Carretera Marginal de la Selva

amazonia

“If our lives are dominated by a search for happiness, then perhaps few activities reveal as much about the dynamics of this quest—in all its ardour and paradoxes—than our travels. They express, however inarticulately, an understanding of what life might be about, outside of the constraints of work and of the struggle for survival. Yet rarely are they considered to present philosophical problems—that is, issues requiring thought beyond the practical. We are inundated with advice on where to travel to, but we hear little of why and how we should go, even though the art of travel seems naturally to sustain a number of questions neither so simple nor so trivial, and whose study might in modest ways contribute to an understanding of what the Greek philosophers beautifully termed eudaimonia, or human flourishing” Alain de Botton “The Art of Travel”

It wasn’t until we got to La Merced, that it became to be really green, warm and ‘fruity’. Granadilla (in English – ‘passion fruit’) came first. The whole road was full of stalls at which we could buy those delicious bauble-looking fruit. It has a really fantastic taste, and juicy interior filled with numerous, edible seeds.

And then we got to a new valley and saw lots of even more oddly-looking fruit. Pacay, also known as ‘ice-cream beans’ (due to the sweet flavour and smooth texture of the pulp that covers inedible beans) which taste resembles cotton candy. Aguaje, which supposedly contributes to breasts growth and, if eaten too often and too much, may cause a change in sexual orientation. Chirimoya (also known as ‘custard apple’, called by Mark Twain ‘the most delicious fruit known to men’), tuna (not to be confused with fish – that fruit is called in English ‘Indian fig opuntia’, ‘cactus pear’, ‘prickly pear’ or ‘Barbary  fig’), pepino (also known as ‘pepino dulce’, which means ‘sweet cucumber’ in English in order to differentiate it from cucumber – vegetable – which is also called ‘pepino’ in Spanish), pomarosa (‘rose apple’ in English), to name just a few.

Coconuts we usually got straight from the trees, but sometimes we did buy them on the street, in a delightfully decorated, tiny inns, where for an equivalent of thirty cents we could relax and escape from the scorching sun, enjoy delicious coconut juice.

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Interestingly, the fruit and other stuff we used to buy in one valley, a hundred miles away were not only unattainable, but often completely unknown. For example, it was virtually impossible to buy sweet preserves of fruit called aguaymanto. We bought two jars near the town of Huasahuasi, and unfortunately, we opened them only in the evening – just to try, when we were already a few dozen miles away, and almost three thousand feet below. I am writing, ‘unfortunately’, because the taste of that marmalade was absolutely unique, incomparable with nothing we knew from our own country (where the fruit preserves are really good).

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Surely, we should have learnt at last that if something is in one place, it does not mean that it will be in the next. So, if for half an hour we are passing several stalls with honey, we can assume that tomorrow they will disappear, and instead of honey will be passing stalls with something completely different: mangoes, pineapples, papaya, coconut, cheese, or antidotes for snake bites. And the lady who sells mango is absolutely right when she advises us to take more, because further away nobody sells them. And truly – there is no explainable reason why. The climate is the same, the soil is the same, but for some reason mangos go astray.

That “specialization”, or rather “uniformity” is multifaceted and affects not only food, but permeates many other forms of social life. When you look for a shoemaker in a town, you find it on the one and only street, along with ten or more other shoemakers. When you want to fix the bike – all workshops are located next to each other on the same street. You want to buy eggs – go to bazaar, where several people sell exactly the same product. You go to dinner – and you encounter five restaurants with identical menu (apart from the fact that they usually offer the same ‘package’ all day long – the same broth, rice and chicken for breakfast, lunch and dinner). Nobody tries to do any subversive activities, to break out the order and to sell fruit where only vegetables are offered.

We’re in Villa Rica. Finally, one can feel, literally and figuratively that Peru is one of the world champions when it comes to growing coffee. Interestingly, the Peruvians do not seem to drink coffee much or, I should say, they seem not to drink it at all. And if they do, they prepare a sort of dishwater resembling in taste dirty water from a sink with a slight coffee flavor. It is very difficult to find in Peru places with a good espresso. Villa Rica breaks this pattern, but even here, it is not so easy to find a place that serves a good cup of coffee. We buy a few packs of the aromatic melted seeds alongside with two bottles of coffee liqueurs and continue our way towards Puerto Bermudez.

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If we had known that the next part of the trip would resemble either a mountain, rocky trail, or a clay-sandy road, than we would have thought twice before choosing that part of Peru for pedalling. Maybe, if we had known what would lie ahead of us, we would have chosen instead that uninteresting, dirty, boring and windy highway leading along the Pacific coast from Lima to Trujillo. But then, we wouldn’t have met Panchito, we wouldn’t have taken the bath in the river at night, accompanied by the half of the village, we wouldn’t have heard stories about Boa Terrestre and Loro Machaco, and we wouldn’t have met a Brazilian guy from Manaus who prepared an astonishingly good coffee for us. And above all, we wouldn’t have been here together. And I wouldn’t have been here with you.

“When I dance, I dance, when I sleep, I sleep, […] and I wander in order to wander” Montaigne.

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