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Published: September 27th 2010
Wow! I am finally in la selva del Perú, something that I have been anticipating for months, and I was still caught off guard by the heat here! It hit me in the middle of the night, all of a sudden, on the bus ride from Huancayo. Under a near-full moon and lightning, I woke up from a nap (because I can´t quite sleep on busses) to sweat and humidity, and had to peel off my layers. I was slightly sad it was too dark to watch the geographical transition from la sierra to la selva, but when the sun rose it was nothing but green. I almost cried with relief. The andes are beautiful, but there is something special about places with more than one layer of vegetation.
People have been telling me the selva (jungle) is completely different from the sierra (mountains), and I could not agree more. Let´s see, how to explain? (And this is only after part of a day here, mind you.) For example, the heat. My friend in Huancayo told me that it is tremendously hot here, and that the people are ¨hot¨also. I didn´t quite know what to make of this. Hot-tempered? Beautiful? Well, what they said about the climate is deffinitely true. It is difficult to wear clothes here. It just plain muggy. And sunny (the rainy season is definately not upon us, the only hints of clouds are ridiculous poofs on the horizon). Well, the people are different than in the sierra, other than the expected change in facial features and such. Folks in the mountains and especially in Huancayo keep their distance and (although generally friendly) weren´t always conversational, didn´t usually say hi, and felt guarded. Here, folks are what we in the northwest would call ¨chill¨- relaxed, slow-paced, mildly extroverted, and seemingly pleased with themselves. Also, folks don´t wear many clothes here, which is not only necessary but blessed because there happen to be nearly no mosquitoes in the city. That is worth repeating: no mosquitoes! This is fantastic because I have been psyching myself out about malaria and dengue for months. Not that I´m letting my guard down, just saying some praise.
Let´s see, other differences I have noticed in the last day are that insead of there being taxis everywhere, here there are motor-taxis, which are not only rather fun to ride in but also provide a really nice breeze. And, despite the typical woes of a city (industry, litter, sleezy dudes) there are plants here (we´re talking walking down the street with strange, tropical fruits dangling every which way!), and, of course, the Ucayali River (which is the main tributary to the Amazon from Perú, so somewhat theoretically the same). There are also apparently scheduled power-outages every other weekend. Still haven´t figured out why. Folks avoid going out because it´s dangerous during these times. There´s also a rainbow-colored catherdral! Yay!
Just because I am excited I had a productive day, I am going to tell you about it! I got in to Pucallpa at 6 in the morning, found an Hospedaje (after my first moto-taxi experience ever! I am only highlighting this because they are seriously everywhere and I have never been on a motorcycle in my life.), showered in cold water (the only option here and thank goodness), was gifted strange jungle-fruit called pekai and shown how to eat it, visited Yarinachocha, swam for a quite a while in Yarinacocha, was bitten by many fish in Yarinacocha, visited a family, was gifted a Shipibo textile, and became acquainted with the waterfront of the Río Ucayalí, and generally got to know a little bit of this city that sprawls beyond initial impressions.
So, Yarinacocha is what folks like to call an ¨oxbow lake¨, which I guess is a fancy way of saying a really warm, gigantic tropical lake with tons of little fishies that nibble on people in the shallow part and scarier big fish in the deep part (don´t swim any deeper!), that looks like it could be the Amazon but in fact broke off quite a while ago. ¨Cocha¨ is¨lake¨ and ¨Yarina¨ a type of fruit, if I have that right. It is a district of Pucallpa and also an urban center of the Shipibo people, who are one of the most numerous indigenous tribes in Perú. One of the major inspirations for this grant was the embroidered textiles that Shipiba women traditionally craft. I really can´t say how excited I am to be an a beautiful place (perhaps superficially- I have definitely noticed the clear cuts and tons of wood mills on the outskirts of town as I was arriving, and especially the severed and enormous trunks of trees dashed in front of them) and to be able to speak to artesans about their glorious handiwork. I can imagine that the next few days will be filled with meeting folks, and hopefully meeting the aquaintance of some embroiders. The best that could happen is a homestay and lessons before the rainy season. Less awesome senario: relaxing in part of the most enormous rainforest on the face of the planet, and practicing Spanish. Count me in! I am especially encouraged that the sister of my friend, upon our visit to her house, understood my interest in Shipibo textiles. She asked one of her adorable children to fetch something, and out popped a beautiful, hand-embroidered skirt. I thought she just meant for me to look at it (which was delightful), but she insisted that I keep it. Double yay! It´s too small for me, but I am excited to be able to check something out in the third dimension I have seen almost solely in the second!
Well, I hope that my enthusiasm and friendliness are apparent to the right folks, and that I learn a lot while here. That being said, Huancayo was great for me and I look forward to returning someday!
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