Category Archives: Travel News

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: Internet Scam in Peru ALERT

A few weeks ago, I opened my inbox to this message from a fellow traveler:

 

There is a scam going on at the moment, whereby someone who speaks perfect English hacks into your email account and scams your parents for all they’re worth… Unfortunately it happened to me and it took me two weeks to realise what had happened. My hotmail account got hacked into most likely using keylogger software installed on a computer in a Lima hostel, then the hacker read all my emails to get enough personal info to pass himself off as me, emailed my parents telling them I needed money (for an imaginary car accident), gave them a bank account detail, and alas my parents fell for it. In the meantime I still had “normal” access to my account, so never imagined anything was wrong, and the hacker deleted my parents’ worried emails as they arrived…


In other corners of cyberspace, travelers to Peru are telling similar experiences. Most say their accounts were hacked when they used their hostels’ computers. Some of their families were swindled out of more than $3,000. Several travelers reported it to Politur (the tourism police), with little response.

 

According to an article published in Peru’s national daily, La República, keylogging and other spyware on public computers is common. Laboratorio Virus, a Lima-based company specializing in computer security, visited 52 cybercafés in the Peruvian capital. At each, it examined four computers. The results were startling: 32 percent had keylogger software, monitoring key stroke and mouse movements of users; 93 percent of computers were infected with Trojans that permit spying on users; and 23 percent of cybercafés used a remote control software that would also allow café personnel to access users’ data.

 

How do you protect yourself from such a scam?

 

I turned to V!VA Travel Guides techies for their expert advice. Most of the steps are common sense—but because we get distracted or are in a hurry, we forget to take them.

 

V!VA CEO Jason Halberstadt has these recommendations:

  • The best solution is to avoid using computers at hotels and cyber cafés at all. Instead, use your own personal portable computer, smartphone or tablet and connect via WiFi.
  • If you need to use public access computers, refrain from using them to access high security accounts such as your online banking account, credit card numbers and yes, even your webmail account.
  • If you need to use webmail, Skype or any other account, change your password frequently. That way, if someone has gotten your password, they would be locked out of your account after the password change.
  • Always LOG OUT of an account when finished using it, as just closing the browser window may maintain your session open, so the next person to use the computer is automatically logged into your account.
  • Also be very careful to not have the computer save your username and password when prompted

 

On this last point, when you log into an account, you may be asked if you want it to remember your password. Always click on: No recorder nunca la contraseña de este sitio. Never check “Recordar mi cuenta” or “Recordar mi contraseña.”

 

In addition to the above steps, V!VA’s head technician, Cristian, offers these tips:

  • Experts say that if the computer is an older model, it may be possible to detect keylogger software. For 30 seconds, press at least 10 keys with both hands. If the computer freezes up or becomes slow, it is because some type of event is capturing input on the keyboard and attempting to process and save the information.
  • Another type of cyber attack you need to guard against is phishing.

 

 

Travelers have other steps they can take to protect themselves:

  • Use the last five minutes of your allotted computer time to clear your search history and cookies, and to ensure your accounts are properly closed.
  • If you use your own laptop or other device, do not let strangers (even recently met fellow travelers) use it; s/he may install spyware software onto it.
  • Install an anti-key logger software onto your computer.
  • The Electronic Frontier Foundation suggests using encryption for your most sensitive data (such as, with bank account), as well as many other measures to protect others from accessing your data.
  • Inform your family and friends to never send money ANYPLACE for you, unless you ask for it by telephone call. Never rely on an e-mail request.

 

Drop a postcard to the folks back home. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

Travelers can also disconnect from cyberspace and move into the real world. Go back to using what world-explorers used before Internet, E-mail, Skype and all the “modern” conveniences existed:

  • To keep in touch with family and friends back home, send a postcard instead of an E-mail. This allows folks to have a physical image of where you’ve been that will last generations. Need more space to tell your travel tales? Then write a letter.
  • Go to the local locutorio (phone center) and call home.
  • Don’t turn to the map on your computer screen to get around. Ask directions from locals.

