Sunday, 27 November 2005

My Sister's a Star

I received a big parcel on Friday. It was my sister sending me a birthday present consisting of a cool t-shirt bought in Australia and some tasty French cheese. The cheese was nicely packed in sealed plastic bags so that it wouldn't smell too much and could survive transport. Some of them are so strong they would qualify as chemical weapons but they taste fantastic. It should enable me to survive cheese-challenged Chiswick until I go home for Christmas.

Beers in Trujillo

When I was in Trujillo a couple of weeks ago, I ended up in a bar with Hans-Peter, a very nice Norwegian guy I had met while touring Chan Chan. As they had live music that evening, they also had a photographer from And here's the evidence: Hans-Peter and I having a beer in the first picture.

Friday, 25 November 2005

1038 Photos

I finished uploading my photographs from Peru. All 1038 of them. They can be seen on flickr. In fact, that's not quite true: I have a thirty second film still in the camera that I need to finish, develop and upload. So the total should be a bit higher. I now need to go through all of them, title and tag them properly. Luckily, I'll have lots of free time very soon.

Tuesday, 22 November 2005

This Company Terminates Here, All Change Please

It's been a funny old week. I came back from holidays to discover that my company was indeed going to merge with our American partner but that they'd close the London office by the end of the year. So in practice, we are leaving the premises in less than 3 weeks and we will all be out of a job by the end of December. I should get my redundancy letter next week.

What next? I've had enough of companies I work stupid hours for, spending nights in the office, being paid below the market's average, because I believe in what we do, and that end up giving me a P45 as a thank you. So I am setting up a limited company to start as an independant contractor and see what I can do for myself without relying on anybody else. The IT market looks quite good at the moment so it's probably the right time to do it.

If anybody needs the services of an experienced Java/J2EE technical architect, I'm your man.

Friday, 11 November 2005

Pirate Copies

Latin America has a lot of cool rock bands and I wanted to buy a few albums today to add to my music collection. You would think that in one of the largest cities in Peru, it would be easy to find a music shop that would have a decent collection where I could find everything I wanted? No. It is not easy. You have lots of small corner shops that sell CDs, DVDs and other bits and bobs but they are completely unsorted and they are all illegal copies. I found only one shop that sold original copies but they were all old or non-standard stuff that only a fan who didn't find what he wanted in the pirate copy shops would buy. So I ended up buying a few pirate copies, after asking the guy to play them to make sure I wasn't buying blank CD-Rs.

I asked a local friend what she thought about this and how the band made money. She admitted that probably 70% or more of the market is pirate copies and that none of the money on those copies would go to the artists. But the price of a CD is so prohibitive for the average Peruvian that there is no way they could afford originals, even though local music companies did reduce prices significantly in the past few years to make original copies accessible. So the pirate copy market ensures that everybody can buy and listen to the music. As a result, the albums of Latin artists and played everywhere and everybody knows their songs. Comparatively, western music is only a niche market: you don't hear it very often and when you hear it, it's old tunes the sort of which you get 4 for 20 quid at Virgin in London. In practice, western music seems to be pricing itself out of the Peruvian market. Having said this, how do Latin bands earn a living? I don't know but I suspect that every time they do a concert somewhere, the venue is full to capacity. I will be able to confirm this tomorow by going to a concert of Los Prisioneros.

Original Artwork

I went to the Huaca de la Luna, Temple of the Moon, this morning. You also have the Huaca del Sol next to it that is significantly bigger but you can't visit it. The visit was very interesting as it is the Moche site that has been best studied and you can really get inside the pyramid and see the original frescoes, some of them have been restored to their original colours using natural pigments. Apparently, the site's archeologists also found a tumb with remains on Monday but we couldn't see it. I suspect it will eventually be part of the visit when they have finished working on it.

The place is really fascinating, the guides are knowledgeable but unfortunately they are rather under-staffed meaning that you end up being shown around in large groups, especially if you speak Spanish, the English groups being few, small and far between. There were two of us and we got lumped together with 20 odd students, their teachers and two couples.

