Tag Archives: Jaen

XVI. Jaen to Gocta & Chachapoyas 20-21 May

XVI. Jaen to Gocta & Cocahimba to Chachapoyas   20-21 May

20 May

Chachapoyas – The People of the Clouds – in their own language, or perhaps the Inca language. 

We breakfast comfortably in the Hotel El Bosque and drive for two or three uneventful hours through the now familiar rice paddies, then turn South at Pedro Ruiz. On the way out of Pedro Ruiz we notice a lot of small furniture-making shops, the first thing of interest we’ve noticed in the town, which seems just a crossroads. We also notice that even the simpler buildings on the outskirts of town boast very fine doors provided by the local carpenters.

Initially the road is paved; but a few kilometers from Pedro Ruiz the road is blocked. Across the street a female police officer or highway official is talking on a walkie-talkie. It appears to be another flag-man situation, and we wait for the traffic.

The road is closed until 6:30 at night!?!?!? It is about ten minutes past twelve. Quickly we survey our options: we could spend the day in and around Pedro Ruiz, but we haven’t seen much to appeal to us there; or we could drive toward Moyobamba and take the first side road and just see where it leads us, and at least see some obscure place outsiders never venture to.

The policewoman tells us there’s a waterfall off to the right a little ways back. Cataracta Gocta. We’ve never heard of it. She says it’s beautiful and not far away. There’s a poster of it on the wall. “I’m not going to spend six hours at some goddamned waterfall,” snorts Ragna, in whose country I once counted 23 waterfalls within my sight at the same time, several of them quite impressive.

The turnoff is indeed just a few hundred yards back toward Pedro Ruiz. I pull off the road there. Ragna insists that we drive back the way we came and down some other road to Cajamarca, then back North if necessary. I know the map a little better, and know that even if we drove like hell for the six hours we’d waste waiting here, we’d be further away from anywhere we want to go. Besides, I don’t see the big deal. Sure, it’s a major pain in the ass that we can’t go through; but our only reasonable option is to check out the waterfall, then maybe drive up to PR and either get a hotel room for the afternoon or drive a little way back toward Moyobamba, and perhaps down some dirt side road, shooting video and photographs of people. It’s what we do.

Iceland and waterfalls. “I’m not going to spend seven hours at a waterfall!” she insists.

Finally she says, “Okay, we can check it out.”

Gocta - first view

Gocta - first view

So we drive up to the little village near the trailhead. Cocachimba. Even before we reach it we can see the waterfall in the distance. It’s tall.

Nice country, too. A lush, green valley surrounded by high hills.

As we enter Cocachimba, a laughing woman runs to close the barrier. They charge 10 soles for admission for two. The woman is laughing, perhaps because she had been some meters away from her post and has to run to reach it.  An older woman smiles warmly at us.

As in so many places, there’s a log book. Signing in, you need to include your age and profession and home-town and passport number and a bunch of stuff no one would much care about at Yosemite or Bryce Canyon – just the bucks, please. But then, even Bryce gets a good deal more traffic than this place. Ahead of us today, exactly four people have signed in, apparently in a group. From the U.S., identifying themelves as a dentist, an ornithologist and a cartographer. Ragna makes two cartographers, 40% of the foreign population of the place today.

We joke that perhaps the folks who run the waterfall are in cahoots with the road folks, closing the road every day so that people have to go to the goddamned waterfall. As we pass one newer house: “See, that’s from the profits from stopping the road every day.”

We drive through the very small village, with some sort of restaurant at the end. Then the road begins to dwindle. We would normally not drive further, but some of the roads we’ve driven on lately stretch the definition, so who knows?

end of the road

end of the road

We drive in a little further. It’s narrow. After 100 meters I barely fit the car between a couple of huge boulders, after which we reach a house, and the road becomes definitively a path. There’s barely a place to turn around. We do. As we do, we meet the Americans and their guide, on the way out. They have come here to see a special hummingbird that lives nowhere else. They have been swimming in the waterfall.

After I park the car back in the village, we start walking. The sm-08-0650-horses-on-steps-on-gocta-trail1narrow dirt path gives way at times to stone steps, and suddenly I recall Nepal. Walking miles, climbing or descending thousands of meters, much of it on wide, ancient stone steps.

