Last Few Days in Lima

Well, after seven weeks of adventures in Peru, I made it back home to Dallas. I fell asleep yesterday and woke up and was rather bewildered to find myself in a house that looked just like my house at home, before realizing that I actually wasn’t in Peru anymore and was actually back at my house in Dallas. That and finding the urge to speak Spanish in public places just goes to show how embedded Peru is in my mind.

So, to finish up this series of blog posts, I’ll just recap what my brother and I did on our last few days in Lima. We got to Lima without problems Sunday night, and made it to our hotel. Unbeknownst to us, we were in a ‘marital suite’ because we booked a room for 2 adults and I guess the hotel put us there. It wasn’t a big deal, but a bit comical to walk into our room and see this:

  

Anyway, we got settled and headed out to a chifa (Chinese-Peruvian restaurant, which are everywhere all over the country) then went to bed. On Monday, we got up and went to the famous Museo Larco, a world renowned museum featuring ancient pottery from all of Peru’s pre-Colombian civilizations. Often, people don’t realize how extensive Peru’s civilizations were, because we focus so much on the Incas. But in reality, the Inca civilization was the culmination in a nearly 10,000 year development of civilization all throughout Peru’s coast, mountains, and some parts of the jungle. In some ways, it was interesting to tie this back to my project on evolution and medicine, as we found ourselves in one of the few cradles of civilization, which put us on the historical trajectory we find ourselves on today, and whose influence on health is very visible throughout the country. So anyway, my brother and I enjoyed learning about these ancient civilizations and seeing their amazing works of art that were in nearly perfect condition thousands of years later. We even got to go into the museum’s storehouse, where they have thousands and thousands of works for scientific study.
  

That afternoon, we took the bus to meet our old Spanish teacher from high school. I can’t tell you how crazy is that I got to see another old teacher from my high school during my time in Peru, but after all the crazy déjà vu like things that I’ve experienced, I was almost not surprised. We got lunch and caught up, then said goodbye and made plans to meet up once we got back and settled.
  

After a quick descanso, my brother and I met up with my good friend Luiggi, the one who took me to Chincha nearly a month ago! We went out to dinner and hung out for a couple hours, catching up, sharing stories, and laughing until we cried about who knows what.
Then Tuesday, I met up with the family who housed me in Lima. My friend Jose took me downtown, to visit the old part of Lima, with the beautiful plaza and huge churches amidst colonial edifices in pastel colors. Then, we headed back to his house, where I had lunch with the family one last time, and again, we talked and laughed and enjoyed each other’s company, all excited to reunite and a little sad that I was going to leave. 
  

That night, I walked around our neighborhood, and stumbled upon a temporary market in the local plaza. The vendors were selling goods and food late into the night, and I was hungry so I decided to do the Peruvian street food one last time. So I got chicha de jora, the ancient Inca corn beer, and some tacachu con cecina, a jungle dish of marinated pork with ground up plantain. Rico!
   
 

Then, on my last day in Peru, I headed back to the university to say bye to all the people who helped me, and back to Loayza to say bye to all my friends. Of course, like the rest of my goodbyes, these were bittersweet. But, every single one of my Peruvian friends asked me to return, asked me to keep in touch and told me that if I came back I would have a place to stay. From the family that housed me to the doctors I met in the jungle, from the JVC’s in Andahuaylillas to my buddies in Chiclayo, everyone asked me what day I was going to return. And all the conversations ended with ‘nos vemos,’ which roughly translates to ‘see you soon.’  All in all, I couldn’t help but think that indeed I would return.
   
 

To finish it all off, my brother and I splurged a bit on one of Gaston Acurio’s restaurants. Like a limeño, we went to La Mar for ceviche from Peru’s most famous chef. And it was delicious! We got ceviche with subtle flavors and fresh fish, Gaston pisco cocktails, decadent queso helado made by hand, and a delectable mint sorbet to finish it off. An incredible meal to finish off an incredible trip!
   