You can also buy reproductions of Moche art at the site, made using original molds. I would probably have bought something if the guys had let me browse around rather than trying a hard sell and bombarding me with offers of price reductions for a particular piece I wasn't interested in. Ufortunately this is common practice around here and tends to put me off what they have to offer. I like to take my time and be able to look around and compare pieces when I buy something.

Virgins, Horses and Adobe

I arrived in Trujillo last night. According to my guide book, Trujillo is the most conservative city of Peru. What I discovered first is that it is not the cheapest: the hotel the taxi driver took me to offered me the smallest and most expensive room I've had so far. But then it is the end of the trip and only for a couple of days so I stayed. They also have 24 hour free internet access for guests with a decent connection so no need to go and shop around for this.

Once here, I went out and ended up in the Plaza de Armas, as you would in any Peruvian city. It was full of people who were obviously waiting for something and there were a lot of people in costumes. I had accidentally stumbled upon a procession of the Virgen de la Puerta, the Virgin of the Door. The story goes that in the year 1674, a fleet of pirates that had already pillaged Guayaquil, in today's Ecuador, were seen closing in on Trujillo, or rather the harbour of Huanchaco. The local people, who didn't even have much in terms of defensive walls sent emissaries to all surrounding villages, including Otuzco, where there was an hermitage dedicated to the Virgen de la Concepción. To cut a long story short, they put a statue of the saint on top of the city gate as only protection and the pirates didn't even disembark. To this day, they still don't know why but they celebrate the virgin and they do it in style.

Trujillo is also the most photogenic city I have visited so far in Peru, thanks to the beautiful colonial architecture of its centre. A large number of buildings are UNESCO world heritage and gives quite a posh and clean aspect to the whole city. This is exacerbated by the local favourite passtime: raising horses.

But Trujillo also has a past before the Spaniards. Around the city are some of the most important pre-Inca sites from the Moche and Chimu cultures, in particular the largest adobe city in the world, Chan Chan. I went there this morning and, even though a very small part can be visited, it is extremely impressive, covering 14 square kilometres.

Tomorrow, the plan is to see the Huacas del Sol y de la Luna, one of the best restored pre-Inca sites. Then, there's the beach and a concert on Saturday.

Wednesday, 9 November 2005

Peruvian Chav

There are a thousand and one ways to up a car and tastes vary form country to country. The Peruvian top mod seems to be a blue neon light around the back number plate. Apart from its dubious esthetic appeal, it has the advantage of making the number plate unreadable.


I got it slightly wrong above. The trick is to have a blue neon light around both number plates. But I discovered last night that blue neon is only for the ordinary chav. The top chav will have purple neon lights! And the top of the top is to have both colours around each plate. I also got it wrong in that a blue neon light doesn't make the plate unreadable, a greeen one does. Green is probably for the eco-friendly chav, who will also customise his headlamps so that they glow green rather than white or yellow making them totally useless to light up the road: not light polution, result!

Peruvian Politics

In the ancient Inca culture, there was only one person called the Inca: the supreme ruler and semi-god. This can be applied to today's Peruvian politics, when they nickname their beloved president Paz, Peace. They can then talk of the Inca Paz or Incapaz, the Incapable One.

Executive Menu

After all this time in Peru, I've finally found how to eat well the cheapest way. In my defense, I wasn't really looking for cheap food, just typical local food. So the trick is that small local restaurants, the non-touristic ones, all have a menu ejecutivo, executive menu. It typically consists of an apetiser, a soup, a main course and a simple dessert. The whole meal is cheaper than any of the individual main dishes from the à la carte menu. So I've just had a 4 course meal for 6 soles, less than 2 USD or just about 1 GBP. I'll have a siesta on the bus to Trujillo.

Tuesday, 8 November 2005

Word Verification

As I'm still getting a lot of comment spam, I decided to enable the word verification option so that no automated script could leave a comment. I know it's a pain and detrimental to accessibility but it should help. It also means I should be able to allow anonymous comments again. I might try comment moderation as well but then comments would only appear after I approve them.