Soon we meet a Peruvian young man and a girl from Hungry. Rafael and Orshe. Rafael courteously warns us that it may rain. I tell him what wonderful country it is, which he already knows.

Moments later an axe strikes wood just above us, and we see a man  chopping firewood. There are four or five men under a roof on poles, in a wall-less still, and several wooden pots with liquid gurgling away in them. It’s chancaca, they say. Boiling, we can see. It’s an alcoholic drink apparently made from sugar. The explain the process. They offer us some. From a leaky bowl [wood or a split coconut?] with twigs in it. It has a sweet taste. They are full of good cheer. So am I.

We walk. And walk. The illusive waterfall hardly appears any closer for a long time, then is mostly out of sight for awhile. We meet a guy with burros, then a few minutes later his brother. Each asks us the time. I have a watch Ragna gave me. For years I had none. I had thrown my last one away in the Organ Mountains in New Mexico. High on mescaline, I noticed it on my wrist and laughed. What did time matter in the mountains? Or anywhere? Apparently it matters to them. And now I have a watch, and can answer them.

As we continue our walk, it begins to feel like a very fine day. This is an incredibly fertile valley, and beautiful. It could easily be from some other century, walking as we are beyond the roads and electricity, yet past occasional small farms, planted crops, etc. Some of the small buildings have signs, new and neat and probably inspired by whoever is helping this place prepare to attract and please tourists. The signs, with

positive sentiments [e.g.], strengthen my sense that someone is organizing this place for imminent tourism, and doing it nicely.



Almost two hours in, we pass what looks like a place to buy juice or sodas. Then we meet a huge turkey with chicks on the path, making plenty of noise. The chicks try to investigate Ragna. The mother calls them back, with mixed success.

There are only two problems. One is that we are probably not going to reach the waterfall and return before dark, and I will not get to swim in its pool.  The other is my worry about Ragna: her eye can hurt a lot with exertion, and her pulse can get suddenly much too high. She also doesn’t have ideal shoes on. I repeatedly suggest that we turn back, although I want very much to swim in the waterfall.  Consistently Ragna declines to turn back, even when the path gets steep and slippery.

And it does grow slippery. We descend into a dry ravine where they seem to be building a bridge or something. We are not entirely sure how to proceed, but manage to find what seems to be the path onward. It is so slippery with mud and donkey shit that I have to help Ragna.

A while later the path turns and we see the waterfall again.

The waterfall is grand, but too far for us to reach today unless we want to return long after darkness. We shoot some photo and video, marvel at the waterfall’s size, and notice the bromeliads clinging to tree branches in the foreground. We’re impressed – although it will be days or weeks before someone mentions that it’s the tallest waterfall in the world. I will be amazed that the Lonely Planet folks, usually so accurate and complete, seem not even to have mentioned it; but then, we stumbled on it only because the road closure forced us to.

We start back. At the dry ravine, we see a strange figure, a local man with a strange walk and a peaceful face. I greet him, but he appears to speak something other than Spanish.

Climbing back out. Shirt sweaty. Resting. At times wanting to curse the uphill. Ukaalo and Oraalo. Memories of that. Her memories of Austria, Gunter, old ladies.

By now thirsty, we approach the juice place. At first it appears abandoned. A million hens and chickens and a few turkeys loudly greet us, and I sense someone moving through a dark room with rows of sodas and beer bottles. Eventually a woman emerges, shushing the chickens away from us, and invites us in. The room is dark, and with a mud floor, but there’s a stove and she apparently cooks food there for folks. We buy a couple of cokes and some cookies and such.

Sitting feels good after so much walking. We talk to her about volcanos and earthquakes, Iceland and the last big earthquake around here. We also talk about the walk: she doesn’t live here. She is quite old. She walks all the way out here every day, and although her legs must be in shape for it, that’s an hour and a half each way (although she doesn’t stop to shoot photos and video). So far as I can tell, about four foreign tourists and a very few locals have been out here today. Even if they all bought something, that’s a pretty limited income, although I guess she sells eggs and chickens and turkeys as well. But carrying everything in and out on that path can’t be any picnic, either.

Ragna videotapes more on the return walk. A cloud slips across the waterfall. We see a variety of flowers along the path, and at one point a pair of beautiful green birds flying together – almost as if they are chatting and laughing on the way home after a day’s work – right past us.  At some point we see the village again, and it’s a cheering sight.

