The jungle is just marvelous. I awoke to have a look around and explore some things that I had circled in my guidebook over breakfast. There was the Chancas Expeditions to visit and get information on river rafting trips, other hotel to find for my stay, the laundry to have my filthy jeans cleaned, and just to have a walk. The breakfast at the corner spot called Banana's Cafe was really nice. A fresh fruit smoothie with egg and cheese omelette, toast and proper brewed coffee. They also do nice hamburgers and sandwiches there. It's a local landmark and I'd say the good reputation is warranted, even if the service was spotty (but that's to be expected in Peru. Good service is a surprise and a rarity). At Chancas the owner told me that her husband was from Canton, Ohio.
I got some information about rafting trips and it seems that I have come just at the end of high season, so there weren't enough people going out to warrant a raft trip. My guidebook had said that there were multiple-day trips offered, with camping, but Maya acted as if that had never happened before. I was confused and kept mentioning it to her but she was evasive. In the end, she said that a foreigner that was staying in one of the couple rooms she has for rent was going to take out kayaks for a few hours trip on Monday and that she had another person interested. So I agreed to it as it didn't seem that I had much option.
Next up was to find a place to stay and it turned out that I must have a knack for ending up in red-light districts because the place near where the fiesta was being held in the central plaza of the Morales district just west of Tarapoto
was pretty seedy and I overheard the mototaxi driver muttering something about "putas".
Well, I had already made a reservation there and if it was bad then I would only stay one night. I just needed to set my stuff down and see what I could see in the afternoon. One of the excursions mentioned in my guidebook was only a half hour ride away and I decided to see if I could get there and see something and not waste the day away. It's a village called Lamas on the outskirts of Tarapoto, up in the hills, that has a lot of folk traditions and is the folkloric capital of the department of San Martin. There is a museum there, and a smaller village just a short walk away, where there is much to see, so I found the place where they had cars going to Lamas.
It was a really hot day, the thermometer read 37 which I worked out to 91 degrees, and extremely humid.
Poisonous baby snakes
I wasn’t used to such heat coming from the highlands and the cool coast. Even the beach in Mancora
wasn’t that warm. But I loved it all the same. It was nice to roast and sweat after two months of colder weather, especially when in Cleveland I was missing summer. After walking through the busy, open market I found the place where the cars wait for passangers to Lamas. Gradually a few people showed up until we almost had enough to leave, but waiting for the last person everyone got antsy. Finally, the driver asked if I would mind sharing the front seat with a schoolgirl so that the other couple waiting in another car could share the back seat with the other guy.
So we set off with five passengers, including the girl in the front seat and I who were almost on each other’s laps. But with a drive of a half hour it wasn’t too bad and I at least could stick my head out the window and enjoy the scenery.
Lamas didn’t look too large. I walked up the hill and noticed that there was a museum so I stopped in. It was a mélange of everything that the village of Lamas and surroundings had to offer, a kind of cultural and natural history museum all put together. The first room was dedicated to the local fauna and the displays were the physical reality of all my National Geographic childhood nightmares. First display case contained jars with baby poisonous snakes in formaldehyde, the skulls of scary-looking animals and a huge framed tarantula (a good 8 inches in length).
Then the oblivious girl at the desk who was my guide showed me the case containing bugs and insects found in the environs. For heaven’s sake, there were bugs almost as big as my head. Large flying roach-like bugs that were as big as my hand. And to top it off, she told me about a gray moth-like bug displayed there that lives in trees and drops onto humans passing by. With it’s snake-like head it can bite you and injest poison that is more toxic than a venomous snake and that can kill you! Geez!! I never saw that one on Animal Planet. If I had I wouldn’t be here right now, I can tell you that. If that all weren’t enough, in another room there was the skin of boa constrictor that stretched across an entire wall and the girl said it was only medium-sized! I had had enough of the animals.
Yikes they're huge!!
The other displays showed household tools and utensils, fabric-making and weaving, and the other usual cultural artifacts. Another room contained dioramas of different folk practices. I learned that I had just missed the two most important days in Lamas, the first taking place Thursday and the second on Friday, the last two days of the St. Rose festival. The ceremony I had missed the day before consisted of an ancient Spanish-introduced practice of stringing up a hen on a wire between two posts and then passing a baton to the succession of villagers who take turns whacking it like a piñata all day long until the mass of feathers and flesh and blood is let down in the evening. Strange that the ceremony isn’t on PETA’s list of not-to-miss events, no?
Creeped out a bit from the museum, I was happy to walk down the hill in the brilliant sunshine to the village below Lamas.
I hope never to see these...
No paved streets here and it was very quiet the day after their eight day festival. The men taking down the booths, and relaxing in the shade reminded me of the aftermath of the Feast of the Assumption in Little Italy in Cleveland. I had participated in it several times and I could empathize with the workers and I could understand the quiet in the village the day after. It was nice to walk around and see the village life, to see their houses and talk to them. They always ask the same questions in variation and often repeat the question after a bit when they don’t remember the response. You have to say how long you’ve been in Peru, what you think of it, where you’ve been and where you’re going. They you chat a bit and invariably someone starts back in on the same line of questioning and you have to repeat everything all over again.
Native peoples before Spanish
In spite of that, I loved their curiosity and telling them whatever they want to know. America must seem so far away to them. They asked how many hours it takes by plane and when I said about eight, they just shook their heads and said, “wow.” Many of them have probably never been on a plane before in their lives. On my way back up to Lamas a group of older men motioned me over and insisted that I have a drink of their homemade cinnamon moonshine. It was aguardiente with cinnamon flavor and it was a lot stronger than the uvachado I had the night before! No wonder the one guy was slurring his words. I thanked them and got away by saying I couldn’t drink anymore unless they wanted me to say in the village for the night!
I walked up to the lookout point and all was quiet up there on a Saturday late afternoon.
I had a nice conversation with the two girls waiting the few tables there and slowly sipped my ice cold beer as the sun finished setting over the hills. I would have stayed longer but the last car left at 8 pm and I didn’t want to miss it. Back in Lamas I had a quick dinner at a little grill next to the dodgy hostel and went back to check out the festival again in the square. I walked around and watched some of the games and rides and noticed that I was the only foreigner in the crowd of several thousands. That was a neat realization to know I had really left the “gringo trail.” It was evident that not many foreigners make it here, but again, what they are missing! It was nice to see so many families at the festival and I stopped by again at the booth to share some beer with my friends from the night before.
I stayed for a little while but I wanted to see what the discoteques might be like nearby that I had seen from the road earlier. One place looked particularly inviting down by the river. It is built on a slope, on the banks, with multi-levels and hanging box Chinese lanterns in different colors. There was a Peruvian rock band playing later that night so I walked further and happened upon Papillon club and I went in. I was one of the first at 10 pm but a half hour later or so the mototaxis started pulling up more frequently and more and more people came in. Three girls sitting nearby came up to me and one of them asked where I was from and were very friendly. I ended up sharing drinks and conversation with them and then dancing for awhile.
Boa constrictor skin
By the time we left, the place, which seemed cavernous when I first came in, had filled up so that there wasn’t a spare table. They really start late here and I’m sure we were some of the first to leave. Many would stay until very late at night, much later than our closing times in America.