Wednesday, March 20, 2013

A Visit to Tablazos

Many of our travels to the more distant villages, say twenty miles or more begin at Chiclayo’s Terminal EPSEL. It’s a chaotically cheery place, with upwards of ninety combis in the process of arriving or departing. Popping in and out of the combis are vendors offering everything from sunglasses to razors to beverages and food of every flavor. Often the vendors inside a combi outnumber the waiting passengers. From this terminal you can get a combi to just about anywhere in the Lambayeque Region. Frequently they don’t go directly to your destination; sidetracking to various off the path villages to pick up passengers or off-load groceries or other items, but eventually you get to where you want to go.

This morning we wanted to go to Tablazos. To get to Tablazos what you have to do is take a combi that is going to Chongoyape of which there are many, but one that also detours through sugar canes fields on a rocky wagon path for five miles to Tablazos before continuing on to Chongoyape, of which there are not many. The Toyota combi in the photo was going to Tablazos. It was scheduled to leave at 9:00am, but in Peru schedules are only broad guidelines. Most combis don’t leave until they have enough passengers to make the trip worthwhile.

Our combi pulled out of the terminal at 9:45. It turns out we were waiting for this bag of pigs, that were to be delivered to one of the small towns we’d be going through. After the pigs were securely tied to the combi’s top (sometimes we catch a break) we were on our way.

The initial impression after getting off the combi is that Tablazos doesn’t have a whole lot going for it as a tourist destination. It’s got this old steam engine on display next to the principal and only park, but it’s surprising how many villages we’ve been to that have that same engine or one like it in their park as well. There is no vehicle traffic and few people on the dirt streets. It has that familiar look and feel of a town where men are in the fields cutting sugar cane and the women are indoors washing clothes or cooking. The church is located a few blocks from the park.

The school dates back to 1950 when it was converted from a grand hacienda owned by a wealthy family.  The high ceilings, wood floors and large ornate doors all speak of an impressive appearance in days gone by.

One of what were many inner courtyards now contains restrooms and showers. Another former courtyard contains a kitchen area with large pots and a brick cooking stove, but these things are not used on a daily basis. The regional government says that Tablazos does not qualify as a poor community so does not donate food. We saw many students buying their lunch from a woman with her house adjacent to the school and assumed these kids lived some distance from the village. Those students living in Tablazos probably go home for lunch.

The school is set up for six classrooms but only three are being used. According to Teresa Luk the school’s director, school enrollment has dropped primarily because parents object to first, second and third grade students being taught in the same classroom at the same time, so have placed their kids in different schools in other communities. Teresa says she has no control over the situation because the Minister of Education will not provide additional teachers. When we asked her what kind of improvements she’d like to see, she said her first wish would be for two more teachers. She’d also like desks and chairs for the kids, and a canopy constructed outside to keep kids and parents out of the sun when outside activities/ceremonies take place.

Following our visit to the school we briefly toured the village and came upon a couple of things we’d never seen before. The sugar cane fields surrounding Tablazos are owned by the cooperative in Tuman. On the 15th and 30th of each month a cooperative’s paymaster sets up inside the blue doors and then hammers on the metal gong to announce his presence. Hearing the gong, the men line up in front of the office to receive their pay.

Another unique item was this ‘tower’ adjacent to the school. Many years ago the regional government placed a large television in it so people could watch news and soccer. No one we talked with remembered how or when the TV disappeared.

Though some combis go through Tablazos on their way to Chongoyape, none pass through the village on the return trip to Chiclayo. It is necessary to take a moto taxi five grueling miles to the highway. We like these off the beaten path excursions but the travel and desert heat has a way or wearing us (me) out. It feels good to get home to a shower and relax in a favorite easy chair.

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