Saturday, September 27th, 2003

Northern Peru

Exploring the mangroves

So, were back in Peru. It’s a relief to be back. Immediately prices seem to drop, and there is more to see and do.

We are getting stared at a lot more in Northern Peru... guess they don’t get as many tourists here as in other parts of Peru. So happy to be back here though, find Peru more interesting than Ecuador… maybe cause we have seen more here or maybe just cause of the 3 months or so that we have been here we have had relatively no problems in Peru and in the one week or 2 that we were in Ecuador we had some badluck…. For example in our hotel in Quito, Ecuador we heard a knock on our door.. opened it up to find our hotel manager and 3 armed police standing there… asked to see our passports.. handed them over as they inspected them, thanked us and gave them back. Sorta intimidating. Apparently that’s pretty routine in Ecuador.. but have also heard stories about them not giving them back unless you pay them a good amount. Geez!


Frances, Tony’s sister, is doing well. We are enjoying showing her all the stuff Peru ahs to offer.. like the yummy fermented purple corn drink called chichi morada and the sweet white fruit called cherimoya…etc… and introducing her to the local alcoholic drinks of course, like pisco sour (similar to whiskey sours at home but made with pisco of course and some really good Peruvian limes!) and algarrobina (sorta tastes like eggnog and sometimes chocolaty tasting)…etc….





Tumbes is a jungley town at sea level about 45min from the border on the coast of Peru. The place is gorgeous. In the plaza there are trees imported from Africa that look quite exotic... rich green canopy with vines hanging down with deep red flowers, and long fruit things ... and bats. They’re full of bats. At dusk bats can be seen swarming under it, eating bugs attracted to the long fruit things.


The city itself has interesting mosaic murals everywhere and some old houses that are made of bamboo… got o tour one of them, the floor was all warped, all hilly, felt weird walking in it. Also saw a cock fight! These old houses have carvings at the top of the windows of what the family dedicated themselves to, like farming, or fishing…etc… these people trained roosters to fight.


We were supposed to go on a guided tour of the mangrove forest, but our guide was in a meeting he couldn’t get out of... turns out he's like northern Peru’s David Suzuki, very well known, author of several books and a strong player in the conservation scene going on here. The tour company rep took us on a free tour of the city (that lasted about 3-4 hours) because they felt bad about the cancellation (went the next day instead), starting with our guide's meeting. We were led to a hall packed with about 150 people to see his presentation on the mangroves etc, and led to the front where he apologized profusely about not being able to cancel this huge meeting for us. He’s actually kind of intimidating now. He has invited us to his office tonight to look at some of his photos of the area as well.


The tour of the mangrove forest was excellent. It was only us three and our famous well known guide guy. He took us through savannah on a mototaxi - with the ladies inside, and me and the guide clinging to the back as we drove over the sand, getting out to push sometimes where the sand was looser... which was actually a lot of fun. Tony managed to carry on a few small conversations with the guide while on the taxi without Veronica's help, which he was proud of :) Showed us the trees and cacti native to the area, with names that he drilled us with like a teacher :) This actually worked as I remember most of them now. Somewhat useless information hehe


With a crab fisherman and our guide we rode in a little boat up the river with help from the tide through the mangroves draped over the river on both sides. through the trees. Saw so many different birds, some endemic to the area… there was one with dark black and contrasting brilliant yellow that came in just under macaws on the pretty bird list. apparently fairly rare -- the guide got quite excited. We stopped and walked about on some of the more stable mud in our bare feet, looking at the variety of shells they have around there ... including moonsnails found up on Hornby Island and olive snails like from Long Beach. Lots of beachy ocean life as the mangroves live in salt water.


