Monday, October 31, 2011

A County Fair Peruvian Style

Yesterday the 12th annual Feria Ganadera (livestock show) began a six-day run on the grounds of the Livestock Growers Association near Chiclayo’s airport.

Even without the attraction of a fair the enclosed area itself is worth seeing. At any given time it is home to upwards of 300 beef and dairy cattle. The dairy cows are there primarily to supply milk for the government’s ‘Vaso de Leche’ (glass of milk) program for poor kids in the Lambayeque Region. The beef cattle are sold to local restaurants. There are a surprising number of breeds in the pens. Of the dairy cows the Holstein prevails. I recognized Charolais among the many breeds of beef cows.

As for the fair, though the promotional material bills it as a livestock show it has all the ingredients of county fairs in the US plus some things you don’t see in Wisconsin, including a bullfight.

One of the first events was a dog show. The gentleman in the photo showed this Rottweiler and a German Shepherd. He did not win a prize. Those who did received 16, 8 or 4 kilos of dog food for 1st, 2nd and 3rd place respectively. Most of the dogs on the streets of Chiclayo are mutts, but of the rapidly growing number of house dogs (and resultant pet salons!) Rottweilers and Pit Bulls seem to be prevalent.

A display of horsemanship was put on by the police department. Peruvians seem to appreciate equestrian skills almost as much as they enjoy watching the marinara danced.

Strolling the midway one could see kiosks on both sides selling crafts, natural medicines, clothing, and all sorts of candy including the familiar fluffy pink cotton candy. There were live and stuffed animals to have your photo taken with. What were missing were the games of chance - throwing darts at balloons, or balls at milk bottles to win a prize.

In Chiclayo all festivities include lots of food. Dozens of food vendors were offering chicharrón con mote (fried pork chunks served with boiled corn and onions), cuy con papas (fried guinea pig with boiled potatoes) and carne con papas (fried beef with boiled potatoes). And with all that salt, beer stands were doing a brisk business.

As we were leaving a huge bandstand was being erected as evidenced by the half-dozen refrigerator sized speakers being placed on it. I didn’t mind not being there for the music. Before I left the US my doctor cautioned me to never subject myself to the sounds of 300 bawling cattle combined with a billion decibels of mind numbing, organ shifting Latin music.


Friday, October 28, 2011

A Whirlwind Sampling of Peru

The last two weeks are a blur for the three of us. Maybe with a few days to recover we’ll better appreciate our experiences but for now we’re in a much needed rest mode.

It began when Maribel and I met my sister Joyce in Lima Wednesday the 26th. Our plan was to spend two days trying to give Joyce a feel for Lima before flying on to Iquitos for Joyce’s first jungle experience, and then finishing up with six days in Chiclayo. We stuck to our timetable but had planned so many activities into the schedule that it often felt as if we were running a marathon.

Lima is a big city. Selecting activities to present a picture of the city in just two days was a challenge but we think we succeeded. We began our tour at what seemed to me to be the natural starting place…the Plaza de Armas. We timed it to catch the changing of the guard at noon at the Government Palace. Following a delicious lunch including Pisco sours with friends at Maury’s Hotel/Restaurant we toured historic San Francisco church. Then it was on to the Museum of Inquisition and Congress. Late afternoon found us back in Miraflores watching the sun set in Parque Del Amor. That evening we were too tired to go out so stayed in the apartment and ate Wisconsin cheddar cheese on crackers with wine.

The next morning found us at the Larco Museum in Pueblo Libre. What a beautiful and informative museum! The displays focus on cultural history, and we were surprised to see a large section devoted to the Moche culture from our neck of the woods in the Lambayeque Region. It is not a large museum but we spent over two hours wondering among the displays and on the grounds which are beautifully landscaped.

After the museum we traveled to Congress hoping to take a tour of the building and perhaps see congress in action, but at the entrance we were told visiting was restricted because a festival was being held on the grounds of the building. Perhaps it was the sad and disappointed expressions on our faces, but as we were about to leave an officious looking man motioned to us to follow him. He led us inside the building; gave us passes and arranged for a guide. It was an interesting tour and we were introduced to several members of Congress. A taxi took us back to Miraflores and Parque Kennedy where we had an early dinner. In the evening we window shopped at the Larco Mar Mall, and then it was early to bed as we had to be at the airport early the next morning.

The weather in Lima during our visit was cloudy, cool and damp. We actually wore light jackets in the apartment at night. The weather in Iquitos is not cloudy, cool and damp. We wore as little as possible and still had to stop frequently to rest and drink liquids. We ran the air conditioner in the apartment at maximum all night. It is hot in Iquitos.

Beside just enjoying the feeling of bring in a remote town on the edge of the Amazon River and rainforest there is a lot to see and do in Iquitos. Some of our activities included visiting a small cultural museum, the Manatee Rescue Center, the Amazon Golf Course, Quistococha Zoological Park, Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm and a Serpentarium on the Nanay River where Joyce was able to touch and hold a variety of native animals including a sloth and snakes. We spent time looking for pink dolphins on a commercial riverboat tour.

