Category Archives: Perú

On Seeing “Eiffel’s Bridge” in Arequipa


In my next life (unless I come back as a toad!) I will be an engineer: either structural or mechanical, I’m not sure which. This I believe because I am drawn to making things, to fixing things, to replacing things that lack with things that provide. I like to do this and I appreciate and seek out what others have done with similar intent.

Here in South America I am often awash in both architectural and folk history. Walking through colonial neighborhoods or even whole, preserved villages is a thrill that never grows old. And while wandering in el campo (the countryside) I often see machinery or tools that are job specific.

Many of these devices are both ancient in use and yet still current in function. Whether in farmer’s field, miner’s shaft, or mother’s kitchen, these devices, implements, tools have beauty in their utility. Even if silently, I always thank their makers.

So when the guidebooks and the Peruvian Tourist Office and people on the street told me that Arequipa has a bridge designed by Eiffel, well, you can guess my mission. I had to see this creation. More importantly, I had to touch it.

The bridge spans the Rio Chili just south of Arequipa Cercado, the central and historic district of the city. Built around 1870, known locally as El Puente Bolívar, the bridge was designed to carry twin tracks of trains.

It was completed barely a year before the first trains arrived from the coast. Arequipa would now be linked to the outside world. For most of its 3 centuries this Second City of Perú had existed as a separate oasis. Isolated and fertile, boasting a sunny and dry climate.  Arequipa nevertheless was not a perfect paradise.

Two years before the completion of the bridge the city was totally destroyed by the earthquake of 1868. Through the centuries since its founding in 1540, the city suffered horrendous damage from nearly a dozen major tremblors. Yet they were, none of them, as fully disastrous as the 1868 quake.

La Casa de Sillar, my home for the month of May

La Casa de Sillar, my home for the month of May

But a new city arose from the rubble and this bridge symbolized that rebirth. I was looking forward to my visit. My route from my hostal, La Casa de Sillar, took me through the main plaza. From there the path led me through a beautiful neighborhood of century-old homes.

These homes are all constructed from volcanic tuff, known locally as sillar. Sillar is a hard, white stone and it gives the city its nickname: The White City. It was a pleasant 1/2 hour walk to the base of the bridge and past these well-preserved beauties.

I started my excursion surrounded by single storey colonial and post-colonial buildings. The stroll ended in an upscale neighborhood of townhouses and condominiums with neat green spaces here and there. Eventually I met the bridge, suspended a full 5 storeys above me, along the left bank of the Rio Chili.

It’s a far more delicate and less imposing structure than, say the Brooklyn Bridge. And it lacks the drama of the Mackinac Bridge of my youth. But even so, it is living and working history and I wasn’t disappointed. Arriving near the end of morning rush, I saw above me that the bridge had filled with stalled traffic. It is a single, one-way artery connecting the 2 sides of the river.

Gustave Eiffel Park

Gustave Eiffel Park

From where I stood, at the river-side end of a small park, the city’s one million residents seemed far away. This park was dedicated in 1988 and named after Gustave Eiffel. It is a peaceful and quiet place: not quite public yet not completely private. Placed in a gated community, but the gate was open for foot traffic. So I went in. I was surrounded by manicured greenery. There were flowers blooming everywhere with grounds tended to by municipal workers.

Arequipa is in the desert. The ambient humidity hovers below 20% and the climate is strongly reminiscent of New Mexico. Like New Mexico, the city draws off water from the river. The water is diverted into a system of canals or acequias. This park, watered by one of these acequias, flourishes. And so too, do the farmlands of the floodplain on the opposite bank. They are likewise acequia fed. I had the park to myself and wandered freely.

Acequia, Gustave Eiffel Park

Acequia, Gustave Eiffel Park

I eventually met a man who lived nearby and I asked him about the water. He explained that, again like in New Mexico, these waters are controlled by a mayordomo. This water-boss decides when and how much water is diverted to individual plots. The man I met was friendly enough and surprised to learn of the similarities our countries share for irrigation. But he had work to do so we said our goodbyes and I turned my attention back to the bridge.

Thanks to Google, the University of Iowa’s School of Engineering website and Wikipedia I learned something of the bridge’s construction. It uses a Fink Truss design to hold itself up. This system was popular with early B&O railroad bridges in the US.

El Puente Bolivar in Arequipa, Perú

El Puente Bolivar in Arequipa, Perú

The Fink Truss employs a series of interleaved triangles. Inherently strong, these triangles support the load of the roadway from underneath. The result is a lacework of steel which, though attractive, has few remaining examples still in service. There are only 2 Fink Truss bridges left standing in the US.