Across the valley to our right, the late-afternoon sun silhouettes a line of small trees on top of a ridge. Right behind them are more mountain clouds, with the sinking sun just above them.  The trees themselves, marching up the distant ridge-line, look like a  straggling line of hikers.   The people of the clouds, silhouetted by bright clouds. 

The chancaca guys have gone home. The path is deserted, but we keep pausing to look back at the waterfall.

The little restaurant at the edge of town looks deserted, but the door is open. A small and frightened boy, just a few years old, is the only occupant. Eventually a woman emerges from the back, and I buy a water and a coke. I ask whether they have rooms as well, and she says they will have two rooms open in September – and lights. I resolve to return then, stay in this village, and walk early one morning to the waterfall for a swim.

Outside, I photograph whatever I see in the strong light before the sun disappears behind the ridge.

In the middle of the village is a bigger building that seems to have something to do with tourism. I wander in, interested in a little more information about the place, in case I write about it. I run into Rafael again, the fellow we’d met hours ago on the trail.

He tells me the town’s name, and confirms that an Italian organization is helping the town prepare for tourism, and for relating to tourists, with neither fear nor undue greed. He’s actually from Lima, and is here working with that project, which is operating throughout Amazonas. The Hungarian girl is a volunteer, the first to teach English here. She shares with her sister a dark bedroom in a house without electricity at one corner of the field in the middle of the village. She will be here until June, and has been here for weeks already.

Rafael invites us for coffee in that house. Pedro and Maria, the occupants, make us welcome. It’s a dark house, with a wood fire going. We sit on small wooden benches at the rough wooden table in the main room, while Maria makes coffee. Again I think of Nepal: the smell of wood cooking fires, the simplicity, the pleasure of rest after a long walk.

Ragna says she could kill for coffee, which I translate to Maria as “my wife will be very happy” to have some.

We chatter a bit more. We talk with Rafael about the tourism project. Amazonas had done little in the way of tourism until seven years ago, and still does very little. Most everyone goes to the big names: Macchu Picchu, Cuzco, Lake Titicaca.

Outside, Orshe shows us her room. It is tiny and dark. It reminds me of rooms I stayed in in the Mississippi Delta country as a civil rights worker, even younger then than Orshe is now.  Moscow, Tennessee.  “White Lightning” was stronger than Chancaca, and without the sweetness.

We say our good-byes, and exchange e-mails with Rafael and Orshe. The clouds in the western sky glow with “just-after-sunset” reds and pinks.

At 6:38 we reach the spot where the road was closed, and begin the drive to Chachapoyas. It is a mad dash, through what we infer is beautiful countryside, along the river. It is dark. Most of the traffic is huge trucks, along with a few pickups and the occasional white taxi. We go through tunnels and overhangs with little clearance for the huge trucks. There’s almost no visibility, with road dust so thick it blocks vision like a thick fog, but everyone’s in a hurry, having waited all day to make this run. I drive mostly a little to the left of where I should be, so that at least my side of the windshield isn’t completely covered by the dust from the trucks.  The drive has my full attention.

They are paving this road, and possibly repairing it after an earthquake. I’m not clear on that. The whole thing seems surreal, the speed and controlled madness of the drive, the dust as thick as smoke from hell’s fires, the occasional huge earth-moving equipment by the side of the road. Too, it’s a lot of traffic after a quiet walk and after days of having the roads mostly to ourselves.

Then suddenly the solace of a paved road. Some visibility again. The full moon peeking over a mountain at us just as we first see the lights of Chachapoyas, or at least some outlying village, strung out along the top of a ridge.

Chachapoyas has a nice Plaza de Armas. It is not at all frenetic, at least at 8 in the evening or so. A block away from it we check into a very fine little hotel. (S./ 120; Internet and hot showers, wooden furniture, nicely appointed. It costs slightly more than we expected; but we will be in no hurry to leave. The room has windows overlooking the garden, and all along the balcony are pleasant chairs and tables to sit drinking coffee in the morning or wine in the evening.

