Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The Jungle Book, "Gastronomy"

Fried fish bits and yuca. Yuca is a delicious potato like plant. Especially good when fried.

More fried fish bits with beans and rice. They grow a lot of rice on the slopes near the river.

Fried sweet banana and maracuya juice. Tastes like dessert!

Fried banana slices...the Amazonian french fries. Healthier? I doubt it.

Bananas, bananas, and more bananas. Most dishes include bananas...cause they are freaking everywhere!

Caña or sugar cane. You chew it, drink the juice, then spit it out. They make a strong alcohol out of this as well.

Tons and tons of fresh fruit! Pick it and cut it open with your machete.

Tortuga...turtle. This one is still alive, but it will make a great soup. The people also like boiled tortuga eggs.

The Jungle Book, "Belén"

Finally at home...headed to Little Rock soon for a Public Program...

I have been very busy travelling and wrapping up my project so my The Jungle Book series has fallen behind. Reminder: I visited the jungle with org Minga Peru (see previous Jungle Book posts) from July 22 to 25 to learn more about their work empowering indigenous women living in rural communities.

On July 25th (last day in Iquitos), Emira, Cesar, and I visited the market and community of Belén, an extremely poor district on the shores of the city's eastern river. Unfortunately, I did not get any pictures of the market; although, its sights and smells will be forever imprinted in my brain. The market is immense! It stretches on forever...stand after stand of meat, potatoes, fruit, vegetables, pots and pans, artisanry, and lots and lots of fish. Every shape, color, and smell of fish could be found in that market, guarded from the flies and vultures by swatting children. The streets of the market (and the barrio) were covered in trash...rotten vegetables, the insides of animals, bottles, rags, paper, shoes...everything. Vultures preyed on the piles weaving through the hundreds and hundreds of people perusing (ha!) the merchandise.

Emira and Cesar were particularly excited to show me a specific alley way in the market where vendors sold natural medicines from the jungle. Bottles of unknown liquids, baskets of bark and fish fins, bags of ground powders, and big piles of (what I hoped were) odd looking mushrooms covered every square inch of the wooden tables. Upon approaching a table, someone would immediately ask "What ails you?"

The actual residential area of Belén was a mess. The barrio is on the shore of a large river that floods the street for three months every year. The waters wash in tons and tons of trash. Mountains of trash. During the dry season trash fills every spare corner. Children kick mounds away to make room for their games.

Because the river rises so high every year, the homes are build very high off the ground. Those immediately next to the water are built to float. As the water rises, so do the homes. Families can float their homes down river if they wish to.

We visited the community to meet and talk with Jose, a coorespondent for Minga's radio programs. We sat with him underneath his house and taked about the social projects and the needs of Belén. Jose emphasized the issue of alcoholism specifically among young men. He also mentioned several failed attempts by other orgs to rid the neighborhood of its unsanitary man made mountains.

He praised Minga's work in the community especially the radio programs' focus on alcohol and drug abuse. He expressed that Minga's particular "intercultural" approach to the issue reached the young people in a unique and effective way.

Monday, August 9, 2010

PERUsing the Andes Mountains + Machupicchu!

For the past two weeks, I have been trekking and sight-seeing in the Andes Mountain Range (the longest continental mountain range in the world). INCREIBLE, INCREIBLE, INCREIBLE! There are no words that can adequately describe the awesomeness of the mountains, their flora and fauna, the city of Cusco, and the people.

Originally, I planned for an extra week in Peru to do said trekking and travelling; however, it turned out that Peruvians take several days off of work for their Independence Day. Thus, the extra week. I flew from Lima to Cusco (the ancient capitol of the Incan Empire) on July 29th and returned yesterday (August 8th). From August 3rd to the 7th, my roommate, Annie, and I trekked from Cusco to Machupicchu with a trekking agency (and 9 other tourists).