Fink Truss from 19th Century Patent

In the middle of the 19th Century steel was a new building material. The engineers back then were learning as they were building. The Fink Truss is an early example of such inventive construction. However this truss design was quickly superseded by above-grade supports.

Now it was time for another discovery: Eiffel did not build this bridge. He did not design it. He had nothing to do with Arequipa, nor with “Case de Fierro” in Iquitos. Nor, as I learned, did he have much to do with anything in South America.

Yet none of this matters, really. The bridge stands, people use it daily, and I was happy to find it. I left the park and climbed the neighborhood stairs up to the roadway. Two pedestrian walkways share the surface with the single lane for vehicles.

I crossed the bridge to the other side where the cars gain access. As I neared the far side I could see many of the cars pause, often for more than a minute before continuing on. This seemed strange until I got to the entrance.

Shrine at Bridge Entrance

Shrine at Bridge Entrance

There I found a glass-encased shrine with a richly clothed Jesus and Cross. Many of the drivers in this deeply religious country would stop, cross themselves and then cross the bridge. As they asked for blessings for a safe journey I too gave thanks: for the chance to witness this bridge.

In 3 days I leave Arequipa. A week after that I leave the country. But if I ever return to Perú this city is tops on my list of places to revisit. The people are welcoming, the climate is wonderful, and Puente Bolívar will still be there.

Finding Shoes, Big Shoes, in South America

When I herniated 2 discs in my lower spine I immediately lost an inch of height. This was back in 1986 and it came right after losing a vicious fight with a cast iron bathtub. Minutes earlier it was just the 2 of us on a staircase when the body said “No more.” And so did my doctor.

He said that if I continued this insanity then more discs would rupture. I was a licensed plumber at the time. Lifting heavy appliances and bath fixtures was the norm. He predicted that after a while I’d be tightening my belt up around my armpits. Literally, not just figuratively, I’d become a knuckle-dragger.

Maybe not in so many words, but that was his warning. It was time for a change. Thus, along with the bathtub, my 20-year construction career truly came crashing down around me. And it left me even more disproportionate than the way I was born. These days though my bigger inequity is my feet.

At the base of a shrinking body I float on size 13 shoes; kind of a circus clown effect. Or maybe an overgrown Hobbit. Canal boats. Land skis. Anyway, as a result I have lived through any number of embarrassing moments over the years: tripping on some things, kicking (not purposely) other things. In the past 18 months I’ve been getting my feet stuck under the front seats of mini taxis while trying to unfold out of the back seats.

All this podiatric warfare has taken a toll on my shoes. My shoes are the only barrier between my twinkling toes and the foreign elements of travel. For as much as 12 hours a day, virtually every day, I am on my feet. I am wandering and yes, even wondering on city streets, mountain paths, jungle trails, in airport terminals, at ferry landings and within hotel lobbies. I’m in restaurant dining rooms, local markets, museum halls and theater aisles. In the same pair of shoes.

My shoes are a mess. Their terminal fatigue has surpassed permissibility in polite company. I need a new pair, badly. Ah, but not so fast. Size thirteens (or 47’s down here)? Good luck, Gringo.

The majority of people living south of the Equator are not tall. Take last night, at the restaurant. My waitress barely came up to eye level as I was seated. While she, standing there wondering what this foreigner might say, was poised with order pad in hand. And that is generally the case. If you expect a face-off, take a seat.

Certainly there are tall Peruvians, and I saw more than one in Lima. However the majority of them were getting out of their Mercedes’ and sprinting to the air-conditioned tennis club; the upper-class whites. When they go shopping, they hop on a flight to Miami. The folks on the street and out of the capital are built like the waitress and dozens of waitresses like her. It’s no surprise that my needs are not their needs.

If you are shopping for clothes and you’re visiting from up north you can try a tourist-focused mall in one of the major cities. With patience you can paw through the racks and occasionally find something larger than a medium in shirts or slacks. Maybe the color’s not right, and not all styles are represented, nevertheless large and extra-large do exist. But shoes? Get ready for a special treat there, Pluto.

When the time came to replace my shoes it was also for me the beginning of a new career. I had no idea that I was to become the frontman for dozens of aspiring comedians. That was revealed when I entered my first South American shoe store. This was in Ecuador. The owner, who happened to be holding a pair of pliers, offered to cut off my toes. In between fits of doubled-over laughter he swore that he could make me cram into a pair of size 9’s. Ah, Ha ha ha.

The thing is, Ecuadorians are giants compared to the many four-foot-aughts I meet on the streets here in Perú. These folks are tiny! Have I said that before? And they sell shoes to match. Trudging through upscale malls in Lima, in Cusco, and finally here in Arequipa I meet with an equal mix of mirth and chagrin at each shop. But we all have a great time and I’m happy to say that I have made the day for many a bored shoe vendor. Shock and awe, but in a novel way.