At first glance Chachapoyas looks quiet, colonial, inviting. Better-off than Huancabamba, with more appealing architecture than Tarapoto, it’s quieter and smaller than Tarapoto. (It’s not a place for folks who don’t eat meat, though: the first evening, although I could use a good meal, I’m pretty much limited to salad at the best restaurant in town. No fish.) 

21 May
The next morning we drive to Levanto.
the road to Levanto

the road to Levanto

The drive is delightful. The bumpy dirt road climbs rapidly, with each switchback bringing a new view of Chachapoyas and the countryside, each view so appealing that I’m constantly wondering how it would be to live out here.

the view toward Chachapoyas

the view toward Chachapoyas

The town itself has a good feel to it, more than most, and the hills are green and not too crowded. In an hour’s drive we see a few horses and perhaps one other car.

We drive to the end of the town, and leave the car where the road ends. There’s a round building, a reconstruction of a Chachapoyas building, just where the trail onward starts. We set out. We ask people where _____ is, the ruinas, and they point us this way, but when we run into a fellow trying to fix the harness on his oxen, he seems never to have heard of the ruinas, then agrees that there are ruinas somewhere along the path, but he has no idea how much time the walk there takes. You could say that along most trails in Peru.

He points back the way we’ve come. I ask whether there are also ruins ahead. He says there are.

Mas o menos, cuantos minutos?” I ask. About how many minutes’ walk?

“No se.” He doesn’t know. I am not sure Spanish is his first language – I’m told that many in these mountains speak Quecha. Maybe ruins are not something he gives a shit about, and he knows they’re down there, but has never paid attention to how long it takes him to walk from there to here. Maybe we’ve missed some turn-off for the ruins we’re seeking, and he was pointing us back that way, but there are some other ruins ten or twenty or fifty kilometers away, down this path. If you follow any path long enough in these mountains, you’ll probably hit some ruins eventually.

It’s a fine walk through fine countryside on a fine day. We do not see any ruinas.  The closest we come is something I spot that might be an old building or just an oddly squarish bit of rock cliff, high up to the right. I make my way up there, increasingly sure it’s not the ruins but enticed by an abundance of orchids and bromeliads. In the woods I pass wild orchids identical to

wild orchids

wild orchids

some I’ve bought in San Francisco.

Eventually I’m high up on a steep, soft surface that seems as if it might all fall away if I step in the wrong place. But I’m surrounded by hundreds of bromeliads in their native environment.
Afterward we wander through Levanto, an extraordinarily quiet pueblo, and drive back to Chachapoyas.
house - Levanto

house - Levanto

Travel Notes

We stayed in the Casa Vieja Peru S./ 120 [breakfast included]. Pleasant room, pleasant courtyard, pleasant place, pleasant people. Quiet!

Restaurant _________ was said to be the best in town, and was okay, but had no fish dishes. We spent S./ 67 including wine.
Second night we tried the pizza place, and didn’t think much of it. 



XV. Moyobamba to Jaen 18-19 May

Moyobamba to Jaen   8-19 May:

Morning in Moyobamba.  I awaken early and walk around the grounds. I watch the morning fog battle the sunrise. Over a fence I hear farm-workers in a field laughing and chatting. Then I snag some coffee and return to the room.

Sitting out back with my coffee, I can see in the distance below a ferry boat plying its trade, slowly crossing and re-crossing the river.

In my pensive mood, the ferry boat evokes memories of a very different ferry boat, a world and two decades distant, and a tanka comes unbidden into my mind: 

Old men and ferry
have been together so long
they have become one.
His wrinkled hands pole the boat
across the timeless mirror.

He was a ferryman in a village to which we bicycled to from Yang Shuo in southern China.    Sitting in Moyobamba I close my eyes and still see him, across the miles and more than 20 years.   

 When Ragna awakens, we drink coffee just outside our room, and eventually start back toward Jaen, planning to pick up what we left stored there, then drive back to Pedro Ruiz and head South to Chachapoyas.

We cross now-familiar territory. Spots that looked magical a few days ago, because of some conjunction of people, animals, interesting light, etc., we pass almost without noticing them, while others we hadn’t noticed, we do now. 