Church TV

Chiclayo's cathedral is an impressive and massive building. So massive in fact that the diameter of the pillars inside is so huge that if you're not in the nave itself, you cannot see the altar. To make it possible for the whole congregation to see and hear the services, the pillars have been fitted with loud speakers and TV screens. I suppose it's like football matches: you have a better view on the TV than the people who have a direct view on the altar but from the back of the church.

Liquid Sugar

The region around Chiclayo produces a lot of rice and sugar cane. As a result, a refreshing drink that can easily be found here is sugar cane juice. The process is extremely simple: just feed bits of cane into a special pressing machine that extracts the juice. Nothing more, no additive. The juice is very sweet, as it basically is water with a very high content of : liquid sugar. Sugar in its natural form is indeed liquid. To obtain sugar cubes, the extract is purified and crystallised. Although I have never seen it in the UK, liquid cane sugar is easily found in France, as it is produced in the French Antilles, and is great for cocktails. Look for a brand called Canadou next time you're in France, it is usually found in the spirits section although it is not alcoholic and bring me back a bottle: I ran out at home.

City of Friendship

Chiclayo is the self proclaimed city of friendship. It is a nice place where, as usual in Peru, people are friendy and eager to help. It has a lot to see in terms of pre-Inca cultures, all of whom built huge pyramids of adobe bricks. What is left today is a series of huge artificial hills that have suffered a lot from rain erosion but still hide a huge number of archeological artifacts, including some fabulous tombs. The modern city is worth a look too, from the impressive cathedral to the unexpected and beautiful Paseo de las Musas. Tomorrow, I'll also have a look at the Mercado Modelo where I am told I can buy weird concoctions from Shamans. If I can find one that can convince my boss I need more holidays, or a pay rise, that would be great.

Travel Entertainment

The bus trip from Tarapoto to Chiclayo on Saturday night was very smooth. That is apart from the bits where the road is not sealed or the river we had to ford. Have you ever seen a big travel coach pretending to be a 4x4 and ford a river? It is quite impressive.

As I mentionned elsewhere, Peruvian bus staff can't bear having bored passengers and insist on playing very bad movies at full volume. Since the previous bus trip, I had thought there could be nothing worse than Jean-Claude Vandamme at full volume. I now know this to be false. Worse is a bad film, at full volume, where the DVD has a scratch that stops it playing right in the middle of the most important scene that at last gives a modicum of sense to the ridiculous plot. Just when you had started to take an interest in the story, it cuts short and you are left with the feeling that you are missing something by not seeing the end, even though you know it is an abysmally crap movie that you would never have dreamed (or nightmared) of renting, let alone see in a theatre. Argh! Torture by travel entertainment!

Sunday, 6 November 2005

Crop Science

Going out in Tarapoto on Monday night, I met Rocio and her friends. Rocio is an agronomy specialist. She works all week in a small vilage called Chazuta, 2 hours away from Tarapoto, on the river Huallaga. As Tarapoto is a small place where you keep bumping into people you know, I saw her again on the Tuesday and, after discussing the waterfall I would see on the Wednesday morning, she suggested I go to Chazuta where she could show me a better waterfall. Chazuta is in no tourist guide I've seen, nor is it advertised by any local tour agency so I thought it'd be a good way to see a real Peruvian village and I agreed to it.

So on thursday morning I took a collectivo to Chazuta. There, I met Rocio, her sister, her boss and a few of her colleagues and we set up for the waterfall. The walk is steep along an earth path. But the worst is not the path, it is the merciless sun, as we had set up a bit later than we should have. So it was difficult to get there but it was definitely worth it. The waterfall was just amazing and it was a great spot to swim. Just what we needed to cool down from the sun.