    
 

So after all that, a 7 hour flight, and some much needed sleep, I find myself back home in Dallas (and this morning I woke up and remembered I was actually home). The only thing I can say now is that I had an amazing trip. Looking back on it, I can’t believe all the things I did. I worked in the busiest hospital in Peru; I took boats all over the Amazon; I worked with small communities in the shadows of Incan ruins; and I made friend after friend after friend every step of the way. My project was a complete success, as I found incredibly interesting information about each place I was in, and the comparisons line up almost perfectly with all my expectations. And my Spanish improved by light years, and I would consider myself more or less fluent (as the only thing I lack now is specific vocabulary for that inevitable conversation about something I know nothing about). 

Peru is an incredible country. The people told me that in many ways, it is one of the richest countries in the world – not monetarily, but because it is filled with history, culture, gastronomy, and friendship. The country gave me surprise after surprise, and each day it kept getting better and better. And all I can say now is thank you. Thank you Peru, for your open arms and beautiful country. Thank you to all my friends and family, who kindly helped and supported me along the way. Thank you to Xavier University and the Brueggeman Center for Dialogue, who gave me the opportunity to make this incredible trip possible. And lastly, thank you God for watching over me, for the safe travels and incredible world I’ve been lucky enough to explore part of. The trip was absolutely incredible and better than I could have ever imagined, and for you, Peru, ¡nos vemos!

  
  
   
  
  

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Cusco, El Valle Sagrado, y Machu Picchu

Increible. Este es el solo palabra que yo puedo usar sobre mi viaje acá en Cusco. Mi hermano me encontró y nosotros visitemos muchos de las ruinas de los Incas. Cada vez fue increíble. Y con comida rica, era una viaje no me olvidaré.

Incredible. This is the only word I can say about this trip here to Cusco. My brother met up with me and we visited a number of Incan ruins, and each one was incredible. With this and delicious food, this is a trip I’ll never forget.

After meeting my brother in the morning, we started walking all over downtown Cusco. It is quite the sight – the Incas built Cusco as their capital, but when the Spaniards arrived and took over, they essentially built another city on top of the ruins. The effect is startling and interesting. The bottom of the buildings are impeccable Incan ruins, and the tops are colonial facades forming house after house. 

We visited the Cathedral, which was enormous. Actually, it is three churches that are all connected. All three are stunning, with ornate decorations, gilded facades, enormous paintings, and delicate carvings amidst basilica walls and Inca floors. Perhaps my favorite Last Supper was depicted there, where Jesus and his disciples are feasting on cuy, or guinea pig, a traditional Inca dish that is super popular there (no pictures allowed but I’m sure your favorite internet search engine has plenty). 

The next day, we woke up early and got on a bus to go visit our first Inca ruins. We started at Pisac, where the Incas has terraced an entire mountainside, creating enormous structures that provides fertile soil to this day. We hiked around a bit, then headed down to the huge market. Although a bit touristy, we got lucky because on July 15, the town begins celebrations for La Fiesta del Virgen del Carmen, so we got to see some men with crazy masks (which poke fun at the colonial Spaniards) dance through the streets to kick off the celebration.

   
 
  

After that, we went to Ollantaytambo, the closest ruins to the famed Machu Picchu. Again, the Incas demonstrated their amazing terracing abilities, but also their impeccable precision architecture. There, a Temple of the Sun sits atop all the ruins, with stones so precisely fit together you can’t stick a hair in between. Furthermore, geologists and archaeologists have discovered that the stones at Ollantaytambo are not from the mountain the ruins are on; rather, the quarry was behind an adjacent mountain, meaning that the Incas cut and harvested the rocks on the other side of the Urubamba River, carried them down a mountain, across the river, and back up a mountain. Totally astounding.
  

At the end of the day, we found ourselves at Aguas Calientes, the town at the bottom of Machu Picchu. Also known as Machu Picchu Pueblo, the town is the main access point to get to the famous ruins. We spent the night, and woke up at 4:30 am to eat breakfast and head to the buses up to the ruins. We got there at about 7, and it would be an understatement to say that we were amazing. 
  

There we were, looking at the famed ruins. Part of the excitement is its fame, but the ruins totally live up to and surpass their expectations. We began our day there by hiking Wayna Picchu (also spelled Huaynapicchu), the mountain in the background of the photos of Machu Picchu. The hike was awesome! We were literally walking in the footsteps of the Incas who made the path to the top of the mountain. At some points, we were climbing up stairs as steep as a ladder, enjoying the green scenery and the fleeting glimpses of Machu Picchu. After passing through a tight cave and climbing up some huge boulders, we got to the top, and enjoyed one of the most spectacular views I have ever seen.
   
