It’s two hours before flight time and I’m checked in and sitting in the brand new, un air-conditioned, one departure gate, steel, concrete, glass, and bamboo airport terminal in the middle of nowhere about 20 miles outside of Jaén, Cajamarca, Perú waiting for my flight to Lima. Time to write a brief description of my trip from Tarapoto to Bagua Grande day before yesterday.
Dr. Wayne and I were in Tarapoto for almost three days collaborating with the Regional College of Midwives to facilitate the beginning of their ongoing teaching program in neonatal resuscitation. Hot and humid, definitely in the Amazon, but I liked Tarapoto and was pleasantly surprised by the variety of restaurants and decent coffee places downtown. The hotel was basic but reasonable and the deskman friendly and helpful. This whole area is driven by agriculture, rice, coffee, cacao, and a variety of fruit. Noisy mototaxis dominate the traffic, even on the highway. They’re nasty polluting with their overgrown lawnmower-like engines, but I rather like them. They’re used to haul everything from people to steel rebar to pigs.
Leaving Tarapoto, almost noon, already 90 degrees, big green mountains surrounding the city with vultures meandering overhead. I have the luxury of being the solo passenger with Alberto, an amiable guy from Moyobamba who worries that his healthy, well fed but skinny ten year old son must be sick. I congratulated him on avoiding child obesity. We’re in a decent car on good highway but with windows down and the early afternoon heat buffeting us for three hours. Just out of Tarapoto we follow a small pickup crammed with ten people in back and a lady with an upside down lime green plastic wash basin on her head trying to avoid the sun.
So many great photos buzz by too fast to capture. We’re driving through a mix of cleared agricultural land and tropical forest, then up into the green mountains still on good road but incredibly winding. There are lots of wash outs from the year’s heavy rains and flooding, and repair work is proceeding with highway workers in yellow cover-alls, gloves, and ear flaps on helmets to eliminate sun as much as possible. The attire combined with the labor looks incredibly hot. The sun is fierce and various strategies are used to avoid it, hats, arms crossed above the forehead, parasols (Spanish derivation - “para sol” - "for sun”), and of course the enterprising lady with her wash basin. Alberto uses a removable red sleeve on his left arm as it rests on the open window. We pass a wide variety of vehicles, trucks of all sizes and varieties, buses, motorcycles, a few cars, and still lots of mototaxis. Unlike Tamil Nadu, no bullock carts.
The mountainsides are steeper now all forested with a great variety of tropical tree species. We occasionally pass a small roadside house, corrugated steel roof, some with a large sheet of black plastic spread on the ground with light green/tan coffee beans drying in the sun. Alternatively, the beans are larger and yellow-orange in color, cacao. No cell coverage here. The washouts just have barriers and no repair activity. We’re descending a little now, beside the frothy rapids of the turbid brown Rio Mayo as canyon becomes valley, widening into the outskirts of the city of Cajamarca. More substantial cloud capped mountains loom in the distance. Cajamarca is a very old city with an amazing history and the place where Francisco Pizzaro murdered the last Incan king in the early 1500’s. We change cars and drivers, now with Lucas for the rest of the trip to Bagua Grande, over seven hours in total. We pass dusty nondescript highway towns on a broad plain, the road blessedly straight. Some fields have densely planted banana tress with an understory of coffee shrubs in quest of shade-grown beans.
Late afternoon and we veer left and climb into the mountains again, the air noticeably cooler. Little traffic but hairpin curve after hairpin curve. Lucas plays his recorded mix of salsa and criolla music the whole way. It’s the right sound. Higher still, the mountainsides are steeper with exposed rock and dense forest canopy, agriculture far behind. In El Progreso, we pass groups of laughing, blue-uniformed schoolgirls heading home. In Camacocha we brake hard to avoid a solid chanchito (pig) crossing the road. There are a few grazing horses hear and there, tethered at the roadside with hind-quarters partially blocking our driving lane, and all alone, no one around, a group of four wandering mules, clearly having an afternoon off. Lucas makes liberal use of his horn.
Dusk descends as do we, down the mountain, curve after curve after curve after curve, now dark. An hour and a half on the edge of motion sickness. Finally, the canyon of the Utcubamba becomes valley and we cruise into lovely (maybe not) Bagua Grande to my less than stellar hotel. However, the air-conditioner works!
So, that’s the “on the road" review. I did another teaching workshop at the local hospital yesterday and last night had a pleasant evening at an outdoor place with Francisco León, the president of the College of Midwives of the state of Las Amazonas, and 5 other obstetras sharing beers usually mixed with Coca-Cola. This morning a took a mototaxi from hotel to find a colectivo, colectivo about an hour to Jaén, and a taxi out to the airport. My stomach is growling as it’s lunchtime but nothing to eat here at the airport. Flight soon. Fasting builds character.
The HBI Blog is a rotating journal from our staff. Our Blog is a series of messages from the field, insights from our work, and lessons in service.