Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Sugar Cane Towns

To my knowledge there are five sugar cane factories in the Lambayeque Region. Four of them are cooperatives located in Cayalti, Pomalca, Pucula and Tuman. The fifth is privately owned by Azucarera Del Norte SAC and is located on the route between Chiclayo and Ferreñafe.

Sugar cane towns share a common appearance and purpose. Those we’ve visited resemble raw frontier towns that exist solely to support the factory by providing labor and whatever else is needed. There are no malls, cinemas, chain stores or other niceties. Thick dust on dirt streets is constantly kept airborne by trucks hauling cane to the factories. There is usually no attempt at esthetics either collectively or individually, as if surrender to the desert’s constant onslaught had taken place long ago. An exception we saw yesterday is the town of Pucula.

The center of Pucula adjacent to the factory is as described above, but on the fringe where houses abruptly end and cane fields begin we saw an orderliness and cleanliness lacking in the city center and other towns. There is no liter in the streets. Many of the houses are freshly painted. Beautiful flower gardens butt up against attractive verandas. In talking with some of the residents we found there is a feeling of individual and neighborhood pride.

One woman we spoke with said she had lived in the same house for 49 years and that she and her neighbors have always tried to keep their area “limpio y tranquilo” (clean and quiet). She said that in December they erect a nativity scene in a small square surrounded by their houses and invited us to come back to see it.

We have no idea why these pockets of neighborhood pride exist in Pucula and not in the other towns. It’s not likely that these folks are better off financially. Perhaps we can learn more when we return in December.


Saturday, August 13, 2011

Olmos…the Limon Capital

After three years in Peru I still don’t know if a ‘limon’ is a lemon or a lime or something in between, but after our visit yesterday I know that the city of Olmos is the self-proclaimed Limon capital.

Olmos is an hour and forty minute $2.90 combi ride from Chiclayo. There are enough small towns in between dotting the desert landscape so that the ride passes quickly. The combi terminal in Olmos is located two blocks from the principal park, which is always a good place to begin exploring any new town. In the park is a sculpture of both a feminine and male hand – the male holding half of a limon. I’m not sure what imagery it is intended to convey.

WASHINGTON -- Welcoming the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers to the White House was no easy task for President Barack Obama. The president is a die-hard fan of the Packers' rivals, the Chicago Bears, the team Green Bay beat in last year's NFC Championship Game to move on to the Super Bowl.

Our exploration started at Bravo’s Restaurant, owned and operated by Lilly. After finishing our meals of menù we asked Lilly what there was to see in Olmos. She suggested Santuario Virgen De Nitape, followed by a zoo north of town, and some petroglyphs at the foot of the mountains. And not content to let us stumble around on our own, she hailed a mototaxi driver she was familiar with and made the transport arrangement with us. I know I’ve written this before, but day in and day out what I like most about Peru is the friendliness and helpfulness of small town people.

"I'm just gonna come out and say it," Obama said. "This hurts a little bit. This is a hard thing for a Bears fan to do. It doesn't hurt as much as the NFC Championship Game hurt, but it still hurts."

Our first stop was the Santuario Virgen De Nitape. What happened here was on May 31 1973 Teodora Gonzales, a young village girl was walking when she saw the Virgin Mary high up in this tree. There was some discussion; other people came to the site - some apparently also seeing the Virgin, and a shrine was built on the spot. According to our guide, Teodora is now married and living in Lima.

“… the president had some suggestions for the team (Packers) -- namely trading their quarterback and Super Bowl MVP Aaron Rodgers to his beloved Bears. No word on how that suggestion was playing in Obama's hometown, and with Bears quarterback Jay Cutler.”

During the twenty-minute mototaxi ride to our next stop we had the chance to survey the countryside. My impression was that Olmos could also lay claim to the title of goat and sheep capital - they are everywhere. I toyed with the philosophical question of whether they were dodging us or we were dodging them. The hills surrounding the town and roads have been stripped bare of any vegetation, making me wonder what these animals eat to survive.

Ahhhhh---that beautiful Super Bowl trophy---life is good!

Our next (and as it turned out final) stop was the Asociacion Crax Peru, Pava Aliblanca zoo, which is actually an aviary for endangered species with a few monkeys, turtles and a fox included. It’s not a bad place to spend an hour or so. There is an extensive collection of large birds that make some of the strangest sounds I’ve heard, and they seem to enjoy putting on a show when approached.

