an Imarpe biologist, testified before the Production, Micro and Small Business Commission that Imarpe had never sent samples to the United States for testing. Imarpe continues to insist that petroleum exploration in the region is not the cause, despite evidence presented to the contrary by independent marine conservation organizations, like Organización para Conservación de Animales Acuáticos (Orca).

 

Last Tuesday, over 200 surfers, environmental activists and concerned citizens protested in front of the Ministerio de la Producción in Lima about the marine wildlife deaths. The demonstration was led by Peruvian surfing champion Javier Swayne and former world champ Sofía Mulanovich.

 

Travelers are advised to check local conditions at the beaches, particularly between Trujillo and Paita (near Piura), as some remain closed.

 

Amazon Extreme: Three Men, One Boat, One Adventure by Colin Angus

Every journey begins with a dream, then much reading and studying, and saving every cent until you can grab the old knapsack and hit the wide-open trail. Thus it was for Canadian Colin Angus, whose dream was to raft the Amazon from its birthplace in the heights above Colca Canyon to the mouth at the Atlantic Ocean. While traveling in other parts of the world, he met two cohorts to join him on the expedition: Scott Borthwick of South Africa and Ben Kozel of Australia.

 

In 1999, they set off on their dream journey. They first trekked from Camaná, on Peru’s southern coast, to Colca Canyon. From there, they hit the white waters of the Río Apurímac, through the still-hot zone of the Sendero Luminoso. The Aprurímac led them to Atalaya, at the confluence with the Río Ucayali. And thus they continued, battling the waters and elements, meeting the peoples along this back road through South America.

 

Colin Angus wrote a book about the expedition, Amazon Extreme, for which I traded at a hostel in Arequipa. It is a fascinating read – forming dreams of my own …

 

 

The Lago Titicaca area has already been wracked by cold temperatures, although winter has yet to begin. In Puno, nighttime temperatures are dipping below freezing and in the higher parts of the region, to -10ºC (14ºF) with a light dusting of snow. Meteorologists predict that in July, temperatures in the high altiplano may reach to -20ºC (-4ºF) or lower. This will mean increased respiratory illnesses for the people who live there, and death of their livestock.

 

This past week, Nada, a traveler from Australia, reported from La Paz that she had fainted from the cold there and that rumors were that it was going to snow in that Bolivian city.

 

Travelers are advised to bundle up themselves: Hit the markets for thermal underwear from the used clothing vendors, and some toasty-warm alpaca sweaters, socks and cap from the local cooperatives. To make sure you are buying the real McCoy and not something that is a synthetic blend (or industrializado, as it is marketed), check out Is It the Real Thing?, only in V!VA Travel Guides Peru.

 

 

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.