We visited two ‘native’ villages where we took part in dances, jungle walks and were taught to use a blowgun. In my view for the most part these are awkwardly staged theatrical productions designed to soften up the tourist for the trinket sale onslaught that follows the show, but there is enough entertainment to justify the time spent.

One of the highlights of our Iquitos visit was fishing for piranhas on the Amazon River. Given everything I’ve heard and read about piranhas I expected them to be jumping into the boat trying to tear us to shreds. Instead they proved to be sneaky sophisticated bait-stealers. Because there were witnesses I am forced to be completely honest here. Three of us fished… two of us caught fish. This was very damaging to my male ego.

Our four days in Iquitos went quickly and we left with mixed feelings – sorry to leave this beautiful setting but glad to escape the heat.

Chiclayo was the last and most laid-back of our locations, though we still kept busy. We revisited the Lord of Sipan museum and pyramids; walked the beach and saw the old train station at Puerto Eten; visited the villages of Eten, Boro and Cayalti, and spent a day in the historic town of Zaña. Joyce also had time to get reacquainted with friends and family members she hadn’t seen in a year.

And now it’s over. Joyce is back in the US and Maribel and I have already begun to plan for next year’s visit. A combination of Machu Picchu, Cajamarca and Tarapoto sounds promising.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The Thirteen Holy Souls

Not sure anyone knows how 13 skulls came to be placed in this unmarked modest adobe structure in central Chiclayo. One story tells of how a bus accident killed over 50 people and the skulls were a result of that accident. Another account says that a flood destroyed over 90% of the area and that weeks later the 13 skulls were found clustered about a large wooden cross. However it happened, the skulls have reportedly been in this structure for over 100 years, and are visited daily by hundreds of people in need of help.

There is a mystical feeling to the tiny room where often people are standing shoulder to shoulder in silent prayer. There is a traditional oration to be offered to the souls, ending with the promise to recite 13 times daily Ave Maria and Our Father for 13 days. An important part of the ritual is the burning of a single white candle, which can be purchased in a small side room. One source claims that 3,000 candles are offered daily.

Over time more skulls and other objects of a religious nature have been added to the collection, apparently offered as thanks for miracles received. Every inch of wall space is covered with plaques placed there by individuals who are absolutely certain the 13 souls answered their call for help. Most of the plaques simply read… “Gracias por el milagro concedido” (Thank you for the miracle granted), though other more elaborate plaques include a description of the miracle granted. And it is not just Chiclayanos who visit the 13 souls. Many of the plaques have city names from locations all over Peru.

It is my understanding that Catholic Church authorities in Peru neither condone nor condemn the practice of visiting and praying to the 13 souls, though it is likely that an official church position either way would have no effect on the many believers.


Friday, October 21, 2011

A Forgotten Train Station

In the mid 1850s Puerto Eten was a bustling fishing and shipping port, supplying goods and food products including fish and sugar cane to much of the Lambayeque Region. The demand for transportation to towns in the region was such that in 1867 it was decided to locate a major train station in the town for the transport of products and people.

By 1875 the station was the hub of a far reaching network to a host of towns including Pimentel, Chiclayo, Lambayeque and Zaña. Puerto Eten retained its position of prominence into the 1920s at which time for a variety of reasons it began to decline into the all but forgotten village it is today.

Behind the village’s municipal buildings is what remains of the once-grand train station complex that stopped operating in 1968. The rusting remains of six engines occupy one of seven buildings still standing. Their boilers have been stripped of many parts but beyond that they appear pretty much as if they had been parked in anticipation of returning to service.

A machine shop looks as if it too is waiting to be put back in action. The manufacturer information is still visible on many of the machines. All of the machinery is from several manufactures in Manchester and other cities in England, and all are date stamped 1870.

These passenger cars have been patiently waiting for more than forty years to once again hear…”All aboard!” That’s not going to happen, nor will the engines ever again have their boilers fired, but there is hope that they will no longer continue to sit neglected and unnoticed. Puerto Eten has a plan to turn the entire complex into a tourist attraction with the help of foreign investors. We hope those plans are realized…these grand old trains and the town deserve a better fate.


Monday, October 3, 2011

The Mayor died last night

I don’t even know his name. Most people in the neighborhood simply referred to him as the Mayor. He lived within sight of our apartment and up until a few months ago could be seen most days sitting on a chair outside of his house where he would happily engage in small talk with neighbors and passersby.

Sometimes he would decide to walk to the corner and read or ‘hold court’ while sitting on the street marker. He was not in good physical condition and it was apparent that the walk was painful for him. Sometimes I’d watch his slow progress from our balcony, all the while hoping he wouldn’t fall. Occasionally he’d stumble and catch himself against the wall of a house, but I never saw him turn back.

Whenever I’d leave our apartment I could count on his checking me out to see that I was properly dressed. In the summer if I was not wearing a hat he’d call out, “Senor, el sol es caliente.” In the winter it would be, “Senor, que es frio y ventoso.” He was one of those people you looked forward to seeing and spending a few minutes with…his cheery presence seeming to signify that at least for the moment all was well with the world.

Descansa en paz, señor alcalde.