Tag Archives: travel

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.”

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.

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.

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.

 

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: 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: 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.

 

 

The Cartagena-Colón Ferry Returns

After 16 years, ferry service between Cartagena, Colombia, and Colón, Panamá, has resumed. This service, which will begin May 10, now will give travelers the most economical way to travel between South and Central America.

 

For a short time in the mid-1990s, travelers could rely on the Crucero Express to safely shuttle them from Central America to South America. At the time, it was a god-send: Just a few years earlier, it became prohibitively dangerous to walk the Darien Gap, the jungle between the two countries, and most backpackers could not afford the airfare between Panama and Colombia. The only other choice was to find a way to Puerto Obaldía, the last Caribbean Coast town in Panama, then take the chalupas (twin-engine speedboats) down the coast to Turbo. In that decade, though, that trip was not without its adventures. But suddenly, without reason, the Crucero Express ceased operations in November 1996.

 

Now the Greek-staffed Nissos Rodos will be making the trip. Service begins May 10, 2012. The passenger-cargo ferry has a capacity for 1,484 passengers, 500 autos and 2,000 meters of cargo space, with the capacity to haul 175 shipping containers. The ship will sail from Cartagena, Colombia, on Tuesday, Friday and Sunday, and from Colón, Panamá, on Monday, Thursday and Saturday. It will leave port at 6 a.m. and arrive at approximately 6 p.m.

 

Passengers have the choice of traveling in reserved seat ($99-119), dormitory ($209) or private cabin ($598-678). Reservations must be made at least 48 hours in advance, with payment.

In Cartagena, reservations may be made with Promised Land Tours (Calle de la Media Luna 10-113, Getsemaní. Tel: 57-5-660-2565, Cel: 57-300-449-1906 / 317-355-1186, E-mail: reservas.promisedlandtours@gmail.com, URL: http://promisedlandtours.webnode.es). The agent in Panama City is Pan American Seaways (Tel: 209-2000 / 380-0900 and via or E-mail: reservas@panaferry.com, URL: www.panaferry.com).

 

Find out more about the Colombia-Panama Border Crossings and Colombia in VIVA’s new Colombia Adventure Guide, available in a variety of e-book applications directly from VIVA, as well as in print format from Amazon.com and Barnes & Noble.