Cusco is almost 4,000 meters above sea level (over 13,000 feet or 2.5 miles). Por eso, many tourists get altitude sickness or "soroche." Unfortunately, I came down with a particularly annoying case. I don't have any fact to support my suppositions, but I imagine that when you arrive at high altitudes the pressure inside your body is greater than the pressure outside. So, it feels as if you are expanding. Your sinuses act up, you have a headache, nausea, aching, weakness, and vertigo. Not pleasant. I was only in bed for the first day. The three days after I felt a bit "off" but moved around all the same.

Cusco, Peru

Cusco was the Incan capitol in the 1500s when the Spaniards arrived and claimed the city as their own. Therefore, the city is very colonial with European cobblestone streets and towering cathedrals.

These cathedrals are in the main square and were constructed in the 16th and 17th Centuries.

Cuy and cerdo...guinea pig and roasted pig...big favorites in the Andes region.

The top picture is me with a can of oxygen. There is a lot less oxygen in Cusco which was difficult for me. I carried this thing around with me for about four days.


On July 30th, I hiked up to a set of ruins high above Cusco. These ruins were once an impressive Incan military fortress. Manco Inca, the last Incan ruler, fought the Spaniards from this point in an epic and history-altering battle. Obviously, the Incans lost.

Later the Spaniards took several of the stones from this fortress to build their cathedrals in Cusco's Plaza de Armas.


Annie and I took one full day to hike up to the ruins at Pisaq. The village of Pisaq is about an hour and a half outside of Cusco. High above the pueblo sits an extensive system of ruins that took about 5 hours to explore. It constituted another Incan fortress. The Spaniards did not do much with this particular site, because it is so difficult to get to. We hiked for a good hour and a half panting our way to the top.

The hike was straight up!

However, definetly worth the effort.

The hike was just gorgeous!

But we were exhausted once we got to the top.

White Water Rafting on the Urubamba River (sacred river of the Incas)

Another full day trip was our white water rafting adventure. Annie and I booked a tour with an agency and spent a very cold but very thrilling two hours braving level 3 rapids.

We had to wear wet suits, windbreakers, life jackets, and helmets.


Annie and I signed up for a 4 day hiking excursion from Cusco to Machupicchu.

Day 1: We began by biking for 4 hours from 4,000 meters above sea level to 1,200 meters. We began the trip at almost freezing temperatures. We ended in the selva alta (high jungle). By the end we were down to our last layers and swatting at thousands of mosquitos (I have about 30 bug bits on my hands and arms).

Day 2: Beginning at 7:30 am, we trekked through the mountains, the valleys, and the jungle for 9 hours. In that span of time, I felt as if I had visited the landscapes of Arkansas, Montana, Colorado, North Carolina, and Hawaii. Our guide said that Peru is home to 80 different types of climates.

Our guides painted our faces with the fruits of a typical plant found in la selva alta (high jungle).

We stopped at a rest area to play with a monkey and get some water.

We emerged from the jungle and hiked to the top of a nearby mountain.

This was part of our trail.

At the end of the day, we rested in a natural hot spring before going to bed.

Day 3: Hiked for about 6 hours to Aguas Calientes, the tourist watering hole at the bottom of Machupicchu.

We crossed the river via a "cable car" or a basket suspended above the water and rope to pull yourself along.

We slept in Aguas Calientes, a small town at the base of Machupicchu mountain that hosts 2,000 tourists a day (in comparison to the 800 actual residents).


We got up at 3:30 am to hike up Machupicchu mountain. It was pitch black. Our group of 11 along with almost 400 other people trekked up the side of the mountain in a dense line. The trek was straight up a set of original Incan stairs. An hour after beginning, we arrived at the top drenched with sweat.

And this is what sat at the top! After a 2 and a half hour tour, Annie and I hiked all over those mountain tops. We spent about seven hours hiking in and around the "lost city of the Incas." We visited the Sun Gate ("intipunku" in Quechua) about 45 up the mountain behind the city and an ancient Incan bridge built into the side of Machupicchu mountain. The ruins of Machupicchu are perfectly preserved, because the Spanish never found the city (due to it's geographically impossible location). Historians hypothesize that the city was used to house "Virgins of the Sun," women who spent their entire lives serving the sun god (unless they had the great honor to be sacrificed).*

The Sun Gate.