Passing through the miles of rice paddies we see few people working [it’s Sunday], but come a motorcyclist so freshly dead that the ambulance is just arriving. I’m a lifelong motorcyclist. Almost no one wears a helmet here. Like a reformed alcoholic, I shake my head sadly and would preach to them all what I learned from experience, after many years of crossing the country with my helmet strapped to the back of the motorcycle. Once, in a helmet-law state, I went off the bike, flipped in the air, and hit the back of my head against the corner where the car’s roof met its hatchback, then landed flat on my back on top of the car.  Had I been without a helmet, you wouldn’t be reading this right now — or, at least, this blog would be a lot less witty and perspicacious. 





Back in Jaen, the suitcases we’d left there are intact, the pool is still cool and inviting, and we are back in the same comfortable room.

The next day I get the oil changed, but spend an otherwise lazy day.  The next few days or weeks will take us down a long, unpaved set of roads through the mountains leading to some remote spots and interesting ruins, then, eventually, back to Cajamarca.

XII. Jaen to Tarapoto 14 May

Jaen to Tarapoto    14 May:

Soon after leaving Jaen we are passing between rice-paddies.  Intermittent bright sunlight breathes color into the green rice and the white clouds hugging distant mountain peaks. In some flooded fields workers are harvesting rice.   Of course we pause to photograph some of them.

They seem joyful in their work. They are standing barefoot in water up to their calves, their toes in soft mud, on a fine day. If I did not know better from having seen so many old peasants in China walking with permanently bent backs from working in rice paddies, I might envy them; but they do seem awfully happy.

Soon afterward we pass a set of flooded rice-fields with the sun turning the water bright white, so that the man on his knees in the foreground becomes a mere silhouette. He is kneeling as if in prayer. On the earth. To the earth? It’s a great shot, but I’m past it as I notice him, with a big truck behind me and a long way to drive, so I keep moving, with great regret.

The road is indeed paved all the way – mostly. There’s a lot of road-work, and a lot of stretches with dirt road and pot-holes that would have seemed mild compared to the drive down from Huancabamba. We endured that for a full day; but today each time the pavement disappears we feel betrayed, victimized, outraged: we were promised a paved road today! How can they do this to us?

Awhile after the miles of rice-paddies, we pass a man reclining on white bags of wheat.  I drive past, but the composition – the man dwarfed by at least a couple of dozen bags, in front of an adobe house with a wooden door – lingers in my mind, and I stop, back up about 50 or 60 meters, and raise the camera. The man quickly gets up, and I think he’s coming toward us, but he moves to our left, out of frame, and I think he is offended. I apologize and start to leave, but Ragna says he just wanted to talk to me, perhaps thinking we were lost, so I don’t drive off, but instead explain what I do want, and he cheerfully agrees and returns to his perch on the bags.

In front of many houses coffee beans are drying in the sun on mats. On one, a little girl lies happily on the coffee, enjoying the warm sun and perhaps the deep scent of fresh coffee beans. The women sitting near her giggle as we stop and photograph her.

The images create a sense of people dwarfed by their produce. The [unshot] kneeling man silhouetted in the rice-paddy, the man among seventeen trigo-bags, the girl on the coffee, and other images my eyes catch as we pass . . . this is fertile land, and people’s lives are dominated by the food they produce.

Around another turn I spot three women in front of a simple wooden house, with a horse standing beside it and a bunch of beautiful tomatoes on a cloth or mat in front of them. The tomatoes gleam in the sudden strong sunlight, and the house and horse add to the composition, but I don’t stop – and add these three women and their gleaming tomatoes to the list of lost shots I mourn. I particularly would have liked it because it would have fit well with the man with his rice bags and the little girl lying on coffee.  Rice, coffee, tomatoes – as well as plenty of opportunities to shoot someone with a huge stack of green bananas or plaintains.

Soon I add two more missed shots to the list, though with less concern: an ideal shot to illustrate the “Se Compra Café” pun, and a shot of a horse tethered in front of a life-size cow painted on the front wall of a building. Too, we miss a nice chance for Ragna to shoot a slice of video in a little town called La Esperanza: on her side a woman stands sweeping in front of a wooden house, then a few meters on a woman sits knitting in front of a wooden house, then a few meters further another woman stands out front performing some other chore.

At the end of a small town we pass a waterfall and stop for snacks and drinks at a stand by the side of the road.  As the woman gathers what we’re buying, I photograph a cat stealing a drink from her daughter’s glass.