 

In doing these, you’ll be supporting local businesses—the postcard kiosk, post office, phone center and others—as well as building your language skills and interacting with people.

 

The advent of Internet has affected the way travelers relate to each other. We are spending less time together. The entire hostel culture is changing. Wandering Earl discusses this phenomenon and in finding a balance between technology and socializing in his recent blog, Why Have Travelers Stopped Talking to Each Other.

 

 

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: 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.

On the Road—Peru: Mysterious Deaths on the North Coast

There’s a murder mystery happening in the North of Peru that has caught the attention of even the BBC, CNN, Mother Jones and other international news agencies. It has nothing to do with van der Sloot. The victims are not young women—but rather thousands of dolphins and pelicans on the north coast, from near Chiclayo northward to Paita and beyond.

 

Since January of this year, over 900 dolphins have washed ashore, according to CNN, BBC, AP and other news agencies. However, Julia Whitty of Mother Jones reports a higher figure: over 3,000, based on the on-the-ground research of the marine environmental groups, Bluevoice.org and ORCA Peru. In a single day in late March, investigators of these two organizations found 615 dead dolphins on a 135-kilometer (84-mile) stretch of coast. The most affected species are Burmeister’s porpoises, of which only females and calves are being affected, and common dolphins (both genders, all ages).

In April, a twist was added to the mystery, when more than 4,450 pelicans also began appearing dead on the beaches, or wandering aimlessly on the strands and the highways.

 

Investigations into the causes of death have been slow, especially in the case of the dolphins. The carcasses are often too decayed to permit proper necropsies.

An offshore natural gas platform at Cabo Blanco. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

Early on, government officials dismissed possible poisoning by the oil companies, which have extensively been exploiting petroleum and natural gas reserves in northern Peru. But the study of 30 dead dolphins done by marine biologist Dr. Carlos Yaipen Llanos of ORCA Peru doesn’t let the petroleum industry off the hook. He discovered broken inner ear bones and hemorrhaging of various internal organs. Both indicate “acoustic impact and decompression syndrome,” which could be caused by sonar used to find offshore wells. Houston-based BPZ Energy, which uses such technology, denies this claim.

Other possible culprits of these mass die-offs are brucella and leptospira bacteria, and morbillivirus, a viral infection similar to distemper. Peru, however, has limited access to kits to detect these diseases.

Scientists have also raised the possibility of runoff of agrochemical or heavy metals from mining—both of which have become important industries in Peru’s north. However, Raul Castillo, director of the IMARPE (Instituto del Mar del Perú, the governmental sea institute) said that two necropsies performed ruled out pesticides and such heavy metals as copper, lead and cadmium, as well as three marine biotoxins.

 

This week, governmental authorities said that the lack of food has been the cause of the pelicans’ deaths. Biologist Carlos Bocanegra, of the Universidad Nacional de Trujillo, supports this theory. His necropsies of 10 pelicans showed either empty digestive tracts or remains of fish not normally part of pelicans’ diets. Fishermen of Puerto Etén, near Chiclayo, have reported that in the past month their catches of anchoveta (anchovies) have dropped to nearly zero. This cold-water fish is the main food source of pelicans.

The cold Humboldt Current hugs South America’s coast as far north as Máncora, where it then veers westward, to the Galápagos Islands. When the sea warms, as during an El Niño event, anchovies move to deeper, colder oceans. Independent environmental scientists, however, point out that the region has been experiencing a La Niña climate system the past two years, during which seas are colder than normal, and that seas normal temperatures now are returning.

 

Could this mass murder, though, have begun months earlier and with different species? When this reporter was on the Peru’s Northern coast in October 2011, I noticed dozens of sea lion carcasses rotting on the beaches near Paita and populations of blue-footed boobies were noticeably absent. At the time, locals put the blame on fishermen, who—they said—considered both animals as thieves of their catches. A few said it was because of the oil exploration, which had skyrocketed in the past three years.