The Incan Bridge.

On August 7th, we took a train/bus from Aguas Calientes back to Cusco.

I wish I could convey the absolute wonder of the Andean region and everything that I saw. You can feel the powerful force of nature all around you. The mountains rise high above you on all sides making you feel vulnerable and protected all at once. The Andean people believe that there are "apus" or gods in the mountains. I can certainly see why. From the animals to the landscape to the people, there is a sense of wonder and spirituality that, I can only imagine, comes from living in such a awe-inspiring place.

As far as the remains of the Incan empire, specifically Machupicchu (one of the seven wonders of the world)...there is nothing like it. It meets the highest expectations. There is nothing like standing above the ancient city, a drop of several thousand feet on your right, a massive 600 year-old wall on your left, and a vista of green mountains topped with glaciers stretching to the horizon. I am so grateful to have had this wonderful experience.

*I took so many pictures of Machupicchu, because every corner holds something wonderful and fascinating. The link below is my picasa album with my many photos.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

The Jungle Book, "Agriculture"

My third day in the jungle, after a hot night under a mosquito net in a small community near Nauta, Emira, Amarylis, and I went to the community of Santa Cruz to see their camu-camu fields. Minga's work deals primarily with the radio program and empowerment workshops; however, they also sometimes provide supplies to build fish farms and camu-camu fields. Income generation is the third step to their program and helps women in rural communities earn money independently. Soreida, a socia for Minga's network in Santa Cruz, showed us her ground across the river and a hike into the jungle.

Above is Amarylis and me with Soreida. We are about to head into the jungle.

We hiked into the jungle into a patch of banana and papaya trees. The banana trees look nothing like trees at all but like blades of grass with huge leaves blooming out of the top. I felt like Gulliver in Brobdingnag (the giants' land).

We kept hiking along (Soreida cutting down the foliage in our path with her machete) until we reached her field. She is taking advantage of the land by planting several crops in one field. We came upon the frijoles (beans) first as seen in the picture above. They are vines so they are planted next to sticks so they can grow straight up.

Next was the camu-camu shown above. Camu-camu is a yellow/purple fruit about the size of a grape. It's very acidic tasting, not sweet at all. They put sugar in the juice (and mix it with sugar cane alcohol for a good time). You can't see them on the plant here, because harvest isn't until September. She also was growning corn and aji dulce (a sweet chili).

I even got to do some farm work! Although, I really didn't have to go all the way to the Amazon Rainforest to do it. I have been chopping weeds on my parents' farm every summer since I was twelve. They even have some of the same weeds we have in Arkansas such as Pigweed, Thistle weed, and Morning Glories. However, chopping with a machete was a new one for me.

After visiting her field, Soreida led us to a grouping of papaya tries and cut some yellow ones down for us.

Amarylis split one open in the boat with Soreida's machete, and we chowed down. It was incredibly delicious!

I really enjoyed listening to Soreida talk about her crops, how she prepared the ground, cultivated, and cared for the plants. She was extremely proud of her work and excited about the resources it would bring her come harvest time. I felt the same kind of excitement the day before when the women of Amazonas showed me the construction on their fish farms. How wonderful that these women can use income generation as another step to their empowerment!

By the way, the necklace I am wearing in these photos is a string of seeds called lagrimas de Virgen and huayruro. On the end of the string is a crocodile tooth! Early that morning in Nauta we ran into a promotora, Doris, from a village called San Francisco in the market. She had her artisanry work spread across a blanket. Upon seeing us her eyes lit up. I was introduced, and she picked up this necklace from her collection and slipped it around my neck. She put seed bracelets on Emira and Amarylis as well. The kindness of these women was extremely touching.