Because you see in South America it’s not like with Donald Trump. He and Marco Rubio went at it over hand-size, somehow equating such with masculine development. Here, guess what? They whole-heartedly equate the same (and truly believe it) with shoe-size!

My Spanish is getting pretty good, though when spoken rapid-fire I still miss a lot. What I don’t miss though, are the wide-eyes and red faces of the women clerks at shoe stores. Ah, the traveling life.

I was recounting my most recent shopping disappointment to the owner of my hostal, Juan Carlos. He stopped me right then and there. “Kaaal,” he said. (German names are not easy for Spanish speakers) “It’s time to rejoice!”

He knew the solution to my shame. It was found just a half-dozen blocks from La Casa de Sillar where I am staying. His single mother has a torrid yet chaste affair (South America is conservative you know) going on with José and Juan Carlos explained that I had to go see him. José would save me.

Don José is a zapatero, an old-school shoemaker. I found his workshop just before sunset and at the same time I also met the master himself. He had just pedaled up to the curb on a well-maintained Trek mountain bike. Returning from a 3 hour siesta, he was energized and ready for business. Doña Gloria, Juan Carlos’s mother, had warned him to be on the lookout for the gringo, so he wasn’t surprised to see me. We hit it off immediately.

Don José, with his motocicleta in the background.

Don José, with his motocicleta in the background.

I had complemented him on the bicycle racing posters plastered on his walls. I also mentioned that after retiring from the university I became a bicycle mechanic. That did it. Our friendship was cemented for good.

José competes in his age group (he’s 47) in both road races and on mountain trails. He also rides motorcycles. He had both a road machine and an enduro along with his Trek crammed into the 4’ x 12’ workspace. The shop was lit by a single dangling lightbulb. This place was more than packed: it was floor-to-ceiling jammed.

One of my battleships is on the counter.

One of my battleships is on the counter.

But he found me a foot-high stool and had me hunker down for measurements. As we sat, soon joined by his friend Charles, we spent the next 2-1/2 hours reviewing each other’s lives and dreams. The time flew by. Part way through our talks, José showed me some of his current projects.

He was re-soling a pair of trainers for Doña Gloria, a labor of love to be sure. Plus, he was putting finishing touches on a largish pair of what seemed to be dancing slippers. This elegant footwear in black leather, covered with decorative metal studs, was a custom pair he was crafting for the neighborhood transvestite. I know that this person will like them because they also have shiny metal inserts that wrap around the heels. The inserts match the studs. Fancy is as fancy does.

These shoes of hers say a lot about life in South America. Yes, the countries are conservative. Yes, both the Catholic Church and the political systems condemn the life we generally take for granted in the US. Though back home it’s not that extreme opposites in lifestyles often associate with each other. Nonetheless, our legal system does protect our differences. Except for North Carolina, but that story’s for someone else’s telling.

In contrast, life on the street in Latin America is a working model for “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” As long as you’re not harming anyone, as long as you’re not pestering others with your personal dramas, people here know how to get along. Even when lifestyles and needs are not openly admitted to. I knew that these studded beauties were sure to please.

Of course there are the anal types (Freudian, I mean) who are uptight about pretty much everything. But they are a small part of the Latin population and simply tolerated, but only just. Life here is far more inclusionary than the polarized, exclusionary life most common up north. Liberals with liberals, conservatives with conservatives; don’t cross the street.

“We don’t have much, but we’ve got each other,” are the words to live by in these parts. I’m very comfortable with this. And I know that Andelina (her working-gurl name) will be comfortable with her shoes as well.

José attending to my Sole

José attending to my Sole

OK, My feet are measured: lengthwise, widthwise, outlined, multiple circumferences noted. I’ve picked out the color: a medium brown; the style: a sober, semi-dress walking shoe. In one week I will have my first hand made pair of zapatos (shoes). They should go well with the new pair of navy wool trousers and gray sports coat I picked out earlier this week.

I’m getting ready for Chile. The people there are living with the most vigorous economic climate in South America. They dress accordingly. I’m tired of looking like a tourist. Or, as another waitress opined to me, a mendigo, a beggar. But she exaggerates: the poor people here dress better than the rich gringos from up north.

For the curious, these shoes have set me back a full forty-five dollars. Sure, that’s a lot of money for custom-made full leather shoes, but this is Perú. That’s how things are done here.

Postscript: It’s a week later, I’m a couple of twenties thinner, and I’m sitting in a restaurant wearing my new kicks. They’re a few hours old but already they feel like old friends. José built in some amazing cushioning (both in the soles and the interiors) and I’m ready for some long days walking south in a skinny country. Prepare yourself, Chile: I’m on my way.

