Thursday, December 12, 2013

Tingo Maria Adventures

When I came to Peru in 2011, I had the opportunity to go with the school field trip of junior high students to visit Tingo Maria. It was pretty fun, but sorely lacking as I mostly got to observe the students doing the activities while I sat on the side with the adults. There was a part of me that really wanted to go back and actually get to experience the jungle (la selva). Thankfully, Yimi really enjoys going to Tingo and was game to accompany us on a short trip. We went from Dec. 5th to 7th.

We left Huanuco in the afternoon on Thursday and took a taxi (basically) to Tingo. It was about a 2.5 hour drive. The ride was fairly normal, the only thing of note was that the driver seemed to prefer driving with his head almost out of the side window rather than just looking through the front window. To each their own.

We got into Tingo around 4ish. First thing on the agenda was to find a hotel to drop off our stuff. I'm not sure if Yimi had actually stayed at this place before or not, but he led us straight to a hotel called "El Viajero," where we checked into our room and called it good. Wasn't the greatest place ever, but it did the job for 2 nights. We didn't do any price comparisons, but it seemed like a good price at S/. 45 ($16) per night and was in a good, convenient location.

After that, we went and wandered around the main road called the "Alameda." I'm not sure what all area Tingo Maria covers, but the downtown area is quite small and the main strip of road with all the shops, market, and restaurants covers about 3 full blocks. We walked up and down that for a bit. We also got some snow cones (raspadillas) from a business that highers people with disabilities, so the vender was a mute gentleman. We didn't realize that was the case until after the fact, so we didn't know what flavors we were getting until we tried them. It all worked out and was a delicious find. It was fun to hang out on the main strip for a bit and see what the locals do in the evenings. We did some good people and dog watching.

For dinner we happened upon a corner restaurant that served S/. 5 meals that were good! The name of the place was Kiosk con Confianza..that seemed to be a joke. I had chicken juanes (rice with chicken inside cooked in a leaf). Melissa has cesina (dried pork) and chorizo (sausage). Yimi got pollo broaster (roasted? chicken). We tried aji de cocona (some orange fruit), that is supposedly very bitter, but was mostly onion.

After our tasty meal, we road the Ferrish Wheel.. of death. It was a combo Ferris Wheel and spinning tea cups ride. It was fun, but probably not the best idea for something to ride right after eating a solid meal. Haha. Finally, we walked back to the hotel and turned in early to prepare for the adventures to come the next day (though we hadn't planned what those would be at that point).

Unfortunately, the hotel was pretty noisy, just like every other hotel I have stayed at in Peru. They are almost purely made out of concrete, glass, and tile, so sounds echo and carry like crazy. I was up around 6am. So I had to wait until 8am before Melissa and Yimi woke up. I got up and took a shower; yes, the water was cold, but there was really good water pressure.

First stop for the day was to eat breakfast. We headed to the market, where there are a few restaurants. The moment we got up the stairs the waitresses surrounded us and were like eat here, we serve these things. It was a bit overwhelming and not my favorite way to go about selecting a place to eat. We ended up eating at a place called "Bella Durmiente" after the famous mountain skyline that looks like a sleeping woman. This is where we tried tocacho, which is mashed up plaintains. I think it would be our equivalent of hashbrowns, but made with bananas. I am told that is what they eat instead of rice or potatoes as their starch. Makes sense.

The good thing about going with Yimi was that he was able to ask people about things to do and how much they would cost and hopefully would get a more straightforward and less inflated price. We ended up with a phone number for Tingo Maria Nunash Tours, where we met our tour guide for the day, Ruben. For the awesome (I think) price of S/. 40 ($14.50) each, we got a tour guide and mototaxi services for 6ish hours. Friday, we did the Circuito No. 1 tour of Tingo. This entailed going to Parque Nacional Tingo Maria, Cueva de Las Lechuzas, Agua Sulfurosa Medicinal, Catarata Santa Carmen, Balneario Cueva de Las Pavas, and Mirador de La Bella Durmiente. It was an incredible adventure!

I enjoyed the swimming adventures the most. First, we swam in sulfur water. Supposedly it is a very healthy thing to do, though I'm not sure why. It smelled pretty rotten, but not horribly strong and you eventually could get used to the smell. We played around in the pool, trying to catch the little fishies, throwing mud at each other, and generally enjoying the water. Second, we hit up the waterfall. My favorite. We had to do a bit of hiking to get up to the falls, but it was so worth it. Being that it had rained right before we got there, the water was not so clean and clear, but still refreshing and it was definitely a powerful falls. We awkwardly changed into our bathing suits (no changing room) and then hit the water. It was fun to swim against the current, climb on the rocks, and take all sorts of pictures of course. We have quite the photo shoot of pics.