Fifty meters further on, the road disappears briefly beneath water, and soon afterward we begin to climb. 


the view behind us

the view behind us

Around another pass, the terrain differs from the other high country we’ve been through recently. Quebrado Oso Perdido catches me with its name – Lost Bear Canyon? But who, long enough ago to be naming a canyon had a pet bear to lose? 

 On a switchback turn in the hills I spot a nice setting with three horses in front of a house, with a steep green hill climbing behind it and a brook running right by the house.  Once we stop, I spot some folks doing something in the brook a few meters behind the house. I shoot from a distance, wave, and approach them along a narrow, muddy, sloping path full of mud and horseshit. I shoot a few shots, then approach closer. 

They seem to be stomping on mesh bags full of fresh, fat carrots. Once they’ve finished stomping on the carrots, two of them work together to pour them into a regular white nylon bag. After shooting a bit I go closer. One of them recognizes that I intend to buy some carrots. (I want to give them some money, but not as a handout – and perhaps I’ll get a chance to eat the fresh carrots.)  He comes toward me.

The brook runs between and over some treacherous rocks, and in my first effort to reach them I slip, barely avoid stepping into the water, and let myself fall back onto a flat rock behind me, carefully holding the camera in the air. I know it looks comical, and once they see that I’m not hurt, they laugh with me. When I get up again, one of them standing in the water gives me a hand. Meanwhile others have put a bunch of carrots into a bag for me, and I pay them S./ 1 and say good-bye.

We stop at a small gas station on the outskirts of Moyobamba, trying to decide whether to press on or stay for the night. Another moto-taxi with a Che decal. The proprietor has no idea how long it takes to drive from Moyobamba to Tarapoto, nor do a couple of passersby, but a man running a nearby store says it’s an hour and forty minutes. We’ll arrive after dark.

My last photograph of the day is the river we’ve been following for awhile.

Entering Tarapoto we are surrounded again by snarling moto-taxis. Of course there are few if any signs on the way in, and darkness is falling, so the moto-taxis zipping around us accentuate our own uncertainty about where the Plaza de Armas is, but we muddle through.

The moment we turn left into the Plaza, life is quieter. We stop to look at our small map of the town beneath a nice-looking restaurant with a deck. A waitress steps down into the street to help us, but we decide to eat first, and find the restaurant delightful. [Dona Z, on Grau.] Quite good food, attentive service by waiters who speak some English, and a respite from the road. We also get good advice from one waiter, who aspires to be a tour-guide in the near future: a hotel recommendation in Tarapoto and advice that Kuelap is a place we shouldn’t miss.

The hotel is not in the budget category, but we get apretty good deal on a huge corner room on the fourth floor, with two balconies on which we can enjoy the night air.

XI. Jaen 11-14 May

Jaen 11-14 May:

Hotel El Bosque - view toward our room

Hotel El Bosque - view toward our room

Ragna relaxes at Hotel El Bosque

Ragna relaxes at Hotel El Bosque

The Hotel El Bosque feels like an oasis. It might disappoint someone looking for a luxury hotel in a popular resort town; but when you’re coming from the hotels in Huancabamba and the dirt road down from there, El Bosque is a delightful place to rest. The moto-taxi and other traffic sounds seem not to penetrate into the garden and pool area, Simple pleasures like a pool-side drink, an afternoon swim, and the like seem miraculous.

As to Jaen itself, there’s no readily apparent reason to say here except for business, of which we have none, or laziness, of which we are suddenly guilty.

Still, even here the most mundane activity can be a mystery.

The car looks like a car that has driven a great many kilometers on dirt roads, often with the windows open. Even I have contemplated getting it washed. Ragna insists.

In the late afternoon I search for the place that washes cars. After several misdirected efforts, I spot a place that seems to change oil and wash cars, though no sign says so.

A pleasant young fellow comes out grinning. When I ask him about getting the car washed, he points and says “Es occupado.” His face shows that he thinks this so obvious I should have seen it. It will be an hour before they can wash my car. He also tells me there’s another place a half-block away, but when I pass it there’s little activity.

I park the car out front of the hotel, and spend an hour or so inside. Ragna is reading by the pool, so I join her, studying Spanish a little. A bearded hotel worker brings us cokes.

I emerge again, past the same bearded hotel worker.  He’s spraying down the walk and the parking area with a hose.

