Landslides, Visionary Art and a Piece of Europe: Pucallpa to Tarma

The six hour journey from Tingo María to Pucallpa was concerning me a little: according to my Lonely Planet, rapes and robberies at gunpoint have been reported. The area is one of the last bastions of the Sendero Luminoso (Shining Path), and even though the risk is currently very low, I was still venturing in this cocaine production area with some fears.

Turismo Central buses leave every day at 8 AM from cuadra 9 of Avenida Raimondi. Nevertheless, my bus never left. No hay pase, they told me.

Three words which meaning I had recently learnt, three words that I would hear a lot in the next few days. Heavy rainfalls started to hit the country harder than ever, causing rivers to flood and mountains to fall, creating the so-called huaicos. It was dangerous to travel, and the big companies didn’t want to take the risk.

Effects of the huaicos

Foolishly, I went to look for an alternative. I was more annoyed than concerned about the situation: after four great days Couchsurfing at Yulissa’s place, I was eager to reach my next destination. Soon, the news about the flood in Peru would be in the front page of European newspapers, but back then, I had no idea of what I was getting into.

My combi arrived in Pucallpa 6 hours later than expected, after miraculously passing the landslide in Aguaytía. Big rocks were falling from the mountain, and a man had been killed in a huaico just three hours before we passed.

While I was wondering whether it was still worth risking my life and considering spending the night in a village on the road, crowds of people had been assembling just where the rocks were falling: mothers breastfeeding their babies, and children selling popcorn to hungry passengers – curiosity and money came before safety, as usual.

Pucallpa was not worth half of the trouble I went into to get there. Dirty, noisy and polluted, the jungle feels far away. But I had a job to do here, and this kept me in the city for over ten days. Jean Michel, a French man I had met in Huaraz, hired me to take care of the shipping of some statues to the Museo de Arte Indígena in Iquitos, and I happily accepted.

These ten days in Pucallpa both tested my patience and gave me the opportunity to enter another reality. Working for the association Onanyati meant spending a lot of time with two great artists: Betzon, a sculptor, and Paolo, a painter, both visionary artists. With them I explored the world of art related to ayahuasca: I entered their homes and watched them working, while they told me legends from the jungle.

I hated Pucallpa but I loved all it gave me: two wonderful Couchsurfing experiences and the chance to get close to two amazing artists. My time in the city ended with an ayahuasca ceremony that I might describe in another post.

The heat of Pucallpa and the feeling of being powerless to finish the project I came here for led to an urgent need to leave. Neither could I wait to visit the Shipivo community in San Francisco: as usual, when the urge comes, I need to go.

I took two colectivos to reach Villa Rica, passing through unpaved and muddy roads bearing the signs of the recent rains. Huge blocks of rock had fallen from the mountain, and new rivers were now crossing the road.

I woke up in the morning to find a sweet surprise: this random village where I decided to spend the night at the very last minute produces the best coffee of the country. So, a cup of hot coffee and an hour drive later, I reached Oxapampa.

There couldn’t have been a better timing: just when saudade was starting to be too strong to bear, I found myself back to Europe.

A bunch of Germans and Austrians looking into hiding had settled here after World War II, in an area that the Peruvian government was trying to populate by giving the land away for almost no money. Oxapampa’s inhabitants, as well as the nearby Pozuzo’s, are blonde with blue eyes, and I finally didn’t feel like a gringa here.

Even though they also speak Tyrolean, they are 100% Peruvian. Yet, everything looks all but Peruvian in this part of the high jungle: the German-style houses are made of wood and surrounded by well-kept gardens full of blossoming flowers.The city is far away from the typical Peruvian noises: taxi drivers don’t blow their horns at you and even dogs are well-behaved.

I spent 4 days Couchsurfing at Joel’s place, discovering the surroundings and enjoying the European feeling for a while. We even went for a (finally) great pizza at Casa Italia and got invited by the Italian Mirella at her guesthouse within the Native Community Tsachopen.

Couchsurfing friends

On the way to Lima, I made a quick stop in Tarma, where I stayed at Yulissa’s place in Palca, a lovely village not far away from the city. The sleepy village turns alive during the annual Semana Santa, where the streets get covered with carpets of flowers and the inhabitants spend their days eating, drinking and dancing together.

 

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