The other parts were awesome too. We listened to the bats, parrots, and guaranchero (sp?) (oil bird) sing in the cave. We saw where the rivers meet that gave Tingo Maria its namesake. We saw an amazing double rainbow at the lookout point. And I have to credit Ruben for being an awesome tour guide. Good times. :)

In fact, we had such a good time, we opted to do Circuito No. 2 the next day. Unfortunately, Ruben was not available, so we had a new tour guide. He still did a pretty good job. His name is Alan. On this circuit, we went to Laguna de Los Milagros, Criadero de Paiche, and the Serpentario.

The laguna was really fun. We got to ride in, and even row, a canoe. We did some swimming, but mostly the time in the water was for our skin treatment. There is clay at the bottom of the laguna that is mixed with sand and fish poop. It is quite a good exfoliating treatment and makes your skin feel super soft, suavecito. Also, we visited the Arbol de Deseos, or the wishing tree. You can toss a coin at it and make a wish (then the lady that guards the tree picks up the money). I am informed that you really have to believe in the power of nature for it to come true, apparently I didn't exude belief or something. At any rate the tree is supposedly over 1000 years old. While not a willow tree, it reminded me of the tree from Pocahontas. At the laguna, we ate Pako, some sort of native fish of the piranha family. Delicious.

We didn't get to see a paiche, so that part was a dud. Hopefully, we will see the huge river fish in Iquitos. Finally, we made it to the snakes. We learned about venomous and non-venomous snakes. My favorite part was that the the Shupa Shupa venomous snake's nicknames are Suegra and Perra Rabiosa. Apparently, this snake can launch it's venom, beware if you have any open wounds. Also, it can bite its victim about 6 times, whereas others only bite once. I got to hold a turtle. And then, the ultimate adventure, I held a 10 kilo (22lbs.), 7-8ft long boa constrictor. It was kind of scary, but not too bad as he barely moved while I was holding him. The trainers had calmed him down before we got to hold it. I held a boa!

Overall, it was a crazy adventure in Tingo! Swimming at the waterfall, swinging from the trees, and holding a boa constrictor - quite the jungle experience, if I do say so myself. I would highly recommend it!

Before we left Tingo, we had to buy some jungle bananas for the ride home. Yummers. We piled into our taxi home, ate a banana, and promptly fell asleep. Peace!

~nos vemos~

Monday, December 9, 2013

Killing Chickens for Yimi's Bday

Yimi is my birthday buddy here in Huanuco. He turned 25 on December 3rd (and I will on the 12th).

The tradition here seems to be to have ponche for breakfast. The birthday person gets to select the food of the day, and then Carolina cooks what she is motivated to cook. The birthday person invites people over to eat said food in the afternoon, around 2 or 3pm. Then, we take a break from eating to nap and hang out. Finally, before dinner, we eat the cake.

I tried ponche on Carolina's birthday, but we were not told in advance that you need to be up at 6am to enjoy it. This time, we got to really experience it. The ponche part is rice in this egg, sugar, and water mixture. There is a top icing-esque part that is bomb - so delicious. You just dip bread into the egg and sugar mixture. Mmmmm.

For his birthday, Yimi wanted lokro (sp?). We ate escabeche. Escabeche is an delicious, spicy onion dish that is served with meat and rice. That morning, abuela brought over some chickens from her group for lunch. Well, when I found out that Carolina would be killing said chickens, I had to watch and see how it was done. Orlando told her I wanted to help. She let me hold their feet while she sawed at their knecks.

As a side note: I don't think Carolina trusts us to do anything. She doesn't let us wash our own clothes, so we have to do it when she isn't home or she just takes over. She doesn't let us help her cook or clean anything. There are a few exceptions. For example, we helped her peel some potatoes once, but then she finished them. Also, I started peeling some oranges in the morning to make orange juice, and she came over and finished peeling those. And basically anything we try to help her with, she ends up doing it herself. Oh well, we try.

After she sawed at their knecks with her not so sharp knife, she dipped them in a pot of boiled water and went to town ripping out their feathers (another thing she wouldn't let me help me with). It looked impressively simple, though quite hot, as the feathers came out in bulk.