I return to the car-wash place.

The same fellow emerges, grinning.

When I say I would like the car washed, interior and exterior, he says something about the exterior, pointing to it. I think he must be telling me that they can’t do that right now for some reason – until I notice that the car, which had been beige with road-dirt, is now a gleaming black again. Ah, the bearded fellow with the hose.

The car wash fellow must be sure now that I’m crazy; but I ask him to clean the car’s interior. He starts on that. I pick up some trash, including a small bag of apples we bought in a dusty little village the day before but dared not eat without first peeling them. “Basura?” he inquires, in case I’ve made a mistake about the apples. I tell him to take them, and he happily does.

As he moves the stuff I haven’t taken out of the car, he finds the Che cap Orlando gave me nearly a week ago. He gives me a thumbs-up sign. I nod and smile.

While he cleans the car, I watch a fair sunset and a lot of passing moto-taxis, and write two bad tanka.

When he finishes, I thank him and ask him how much, and pay him. Ten soles – which strikes me as probably more than the going rate. He mimes the cap and smiles again, and gives thumb’s up. I should give him the cap, which he covets. I do not, somehow, perhaps because it was a gift to me, but I do recount, in broken Spanish, how I obtained it a couple of weeks ago. “Un regalo,” he says. He likes the story. He also opens one of the doors and holds up a bottle of red wine, possibly in the hope that I’ve forgotten it and might let it join the apples. “Chile,” he says, indicating that it is good. I nod, and I tell him that my wife very much likes red wine.

I leave, thinking that if I were the man I would like to be and sometimes purport to be, I’d have given him the “Che” cap immediately.

Back in the hotel, the bearded employee is sweeping the lobby. I ask whether it was he who washed the car. He smiles and nods. I give him a couple of soles. He approves. I start to leave him, then, in more inelegant Castellano, tell him that I had previously sought to get it washed, then returned to the carwash place without noticing he’d cleaned the car, and that to the carwash man it must appear that I am loco.

X. Huancabamba to Jaen, 11 May

Huancabamba, to Jaen 11 May:   The road to the road to Jaen runs through Sondor, so once again – for about the fourth or fifth time in a couple of days – we take it.

It takes us a couple of tries to get out of Sondor, mostly because the dirt road we embark on, just a block from the Plaza de Armas, looks so unlikely to go further than a few hundred meters.

For a good many miles, we see no one. Then we reach a fork in the road, and pause to try to divine which road we should take. We have no clue; but suddenly we meet our first human being since leaving Sondor, and he knows.

We climb from Sondor to another high mountain pass. For awhile we are progressing by a series of switchbacks up three sides of a long, narrow canyon, then over a pass into another and up three sides of that. (It is like driving around a fjord in Iceland.) The landscape below becomes worthless photographically, an abstract pattern of cultivated and uncultivated hills, hundreds of meters high, varying colors of green. We are into and then above the clouds again.

view back toward Sondor

view back toward Sondor

view back toward Sondor

view back toward Sondor

The road is slow and difficult, but rarely dangerous. It is also a lonely one: for hours we do not see another car, and not even many burros and chickens and horses. It is dirt and mud, puddled from the recent rains. Sometimes a waterfall cascades down toward us on the uphill side of the road. Very occasionally, simple adobe homes perch on steep hillsides beside the road, with dirt floors and beautiful views. More often we are isolated.

the road from Huancabamba

the road from Huancabamba

the road from Huancabamba

the road from Huancabamba

We stop occasionally to get out and admire the view – a view unmarred by human construction, roads, or telephone lines.

Eventually we approach another pass. There is a simple home on the right, with horses standing beside it. In the distance I can see another turn where ghostly riders are barely visible in the fog. After another couple of kilometers we reach them and pass them.

at the pass

at the pass

We come around the bend and I’m transfixed by the sight of a loaded burro standing on the grass just before the world drops off steeply – and with dark peaks and bright clouds from some other planet directly behind. Instantly I am shooting.

Inside, darkness, dirt floor, but good cheer. A family. A mountain restaurant. Kids and grown-ups. A couple of rough wooden tables. Adobe walls. Dim light. I tell the man it is a beautiful place, and he smiles. I buy an Inca Cola just to contribute something to their support.  Or out of gratitude.