We wanted to finish our visit at the Pipochinos petroglyphs but our guide talked us out of it, saying the road was rocky and dangerous and there “really is nothing to see.” In hindsight I wish we would have insisted.

There is nothing unusual or distinctive about Olmos or its people, which we’ve found to be the case with most towns located on major roads. You’ve got to get off the beaten paths to see identifying cultural traits. Still, Olmos offered enough to keep our interest and justify the travel, which is all we ask of any community.


Monday, August 8, 2011

The Village of Boro

It was more than one year ago that a friend told us of ancient ruins located high on a mountain not more than 40km from Chiclayo near a village named Boro. He said the locals referred to the ruins as “little Machu Picchu” and to his knowledge the site had never been formally explored. We visited the village and climbed the mountain yesterday.

There is no public transportation directly to or in Boro. The options are to contract a taxi or mototaxi in nearby Pomalca, or to board a combi going to Sipan and get off in the middle of nowhere and walk a mile on a dust choked trail. The village is long and narrow, built alongside the Cerro Boro (Boro Mountain).

On the north end of the village is Lagunas Boro; a pretty blue water lagoon that serves as a potable water source for Chiclayo. Fishing, swimming, littering, and even approaching the lagoon too closely is prohibited and enforced by a shotgun toting security guard.

The village has been in existence for 35 years with many of the original settlers coming from Cutervo in the Cajamarca region. It is not clear whether these people actually hold title to the land. It was just three months ago that electricity and street lights were installed. Despite the lagoon there is no municipal water. Townspeople use wells for water to wash with but not for consumption, claiming the water tastes of salt and is contaminated. As in most remote desert villages stomach parasites and general health are a problem.

According to Consuelo Rivera (right) who is the informal mayor there are 56 families living in Boro. All of them are poor. A mid-day meal is supposed to be cooked every day in the ‘comedor popular’ (community kitchen) for those in need, but often government donated food does not arrive for days at a time. When food is available each family takes a one week turn at cooking. Despite the Reque River being nearby, there isn’t much in the way of family farming. Most of the men work either at a sugar factory in Pomalca or in nearby fields cutting sugar cane. There is no park and, almost amazingly, no church – a sort of town hall serving as a place of worship. There is a three room school and a separate building for kinder which isn’t being used due to lack of desks and tables. A restroom for the school with well water was constructed in 2002.

Climbing Cerro Boro is strenuous and sometimes tricky but not dangerous. Labeling the ruins ‘little Machu Picchu’ is going too far but not by much. The remains of a Moche culture city extend for miles in all directions. Outlines of roads, houses, storage facilities and temples are clearly evident.

A feature I dubbed the ‘great wall of China’ extends for miles north and south. The walls are remarkably well preserved. Another surprise was the lack of looter activity. Ugly looter holes we’ve come to associate with most archeological sites are not apparent here. Consuelo said that tourists do not come here and she is not aware of any government exploration of the site. Our guide suggested that our photos may be the first ever taken of this site… an intriguing notion but likely not true.

There is really no reason to visit Boro…unless you like small towns with friendly people, or exploring the remains of a huge, once thriving city dating back about a thousand years.


Thursday, August 4, 2011

A Family Story

Miguel and Maria (not their real names) are both in their mid thirties and both are mentally challenged. They have had a relationship for many years, though they aren’t married and don’t live together. Twelve years ago they had a son Luis who until recently lived in an orphanage.

There are two versions of how Luis came to be in an orphanage. In one version the government became aware of “a suspect family situation” and legally took the child and placed him in the orphanage. Miguel has had problems with alcohol and drugs which gives credence to this explanation. In the other version Miguel and Maria realized they could not take care of a child and voluntarily gave him up. It’s probable that even they are not clear on what took place. Whatever the case, every Sunday afternoon the family was together at the orphanage.

Some time ago a family from Spain visited Chiclayo with the intent of adopting a child. After several meetings with Luis the family was sure he was what they were looking for. And Luis apparently felt strongly about them also. Adoption is a lengthy process in Peru as in other countries. As the process was nearing a close Luis made a request of his new family to be. He asked to be allowed to communicate with his mother, and that when he was old enough to work he wanted to be able to send money to his parents. Luis is normal in all respects and knows that his parents are handicapped. Legally, agreement to the adoption was not required from Miguel and Maria, but they were asked and both consented.

I don’t know when the parting took place or what was said. I do know that Luis is in Spain and has started email communication with his parents. I also know that Miguel has said he misses his son but is happy Luis will “maybe be a engineer”. Maria has printed the emails from Luis and proudly shows them to friends.