Tag Archives: Tarapoto

XIV. Tarapoto to Moyobamba 17 May

Tarapoto to Moyobama   17 May:

We have decided to go on to Yurimagua, a remote town on the river, and probably catch a boat there for Iquitos. When we get to the police-stop at which we had paused two days earlier on the way to the waterfall, we’re told the road is closed for work until the end of the day, and that we can’t drive through until nightfall. We’re all dressed up with nowhere to go, and Ragna decides we should go back the other way to Moyobamba.

San Antonio de Rio Mayo

San Antonio de Rio Mayo

West of Tarapoto, we pause in San Antonio. A steep dirt road down from the paved road between Tarapoto and Moyobamba. A hamlet wedged between the road above and the river beside it.. No reason to stop there except that there is no reason not to. It is very quiet. At first it seems deserted, although today is Saturday. We see almost no one. A few kids playing in front of their houses, a wheelchair-bound woman inside an open doorway. An occasional horse, tied and grazing.

There is one rough dirt road through town, parallel to the river, between two rows of simple houses, the river running behind one and the steep hill to the paved road rising from behind the other.

We drive nearly the length of it, and when we turn Ragna gets out to walk back, videotaping. I drive back the way we’ve come to where there is a large square common area in which a horse is grazing.  Far beyond it, a woman leans on a stick or cane, watching me.

To my left, an old woman stands near a doorway. I approach and tell her what a beautiful and tranquil place it is. (It is what I so often say. It is true each time. Whomever I say it to agrees, sometimes with great enthusiasm.) I ask about taking her picture, and do so. When I show it to her in the viewer, she laughs.

She gestures toward the doorway then, and introduces me to the woman inside. In a wheelchair, the woman we had seen as we drove in. “Con mucho gusto,” I say, extending my hand. The older woman is telling me that it happened in a car accident, that her spine was injured, and that she was thrown some distance from the car, or perhaps that the car that hit her threw her a ways in the air. Her legs, bare from the knee down, have sores on them, and one seems smaller than the other.

Que lastima,” I say. What else is there to say, or feel? This is a pleasant place, but day after day inside this simple house, probably without books, must be like a prison. The steep dirt road up out of the village isn’t so easy for a car, and would not be easy for someone to push a wheel-chair up. I have spotted one car in the village, far from her house. “Que lastima.”

They are country people speaking frankly and openly to a stranger, as country people often do, everywhere. They do not ask for money. I do not offer any. A few soles could not repair her legs or give her a better education and more interesting life. To offer would accomplish little. To stand talking with them, without pity or condescension, though with full sympathy, is what I can do. And it ain’t much.

I walk slowly across the green field, its grass kept short by grazing animals. I take some boring shots of the horse with the children in the background, the horse with the old woman with her cane in background, the green hills that rise steeply from just across the river. When I approach the old woman, I raise the camera and ask, “Con su permiso?”   Sure, I can take photographs.  I do.

I climb the stairs to where she stands, and we talk briefly. It’s a good village. The fiesta will be June 12th and 13th. I also shoot more photographs.  Her house bears a sign, “Peru 2001.” I wonder how Peru has treated her. Two small pigs lie sleeping in the other entrance to her house.

She has few teeth in her mouth, and a limp.  Her name is Senora Delgado — although I will not learn for months that “delgado” in Spanish means “thin.”  She tells me the name of the illness that lamed her, but I do not recognize it. She turns out to be 57. Younger than I am, yet an old lady. 

Senora Delgado

Senora Delgado

I wonder about her life. She does not seem unhappy. Nor does she seem radiantly happy. Standing with her, looking across the green common area so familiar to her, over the thatched roofs of her friends’ [or enemies’?] homes, I feel the tranquility of the place, the peace. (Or is even that merely a strangers’ projection? Perhaps the village is riddled with invisible strife.)

The air is still and fresh. The world is green and calm. The silence is broken only by the children’s occasional shouts or laughter and the flight or calls of birds. Yet it seems terribly bleak, too. Simple houses, no books, probably no hot water, difficult transportation. Perhaps even getting food is a daily struggle – and this, small as it is, is a place to which others from more remote homes arrive on burros to trade.

Yet there is some balance . . .