On the Friday, we took a boat along the river to stop at a small island. There I could get a better understanding of what Rocio and her colleagues do. They are specialists in crop growing and their job is to explain to villagers what to grow and how to grow it so that they can live decently and get enough spare money to send their children to school. For instance, on the small island where we stopped, they were growing cocoa. But cocoa on its own is not viable because the plants need 3 years before they start producing. They also need shade. So they complement it with corn and use banana trees to provide the shade. The bananas, in addition to shade, provide food and extra revenue while the cocoa plants mature. On the other side, the agronomists put the farmers in contact with companies that will buy the crops for a decent price. This is the easy part of their job. However, in some districts, the job quite often consists in giving farmers an alternative to growing coca so they are less than welcome by the drug lords and it can get dangerous. The day on the island was very relaxing. For lunch, we had fish caught in the river the same morning, with locally produced rice; avocado, bananas, oranges and guava picked directly from the trees; corn picked directly from the stalk. It can't get healthier than this!

Thursday, 3 November 2005

Cat's Claw

After the waterfall this afternoon, the guide took us to a local place that sells all sorts of home made spirits. One of them is made from , Cat's Claw. For those who didn't follow the previous link and are already calling the RSPCA, it is a rainforest plant so called because of the peculiar shape of its thorns. And it is a medicinal plant so it's good for you, even in spirit form.

Wednesday, 2 November 2005

Open Door Churches

An interesting habit I have noticed in several small towns here is to keep the door of a church wide open during services. Maybe it is done in other places but as I have never been to a regular church service, I couldn't tell, I just happened to notice it here. Obviously, I am now wondering why they do that: to share the service with everybody? to provide an obvious emergency exit if something goes wrong? to attract new souls? Apologies if I have offended any church going person, I am just being curious.

Waterfall and Stairs

I went to a small waterfall this morning. It is much less impressive than the but you can actually walk behind the fall and have a swim in the small pond where it falls.

The fall is located in the Cordillera Escalera, a mountain range that joins the selva baja, the Amazonian forest flood plain, and the selva alta, the rain forest in the mountainous region the tributaries to the Amazon come from. The mountain range is called such because, apparently, a long time ago, a group of Jesuits and natives ended up building steps in the forest to cross the mountains.

Tuesday, 1 November 2005

I Love Wikipedia

You might have noticed that I quite often link aricles from . The reason is simple, I just love it. Most often, when I need background information on something, I can just go there and I'll have a great article with photographs, maps, etc. This is what open and free information should always be like.

River Crossing

I went to the Laguna Azul, or Blue Lagoon, today. It is a fresh water lagoon in the mountains near Tarapoto. You get there via a jungle dirt track that goes up a mountain pass and across river , an afluent of the , itself one of the two rivers that meet in Nauta to form the .

The river Huallaga at this point is about as wide as the Thames in London, flows way faster and carries a lot of vegetation ripped from its banks, including whole trees. There is no bridge, only a barge attached to a cable that runs between the two banks. The barge can take several cars or even trucks. It looks impressive but the system is quite smart. By adjusting the cables the barge can be oriented against the stream and by orienting it one way or another, it is actually the river's current that makes it travel across. The barge is sturdy enough to take a direct hit from a fast floating tree trunk without harm.

The lagoon itself is just beautiful, quiet and laid back, as if coming straight out of a glossy holiday brochure. As the region is still off the standard tourist routes and it is not the high season, our small group nearly felt like we had the place to ourselves.

Between Jungle And Mountains

I am now in Tarapoto, a town in the high forest, that is the area where the jungle meets the Andes. It is hot, 30 Celsius, but in the background one can see mountains covered with thick forest and capped by clouds. I am staying a few days and it should be interesting.

IQT, Iquitos airport

IQT, 14:30, the check-in area starts filling up with passengers that are flying out a couple of hours later.

IQT, 15:30, the departure lounge starts filling up but the runway is very empty: one helicopter, one seaplane and an Aero Condor propellor plane that is not going anywhere.

IQT, 16:00, all hell breaks loose. A plane from Lan Peru lands, followed by a first plane from Star Peru. Then a few minutes later, a plane from Tans finds its way there followed by a second plane from Star Peru, another propellor plane from Aero Condor and a cargo plane.

IQT, 16:30, 2 gates, 5 passenger planes to embark, the staff are quite good at sorting out who goes where and everybody end up in the right plane.

IQT, 17:00, the departure terminal is now empty, all arriving passengers have their luggage, everybody can go home for the day.