The fishermen in the area hunt for red crabs, a delicacy here but also endangered unfortunately so we didn’t try them of course. The red crabs are found deep in the very watery mud that the mangroves grow in. Our boatman was a fisherman, temporarily out of the crabbing business due to a 45 day prohibition period on crab hunting to help their declining numbers (which was instigated by our guide in the first place). He still demonstrated how to do it. We walked through the mangroves by stepping on their roots over the water-mud, and he digs a hole with his foot, then sticks his hand deep to his shoulder into the mud, feeling around for crabs, and after a short while he came up with a nice big one which we got to play with a bit. I never knew this before about crabs: their reproductive organs are under a plate on their bellies that opens up ... our guide used a key to lever it up then pulled it open, much to the crab's annoyance that was trying to push him away. 'Hey! what the hell are you looking at!' boatman guy pulled up another one, this one was a rarer metallic blue coloured one, so it ended up being put back into the mud later, after we cleaned it off, took pictures and tormented it a bit first of course. While digging for crabs he has to be careful of the  mangrove branches so they don’t scratch him as well as little fish in the mud with big spikes that can harm you.



On the way back to town we took public transit, a combi… basically a small van that is packed with as many people that they can fit in. One of the passengers who got on had a live goat for luggage whose feet were tied together. It got hoisted onto the roof as it baa-ed away, probably scared to death. It was horrible to watch its dangling head and scared expression being lifted up and then a huge bang on the rood as it was put down. We were horrified, the poor thing! Veronica looked like she was going to cry for a second there! The locals thought it was funny that the 3 of us were exchanging “did that just happen” looks…. The poor goat….  You could hear it baa-ing the whole way. It was then unloaded and put in the back of a mototaxi, a motorcycle that has been converted into a taxi with a little cart attached at the back for passengers, sorta like a tricycle in the sense there are 3 wheels.. poor goat, so sad! Was probably going to be butchered too…


One night we watched in the plaza as the military played tubamobobs and drums and such, and kids played around in the giant plaza ... something you don’t see too much of around Peru, kids being kids. Just now as I’m sitting in this cafe, a parade with women dressed up like beauty queens with sashes is going around outside ... always seems to be something going on around here.





From Tumbes we went to a small beach town called Mancora, a beach town. We lucked out and stayed in a very cheap place right on a gorgeous sandy beach that was basically like a resort! Had everything… its own pool if you didn’t care for the ocean, its own good restaurant, and a bar which served drinks so strong it would be illegal to serve them in canada. The whole town swarmed with dark surfer-dude types… The ocean there was warm and wavey, complete with coconut palm trees. Went swimming, the waves weren’t huge but they were certainly big enough to push us around. Was fun! Was a nice little place to stay and relax for awhile, although it was in many ways very un-Peruvian (except for the surfing, which was invented around there!) being more of a resort town.




Also visited Piura. Everyone in the north of Peru stares at us like we are green. We’re a kind of amusement to them -- its like we are a three person parade, but we don’t have to play any instruments at all. Many whistles and people trying out what little English they have picked up (usually a sheepish "Helllooo!", but also a few other phrases, some of which I shouldn’t repeat). I noticed one guy turning to his buddy to tell him about the gringos he has spotted, then nods in our direction. A little tired of it at the time, Tony turned to Veronica and Frances and pointed at them directly with a loud "LOOK! LOCALS!!" They found this quite amusing.





From Piura we visited the nearby small town of Chulucanas. The people there are so incredibly friendly! We went to the tourist information and the guy's eyes inside the place lit up (probably with the thought "REAL TOURISTS!!"). When we asked where we could grab some safe vegetarian food (don’t want to risk getting sick again now that we are all finally healthy) we were escorted us to a restaurant where they proceeded to have a long talk with the owner about feeding us well and treating us right. The owner made a wonderful dish for us specifically, which was not on the menu, and then charged us a very low local prices for it. Not too shabby!  


Chulucanas is known for its ceramics. They have tons of creative pieces there, so well done, at near-nothing prices. The kind of prices you don’t bargain because you feel bad paying so little for so much work at their stated prices. Tony bought a small beautifully glazed vase-­pot thing for $2 Canadian and V bought one for 10 Canadian dollars which would have cost, at the very least, 300 dollars back at home! Crazy! And the artists were all super friendly too.



chau for now!



Tony: lets go to the local market and buy some ginea pigs and set them free. then we can yell 'Theyre free! theyre free!'


Frances: then the locals will see them and run to them yelling 'They're free!! they're free!'




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