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To Tarapoto, It’s Raining It’s Pouring
Our original schedule for today called for us to drop down from the “cloud forest” of Chachapoyas to the tropical city of Moyobamba in the lower jungle area. We would be twisting up and over several mountains, and our maps had indicated miles of dirt roads. Guy had talked to various people in Chachapoyas, however, and discovered that the roads were now paved. He suggested that we extend our ride further east, deeper into the Amazon basin, to the city of Tarapoto. Ben and I enthusiastically agreed.
Leaving Chachapoyas this morning on our bikes, we passed several children in their school uniforms leading a donkey loaded down with wood. (I didn’t get a photo, but I can still see them clearly in my mind.)
We would be riding north for about 30 miles before turning east.
The road tracked along beside of a river, with towering rock faces on either side.
Sometimes the road would be carved out from the bottom of the cliff—like a tunnel with one side open. There was nowhere to stop safely and get a photo of the intense section where the rock ceiling wrapped over the road completely—for me, it was more freaky than riding through a tunnel, probably because the massive weight of the ceiling was completely unsupported on one side.
Here I am riding past some snippets of overhang:
Some adobe brick houses by the side of the road:
This house had a bunch of chickens roaming free in the yard:
A popular mode of transportation along the road was the “moto-trike,” with a motorcycle front end and a bench back seat. They were not very speedy, and the owners would park them partially on the road when finished driving.
Many of the homes that we passed today had horses or donkeys outside with blankets piled on their backs, ready for a ride. This couple appeared ready to use a plastic stool to assist in climbing onto their donkey.
This small village had a beautifully painted church and plaza.
Along the road were various types of educational signs that had been placed by the government. This one reminded people that water was life (agua es vida) and said, “Let’s not contaminate it” (no la contaminemous).
As we followed the river north, we gradually dropped in elevation. The vegetation around us was becoming more dense, with banana plants and lots of greenery.
Even the mountains were covered in green—I couldn’t call them my “chocolate mountains” anymore.
We stopped at a junction so that Guy could lube our chains.
Here I am:
Some of the buildings nearby had the unfinished top floor that was so prevalent:
I watched the big trucks roll by, heading east where we were going:
Here is a view in the opposite direction:
About forty miles west was the Amazonian town of Bagua, which had been the site of much violence this past summer. Some of the indigenous people were staging a peaceful roadblock in protest of imminent oil drilling on their land. (The oil companies had not consulted them about the drilling, which they believed would detrimentally impact their way of life.) The government called out the police to break up the road blocks, and the officers shot the protestors from helicopters, killing about ten and wounding many more. In retaliation, some of the protestors killed about 24 of the police officers. Eventually, the plans to drill in that portion of the Amazon jungle were put on hold.
Ben and I had watched the news carefully before our trip to see if the conflict had heated up again. As a rule, we don’t want to put ourselves in an unnecessarily risky situation while traveling. But there didn’t seem to be any direct danger to us—the conflict was between the native people and the police/oil drillers. The native populations here, as in Bolivia, generally stage very peaceful protests; it seems to be the government that injects the element of violence. (However, we are well aware of the widespread death and “disappearances” of over 30,000 people under the brutal Shining Path movement in Peru that ended less than 20 years ago.)
In any event, we had not initially planned to visit Bagua, and all seemed quiet in that direction today.
We continued onward, and soon a thin fog enveloped us in a milky haze.
More moto-trikes and buildings:
The road ahead:
Some of the wooden homes had an indoor/outdoor living design, with the dining area under a covered outside area.
Guy had heard that the weather would be rainy today, so he had worn his thick rain gloves. While the air was damp, it was not raining, so he pulled over to switch gloves.
The view from our resting spot:
Five minutes later, the skies opened up and dumped buckets of water on us. The rain was relentless. After about 10 minutes, Guy pulled over to put on his full rain gear. Ben and I kept riding. Ben’s rain gear had melted on the first day of our ride, so he had none to put on. I was wearing my enduro jacket; and I also had waterproof riding pants in my bags, but they weren’t the kind that slipped over existing pants, and there was no “private” place by the side of the road to change clothes.
The road became very narrow as it snaked up and down a mountain. I kept looking for a “dry” place to pull over, but didn’t see any. On the mountain, I passed a local motorcyclist who was keeping dry under a rock overhang. I thought briefly about joining him, but my instinct said to just keep going—I figured I couldn’t possible get any more wet, and the rain didn’t look like it was going to stop any time soon.
As we dropped down from the mountain and entered a small flat valley, we spied an open-air café and stopped.
In the above photo, the woman that you can see above Ben’s bike is the café owner, who was very accommodating and didn’t complain about us dripping lots of water onto her cement floor as we made our way to a table. The man in the doorway was a Peruvian tourist who had driven from Tarapoto this morning; he told us that it had rained the entire drive and that the rain was expected to continue for at least another day.
As we shared some black coffee and coca tea, the sky looked like it was getting lighter. We were optimistic.