   

The ruins are impossible to see from below, so as you wind your way up the mountain from the buses, you’re anticipation grows because it seems like you’ll never get there. But from above, you can see everything, and it is a spectacular city tucked away in a lush valley between snow capped mountains and an incredibly fast River. 
  

After getting back down, we went on a tour of the ruins. Being up close made them that much better. Like in Ollantaytambo, Machu Picchu has temples with unbelievably precise stones, forming typical trapezoidal windows and doors with perfectly straight lines. The ruins are extensive and in fantastic condition because no one knew they existed until Hiram Bingham discovered and excavated them in the 1910s. And because UNESCO quickly named it a world heritage sight, the ruins have been kept in very good condition to this day. 

  

So they are big, really well built, and in really good condition. But that’s not all – perhaps the most amazing stone is the Sun Dial. This one stone situated at the highest point in the park tells the time of day, but also keeps track of the months of the year, with a 6 month cycle coinciding with the solstices. The stone is also situated to tell the day when the sun passes exactly 90° above the ruins, so no shadow is produced by the stone at this day. But, to top it all off, the four corners of the stone point exactly to north, south, east, and west. If anything marks the Incas’ amazing craftsmanship and their grasp on astronomical events, this stone does.
   
 
By the end of the day, we made it back to Cusco and quickly fell asleep. The next day, we visited more ruins in Cusco. First, we went to Qoquechaka, close to the center where the Spaniards built a church on top of a Sun Temple. Again, the craftsmanship is amazing, with more stones aligned with the compass. Secondly, we visited Sacsawayman, just north of the main plaza. This ruin is impressive for its huge rocks forming the head and teeth of a puma, with the body being the rest of central Cusco. Unbelievable.
  

Then the next day, we headed down south to (the much much less touristy) Tipón. Tipón has ruins with running water, demonstrating the Incas’ capability of both irrigating their crops and designing beautiful geometrical fountains and facades. But I also wanted to go to Tipón because a number of Peruvians told me that Tipón has the best cuy in Cusco. So of course, I got a succulent, delicious cuy al horno, with potatoes, pasta, and a rocoto relleno. After, we headed to Andahuaylillas, to see another slice of Peru, some supposed alien skulls at their local museum, their amazing church, and to say bye to my friends from the weeks before.
   
 

In many ways, my brother and I spent the week walking in the footsteps of the Incas. But the Incas are still alive in some ways today, from their food, culture, Quechua language which nearly everyone in the valley knows, and incredible ruins that still hold testament to their amazing capabilities over 500 years ago. These were people who respected their environment, who were grateful for what they had, and who used their talents to create some of the most amazing structure in the world. I feel blessed in a way to be able to see these, to gaze upon some of the greatest human constructions and to go back in time with the Incas.

To end, a short testament to the food we ate. Which was delicious. Cuy al horno, ají de gallina, vegetarian hamburgers, picarones, chivimoya, arroz chaufa, and chincharon. Plate after plate of delicious food just made our trip to Cusco that much better. Now, a few more days in Lima before headed back to hot hot Texas. ¡Ciao Cusco!
   
   
  

Arequipa – La Ciudad Blanca y el Cañón del Colca

My first week in Peru, I got asked where I was going to visit. I replied “Lima for two weeks, the jungle for two weeks, and then Cusco for two weeks.” And every time I said that, the Peruvian I was talking to said “aren’t you going to Arequipa?” After hearing about Arequipa for almost two weeks, I decided that in one of my free weekends, I would trek down here to see what it’s like.
 
Arequipa is quite the city. It’s the second largest in the country, but to put it in perspectice Lima has 8-10 million people, and Arequipa has about 1 million people, and that might be an overestimate. The city is locally known as ‘La Ciudad Blanca,’ because the historical center is built almost exclusively out of sillar stone. The sillar stone is found at the foothills of the, not one, not two, but three volcanoes that surround the city. The stone is very strong and resistant to earthquakes, and makes for beautiful colonial architecture.
   