 

Because clean-up of the carcasses have been slow and the cause of death is still unknown, authorities have closed beaches along Peru’s northern coast, from Lima to the Ecuadorian border. These include popular surfing destinations Huanchaco and Máncora. Cleanup crews have been instructed to where protective clothing. If you plan on doing any surfing or sunning, check local conditions before hitting the beach.

 

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: Rain, Rain, Go Away …

As reported last month, rains have caused havoc in travel plans in Peru and throughout South America. The highlands have been drenched, causing rivers to be rushing torrents by the time they reach the coastal plains.

 

Last Sunday, I got to experience this first hand while traveling south from Ica. At about midnight, our bus halted. Passengers drifted in and out of sleep, wondering why we were motionless on this black highway in the middle of nowhere. Within a few hours, we were once more traveling, the gentle sway, the gentle song of wheels on pavement lulling us to sleep.

 

Stranded in southern Peru. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

But again, at 4 a.m., we were stopped. Before sunrise, I walked out to see a long line of buses, trucks and other vehicles wrapped around the base of a cliff, fading around the bend uphill, and into the distance below, ending at water’s edge. On the other bank, another line of buses and trucks wound up that road and around the curve. Between us, the land rolled down to flooded fields. In this pre-dawn light, a broad river raged, red with soil, tumbling to the sea.

 

A río huayco, the driver told me. In Quechua, huayco means a river that forms in dry gulches, hauling rocks, trees and mud into the lowland valleys—and flooding the landscape for kilometers around.

Our río huayco rolling off to the sea. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

On that stretch of the Pan-American highway just before Camaná, near the village of Pescadores, no bridge exists because this is normally a rio seco—a dry river. But the past few years, with the constant cycle of El Niño and La Niña weather patterns, this river has existed in the summer months when temperatures soar on the coast and the rainy season arrives in the Andes.

 

The rising sun’s heat was tempered by clouds to the east. But this forebode more rains in Arequipa, Puno or wherever these rivers are born.

 

"Agua, gaseosa, golosinas," he called out. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

A white van skidded to a stop at the side of the road and its door slid open, revealing mounds of water, sodas, snacks and toilet paper for sale. Passengers heading to Arequipa, Tacna and other southern destinations lined up to pay over double the normal price. The vendor grinned broadly, soles sign (S/.) dancing in his bright eyes.

 

Finally with the morn, a bulldozer began clearing a channel in that río huayco. Soon the waters ceased to rise. The level lowered enough for the first buses and trucks to cross. Finally at 9 a.m., it was our bus’ turn to slowly wade through the still-strong current.

 

Our turn to cross. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

 

This year’s rains have caused havoc all over the region. The Peru-Chile border south of Tacna is closed 7 a.m.-noon (5-10 a.m. Chilean time) to clear 40-year-old anti-personnel mines that the flooding has unearthed. Chile has been wracked with overflowing rivers, from the San José in Arica to the Río de las Minas in Punta Arenas. Travelers report being stranded for up to 12 hours when crossing the altiplano from Bolivia or the Atacama Desert into Argentina.

 

 

If you are traveling this season, be sure to pack extra food and water. (Buses only carry enough for serving at mealtimes.) If you will be traveling into Peru’s southern departments of Moquegua or Tacna, or crossing international borders, this is a challenging task because of agricultural customs controls. No produce, whether fresh or dried, dairy or meat products are allowed. Bread is safest bet, as are peanut butter, marmite or vegemite sandwiches. Stock up on drinks and snacks, as well as a book, sudoku puzzles or anything else to pass the time.

 

And most of all—don’t forget to pack in some extra patience.

 

Safe Journeys until next week!

 

 

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: Rains Complicating Travel Plans in Latin America

Another year of the La Niña weather system continues to batter Latin America, complicating travel plans in Peru and other countries.