Views across the street:
This sweet girl was the owner’s granddaughter.
After walking around us quite a bit, checking us out and giving us smiles, she settled into a chair near us and started playing with her deck of cards.
The intensity of the rain was diminishing gradually as we lingered in the café. Neither Ben nor I were eager to re-drench the clothes that had already started to dry out.
The rain continued as we made our way over another mountain and down into the jungle area, where it finally stopped.
I was still very wet and cold. I had chemical hand warmers in my gloves, as well as two chemical body warmers inside my jacket, but my teeth were still chattering.
The nearby town of Rioja looked like it was undergoing some revitalization projects. Near the main road was a beautiful sculpture of a woman weaving a hat.
We soon arrived at the city of Moyobamba, where we quickly found the main plaza with its groomed trees.
Across from the plaza was a restaurant, where we had lunch.
There was a constant stream of moto-trikes roaring around the plaza.
This driver and his passenger both turned to look back as I snapped their photo:
Moyobamba has wide streets, and the city is spread out. I didn’t see anything that made me regret our decision to continue riding to Tarapoto today.
Moyobamba is known as the city of orchids, as over 2000 types of orchids are native to the surrounding valley. There is a sculpture of an orchid in the middle of a traffic circle off of the main road that flows past the edge of town; however, Ben’s camera lens didn’t open all of the way when he took a photo:
I did, however, find a photo of the orchid sculpture using Google:
(Thank you to Rafael Benzaquen, who posted this photo at http://static.panoramio.com/photos/original/5437209.jpg)
While we were at the main plaza, Guy stopped a local motorcyclist on an XR650R and asked for the best route out of town. The man generously offered to guide us out, and sent us on our way with big waves and smiles when we reached the orchid traffic circle.
The dense green foliage around us let us know unequivocally that we were in the jungle area now.
The road was very smooth, with no potholes, and it had a large, cement gutter on one side to catch all of the water run-off.
(Later in the trip, when we were riding around lots of big trucks, and I would round a corner to find a big truck coming at me in my lane, I would start mentally preparing a plan involving the best way to launch myself into one of those cement gutters and survive.)
One section had a loooonnnngg line of stopped vehicles. I hesitated at the back, and some men waved their hands and motioned that I should keep riding to the front. There, I found that the road was temporarily blocked due to road construction.
The road ahead was being carved into the hillside, and there had been a landslide. A single dirt lane was open occasionally to through traffic. We waited about 20 minutes.
We were parked next to several taxi drivers, all of whom were determined to be the first one through the winding dirt section. (We found that the most dangerous drivers in the jungle areas were in the small taxis.) When the construction worker gave the signal that vehicles could pass, the drivers floored their gas pedals and began the mad dash through. One driver cut me off and almost ran me off the road in his rush to be in front of me; he had to slow down for some bumps, however, and I slipped around him easily.
Here are two fuzzy pictures (taken while riding) that show the grass roofs that were common here. The first shows some houses, as well as the laundry that was hanging outside of almost every home.
The second shows a car-port for a moto-trike.
The recently paved road had a fair share of “public education” signs. We think this one was aimed at erosion control, as it instructed people not to cut the vegetation on the slopes.
These two homes looked fairly new; the one on the left had a nice wooden door and wooden window frame.
On the outskirts of Tarapoto, we passed many moto-trikes on the side of the road.
In Tarapoto, we stayed in a hotel (La Pousada) that was a block from the main plaza. We had a large room facing the street, with a small balcony where we dried our boots and wet clothes in the remaining sunlight. We also had hot water in our shower!
Outside our room was an open patio area with a large wooden staircase that led to the first floor of the hotel:
The view from the patio looked out onto the nearby rooftops:
The street in front of our hotel had a steady flow of bikes, scooters and moto-trikes.
Ben and I walked around and found an ice cream shop on the main plaza.
The center of the plaza:
Bikes and scooters were parked along one side.
There was also a church with modern architecture:
A side street:
Guy joined us for dinner tonight. My guidebook had recommended a certain restaurant for the “best pizza in town,” and we thought we’d try something other than traditional Peruvian food. After walking about 8 blocks, we found the right corner with a different pizzeria on it. A sign on the wall, however, said that it was voted “best pizza in Tarapoto.” We gave it a try! The restaurant didn’t offer any salad or fruit, just pizza--which turned out to be relatively good. The restaurant walls were open to the street, which had non-stop moto-vehicles buzzing by very loudly. It was a good thing that we love motorcycles!
After dinner, we had delicious desserts at a bakery café near the hotel. Yum.
Neither Moyobamba nor Tarapoto fit my idyllic, romanticized image of a “jungle town” (silly me!). I suppose I had been expecting the energy to be a bit more tranquil and peaceful, and the towns to have more visual charm. With the hoards of people on motos zipping around, and the ever-present rev of small motors, the energy seemed a bit frenzied and definitely not relaxing. Ahh, well. We would be back on the road tomorrow, contributing our own “music” to the motor engine symphony.
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