Gracias, Maestro!

Gracias, Maestro!

Mil Gracias, Maestro Zapatero!


I am captivated by islands. Though I’m not referring to their landforms. However the ones I’ve had the luck of visiting are certainly worth appreciating simply for their natural beauties. But what pulls me to these places is the effect insularity has on the mindset of the peoples who live there.

Cut off from fast and easy access to other parts of the world, isolated population centers develop distinct identities which are both a boon and an obstacle to us transients just passing through. I’ve had the pleasure of spending some time in 3 very different such cultures.

Hawai’i in the 60’s and 70’s was an island chain in transition. Having become the 50th state of the US a few years earlier, it was also the materiel and military troop concentration point for an escalating war in Viet Nam. The ripple effect of the war created more high-paying jobs than qualified workers to fill them. One could, and often did, quit a job in the morning and have another one that afternoon.

A third element for change was the allure of the islands for the counter-culture youth, usually referred to as hippies. I was part of that culture. With so much money freely floating within the state coupled with the influx of people and new ideas, Hawai’i became one of the most liberal and free-thinking places in the country. But this was not to last.

After the war in Viet Nam ended, followed in parallel with the complete collapse of Hawai’i’s agriculture giants, pineapple and sugarcane, the state was struck low by 2 hurricanes. The first one came in the 80’s and the more destructive one in the 90’s and the devastation is still being felt today.

These successive shocks to the vitality of Hawai’i collectively morphed into a behavioral provincialism that carries on today. I witnessed this firsthand 2 years ago when asked to serve on a State Legislative Task Force for the creation of a medical cannabis dispensary system. Even though 23 other states already have fully functional systems in place the major players in the Task Force demanded a different approach, essentially commanding the reinvention of the wheel. As a result, years later the system has yet to begin treating qualifying patients with respect, let alone functional results.

Rationale for the refusal to incorporate existing, proven methods for a dispensary system focused on the fear of perhaps venturing into new territory, though in fact this was obviously not the case. To be sure, by reinventing that particular wheel the power group behind the scenes on the Task Force guaranteed the creation of a unique system of Byzantine complexity. Much of that complexity relies on the islands’ definition of terms.

The state’s interpretation of the concept of liberal and conservative thought are frequently 180 degrees out of sync with the US mainland. In Hawai’i you find leading Democrats almost maniacally opposed to the idea that cannabis could be a medicine, and you find a Republican who has been tilting against windmills for 20 years trying to introduce industrial hemp as a viable and profitable agricultural industry. So much for progressive action and conservative caution. It’s really fascinating and entertaining stuff if it didn’t adversely affect seriously ill residents.

The Galápagos Islands also model insular behaviors. Though visitors come to see the genetic diversity of the animals and the differences among identical species on the various islands, the diversity of the people on the different islands is just as pronounced and just as fascinating. Who could imagine such cultural/behavioral diversity in such a small island chain? But it exists and the differences are easy to spot. Easy, if one takes the time to sit down and have a conversation with the locals residents.

Iquitos, Peru is the 3rd island culture I am considering. And yes, it’s a city of 1/2 million people in the middle of South America. But it is also the largest landlocked city in the world without a road leading in or out. There is no overland access and it is surrounded by the Amazon jungle. Iquitos is undeniably an island, one with its own unique elements that combine to form its individuality.

Perú is a poor country, though like Mexico it is a rich country. Third largest in South America it is rich in resources and has a reasonably clear understanding of the meaning of that natural wealth. But, like Mexico, the people are achingly poor having to survive in spite of an endemic level of corruption touching all aspects of the country’s culture. Iquitos, at the tail end of nowhere, feels this poverty through an unemployment level of about 65%. So that when 50,000 – 100,000 comparatively wealthy tourists visit the city yearly, the gap between the local population and the visitors is painfully obvious to all.

This gap creates and sustains a vulture-culture, where tourists are declared open-season for opportunists year round. Though the majority of the city is virtually tourist free, the areas along the Malecon and the various historic sites in and around Iquitos are awash with wandering scam artists offering the unwary everything from bogus tours to unrealistic money exchange rates, to prostitutes, to street drugs, to ayahuasca and most likely very much more. Buyer beware and keep track of your personal items; the management is not responsible…

In Lima my first Spanish language teacher there explained to me about cultural feelings of inadequacy as an endemic Peruvian world view. She recounted a number of instances to support her argument that Peruvians regard themselves collectively as backward and thus regard visitors as somewhat intimidating. Here on the streets it is common to witness a deference shown by Peruvians toward gringos and it can be uncomfortable to those of us raised believing in universal equality. I can only image how African-Americans must have felt and behaved toward whites before widespread civil rights movements. I see that deference here in Iquitos far more commonly than either Lima or virtually all of Ecuador.

