From La Merced to Pucallpa - The road less traveled

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June 4th 2010
Published: July 8th 2010
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When I finally arrived in Tarma after Three days on Andean roads I found Don Pepe sitting by the dining table enjoying the company of three lovely young women, two looked European, Helen from Denmark and Johanna from Germany who was designing the vegetables bio-garden, the third was Denise the new administrator who replaces Alejandra. I stayed in Tarma two nights, had enough time to wash my clothes and wash Ramon, the dog, and get useful information regarding the journey I wanted to do to Pucallpa. I didn't meet the kids in Tarma as planned because they extended their stay in Huaraz and therefore took a direct bus from Lima. I as usual didn't want to hop to my next destination in the ordinary way. Instead of taking a bus to La Oroya in order to catch the Lima-Pucallpa bus I took a bus down to La Merced, normally about an hour journey from Tarma but this time it took nearly three hours because the driver insisted to wait to all potential passengers every other stop. The road winds down between the mountains that fall from 3000asl to 800asl providing an interesting transition from the Andes to the upper jungle (alto selva) as it carves its way on the side of gorges, passing through number of tunnels and some waterfalls. As expected I had to peal off some layers of clothing as we descended. La Merced is quite close to San Ramon where we visited with Don Pepe during the time we volunteered at his farm. Then we went to his casino and also to see the waterfall El Tirol, about five km from the centre of San Ramon. I stayed in La Merced for a short night in one of the many hostels opposite the bus station. There, in the bus station, are the counters of the companies that offer camionetas, 4WD ride, to the villages in the rain forest. Transdiffe operates the jeeps for Palcazo, half the way to Pucallpa.
The hostel's night keeper knocked on my door an hour before the 4AM 4x4 Toyota left to Palcazo. Surprisingly I was not the only gringo on the jeep - there was a group of five Canadians, exchange students in Lima, who were heading to Puerto Bermudez - a nice, neat village with (as I heard) an efficient infrastructure for Eco-tourism, about 2-3 hours before Palcazo.
And we took off, starting on tarmac road for a short while and then at some point, I didn't see any sign we took left into a dirt road trailed in the bush and the bounce began. Almost two hours I had my legs crossed, I didn't want to be the first who ask for a toilet brake, but when I noticed a magical sun rise over a valley between two sections of the rain forest I thought I had a good enough excuse to ask to pull off. As I went out of the car I saw my travel companions rushing to the bush like an animal that runs for its life, their hands already undoing a button or a zipper (thanks to me). I am telling you bouncing like that with a full bladder puts you in a kind of discomfort you would be willing to admit on anything. Back in the car, the Canadians still smiling at the back box, poor souls, we continued navigating in between the trees, probably ten litres lighter now until we got to a village were we had breakfast. Watching the road snaking on I fell into a day dream as I was captivated by one simple question how did they know where to go; when to turn in this ocean of trees; thinking that men living here navigated further back in history at times when no GPS or any means of communication were available is astonishing. First,the ability to actually find this way and then to construct it as it is, carved through the depth of the forest, is incredible. Just to imagine the time it took to reach from one place to another suggests the locals perspective on the concept of time... Besides that I was well impressed by the effort to create and maintain this route feasible for vehicle transport, even though only jeeps and trucks. So far away of the accessible Peru it unveiled for me something of the essence of Peru - nature is not an obstacle but a challenge. I arrived in Palcazo in mid-afternoon and went walking around trying to catch some photos of the colourful birds there. At a street corner I heard a man calling my name - I was met by Maximo who is the brother of Miriam from the Hacienda La Florida in Tarma (she is the secretary). She advised me on the companies that run those camionetas along this route and told me that her three brothers work for them. I asked for their names and hoped to meet them before I choose a company, but some time along the twelve hours journey I forgot about it and when I arrived in Palcazo I rushed to the first company I could see, Macury Express, which was the other one to where Maximo works... Anyway, it was nice to meet him and this way I got the feeling that I am a guest and not completely a stranger (if they had cameras they would have taken photos of me). The next morning I left on 3:30AM. This time I was the only gringo, yet I am almost sure that at one village along the route I so an old white man, probably living there... I heard at some point later that in one of the villages in this area there is a majority of descendants of German immigrants since (maybe) a century ago - maybe it was that village, but I don't know the name. Anyway, back to the journey, I thought it would be six hours but it turned to be nine hours and included getting-stuck-in-the-mud adventure which was a great ice-breaker between me and the locals and also provided me some interesting photos. Though great friendships did not come out of it, a memorable little event to tell about surely. Back in the car and back to the woman I was squished to on the front seat for the length of the journey I tried to catch up with some sleep but couldn't. My eyes were really tired and got shut few times but the bouncing made them to reopen - quite incredible therefore that the locals actually slept most of this bumping, bouncing, undulating rough route. I hope I can describe how rough this road-not-taken is. The average speed we drove at was maybe 10kmh. The path, more suitable word than a road, passes through rivers and some paddles, of which, some deep enough to bring some water into the car. We saw some motocross bikes along, yet at parts of the way the step between the two levels of the road was so steep and slippery because of the mud even the 4WD struggled, so maybe they could pass it via the bush. It seemed to me that this path was mostly used by trucks that transport commodities to the inhabitants along. Most of them are too small to be called a village. But those trucks carve a two wheel channel in the mud, leaving a raised hip at the middle, some times this hip was high enough to hit the underside of the jeep. Luckily it wasn't raining. The change in the level of the way is sometimes around half a meter either along or across the path, for this reason it is not passable by normal cars, sometimes even trucks struggle and in one occasion get stuck - then there is a problem (Huston). But we were lucky, the truck ahead of us got stuck just next to a house and so the land owner let us pass via his land for the contribution of three soles, offered by our kind driver. Well, effectively his land turned to be the road that day. At mid-day we arrived at km86, where the jungle way meets the main paved road to Pucallpa. Driving on this road was like a victory run around the stadium, feeling a pleasant sense of achievement. Two hours later I arrived in Pucallpa and met the kids
Three houses, a truck and..Three houses, a truck and..Three houses, a truck and..

Some where on the way
in hostel Barbtur as we agreed. Pucallpa is a city that has an eternal sound of a mowing machine because of the numerous amount of motor taxis and motorbikes in the streets, almost 24/7. Now we are in Yarina which is a village near Laguna Yarincocha that has pink dolphins. Byron was watching them from the shore whilst me and Marika had a boat trip around the lake to a little zoo and a small community's market that had absolutely fabulous crafts. We are with a guide, Daniel, whom with we got introduced via the hostel Barbtur in Pucallpa. We plan to go with him on a three day trek into the jungle, but we are not sure what we are going to see and how special it is going to be but as Byron said we will not know until we do it. I think mine and Marika's problem is the lack of info about what there is to do here and hence we worry maybe we are going to waste three days. In comparison to the info available about other jungle places it seems as if there is nothing to see here, yet the price is much lower.
... and a boy... and a boy... and a boy

Some where on the way
Therefore we decided to go on, so at least we can be the source of information whether it is good or not.


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