 
I got here at about 5:30 in the morning after a night bus from Cusco. I checked into my hotel, which was located near the center and was probably an old colonial home that had been revamped into a hotel (and made out of sillar). After getting settled, I went to the cathedral, which is the only cathedral in Peru that spans the length of an entire block. And of course, nearby was La Iglesia de La Compañía, also made out of sillar and absolutely magnificent. 

   
 
Both churches were breathtaking, but the best part had to be the Chapel for St. Ignacius in the Jesuit Church. In here, every inch of wall and ceiling is painted by anonymous painters from the Cusco School. It is filled with flowers, birds, fruits, and little children. The scale of this piece might rival Il Jesu in Rome, for those of you who know that church. I couldn’t take pictures but I’m sure there are some good ones online that you can take a peek at.

Then I went to el Monestsrio de Santa Catalina, a huge complex about a block from the Plaza de Armas. This monastery actually was like a city in the city, totally isolated from the outside. It takes up a whole city block, and housed nuns for around 500 years or so in the center of Arequipa. The entire complex is very well preserved, beautifully designed (again out of sillar) and rather reflective and tranquil amidst the hustle and bustle of a big city.

  

I apologize if this is starting to sound like a list of things I did here, but I just can’t help sharing all these cool things I saw! In the afternoon, I walked around and admired the volcanoes from a couple viewpoints, then headed to the Museo Santuarious Andinos, which houses Juanita. Juanita is a frozen mummy who was a human sacrifice in an Incan ritual to please the mountain gods. She was sacrificed on top of a mountain and was totally preserved because of the freezing temperatures for 500 years. The museum was crazy cool, with great artifacts and Juanita in the subzero 500 year old frozen flesh (and again, no pictures allowed sorry).

And a visit to a new city wouldn’t be complete without trying the regional food! Here are two Arequipeña dishes that were just awesome! First, rocoto relleno, a stuffed rocoto pepper that was probably the spiciest thing I’ve eaten here, although I’ve had much spicier (cough cough Diablo XX habanero salsa). Rico! And the other is chupe de camarones, a crawfish-zapallo-cheese-corn soup that is out of this world tasty! 
   
 

That was just Friday. Saturday, I got up and got on a bus to Chivay, a city near the Cañón del Colca. To get there, we passed through a few small towns, and over the highest road in the Americas, with an altitude of 4910 meters (or around 15,000 feet), where the environment looked like the moon. These strange balanced rock formations were everywhere, practically no life, and two snow capped mountain ranges in the distance.
   
 
Once we got to Chivay, we dropped our stuff off and went to the local hot baths to take a 36°C bath at the beginning of the canyon. Felt great out there! Then dinner with a Peña, a traditional Peruvian dance and music show. 

   
   

This morning, we got up at about 5 am to eat breakfast the head out to the canyon. We passed through a couple small cities with enormous churches and a few viewpoints before coming to  the Colca Canyon. I realized that I haven’t explaine what’s so special about this canyon. Two things – first, it’s the second deepest canyon in the world (the first deepest is actually a few miles more north, but it is only accessible via hiking, and is only a few meters deeper too). Secondly, it is home to the Andean condor, a huge endangered bird whose habitat is this canyon. Their wingspan is about 3 m (9 ft) and they prey solely on carrion. They don’t fly, but glide using the natural currents produced by the sun warming the canyon floor. 
   
 
And boy, was this canyon incredible! The walls are nearly vertical and you can hardly see the bottom. The condors were incredible, flying around and just being themselves in their home. Although it was crowded, the amazing views and majestic condors were more than worth the trip! And of course, the rest of the canyon is stunning as well, with little pueblos dotting the sides as the river cuts deeper and deeper into the earth.
  

I hope you have enjoyed reading about all this as much as I’ve enjoyed experiencing it, but I do want to take a moment to reflect on all of this. First, everyone I talked to in Arequipa seemed very educated. From taxistas to tour guides, hotel managers to college students, everyone seemed to know what was going on in Peru and in the world. They all spoke intelligently and had critical and sobering ideas, which in some ways is surprising but in other ways reveals another layer to this historical and intriguing city.