San Antonio del Rio Mayo

San Antonio del Rio Mayo

Sra. Delgado - San Antonio del Rio Mayo

Sra. Delgado - San Antonio del Rio Mayo

I do not know how to keep score in life. I like hot water, good coffee, occasional ice cream, and getting to read The New Yorker and the New York Review of Books now and then. But I meet people who have none of that, and never have. They seem calmer and more at ease than the average professional person I know in San Francisco. Is that pretense? Is it my skewed perception? Or do the uncertainties and insecurities and city-noises and fear of crime and the confusing assault on our senses of electronic media, background noise, information, and proliferating obligations collectively drain more human spirit from us than the washing machines, improved medicine, big-screen movies, fine cars, and gourmet foods pour back in?

Ragna - San Antonio del Rio Mayo

Ragna - San Antonio del Rio Mayo

Ragna approaches, and remarks on the shyness of the people in the village. I introduce her to Senora Delgado.  Ragna shoots some more videotape. From a few dozen meters away now, I see her showing the video to Mrs. Delgado and eliciting laughter.

Sadness clings to me as fog clings to the peaks. The drive back to Moyobamba, which we made in an hour and forty-five minutes the other evening, takes hours today, partly because the sadness seems to slow down my driving but also because we stop periodically to look around or shoot video or photographs.

I do manage a photograph to illustrate the silly pun I’d come up with on the drive down from Huancabamba:

"Thank God, a café – I’m famished!"

[“Se compra” means, more or less, “We buy”; the list of local crops such as coffee and corn is not a menu.]

Saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon

Saturday afternoon with papa

Saturday afternoon with papa


At one point we see a lady in a bright blue dress raking coffee on a mat. Ragna has been wanting to videotape someone doing that.

“This lady?” I ask.

“Why not?”

We pull over.

I do not leave the car this time. The blue-clad lady raking coffee would be a decent still shot, but the car is mostly still on the road. Even though traffic is light and we’re not on a curve, it seems prudent to stay where I am.

The lady approaches us. I explain that Ragna wants to shoot video of her raking the coffee. She smiles and laughs.

In the rear-view mirror I see Ragna shooting, then showing the video to the lady. The lady laughs now and touches Ragna fondly on the shoulder, like an old friend.

When are you coming back?

She invites us for platidos, narjanas, and mandarines. I leave that one up to Ragna. She is very careful about what we eat where, and that mandates that we politely decline. I explain that we haven’t time, we have to get to Moyobamba. She asks when we will return. I say that I don’t know, but that whenever we do we will stop at this spot and visit with her. I do not volunteer that quite possibly we will never return.

When we reach Moyobamba, it’s clear from everyone’s familiarity with it, and from the occasional tones of respect in their voices, that the hotel is the biggest thing in town.

Yet finding the hotel proves difficult. We stop so often, receive such conflicting and confusing directions from so many people, and pass the same spots so often without ever finding the hotel or a sign for Calle Sucre that I wonder if maybe the hotel doesn’t exist, but is a shared joke among the citizens, each of whom understands that when someone asks for the Hotel Puerto Mirador he or she should give some random directions, very seriously, knowing that those will lead only to another stop, another query, and another random answer.

But the arrival, finally, is worth it.

Two colorful parrots greet us in the parking lot, and we walk through the hotel toward the pool, with a long green hill sloping down to the river behind it. The room’s delightful – surrounded on two sides by nature – and the restaurant beckons. We eat a very good late lunch.

What a distance we are from San Antonio del Rio Mayo!

In the evening we drink pisco sours in the bar, smile about the art on the wall, and play a lengthy game of eight-ball on an old billiard table with stains and such radical table roll that we sink few balls and give up before we even finish a single game.


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.







Ragna emerges. Lovely in her nightgown: our cabin is at the far corner of everything with only our view of the river in front of us, and she doesn’t need to worry about fully dressing. We drink coffee and shoot a little video and some stills and try to figure out what the day will be about.


XIII. Tarapoto 14-17 May

Tarapoto  14-17 May:

15May  Morning.  We awaken early, and it’s already hot before 8 a.m. Mototaxis, which had quieted down at a reasonable hour, are plying their trade, though with a lot less horn-honking than in other towns.

Eventually we wander out toward a lake and a waterfall recommended as local sights.

The lake is pleasant enough, but more a place to swim and eat and hang out in deck chairs. Three monkeys chained to a wooden structure cavort in its rafters or get up to what mischief they can with visitors. We visit with one [named Nora, though it appears male], and remark “Poor thing” to each other because she is chained to a post. Moments later a Peruvian family shows up, and the mother and daughter stand looking at Nora and saying “Pobrecito” over and over.

nora inspects the tripod head

nora inspects the tripod head

"Listen, lady, I've fixed millions of these"

"Listen, lady, I've fixed millions of these"

But Nora has lots of fun with Ragna’s tripod and video camera.