 

Mexico and Nicaragua are reporting damaging flooding caused by heavy rains. In South America, Colombia is once more experiencing not only flooding, but also landslides, all of which has caused over 700 deaths in recent months. La Paz, Oruro and other places in Bolivia are also suffering, and a state of emergency has been declared in Pando department. It’s even raining in the driest place on the planet: the Atacama Desert in northern Chile. The government there had to close major attractions until it could work on roads. Once more, tourists can get out to the region’s riches.

 

Peru has not been exempt from these damaging rains. Overflowing rivers, crop destruction and other damages are being reported in many parts of the country. The Amazon Basin is affected, from Tingo María in the central jungle down to Puerto Maldonado in the southern jungle. Southern Lima, Áncash and Madre de Dios Departments are under states of emergency, as is Ica, which suffered a 6.2 earthquake on January 30.

 

Archaeologists are concerned of damages to Chan Chan and other ruins along the north coast.

 

Roads in the Huaraz, Cusco, Arequipa and Colca Canyon areas are periodically blocked by landslides. Earlier this week, the border crossing between Peru and Chile had to be closed temporarily after intense rains unearthed anti-personnel mines that had been laid in 1975, during the Pinochet dictatorship.

 

Travelers are advised to keep an eye on the news. You can get to any part of the country, but you might be delayed because of road conditions.

 

Safe Journeys!

 

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.

 

It's Carnaval!

All over the world, Catholics are celebrating Carnaval. This huge street party lasts until the moveable feast of Ash Wednesday, celebrated in February or March. When next Wednesday rolls around, faithful will be going to a special mass to celebrating the beginning of the 40 days of Lent and the traditional fast that accompanies it.

 

Carnaval in Santa Marta. Photo by Lorraine Caputo

From New Orleans, Louisiana (where the party is called Mardi Gras — Fat Tuesday) through to Tierra del Fuego, Carnaval is in full swing. In some parts, it becomes a water fight with no-one left unscathed. In other places, like Santa Marta on Colombia’s Caribbean coast, corn starch flurries. Foam string is also commonly spritzed from cans. What all have in common are colorful costumes, lots of music and dancing, plus chugging of whatever the local brew is.

 

No matter where you’re at, it’s not too late to join in on the fun. If you aren’t in the neighborhood for the big blow-outs in Barranquilla or Rio de Janeiro, then perhaps these destinations are closer:

 

In V!VA Travel Guide’s home country, Ecuador, many people head to the beach. In most parts, you can expect to get drenched. In Ambato, however, water throwing is prohibited. In that highland town, enjoy its Fiesta de las Flores y de las Frutas, filled with with colorful parades, handicraft exhibits and other events.

 

Carnaval in Puno.

In Peru the biggest celebration is in Puno. Its feast days of the Virgen de Candelaria merge into pre-Lenten Carnaval celebrations. One V!VA correspondent relates: “I was awakened by loud drums and horns, people yelling and an atmosphere that buzzed with excitement. Today was the start of ‘La Virgen de la Candeleria,’ a festival specific to Puno alone. From my hostel room window, and as far as I could see down the streets in every direction, there were huge groups of people dancing and playing music. They were clad in bright costumes, and all were playing their hearts out. Carnival had begun.”

 

Oruro in neighboring Bolivia is THE place to be in that town. In 2001, UNESCO declared the festival to be a “masterpiece of oral and intangible heritage of humanity.” Incredibly carved masks are part of the wonders to behold there, as well as the hours of dancing and chicha drinking.

 

The Andean-style Carnaval is also celebrated in northwestern Argentina, in Tilcara. This nine-day festival begins with masked revelers unearthing a small devil figure. Foam, water and firecrackers are de rigeur. Here, the favorite liquor of partiers proves their Argentine culture: Fernet with cola.

 

A Montevideo murga. Photo by Emma Jones

 

Down on the other shore of the River Plate, in Montevideo, Uruguay, Carnaval has a Brazilian saborcito to it. Massive murgas (drum and dance troupes) parade through the streets of the capital. Montevideo’s fest also has the distinction of being one of the longest in the world: It lasts 40 days.