Secondly, this trip was a testament to the ability for humans to conquer all types of terrain. From building a city from scratch in the shadows of three volcanoes (and ingeniously using the volcanoes own rocks to do it) to terraforming the dry earth around a high canyon to farm in the Andes, humans have taken what was a desolate landscape and somehow thrived. This, to me, is an amazing thought, because we in many ways are facing another challenge that we must work on to overcome. I would like to say that Peru has no litter, but that would be a bold faced lie – Peru, as beautiful as it is, suffers from trash and litter like no other. And to zoom out further, our actions are having an impact on everything. The condors I saw today have started to decrease in numbers due to pollution in the area caused by tourist buses. To reference another fellows project, tons of dams have radically altered ecosystems in the USA and all over the world, with pretty bad consequences.

So what am I saying? I guess in short I’m saying that we’ve got a problem, and all of our ancestors had problems too. But they were able to overcome their problems, and I hope so can we. And from Pope Francis’ new encyclical (which I have not read but only heard about) some major world players are finally realizing the same thing. If my study has shown anything, it’s that the environment affects us – a lot. It affects our food, our culture, our lifestyle, and to be poignant, it affects our health. But, as Arequipa has shown me, it is possible to solve this problem, and I think we are smart enough to do it.

Anyway, I had an amazing trip to Arequipa, one that totally lived up to all of the things my Peruvian friends told me about. Only a week and a half left, with my brother coming and Machu Picchu ahead! For now, Ciao and buenas noches!

Andahuaylillas

I’ve been out here in Andahuaylillas for a few days now and I’ve gotten a ton done. To begin, I have more or less finished the research part of my project, as I was able to interview a nurse and a doctor here, along with others who work in the local community.  
  

In many ways, the health here was similar to the health in the jungle. The most common diseases here are colds, intestinal infections, and urinary infections, all of which come from less than stellar drinking water and sanitation. But, the life in the mountains seems to have a few different effects on people. The first thing I noticed was that most old women seem to be very hunch backed, which may in part be due to the way they carry their babies ad other goods.  They use a large blanket and put the goods in the back, then tie the corners around their neck and kind of lean forward to balance it all.

  

Another interesting thing (and perhaps the most interesting of all the health issues I’ve looked at in Peru) is teeth. Dental health here is pretty bad. Most kids have mouths full of cavities, crooked teeth, and by the time Bri are adults, are missing a bunch. Some people have even said that there are people who don’t have wisdom teeth and are missing molars that never grow in. This is exactly what I was expecting, as the diet consists of rice, corn, and potatoes, full of simple sugars that cause cavities and relatively soft food that doesn’t help with chewing strength and jaw development. 

Furthermore, as farmers, the locals have lots of lower back problems and joint pain. Again, this lines up exactly with the historical picture of farmers. And, malnutricion is common, as the people lack vitamins and minerals from a variety of vegetables because they eat a a rather monotonous diet. 

Two more things. AIDS is not very common here, but is slowly starting to increase, as a highway has been built linking the small towns here to Cusco and the tourist paths. Again, we see the effects of globalization in every part of the world. Lastly, diabetes, cancer, and heart problems seem to be totally nonexistent, or if they do exist, go undetected. In fact, I had the chance to look through the clinics records, and in the last month, they only saw two cases with diabetes. Compared to nearly daily necrotic teeth and bronchitis, chronic diseases seem to just not show up here.

But it all hasn’t been work here. I’ve ended up volunteering at the local schools in my free time, organizing libraries, teaching a bit of English, and gardening in the neighborhoods. The place I’m staying at is a retreat center for this kind of stuff, and it has been strange déjà vu doing this with another Jesuit high school. 
   
 

The mountains here are just beautiful. I’ve gotten to hike around a little, and I just love the scenery. Again, the people have been incredibly kind, and the towns are small, old, and quaint. Life here is poor, but everyone seems to make due with what they’ve got. After all I’ve done on this trip, I think it’s fitting to end in a place like this, to be with the people of Peru who live simply, who work hard, and who have been placed in one of the most beautiful parts of the world. Now, I’m off to Arequipa, the second largest city in the country that is colloquially known as the “Ciudad Blanca” (White City) for its old colonial marble buildings. Hasta luego!