So, on the one hand you have a deferential population and on the other hand you have the bold “street sweepers” looking for any opportunity to redistribute wealth. This paradox is, in a nutshell, why Iquitos holds such magic. Yesterday, for example, I rode a mototaxi to Embarcadero Bellavista to revisit the confluence of the Rio Nanay and the Amazon. I had been there, on the water, the week earlier and I wanted to spend time on my own without being part of a small tour group.

Before I even got out of the taxi, I had shills and scammers vying for my cash; each one professing to be the real deal at, of course, the best price for you my friend. And even after I had explained (always with a smile, nothing turns uglier quicker than a scowl or a harsh word) that I was only there to take photos, 2 or 3 followed me for a good 10 minutes. Each one assured me that they understood my predicament (?) and had the one, true answer. Gracias, but no…amigo.

Anyway, after the docks drained themselves of photo-opps I decided to walk back to the Malecon, about an hour’s toil in the heat and sun. If you have read Jack London, or personally visited international port facilities then you know that the surrounding areas are not only not pleasant, but often downright dicey as regards personal safety. Yet while I do not doubt that Bellavista shares these attributes at night, I was never once made to feel in any way at risk. Any time I got off Avenida Marina, the Main Street connecting the port with the Malecon, I never experienced resentment let alone hostility. Befuddlement certainly, and even small doses of curiosity, but danger, never. Everyone is just too polite.

Several days after arriving in Iquitos I noticed that the water was rising. From the beginning of February, when I got off the speedboat from Lagunas until the end of the week there were differences in the surrounding topography. This phenomenon was why I came! From the Time/Life books and National Geographic magazines I read as a child, to the PBS and Walt Disney nature programs, I knew that the Amazon swelled and receded yearly, the result of rains in the Andes. Now I was watching it. Slowly and surely, Iquitos is becoming a geographic island as well.



La Reserva Pacaya-Samiría

After squeezing out of the over-stuffed combi from Tarapoto, I found myself wandering through the river port town of Yurimaguas in north-central Perú. The combi, a minivan remodeled to hold 12 (very small Peruvian) passengers, had 16 of us sardined on top of each other careening down from the Highlands.

As the result of endorsements by friends, telling me how pleasant Tarapoto, the “City of Palms” was, I looked forward to getting there after my 4 month Lima sojourn. Facing either a 24hr bus ride or a 1hr flight, I took a taxi from the SAE/Lima clubhouse to the airport. It was a cost difference of about $60 and very much worth it; however Tarapoto wasn’t.

Perhaps I invested too many expectations into this small town, having read so many guide books laying around the SAE/Lima Clubhouse. Perhaps those friends who spoke so highly of Tarapoto aren’t really friends. Perhaps it was just me, unable to define what I was looking for to clear my mind of a city of 10 million. Whatever the cause or causes, Tarapoto disappointed. Perhaps it could have been the haircut.

My First (and last?) Selfie

My First (and last?) Selfie

My last one in Lima had grown out unevenly and I wanted to just comb my hair straight back and keep it simple for the jungle. The young lady who sat me down and snipped away had other ideas. Sadly, I have a feeling that she had failed to articulate those ideas down to her fingers and I ended up stumbling away with perhaps the worst chopping that I’ve ever had; certainly the worst in South America.

But she had recently moved to the “Big City” of Tarapoto from a small village bordering Ecuador and I was her very first Gringo! And the first gringo that she had ever talked to. This was a big day for her tiny shop. She was nervous and flirty and amazed that I could speak Spanish, so we had a thoroughly enjoyable time together talking about all sorts of things.

As part of a larger task, I am learning to forgive perceived injustices I’ve carried as resentments over the years. I have Balkan blood in my veins and it’s normal for a Serb to pass on a grudge through generations or even centuries. If you doubt this, simply ask a Croatian. The two cultures have been at each other’s throats for a millennia. Thus, I have some deep cultural teachings to overcome. It’s now 3 weeks after the haircut and wearing a hat is no longer mandatory. All is forgiven, Floricita. Pretty much.

What truly sealed the deal about my dislike for Tarapoto happened when I found out, after an hour’s walk in searing heat and a truly brutal sun, that the chocolate factory tours were shut down because of a remodeling project. That was it; I’m out of here! I was crammed into the combi the next morning, barreling on to Yurimaguas.