"Will ya let go of it so I can work?"

"Will ya let go of it so I can work?"

Nora - close-up - Tarapoto


"Sometimes you just gotta bite 'em"

"Sometimes you just gotta bite 'em"

"No, dearie, I look much too fat in that one"

"No, dearie, that one makes me look much too fat"




We walk around the little lake, but the best photograph I can manage of the place is an abstraction:

 So much for the lake.

Beyond that the road seems to be closed, but the guard lets us by to go to the waterfall.

Just before the waterfall is another place for swimming and snacks, advertising a panoramic view of the cataract – and in fact you can see the top of it, high on the opposing hillside. With some doubts, we order lunch. Meanwhile another monkey helps the proprietor with repairs, comes and sits by us for awhile, and even has a go at kitchen work.

one of Tarapoto's more unconventional chefs . . .

one of Tarapoto's more unconventional chefs . . .

The walk in to the waterfall is dark, green, short, and pleasant. Plenty of signs urge us not to pick flowers, to assist in keeping the water pure, and to keep mining out of the area. The waterfall is nothing particularly dramatic, but I run around behind it for the sake of Ragna’s video camera. 

16 May   Our second morning in Tarapoto we laze around doing some errands, then drive out to Lamas. It’s a sleepy little burgh, pleasant enough. We park in the neat little Plaza de Armas and eat lunch in a small, clean restaurant at one corner of the Plaza. But whatever puts it on the tourist map we don’t see.

We drive out the far side of the town, along a dirt road that may or may not lead anywhere. Now we’re really in country, the land fertile and jungle-ish, with plenty of trees, bushes, and birds, and few homes. We pause to watch a quiet farmhouse that doesn’t seem to be reached by a road. We stop near a bunch of banana plants, to chat with a farm-worker and his young son, each carrying a machete, the son bursting with pride. The man is curious about us, as we are about him. The entire area, he says, is owned by a single rich man. He, whose little house we can see, and many others live on the land and work their little portions of it.

Further on, we pause again, and Ragna goes into a yard and shoots video of the women there. They are, though I don’t realize it until I happen to step into the yard’s entryway, bathing at a small stream, pouring the cold water over themselves, in their underwear. I quickly retreat. Ragna gets to shoot video of them, while I content myself with a composition of bright red flowers, bright hanging laundry, and a bird.

It’s tranquilo here. The countryside is bucolic, but not dramatic. Each turn reveals a wide vista of gently rolling green hills sparsely populated by cows. I would gladly explore further along this road, but Ragna needs to go back to the hotel, and we do.

On the drive back, we see a man with huge sacks of produce, slogging along on foot on this very warm day. He is startled but delighted when we offer him a ride – somewhat to the disgust of a station-wagon-ful of local officials of some sort, whose faces suggest they think peasants are made to walk. We leave him off on a side street in Lama.

In the evening we take a moto-taxi to Rincon Sureno (sp?). It’s an appealing place, with plenty of wood, lots of old stuff on the walls, pleasant music at a reasonable volume, and a roofless area with plants. We sit there.

It turns into one of those meals.  I remember my parents talking on and on about the fine meals we ate at this or that place. I couldn’t be bothered. Food was food.

The wine is a delight. I’m no wine buff, but it smells great, tastes great, and goes down so easy you’d not have imagined you were drinking an alcoholic beverage.

The salads are imaginative and good.

The fish is excellent too.

After awhile I feel like a kid given free run of a huge toy store – where should I turn my attention first? I want just to sit and drink more wine; but my fork kept bringing delicious bites of breaded fish to my mouth; and there was the avocado and heart of palm salad.

Another enjoyable moto-taxi ride brings us to the heladeria, where we finished off with bowls of good ice cream – again sitting outside, in an outdoor area sheltered from the street. 


Travel Notes


We stayed at Hotel Cumbaza, with no complaints. Non-budget, but pleasant, with an adequate dining room. We stayed in an especially nice and large room, @. S./ 150 per night.

Dona Z on Grau was warn and welcoming on the night we arrived: a grass of red wine is complimentary, the food was good, and the bill for two large salads and two main meals, plus cold drinks, was relatively modest for the quality and quantity. Attentive service, by waiters who speak some English.

A related restaurant, Rincon Sureno, served one of the best meals we’ve eaten in Peru. [see main text]

Other Points

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.