I feel suddenly wonderful. It feels like the top of the world. Too, at just this moment, or perhaps in just this place, the sun shines through the fog on us.





We are crossing from one world to another, although we do not yet know it. From here the road descends to E____, which we can see almost immediately but will not reach for an hour or longer. On the way, we pass waterfalls, and trees loaded down with huge bromeliads.





At E____ there’s a barrier; apparently this is a mountain reserve, five or six hours from Jaen. It’s nearly noon. When I step into a shop to get snacks and something to drink, a crowd gathers around R. A benign, curious crowd, although one fellow gets a little flirtatious.

Soon we are in rain forest. Unlike the morning’s drive through isolated high country, we pass through innumerable small villages celebrating El Dia de Madres. It is a big deal in Peru, or at least in this part of Peru. Schools have been given over to cookouts and dances, and we pass plenty of villages in which the children and women are carrying or eating from full plates of fresh-cooked food, while the men are drinking or playing cards. (In one village a white object by the side of the road turns out, on closer inspection, to be a man in a white shirt, completely passed out, his sleeping head on the edge of the road where my right tire would have passed if I hadn’t noticed him.)

Somewhere we pass a young girl and her abuela, dressed for a party and strolling down a dirt path from what must be their home. I shoot a picture, then ask, Con su permiso? and shoot a couple more as they approach us. Too, I wish her a happy Mother’s Day.  

Normally I am waxing enthusiastic about relocating to whatever beautiful or isolated spot we’re passing through. Here, Ragna takes that role, imagining a house here – if only she could also put in an airport, to avoid bouncing around for quite so many hours on the dirt road to the highway to Jaen.

Later three figures approach on the right side of the road: a woman with her mother and daughter.  The grandmother holds a yellow rose, and appears to be blind.  We have slowed down anyway, so I stop.

Feliz Dia de Madres – y Abuelas,” I say. The mother thanks me and, looking at Ragna, says (in Spanish), “and to you.” “Ella tiene tres,” I tell her. [Ragna has three.] She touches Ragna’s arm fondly, and her eyes express a kinship she might not have expected to feel with a blonde woman from far away.

The rainforest. It must be called a rainforest because it rains. For awhile, it rains steadily, sometimes quite hard, but the drive is enjoyable anyway.

The road is . . .

The road is . . .

. . . blocked by burros . . .

. . . blocked by burros . . .

. . . or other obstructions

. . . or other obstructions

By mid-afternoon the continual jouncing is taking its toll. I’m not driving as fast as I might be, because of the likelihood of kids or chickens or burros straying into the road, but even so the pot-holes are so numerous most of the way that by some point I start feeling as if the next time one hits us hard I’m going to stop, jump out of the car, and hit the damned thing back.

Then suddenly I see something I have never before been so joyful to see: a bright red octagon on a pole. I point it out to Ragna. “Pare” she reads, then recognizes the shape. A stop sign! We have reached paved road. Our ordeal is nearly over.

A few kilometers on, I realize an odd sensation: that we seem to be floating, as in a dream. I realize that after nine hours of jouncing along dirt roads – and, essentially, several days of it, except when within the narrow confines of Huancabamba – my body is not used to the sensation of the car speeding along smooth pavement. Christ it feels good.

“We’ve left the bumps behind,” I say.

“But we left the beauty behind too,” she points out.

It is true. There’s still some brightness in the rice fields catching the late afternoon sun, but there’s not the magic of the rainforest.

Jaen has only about 60,000 citizens, and wide streets. We quickly locate the Hotel El Bosque. An unimpressive entrance leads to a pool surrounded by palm trees and other vegetation, and neat, cool bungalows. Even a modest restaurant. After a whiskey and coke I’m in the pool. Soon Ragna, who has a woman’s love for luxuriating in hot water and doing whatever it is that women do in bathrooms for so long, is enjoying the novelty of truly hot water, a clean bathroom, a couple of shelves on which to place things, a toilet that flushes properly – all in the same location.

We take a moto-taxi to the Plaza de Armas for supper. The small restaurant is full of Mother’s Day celebrants, but has one free table, and surprises us with its menu. Afterward we retreat to the hotel, alternately drinking red wine by the swimming pool and reviewing what we shot on the drive down from Huancabamba.