Mototaxis in Yurimaguas

Mototaxis in Yurimaguas

Smaller, dirtier, and far more humid than Tarapoto, Yurimaguas is a major shipping gateway to Iquitos and the Amazon. It is also the end of paved roads in this part of Perú, and even dirt roads end just outside of town. I enjoyed my stay and found it very pleasant. People and goods arrive from the mountains and the coast in Yurimaguas for transshipment down the Huallaga River to the larger, faster Marañón and finally down to Iquitos.

The other option for reaching Iquitos from within Perú by way of water, is to reach, by land or by air, the city of Pucallpa and board a similar type of vessel traveling down the Ucayali. I expect to be in Pucallpa next month for another, very different jungle experience. Just upstream of Iquitos, the distance changing with seasonal flooding and the variable nature of large rivers, both the Ucayali and the Marañón join to become the Amazon.

By any metric the Amazon is the largest river in the world. And even here, more than 2,000 miles from its delta on the Atlantic coast of Brazil, here where it first gets its name, IT’S A BIG RIVER. Certainly at this point the Amazon equals the breadth of the Mississippi at its fullest, and either of the Ucayali or Marañón flows would rival the Missouri or the Ohio. But at this juncture I’m downstream of where I want to be so let’s go back a few days.

Yurimaguas is where I had planned to board one of Eduardo’s Boats. But Eduardo is dead and his 2 sons are now rivals in the transport business, constantly fighting each other for commerce. What was once the shipper of choice, Eduardo’s Boats is now just one of a number of shippers vying for trade. After some consultation with hotel staff and folks on the street I chose another option to make my way downstream. I’m happy that I did.

Passenger/Freighters at Yurimaguas

Passenger/Freighters at Yurimaguas

The idea of fighting for hammock space crammed shoulder to shoulder with other passengers sounded less and less appealing. Without problems (when did that last happen?) the downstream voyage takes about 3 days of constant heat, humidity, and the farts, belches, and snores of scores of unwashed bodies. It didn’t take a lot of convincing for me to break up the trip into 2 segments, going ashore at the village of Lagunas about 1/3 of the way to Iquitos.

Instead of the large and very slow passenger/freighter, I boarded a 3am speedboat in Yurimaguas and came ashore at Lagunas 5 hours later. Standing at the top of the muddy bank, José was waiting to grab my bag and take me to his office. I had signed up for his tour, Huayruro, to take me into the Pacaya-Samiría Reserve. For several days José and his wife Emilia would be my hosts and guides. We floated and paddled downstream in a dugout canoe, staying at mosquito-netted camps along the way.

The 2 of them, members of the Cucama indigenous group, are people who can and do live off the land and the rivers with a fishing line, a skinny bamboo fishing spear, a box of matches, and of course the machete. Oh, and bottled water for the gringo. Along with a roll of toilet paper for the white guy as well.

José and Emilia

José and Emilia

They had never taken someone my age on a trip with them and to say that I was pampered doesn’t do their hospitality justice. I sat amidships in the canoe and was expected to document the journey with photos and witty conversation while the two of them did all the paddling. Spanish is also their 2nd language so we got along very well. But less than a week was more than enough for me.

Near one hundred degree temperatures competing with near one hundred percent humidity takes an ever increasing toll on me each year. The mosquitos, though less in numbers and less voracious than those attacking me in the Everglades years ago, are not my favorites either. But with the oppressive heat/humidity combination and just sitting in the canoe most of each day, I struggled mightily. Though not with food.

José just speared one of many fish

José just speared one of many fish

José, paddling from the front while his wife sat in the stern, for seemingly no apparent reason would randomly steer toward one bank or the other on the opaque brown river. He’d then reach back behind him to grab his spear and within seconds he had a fresh fish at his feet. After several of these he would slice off a piece of one of the fish and thread it on a hooked fishing line tied to another 1/2-inch thick bamboo pole.

Our first piranha

Our first piranha

Then he would slap the hook onto the water’s surface with a quick flip of the pole and literally in a second or two, one of 3 species of piranha swimming nearby would become the next course in our next meal. Emilia had only packed some salt, a few tomatoes and a bag of onions when we set out. And for the next few days I picked fishbones out of my teeth breakfast, lunch and dinner. Piranha, by the way, is supremely delicious.

We went caiman spotting at night and saw even more birds by day than I had seen in the Cuyabeno Reserve in Ecuador last year. Parrots, Macaws, 3 kinds of Kingfishers, Egrets, Storks and many more took flight around each bend in the river. The Pacaya-Samiría Reserve is a national treasure and surely a place worth the struggle to reach for anyone visiting Perú. One can also visit the Reserve coming upriver from Iquitos, paying 3-5 times as much but with more pampering and fancier accommodations. Your call.