  

Viajes, Viajes, y Más Viajes

For me, this has been a crazy crazy week. I’ve just made it to Andahuaylillas, a small farming community outside of Cuzco, the ancient capital of the Inca Empire.  But before I talk about that, I have to update you all on the travels I’ve had to get here.

On Sunday and Monday, I was in Huampami, in the northern Peruvian Amazon, without electricity and without any way to get back to modernity other than the one boat that goes to Nieva every day. So Tuesday morning, at 6 am, I got on that boat back to Nieva. I spent my last day in Nieva resting, collecting my thoughts, walking around and getting one last chance to see this jungle city. 

Then Wednesday, I started my journey back to Lima. I got in a van from Nieva to Bagua, which left at 6 am as well. When I came to Nieva, the trip was all overnight so I was half asleep and couldn’t see anything, so I didn’t have any idea where in the world I was. But this time, the journey was all in the day, so I saw everything and boy, was it beautiful. We started off in lowland jungle, then began zipping around sharp curves, up and down steep inclines, nearly flying (and I mean this quite literally) through the jungle-mountain mix. Despite feeling like I was on a roller coaster, I was totally awestruck by the beauty of the land.

  

About an hour from Bagua, we had to stop because of a rockslide. I actually didn’t mind because it was a quick break from the roller coaster and I got to enjoy the scenery of the area. I also struck up conversation with some Peruvians who were also waiting, joking about the derrumbe and sharing stories about the jungle. After an hour, it was cleared up enough for us to pass, so we ran to the car and zipped off into the mountains.
   
    

   
 

 Outside of Bagua, the scenery changed again. The jungle faded away as the mountains got bigger and drier. We made it to Bagua, but I missed the bus to Chiclayo so I decided to make a quick trip to Jaén, where supposedly more buses were. But, when I got there, I had missed them and the next ones were at 10 pm (by then it was 2 or so). So I and three others got into an auto, a car that took us to Chiclayo.

Man, this was a crazy road. The mountains got bigger and bigger and we kept going faster and faster, only slowing down for speed bumps and the sharpest of turns. I was on the edge of my seat the whole time, and especially when we got so high that we were in the clouds and couldn’t see more than five feet in front of us. Thankfully, we made it to Chiclayo without any problems and I got to take a good shot of the terrain during our one and only rest stop:

     

Spent the night in Chiclayo, and the next day I went with some Jesuits to a local confirmation at a prison for juvenile delinquents. It was a nice ceremony for them, and after there was a little party with regional dishes and desserts. After getting back, I met up with a friend I met the first time I was in Chiclayo.  We went to get ceviche and then headed to the beach, hanging out and enjoying the huge waves. Thursday night, I got on a bus to Lima, and attempted (mostly unsuccessfully) to sleep on the bus that night.
 

  

  



In Lima, I went back to the host family that housed me during my time there   a few weeks ago, and they were so excited to hear about my adventures! After catching up, we went to La Punta in Callao, an old fishing port north of Lima to get more ceviche and see the beaches.  After washing my clothes by hand I hit the hay, then got up and went to the airport to go to Cuzco.

  

July 4th. I’m in the airport and my flight has been delayed due to a storm in Cuzco. This might be the strangest déjà vu in my life, because exactly a year ago, I was in Rome, waiting for a plane to Paris that was delayed due to a storm in the Alps. But thankfully, it was only an hour delay so I made it to Cuzco and then Andahuaylillas quickly without any problems.

I get to Andahuaylillas with my backpack and little guitar, and with directions to go to the church. So I found the huge church and met a much of American JVC volunteers who work here and we’re having a July 4th celebration. They cooked chili and cornbread (how Texan of them) and we hung out, sharing stories and telling jokes, playing games, and realizing that next week, a group from my alma mater Jesuit Dallas will be coming to this very same retreat center to provide service to the community. I was totally floored – how in the world did I end up in this rural farming village where there were more Americans than I’d seen this whole trip and where teachers and students from my high school would meet me here in just a week? 
   

 

 Needless to say, this has probably been the strangest, craziest, coolest weeks of my life. And not to mention that I’ve slept in 6 different beds the last 7 days. Thankfully, I have had an incredible trip, filled with surprises and friendship, and every day the stories just keep getting harder and harder to believe. But for now, I’m prepping for the last leg of my trip, la sierra!

