Hello! This is a really quick post to say that I’m alive and well-ish, after being floored for a week by a rather nasty sinus infection. My respiratory system really dislikes the cool, humid Lima winters, especially the way the humidity traps the serious air pollution and deposits it all over the inside of my lungs. Mmmm!
So I’m pleased to say that I’m getting away from it for ten days, heading off on a trip-of-a-lifetime to the Amazon jungle! Ok, so I’ll be spending half my time in the jungle city of Pucallpa, which by all accounts is a NOT a trip highlight. Pucallpa will be a good immersion in the threats to the Amazon and social challenges resulting from urban expansion and economic modernisation. It’s mostly poor shanty-slums in a cleared and developed section of the rainforest, with logging the major industrial activity, but from Pucallpa I am travelling on to Purus.
You’ll struggle to find Purus on a map. It’s a tiny speck in a sea of near-pristine forests right near the border with Brazil. The only way into and out of Purus is the float plane that comes twice a week and lands on the river. It’s not on the tourist routes: there’s not even a hostel in town. I only know about the place because of my work with Peruvian natural protected areas. Two areas – Purus Communal Reserve and Alto Purus National Park – are managed by national parks staff based in Pucallpa and Purus, and the Director of the Communal Reserve has invited me to come for a visit. He will meet me in Purus and show me around. Yeah I know, I’m spoilt. Read More
Head north out of Lima to the town of Huaral, in the valley of the river Chancay. Turn east and follow the river valley through the desert plains and into the foothills of the mighty Andes, passing the irrigated fields and orchards that help to feed the mega-city. Drive by ancient mud-brick temples crumbling back into dust, by rural villages nestled into bends in the river…
Caporales is a folk dance originating in Bolivia and spreading into parts of the Puno district of Peru and areas of Argentina that share the Amaya culture. The roots of the Caporales go back to the Saya, an Afro-Bolivian song and dance style that developed in the negro and mulatto slave communities brought to the Viceroyalty of Peru to work in the mines and on the plantations of the Spanish conquerors. The costumes and movements of the Caporales dance draw on the caporal – or foreman – character developed in the sayas: the mulatto elevated to the favoured position of right-hand-man, the commander of the African slaves and indentured Andean workers, and the dance itself is connected with reverence of the Virgin of Socavon or the Virgin of Candelaria, two aspects of the Virgin Mary considered sacred to miners and in Peru and Bolivia.
The Caporales dance in its modern incarnation emerged in the late 1960s and quickly gained popularity. A fusion of Afro-Andino, Amayan and Spanish elements, the Caporales is an energetic dance performed by a team of male and female dances. The striking costuming references the foreman’s traditional uniform, embellished with aspects of Spanish military uniform and the indigenous Andean love of colour and decoration, and is as flirtatious as the dance style itself. The men jump and stomp in displays of strength and stamina, while the women’s elegant twisting motions lift their skirts and showcase the strength and form of their legs and hips. The bells on the men’s boots reference the chains worn by slaves and indentured workers, in reference to the dance’s cultural roots.
The Caporales dance has become hugely popular over time, and is danced widely in Peru, with regional competitions leading up to a national dance title that is fiercely competitive and just a little Strictly Ballroom. Dance teams practice for months to choreograph and perfect their routines prior to performance. Well, normally, at least.
I shouldn’t speak so harshly of the Peruvian coastal desert. Although I’m a creature of green, hilly places, deserts can be spectacularly beautiful places to visit that have a marvellous effect of putting things into perspective and making day-to-day worries seem very small indeed.
The Peruvian coastal desert is arguably part of the mighty Atacama, which stretches 1 000 km from northern Chile and eastern Bolivia all the way along the Peruvian coast until just shy of the border with Ecuador. Covering 128 000 square kilometres, the Atacama is the driest non-polar desert in the world: the Andes to the east block the arrival of warm, rain-bearing winds, and along the coast the Humboldt Current maintains the dry, stable conditions while also keeping the temperatures cool, which is why it never rains in Lima.
The Humboldt Current is also responsible for the incredible richness of marine life on the Peruvian coast. The current drives the up-welling of deep, cold, nutrient-rich waters which supports huge levels of productivity. The sea here smells strongly of fish and algae and absolutely teems with aquatic life. The resulting abundance of seafood, coupled with the cool climate and river valleys carrying fresh water down from the Andes, has meant the Peruvian Coastal Desert has been home to a variety of human civilizations for thousands of years. Read More
This time last year I was in Cusco, where I stumbled on a street parade of traditional dancers after my Spanish lessons one day. The colour and costumes and friendliness of the people delighted me as I raced around with naught but my phone, trying to capture it all. These are the photos I took that day, as I skurried around behind-the-scenes, phone in hand, talking to the performers and trying to capture the event through their eyes.
If all has gone to plan, right now I should be in Pisac, not too far out of Cusco, tucked away in a curve of the Urabamba River in Peru’s Sacred Valley. Read More
Long ago, almost lost to the mists of memory, I went on magical journey to a far away land… Ok, so it was only in December, but it feels like it was eons ago, and it really was pretty magical. I climbed onto a bus one night in Lima and found myself the next morning in another world. One where it was raining; and cold. As I stepped sleepily off the bus and eased the cricks out of my spine, both these things made me smile: I was in the sierra, the central valley of the Andes. My Peru.
A friend and I had made the trip up to Huaraz to see in the New Year from lofty heights and to spend a few days trekking through one of the most spectacular parts of the generally rather spectacular Peruvian Andes: Huascaran National Park. The park, named after Peru’s highest peak which lies within it’s bounds, covers 340 000 ha of the steep and beautiful Cordillera Blanca (White Range) of the central Andes, in Ancash province. First protected in 1977, the park was given World Heritage status in 1985 in recognition of its high ecological and cultural values. Like most everywhere in Peru, Huascaran National Park has been occupied and altered by humans for thousands of years, with the landscape shaped by the interactions of people with their environment. Cultures that have called the region home include the Chavín, Recuay and Wari peoples before the region was conquered by the Inca Empire in the 1460s, and then the Spaniards from the 1530s.
I have been up in the sierra on field work. It was an interesting and somewhat dramatic trip, for various reasons, and has left me with a lot to think about.
We came back yesterday: 8 hours on the bus between Huancayo and Lima. It was the first time I’ve made the trip up through the western side of the Andes in daylight. I’ve always been on the overnight buses previously. This time I was wide awake as we passed through the extensive mining concessions up in the high mountains.
Mining is dragging Peru out of poverty at the same time as it is destroying the natural wealth of the country. Mountainsides are pulverised and catchments are contaminated as the industry chews up the landscape with shocking speed. Legal and illegal mines alike take huge bites from the earth in the rush to consume its riches.