Eventually the torture ended, after the 3 of us each grabbed a paddle and fought our way upstream back to Lagunas. I was so truly taken with my guides that I left Emilia with a princely sum of 50 soles as a tip. That’s about $14.26, not a trivial amount in the jungle. But José was too wiley for me and when he dropped me off at the backpackers’ hostel, I found out that he had already paid for my night! I was humbled mightily.

Dawn on the Huallaga

Dawn on the Huallaga

Early the next morning, just after sunrise, I boarded another speedboat and zipped down the Huallaga. An hour into the trip and the river joined the Marañón, one of the major rivers in South America.

From there it was an uneventful 6hr ride to the port of Nauta where I got off in a driving thunderstorm for yet another crammed, sweaty combi ride, this time into Iquitos. I set aside 3 weeks for Iquitos, and like so many other places, 3 months would not have been enough for this amazing island in the jungle.

The largest landlocked city in the world (nearly 1/2 million population) without a road leading to it, Iquitos is worth a very long look. I’m doing just that.

On The River

Sitting here in Iquitos at the Yellow Rose of Texas, I have time to reflect. Plenty of time, really. I’ve given myself 3 weeks to soak up the history of this city and to find a way for explaining to myself just what Lima was all about.

My 4 months in Lima slipped by in a blur. After a number of false starts I finally admitted to myself that I was standing too close to events while still caught up in them to be able to recount anything accurately. This opportunity for a bit of geographical separation permits a chance to place those months in context. Here at the Yellow Rose, where I generally breakfast, I can more clearly look backwards and a bit forwards as well.

Also here at the YRT, “where the beer is colder than your ex-wife” you can find a Margaritaville style sports bar, restaurant and cafetería (what they call a coffee bar in Latin America rather than what we call a collection of steam tables back in the US of A). It will also host a TV broadcast of Super Bowl 50, so I expect to return and fight for table space this next Sunday as well. The staff is bilingual and the tables are plentiful with an unhurried feel to the place

I got to Iquitos by floating down 2 rivers after spending several days in a jungle reserve with an indigenous family. Now I’m here, where one of the rivers, the Marañón joins another, Rio Ucayali, to become the Amazon. And I’m trapped. There’s a vaguely Golden-ish Retriever asleep on my right foot and I haven’t the heart to disturb her from her snores.

Even as auspicious dates play a major role in traditional Chinese culture, so too I saw no reason not to incorporate them into my own life. A week ago, January 23rd, marked the day one year past when I landed in Ecuador on a flight from Miami. I commemorated this day by saying goodby to Lima and boarding a flight to Tarapoto. I have 5 months left on my Peruvian visa. On the surface that seems to be a lot of time, but Perú is a big place with much to see and do. And if I hadn’t left Lima when I did, I might never have done so. Yet since I accomplished most of what I set out to do there, I can view the time spent as time positive.

Primary among my goals was the important one of personal physical well-being. Traveling full-time I had fallen into the trap of many who live on the road: I was eating a lot and doing little about it other than to eat some more. Compared to my “sedentary” lifestyle before I started flexing my passport, my new habits included virtually no time to maintain any sort of muscle tone. This turned out to be a dangerous and eventually a life-threatening practice which I realized far too dramatically in September.

Once visitors arrive in the Galapagos (always, of necessity, by air) they need to board a ferry and cross a small channel between the flat rock that hosts the landing strip and the main island of Santa Cruz. As I was hoisting my bag, too big and too heavy, to heave it onto the top of the ferry, I almost landed in the water between the dock and the bobbing vessel. It was a dramatic reminder that in 9 months of travel with no proper physical exercise, I was woefully out of shape. I already knew this from earlier experiences, but there is nothing like a close call offering potentially great bodily harm to drive home the point.

An extended stay in Lima would offer the chance to rectify my physical decline and it did. Shortly after settling in at SAE/Lima I enrolled in classes at Ashtanga Perú. This type of yoga is a highly energetic form which requires the practitioner to balance on one’s hands between poses and expects the neophyte to have already attained middling level of flexibility. It kicked my ass.

But now, with the knowledge of Ashtanga gained, I can be holed up in even the smallest of hotel rooms, and have enough space to roll out my yoga mat and pummel myself into keeping up a modest level of muscle tone. By far I haven’t incorporated all the poses or asanas, but I carry a plasticized chart of them and slowly move forward, learning new asanas over time. I owe a deep thanks to Fernando, Pedro, and the rest of the staff at the Lima studio.

El Enano, Miraflores, Lima

Pulling this feeling of gratitude forward, I’m also deeply indebted to the folks at “El Enano,” which is Spanish for “the dwarf” though I never once saw one. This outdoor eating establishment, open virtually every day of the year from 6am to the next day is hugely popular with Limeños. El Enano was half way along my path to and from the yoga studio, so after practice each day it was my sole choice for breakfast with none of the other nearby eateries coming close.