La Poza, Puerto Gallilea, y Huampami

Tranquilo. Cada vez yo he dicho que este es mi primera vez en la selva, la gente me dice que “La vida de la selva es tranquila.” Verdad – después de diez días, yo he realizado que este es cierto. La gente es amable, la comida es rica y suave, las noches son oscuro y relajando. 

Calm. Every time I tell someone it’s my first time here in the jungle, they tell me that life here is calm, simple, good. I have had the opportunity to see parts of the Peruvian Amazon most tourists don’t get to see, and the life here indeed is tranquil. 

The past week, I visited two local villages in the province of Condorcanqui in the department Amazonas (the equivalent of some counties in a state in the U.S.). After a few days in Nieva, I traveled via boat for four hours down Río Marañon and Río Santiago to the Distrito del Río Santiago, also known as La Poza, and also known as Puerto Gallilea. Here is a picture of my ride, a chalupa:

  

It was pouring rain when I got there. The streets were normally dirt roads, but with the rain it was pretty much all mud. I found my hotel and met the owner, whose wife was a nurse that worked at a local clinic. I got settled in, ate, walked around a bit, and then hit the hay. I also quickly learned that electricity is only on from about 6:30 pm to 10, or whenever the generator runs out of gas. The next morning, I went to the clinic to conduct interviews with a few of the workers there.
  

The results were pretty much the same as in Nieva: lots of intestinal diseases, respiratory infections, parasites, and AIDS. But, I got the chance to talk to a dentist, who agreed with what I had been noticing all along – the people in the jungle have pretty straight teeth. We both agreed that it has to do with the food, which consists largely of yuca and plantain here, and requires some vigorous chewing even when cooked. 
I learned some more about La Poza too. It is a town in the middle of two tribes: Awahun and Wampis. But the town is populated by mestizo Peruvians from other parts of the country. After my interviews, I was hanging out with a few locals, who told told me that the people here live in peace, without fighting over their differences. Despite being from different tribes or areas of the country, everyone identified as Peruvian and as a member of the local community, which I found to be quite nice and touching, especially given some recent events throughout my own country.

  

The next morning, I got up at 4 am to catch another chalupa back to Nieva, where I rested for a day. Sunday, I took another, more crowded chalupa to Huampami. I have to say that humans weren’t the only passengers – a few dogs, some chickens, and a turkey also made the 4 hour trek to El Cenepa, the third district in this region.   This boat didn’t have a roof, and luckily the sun was out so you could see everything. The trip was gorgeous, as we headed towards a mountain range in the distance. The flora of the Amazon is incredibly diverse, and to talk about evolution, seemed to change drastically every five minutes or so downstream. After getting a little sunburnt and amazing views of the jungle, I arrived at Huampami. I found my host, some nuns who work in the community there.

   
 

Huampami is the capital of Distrito El Cenepa, and is nearly 100% Awahun. Different language, different food, different culture here. The nuns work with the locals, taking note of the culture and language, and helping out with education in the area. 

Again, I got settled, slept, then went to the local clinic to conduct interviews. I talked to a doctor and some nurses, who again confirmed what others had said: infectious diseases. But these people also noted that things are changing. Some people (although very rare) have started to develop diabetes, as cookies, candy, and soda become more readily available. 
  

Interestingly, Huampami, and I suspect La Poza as well, import a lot of their food. I learned from the interviews in both cities that there aren’t many animals or fish to hunt for. Going with the environmentalism theme permeating nearly every one of the Brueggeman Fellows’ trips, the tribes here used to have plenty to eat. They would stay at a place for a year or two, until food got scarce, then move to another, and eventually return to a site that, after a few years, regenerated itself. But as populations grew, the people became more sedentary and food became scarce. Now, fish is only available in September when they swim upstream to breed, and the diet is mainly yuca and plantain. Because of this, malnutrition is very common as well. Furthermore, the folks tell stories about how strong and robust their ancestors were, because they had better food. Now, things are changing, as globalization permeates nearly every nook and cranny of human civilization and overproduction takes its toll on an environment.

