Pucallpa and Iparia Peru

In April 2000 I went to Pucallpa Peru (see map) to meet a small company with a new extraction and harvesting plan with the Shipibo-Conibo Indians that met all the new Peruvian government regulations. My travelling companions on the trip were (from left to right) Livingston and Julio, employees of the Peruvian company Pebani, and me of course (right).

In standard Peruvian tradition, they had great fun exchanging company T-shirts with me.

Pucallpa is a busy Amazon frontier town which sits on the
banks of the Ucayali River, a major tributary which feeds the Amazon River.
The docks and warfs of Pucallpa are like most I've seen (and smelled) in the Amazon.
Every where I went in Pucallpa, everyone stopped and stared. With no real tourist trade
in the region, and a not so unrecent checkered past of drug cartels and terrorism
it was unusal to see a white American woman tootling around town.
As a tall blonde American woman, I guess I was easy to pick out of the crowds.

Farmers, fishermen and ranchers from outlying areas bring their goods into Pucallpa
by boat to trade and sell. Everything from coffee beans, bananas to fresh cut logs
for the lumbermill. All along the docks are little flea-market like stalls selling
everything from clothing and food to engine parts, farm equipment and CDs.

The first order of business was to take a small canoe over to the floating businesses and stores to rent a boat to take us upriver to the Shipibo-Conibo Indian community named Vista Alegre which is near the river community of Iparia. (see map)

Iparia is about 24 hours upriver by river taxi (a large slow boat called a "Peque-peque" which run up and down river stopping at all the small communities along the way). It's about 5 hours by a regular 100 hp outboard motorboat which is what we rented. The best one in town had no motor cover since it overheated with one on I was told. For 200 soles (about $65 US) a day, we got a boat, a driver and a motorman. The "tool kit" for the boat was a screwdriver, pair of pliers and two spark plugs wrapped in a dirty t-shirt.
And away we went!

Along the Ucayali River

With one pit-stop for me at your average river community.
Hey... with me and 4 guys on a boat going 40 miles an hour dodging floating debris,
I wasn't gonna hang over the side!

We made good time and after about 4 hours we were traveling along the Shipibo-Conibo Indian reserve lands. I could see from the rise in elevation from the river to the mountains that they would probably have alot of cat's claw, the plant that was now approved for extraction on their lands that I was comming to see.

The view of the river I had just arrived on from the Indian
community was beautiful and I paused to snap a few pictures as I was
stretching my legs from the long boatride.

The Shipibo-Conibo Indians have had outside contact for well over 20 years and as such have lost much of their native customs and dress. They do still make many of their traditional crafts such as clay pots, woven cloth and seed jewlery, selling it for additional money in Pucallpa. Again, I was the one of a few white American woman these people had ever seen and they were very curious about me, making many comments about my blue eyes and blonde hair.

The food there was the normal river fare of fish, rice and platanos (large starchy hard bananas that are boiled and taste more like potatoes than bananas). At every meal even breakfast! About the only other meat eaten along the river is chicken and pig which are raised by the Indians and river people. There are even floating meat-markets.... throw a couple of live pigs into your boat and head down river until someone wants some pig meat. Then slaughter one along the river, butcher it in your boat and weigh out the meat and sell it by the kilo.

I hiked thru the forest to see the large amounts of cat's claw growing in the jungle as well as see that they were replanting seedlings of this important vine as they were extracting it as shown in their government approved land management and extraction program. Putting something on paper is one thing - what really happens in the jungle can sometimes be different - which was why it was important for me to see myself what was really happening.

Cat's Claw seedlings growing in the community reforestation growing area which will be replanted in the forest as cat's claw vines are harvested and extracted.

A cat's claw seedling I found in the jungle that had reseeded itself naturally.

A vine that had been planted in the forest under the reforestation program.

Harvested inner bark drying in the open air warehouse.

Dried bark being bundled and weighed

I was able to spend some time with the resident curandero or medicine man for the Vista Alegre Indigenous Community. He was a Shipibo-Conibo Indian named Jose Arevalo and he was 59 years old. He was eager to share his knowledge of his plants and remedies. He lived in the community next to Vista Alegre called Nuevo Peru which we traveled to by boat. When we arrived at Nuevo Peru I was surprised when several of the children ran away and hid when they saw me. Jose explained that they had never seen a white woman before (nor had he for that matter) and told me the old local legend about the "Pishtacos" or Palo Cabos (pale heads). It was an old story told to children about large white women with pale skin and hair (no wonder) who came into the forest and hunted Indian children, killing them to boil their fat down to oil which they ate. Geeze... no wonder they ran... they thought the boogieman or woman had come to get them!

After a week in Pucallpa, Iparia and Vista Alegre, I saw what I came to see and I hopped on a plane to Lima. My first hot bath in a week after pouring a bucket of cold well water over me in Vista Alegre and the cold showers in my little hotel room in Pucallpa was quite welcomed!


I stayed a couple of days working in Lima then headed on to the high jungle in Tarapoto, Peru.

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