Finally, she set to cutting them up. We fed the nasty bits to the anxiously awaiting dogs. I think she threw them the intestines and each dog took a turn carrying it around in their mouth trying to break it apart to eat. It was gross to watch. Apparently, the fat is good for your knees or something, so she saved that part separately. One of the chickens had a egg in it that it hadn't laid, so it was kind of cool to see that in it's sack with the placenta and everything, but we ended up letting Carolina eat that business. Ick.

We opted to watch a movie instead of awkwardly hanging out the kitchen to see if Carolina could use our help while she ran around at 1000mph. The movie, called "Warm Bodies" or "Mi Novio es un Zombie," was pretty funny.

Then, we went back to the kitchen to eat lunch. Yimi and his friends ate in the living room. Apparently, we were not cool enough to eat with them. The good part was that Yunina, Tono's gf, brought cold soda, so we got first dibs. By the way, cold soda is quite a novelty here as everyone seems to prefer everything at room temperature or hot. I like my beverages cold, for the most part, so it was extra pleasant.

After another respite and lots of rain, we ate the cake. Orlando picked a flan and jello cake for Jimmy. It was actually pretty good, I was surprised. I have seen them around, but they don't look like a very good combination. The tradition at this part is to sing Happy Birthday in English, then in Spanish (castellano). After the birthday person blows out the candle, then take a bit out of the side of the cake and people try to push their head into the cake (the only time that was successful since we have been here, the cake ended up on the floor).

After cake, we ate dinner and everything went back to normal. End birthday.

Monday, December 2, 2013

All Day Walking Tour of Loma Chicchuy

A thing to do in Huanuco is to go for day trips (paseos) to the hills/mountains that surround the city. Last time I was here, we made the trek up to Huacora to visit Orlando and Carolina's hometown (pueblo). For their 3 year anniversary, Tono and his girlfriend went to Huacora. Generally, their idea of a fun trip is to ride in a car filled to the gills for an hour or so and then get out and walk uphill and then back downhill for the remainder of the day. Don't get me wrong, it is a beautiful and totally worthwhile adventure, but just an interesting perspective on fun things to do.

I guess for a while now, Orlando has been itching to get out and roam the hills, so we decided it would be something fun to do as a church activity. We set the date for December 1, 2013. Then, once that date arrived, basically everyone else from church decided they didn't want to go. The few of us interested set out on our adventure to reach the summit (cumbre) of Chicchuy on Sunday morning.

Hueso driving the Moto.
It's been pretty wet and rainy of late, and unfortunately Sunday morning wasn't much different. It wasn't raining, but still very grey and sombre. The morning had an even sadder feel to it as our little buddy, Hueso, was not doing any better after his doctor visit on Saturday, where they found out he had a virus that had made its way to his brain and they gave him a shot to help. That morning though, he was trembling, foaming at the mouth, spinning in circles...he was not in good shape. [That night we found out that they took him while we were gone to be put down. It was hard to hear the news, but it was time. I'm glad to know he doesn't have to suffer anymore.]

Around 7am, we sat down to eat a hearty breakfast of rice, fried egg, and prepared plaintains. It is really one of my favorite things to eat here. Orlando said to eat up because this was going to be our breakfast and lunch. Noted.

At 7:40am, we headed out the back gate and wound our way down Huancachupa to the road. It was not an easy route and set the tone of our walking adventure to come.

Right around 8am, we met up with our driver and loaded up in the car. He drove a blue station wagon that has 5 seatbelts. Ok, so seatbelts, except for the front seat passengers typically, are optional in Peru and even more so when you are driving on the back roads where police are not likely to be found. And I say seatbelts, because that does not mean anything for how many people are going to pile into the car. Fabrizio, Eynor, another woman, and all the backpacks and bags were loaded into the trunk. Orlando, Antonio (abuelo), and Yimi sat in the back seat. Then, Melissa and I shared the front seat.

We got down the street a little ways where we picked up the driver's niece or some relation. Guess where she sat?! the driver's seat with the driver. How that man drove the car while practically sitting on top of the stick shift is beyond me, but somehow, he drove for about 40min like that, on a not awful, but still bumpy and windy dirt road.

We eventually made it to the bottom of Chicchuy and the walking part of our journey began around 9am. We got out of the car and Yimi pointed up at an antenna waaaaayyyyyy up the hill and said that was where we were headed. I laughed. I thought he was kidding.

The orange circle at the top of the pic is the antenna..
we had a ways to walk after I took this shot.