At any rate, I had a great time in Huampami. After my interviews, I had lunch with the nuns, and then we hiked to another small village nearby. There, we delivered a package and visited with a few locals, who graciously invited us into their homes that they proudly made themselves. Inside, they gave us food, yuca, boiled eggs, raw peanuts, cacao fruit, salt from the earth, and (perhaps the craziest thing I’ve ever eaten) masato. Masato is a local beverage made by taking yuca, chewing it, then spitting it into a container and fermenting it for about a week. I thought it was pretty good, the texture was a little weird but it had a good flavor and smooth finish. 

   
   

After dinner, bed, and back to Nieva with another chalupa. It’s hard to believe it’s my last day here in the jungle, and harder to believe I’ve been in Peru for nearly four weeks now. The trip has been incredible so far, and I can’t wait for the next adventure. After some more buses, I’ll get back to Lima in a few days, the head to Cusco for the last leg of the trip. Until then, I’ll enjoy the tranquil life here in la selva!

Adventuras en las Amazonas

I’ve been here in Nieva for three days now, and right now is the first time it has rained since I arrived. And boy, it is just pouring. The noise is nearly deafening, which isn’t surprising given the other loud and constant noises I’ve heard here so far.

My first day here, I got settled in and met the head of the local health center, who agreed to give me some basic information on the disease trends here in Nieva and the surrounding areas. I got the information yesterday, and it’s great (or as great as a bunch of facts about mortality rates can be).  Regardless, from her and a few others, I have started to piece together the health picture here.

Generally, the Amazon region is plagued by infectious diseases. Dengue, malaria, typhoid, and HIV are very common throughout the region. The leading causes of death are infectious diseases, and although I’m sure that there are chronic diseases here, no one is talking about them. 

The dengue and malaria are related to the mosquito populations here. Actually, Nieva is in the high Amazon, a huge valley between the Andes and another small mountain range which separates Nieva from the Amazon Basin. Because of the increased altitude and generally cooler climate, Nieva doesn’t have many mosquitos and hardly has any cases of malaria.  

Typhoid and intestinal issues come from the less than pure water most people use for everything. The house I am staying at uses the water from the rain in the showers and sinks.  But a quick look at the other houses shows the same signs. Nieva, sadly, is very poor, and as such, access to the commodities of modern life are scarce.

That isn’t to say that there isn’t modernity here. You cannot walk down the stree without seeing vendors selling Inca Kola and Cristal Cervesa. Nieva is the largest city in the area, and I suspect that if it grows, health trends will change as well.

One last thing on health: Here, there is a ton of AIDS.  Although I don’t have an exact confirmed number, a few people have said it could be as high as 50% (take it with a grain of salt). Another thing – 51% of the population here is below 14. There are kids everywhere and nearly every girl of age is holding an infant. The culture here, in part influenced by young marriages in indigenous peoples, seems to be very reproductive.

So what else have I been doing? The other day, a friend and I took a hike around a local waterfall, up to the top of a hill here, and back down to the city. Looks like some pictures from a friend in Costa Rica:

        

  

And yesterday I had my most Amazonian of adventures. The local Fe y Alegria school, run by the Jesuits and some nuns, educates students from indigenous tribes and areas without good access to education. I visited the school, and ended up going with a class across the river to the jungle, where the students had helped build a beehive. 

   


 

   

  

 
What an adventure! The students kept pulling fruits out of nowhere, that had flavor and aromas I had never experienced. The plants were so diverse, as they all compete to get a little bit of sun in the overcrowded jungle. And the insects have stunning colors, are pretty big, and are pretty strong (go leaf-cutter ants)! 
   
   

  

 
   
 
After a feast of fruits and juice, I rested for a bit, then grabbed one of these bad boys:

   

      

 
 

 
This is juane, a dish for the Feast of Saint John the Baptist, which is a big day in parts of the jungle. The dish supposedly looks like John’s head on the platter, and is totally delicious! Moreover, across the river were festivities, including more dancing with fires (this might be a Peruvian thing) and a tower of fireworks! All in all, a fun, crazy night!
   
   
    

   
 

So now, I am off to visit a local community about 4 hours away by boat. We will see what they have in store for me, but if anything, it will be another adventure for the books!