It's not Rio -- this is Montevideo's Carnaval! Photo by Emma Jones

So get out your dancing shoes and get crazy this next weekend. It’s a holiday no matter where you go — and so you should enjoy it just like the locals. Take care, have fun — and get your hangover remedies ready for Wednesday morning!

On the Road – Peru: Six Recent Incredible Ancient Finds

Machu Picchu before the crowds. Photo by Dawn Wohlfarth.

When most people think of Peru and archaeology, one site looms in their minds: the Incas’ glorious Machu Picchu. Peru, though, has ruined cities of many other pre-Columbian cultures that rival Inca remains. Two areas that local archaeologists consider to be equally – if not more – important than the Sacred Valley are the North Coast, between Trujillo and Chiclayo, and the Chachapoyas regions where every year, startling new finds are unearthed.

 

The news has been chock-full of discoveries and recoveries. Yale University has finally returned thousands of artifacts Hiram Bingham had taken from Machu Picchu. A new museum is being built in the Sacred Valley to house those treasures. Remember, travelers: During the month of February, the famous Inca Trail is closed for maintenance, but the archaeological site does remain open.

 

Journeyers heading to Arequipa may be disappointed to discover that the mummy Juanita (also known as La Dama de Ampato) is not on display at the Santuarios Andinos de Arequipa museum. She is receiving special treatments to preserve her.

 

 

The big news, though, is coming from the North Coast region. Long before the Inca rose from the depths of Lake Titicaca, this area was home to the great Mochica, Moche and Chimú empires. Today, the massive adobe cities’ pyramids are yielding astounding archaeological finds. Here are six of the most exciting discoveries and recoveries that are happening there:

 

  • Just in time for National Popcorn Day, the oldest evidence of that delicious treat has been found at Huaca Prieta in northern Peru. The 6,700-year-old remains show that a variety of corn (including that for popcorn) was being used 2,000 years earlier than previously thought.

 

Ayapec (Huaca de la Luna). Photo by morrissey

  • Another great discovery is at Huaca de la Luna, near Trujillo. In continuing excavations there, archaeologists have uncovered a semi-circular altar upon which human sacrifices were done. Also discovered are stunning wall paintings. Visitors to this site now have an aerial walkway from which to enjoy the huaca’s many murals and a new museum.

 

  • In 2006, at El Brujo, another site near Trujillo, archaeologists found a most fascinating woman: la Señora de Cau, also known as the Tattooed Woman. Not only was she buried with incredible treasures, but her body was also richly adorned with art. Various pieces of this find are displayed at the Museo del Sitio Cau at the El Brujo archaeological complex.

 

Huaca del Brujo - Royal Tomb. Photo by Veronique Debord

  • Near Chiclayo, a tomb richer than that of the Señor of Sipán has been uncovered in the Chotuna-Chornancap archaeological complex, nine kilometer (5.5 miles) south of Lambayeque. The Sacerdote de Chornancap (Priest of Chornancap) is causing quite a stir for the nine sets of ear piercings he has and his treasures. After study and restoration work are completed in six to eight months, the artifacts will be exhibited in the Museo Brüning, and later at Lima’s Museo Nacional.

 

  • Speaking of the Lambayeque’s archaeological riches: The priceless pendant, Cabeza de Mono Dorada, has been repatriated to Peru. This beautiful gold broche, inlaid with sodalite and other stones, was looted from a tomb of the La Mina archaeological site in Jetuetepeque in the 1980s. Experts have not yet decided where the public may view it.

 

  • Near Cajamarca, work is continuing on Poro Poro de Udima. The site was devoted to a water-centered cult. Once the rains let up in the region, Poro Poro de Udima will be open to the public through April.

 

Photos of all the new finds can be viewed at Arqueología del Perú’s website, which is an excellent source for keeping up with the country’s latest archaeological discoveries.

 

 

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.