Archive for May, 2012
The San Juan Bautista Festival is one of the year’s largest and most important events for the Peruvian jungle provinces. The festival honors the patron saint of the region, John the Baptist. It takes place at the same time as Cusco’s Inti Raymi Festival, on June 24th, although celebrations and events begin as early as ten days prior to the main day, and generally continue for a few days after as well.
Although the feast day of John the Baptist was imposed by the Spanish during the period of the Conquest, over the many years since the celebration began to take on a unique regional flavor. Each of the larger towns or cities in the Amazonian region, such as Iquitos (the bustling gateway for Amazon tours and the region’s main city), the urban center of Tarapoto, Pucallpa, and the miner’s outpost of Tingo María elect and crown their own festival queen, hold contests higlighting local folkloric dance and dress, open air concerts with traditional instruments such as bombos, drums and flutes, and sell the ever-popular Juanes which characterize the festival.
On the morning of the 24th, locals head out to stake out a spot by the riverside, as the ample rivers which carve through the Amazon are considered representative of the saint. Some shops and businesses will close only in the afternoon, but the majority will close all day long. As the cities and towns become deserted, the the riverbanks explode with festive activity, with families enjoying traditional food as well as beer or homemade wine under makeshift bamboo shelters and refresh themselves with dips in the river. A dip in one of the rivers on this day is known as the blessed bath, baño bendito, as it is believed that on this date San Juan blesses the waters and that those who bathe in them will have happiness and health in the coming year. Overall, it’s a happy and social time, so you might find yourself invited to share a drink or some food with newly-met friends.
The most traditional food for the festival (and year round) are Juanes, rice that is stuffed with chicken, egg and olives and steamed while wrapped in bijao leaves, which impart a distinct flavor. They are known as Juanes because the round shape of the parcel is said to represent the head of John the Baptist as it was requested on a platter by the daughter of Herod.
When it comes to dances, if you’re in the area hopefully you’ll be able to watch the most traditional of the folkloric dances, the Pandilla, which is danced around decorated palms laden with gifts along the top known as an Unsha, or perhaps wooden poles or fires. As the sun sets, it’s time to say farewell to the riverside and return to the towns, where you can dance to more modern beats through the night at parties and clubs. The following morning of the 25th is a sleepy one thanks in part to the collective hangover, but in the night street parades illuminated by paper lanterns bring life back to the main streets of the city.
Travel by boat along legendary Amazon River past floating houses and cayman alligators, walk along jungle with its outsized vines and trees in search anaconda, monkeys, sloths, and tropical birds, fish for the infamously voracious piranha, swim with the famous pink Amazon river dolphins, visit indigenous tribal communities to learn about life in the Amazon, and more- Pirwa Travel offers a variety of exciting tours designed to introduce you to both the natural and cultural wonders of the Amazon.
This May 29th, Peru honors the 2 million hectare Manu Biosphere Reserve which stretches between the departments of Cusco and Madre de Dios during Manu National Park Day. Many travelers dream of visiting the tropical rainforest of the Peruvian Amazon, and stopping by Manu is a great way to do it. Manu is divided into the pristine and prohibited Nuclear Zone, the Buffer Zone, where eco-tourism and controlled scientific research is permitted; and the Cultural Zone, which is open to all. Manu is believed to house the greatest biodiversity range on the planet, providing refuge for many endangered species, including the jaguar, river wolf, and the spectacled bear.
The tropical rainforest of Manu is carved by rivers which rush from the high Andes down into the Amazon basin, widening and slowing, branching off and separating into cochas or lagoons which are the principal habitats of wildlife. As visitors delve into the labyrinth of rivers and lagoons, they enter a different world, with lush vegetation and a matchless biodiversity boasting more than 20,000 plant species, 1200 butterfly species, 1000 bird species, 200 mammal species, and 13 primates. In fact, Manu boasts the highest bird, mammal and plant diversity of any park on the planet. Of the 14 monkey species such as the squirrel monkey and maquisapa, you can see the leoncito, the world smallest. You can also observe manatees, felines, sloth, possums, capybara, agoutis, boa, giant tortoises, pecari, tapirs, North Andean and red deer, egrets and more! Scientists estimate that around 12,000 species in the Manu Biosphere Reserve remain to be identified.
All this wildlife relies on lush vegetation that is always green, including the gigantic trees of the area, such as the Caoba and the Lupuna, which reach up to 60 mts. in height, and other plants such as palms and heliconia. From the canopy hang lianas and climbing plants. Manu protects a surprising 10% of the world’s vascular plants- just one hectare can shelter more than 220 tree species.
Aside from protecting the natural wealth of Manu, there are also indigenous communities which live within the reserve, among them the Amahuaca, Yune, Nahua, Amarakaeri, Huashipaire, and the Matsiguenka, the last of whom admit travelers into their community. They, and the petroglyphs and ruins scattered throughout the jungle, provide a glimpse at a rich cultural history of the Peruvian Amazon.
What to Do in Manu!
Those of you interested in eco-tourism will greatly enjoy a visit to Manu, camping along the riverside or staying in community-operated eco-lodges, walking trails or going by canoe while observing the unique surrounding flora and fauna with your naturalist guide. Trips begin by land or air, than by motorboat along the river as you delve into the jungle.
Pirwa Travel Service offers some 3, 4, and 5 day packages for exploring Manu. You begin in Cusco, downhill biking from the high Andes through distinct ecological floors by bike, watching the landscapes change as we descend through the Cloud and Dwarf Forests until we reach the tropical rainforest. Along the larger than life route, there are stops to observe the pre-Incan Ninamarca tombs and the courtship dance of the bright Cock of the Rocks. Then we’ll canoe into the rainforest along the Pilcopata River, meeting the Matshiguenka tribe and exploring jungle trails as we watch the alligatos, monkeys, and parrots. Lodging in the park is in eco-lodges or by camping along the riverside.
Manu is located 403 miles from the hot and isolated regional capital of Puerto Maldonado, which acts as a gateway for the reserve. Puerto Maldonaldo can be reached by land route from Cusco, or by air via Lima. (You may arrive by air from Cusco as well, but by contracting light aircraft rather than public transport.) From there one can move up the Manu River by motorboat.
It is recommendable to arrive from Cusco in organized package tours, as entry is not sold to individuals but to authorized agencies.
- From May to October it’s very hot, with cool nights and frequent rains. The rainy season goes from January to March, but there can be unexpected rains throughout the year, so travelers bring your rain poncho regardless!
- Tours may not operate, or may operate but with significant changes, during the rainy season, depending on water levels.
- Prepare for heat (daily temperature averages 35ºC during the day and 25ºC during the night), but cover your limbs, by finding long-sleeved shirts in light fabrics as protection against insect-bourne diseases.