Posted along the inner wall of the seating area (26 bar stools bolted to the concrete) and up near the ceiling was a menu of nearly 200 items. By far the majority of these were fruit juices, offered either singly or in combinations of 2 or more fruits. There were simply not enough days in the week, nor weeks in the months I lived in Lima for me to try them all. Though I did mark off my choices on a take-away menu I carried in my backpack just for this purpose.

Combos like carambola/maracuyá/tuna (tuna’s the fruit of a cactus) or fresa/mandarina/uva (strawberry/tangerine/grape) kept my imagination soaring and always in anticipation of the next day’s selection. Up in the northern hemisphere we keep hearing about “superfoods” and how their concentrated benefits outshine conventional products. Unless you can actually see them, arrayed in their spectrum of colors, it will be nearly impossible to know what we don’t know; thank you Donald Rumsfeld.

Shortly after arriving in Quito, Ecuador early in 2015 I discovered the wonder of such fruits that I had never heard of let alone tasted. More than a dozen years living in Hawai’i had kick-started my love of tropical fruits, but the sheer variety here in South America vastly overwhelmed even the wonderful options back in Honolulu. And now that I’m here along the Amazon, Perú offers even more than I found in Ecuador. Fruits like arazá, copoazú, taperiba, mamey, camu camu, aguaje, gamitana, cocona and many more are exciting elements in my daily life.

Fruit Vendor, Lima

Fruit Vendor, Lima

And if, for some reason, the 4 blocks to El Enano from the SAE/Lima Clubhouse were somehow too far to travel, I just walked 3 doors down to the corner and visited the pushcart street vendor. Pretty much any direction from the Clubhouse and no more than a block or two distant, vendors with their pushcarts offered fresh produce and/or fruits with this dizzying array of options.

The fruit-sellers all had their assigned locations and would set up just after dawn, hawking their freshest of fresh foods throughout every day but Sunday. Life was good and it was easy. Healthy eating, in spite of not cooking for myself, was never a difficult prospect. From weekend organic farmers’ markets to natural food stores, good food that was good for you was never far away.

Also close by I met a slowly roving band of cynical middle-aged expats who moved in circular migratory patterns throughout my adopted neighborhood. Introduced to them by a Canadian SAE Club member early in my stay, I paid my dues and joined the club for a bit. Buying a round for whomever stumbled into whichever bar they fancied that hour of that day made one a charter member. I was in.

After a week or two, or perhaps three, or was it four? (I’m a bit cloudy about those details) I realized that I didn’t want to resurrect old depression-inducing patterns and learned to keep my distance from the gang. They were nice enough guys, at least superficially, but endemic bitterness toward a world that done ’em wrong grew to be too tedious for me; especially after the 47th time of hearing the same grievous injustices.

I did pick up some tips on how to snag the best hookers and score some righteous weed. Great, just what I needed. NOT! Though they did introduce me to my street-smart Spanish teacher and until we had a cultural falling out a few months later, Ely taught me a great deal. However, picking scabs, especially in this tropical heat, will fester wounds, so let’s say goodbye to Ely and the gang and then move on. But before I go, I will say that I benefited from yet another ayahuasca delayed effect that I never would have discovered if not for this group of merry men.

Just like the disappearance of my life-long seasickness through after-effects of ayahuasca, which I discovered during September in the Galapagos, hanging out with the barflies in October taught me that I could, for the first time ever, successfully mix tobacco, alcohol, and weed without puking my guts. In previous encounters over many years I could mix any 2 of the 3 and remain vertical. But try as I might, and yes, I have tried over time, I could never join all three in one harmonious union. Now I can. Ain’t that something real special?

So yes, one could argue that Lima did slow my forward progress. As if I have some defined direction or timetable. But I don’t and if I did, just which direction is forward? And when do I have to be there? I’ve mentioned before that early on, really the first week in Quito, Ecuador a year ago, I learned that I can only make decisions one step at a time because each step opens up the most amazing circumstances and I’m taking my time to feel them out.

Two weeks from today (Super Bowl 50 played last night, I’m a bit slow posting this) I’ll be puking again at my next ayahuasca sessions. This particular retreat serves up a “pre-game” purgative for all the participants before we start with the brew of the vine. Designed to void all the cheeseburgers and fries we seem to accumulate in our “normal” lives, the folks at Nihue Rao believe that no one really practices the proper diet before an ayahuasca retreat, so the purgative will level the playing field. As it were.

So that was Lima, and this is Iquitos, with yet more jungle experiences to follow.