The first part of our journey, of course, was uphill. We walked uphill for a little over an hour to reach the summit of Chicchuy. This part of the trip was fairly typical. We passed some people with their horses. There was a gimpy dog that followed us for a while. We passed by a school house. The scariest part of that was passing through this very narrow route with dogs barking their heads off at us, which was just awful after having recently been bit by a dog that had a nasty bark like them. The hike up was not easy, but not terrible. By the end of it, Melissa, Eynor, and Fabrizio were climbing up on all fours, as Melissa said, "because I like dogs." It was a good feeling to reach the summit and at that point I thought we would hang out a bit and then head back down the way we came.

School House - Looks very well built, so I wanted a picture.
Orlando said you should always have people in your pictures to
remember the places you visit. Group photo!

We did hang out for a bit. We got sprinkled on a bit. We enjoyed the little bit of sun that came out, and at over 4000 meters (13k+ feet) up, it's quite strong even if only a little. And we enjoyed the panoramic view of the surrounding hills (lomas) and farms (chakras). After that, instead of heading back down, we headed up.

Turns out we were going to walk up to that antenna. At this part in the journey, the terrain changed from grassy and muddy to grassy and rocky. Going uphill on the rocks was not so bad. I only almost fell a few times. One time I slipped and then slipped again and almost faceplanted, turns out I was just practicing my break dancing moves. Saved it! I'm not sure on the time, but we eventually made it ALL THE WAY UP to the Channel 7 antenna. Woo hoo!

Victory pose!

Once there, we did some more resting and relaxing and enjoying the view. From there, you could look down and see all of Huanuco. It was kind of nice to get a lay of the land. There was some plant that has gum inside of it that Antonio and Orlando set to digging up. I watched the clouds float by - we were at eye level with them and took a nap. That is what it is all about - get up there and just enjoy nature (naturaleza). It doesn't matter how many times you climb up there apparently, because even though Orlando grew up in Huacora and climbing the surrounding hills, he is still awe struck whenever he gets up above it all. It is like being on top of the world .. or as Orlando says, being in another world. The fresh air, the silence and serenity, and the beauty are AMAZING and unlike any other experience. I guess it would be hard to get sick of that.

Panoramic shot of Huanuco from the top of the mountain.
(Huanuco is all of the buildings between the hills in the foreground
and the background. It's really a cool place to have a city.)

Finally, around 1pm, we set out on our journey back down the hill to get home. Well, it wasn't back, it was actually forward, and basically straight down. The first part was pretty good because there was lots of high grass and good foot holds, so we could fairly easily zigzag down.

Then, came the part with the rocks and I slipped and fell, not once, not twice, but three times. After the 3rd time, Orlando offered to hold my arm to keep me from straight up rolling down to Haunuco. Being the strong and independent person that I am, I didn't want to accept the help, but begrudgingly did. I am a fan of imagery and I really like the poem "Footprints," so I just kept thinking about that as Orlando helped me go down the hill. The next 4 hours of the journey did not get any better though. I hated being the weakest and slowest person in the group. I was frustrated with my trembling legs and the tears filling my eyes making it harder to see. It was humiliating that the 70+ year old Antonio gave me his walking stick because I was struggling so much with the route. Things were not made better either when Orlando told Yimi to give me a piggy back ride down the hill (which I refused; I don't care how strong he is, that is not a good idea.) It was a very rough journey, but gosh darn it, I was going to make it down on my own 2 feet; and with my walking stick and Orlando's assistance! Needless to say, going down that hill has to be one of the most taxing things, physically and mentally, that I have ever done.

When we made it down to the road, I let out the biggest sigh of relief. My legs were still trembling, but I made it! We all made it!

While still a somber feel at the Herrera house with the rain and passing of Hueso, it was nice to make it home and be with family and have a nice relaxing evening. It will be a memorable day, both the good parts and the bad parts. As the theme for Sunday said, being a Christian doesn't mean everything in your life will be a piece of cake, but it is nice to know there are people there to support you - even if it means sucking up your pride and taking their hand or accepting their walking stick. And despite it all, I would recommend an 8 hour hiking trip - do it!

Katrina, Melissa, Orlando, Fabrizio, Antonio, and Yimi (from L to R). Photo Credit: Eynor

P.S. Orlando bought us a gel (Fisiodol Gel) to put on our legs before we went to bed. So far, I can still walk with only a little bit of soreness in my legs. The true test will be to see how things go on Tuesday. That will be the true test.