all text and photos copyright 2017

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Welcome to Paradise...

This was the part of our trip to Peru I'd most been looking forward to experiencing; staying overnight at a coffee and cacao plantation with the farmers, Julia and Juan, and their children. Along the dusty little road, their organic farm.

I don't know what I was expecting. I know this wasn't it.

This was better. This was like stepping back in time.

Unassuming, tidy, and welcoming, the air there is citrusy and sweet, a medley of fruits, farm animal and good cooking; air that felt good to breathe.

There was a light breeze, punctuated with unfamiliar bird calls and the motherly clucks of a chicken and her peeping brood scratching at the dirt. Following our guide, Laura, we slipped past the poultry family and a runaway lime on the ground, skirted the coffee bean fermenting trough, and into the sunny, hardworking, joyful world of Julia and Juan. Smiling, salt of the earth people.

We'd barely arrived before Julia was pressing thick, beautiful fresh juices into our hands, Juan, open-armed gesturing for us to sit down on benches at a semi-outdoor table with homey blue and white checked tablecloth. I didn't know it yet, but that tablecloth was to develop a Pavlovian salivary response in me every time we sat down to it. Laura got hugs all around, chattering away in Spanish, telling the story of our trip to exclamations and nods of understanding.

Their son and daughter watched us shyly, and another brother peeped out from the kitchen doorway to see the new guests. This was no tourist spot. This was a home.

Abandoning her comfortable post on the warm concrete slab where coffee beans had been spread out to dry, Chiquita, the cutest dog in all of South America, came snuffling around, looking for handouts.


We were the only guests there to spend the night, but there were two others that were just leaving, an unlikely couple, at first blush. He was a floppy-limbed, messy-haired American fellow, rife with hemp and bead jewelery. This was topped off by a porkpie hat incongruous with the rest of his goofy getup. His eyes, though...eyes on the intense side. Not your run-of-the-mill fun hippie type, then. His companion was a stunningly beautiful woman with a wonderful accent, shiny dark curtain of hair and what can only be described as cutting edge clothing. It got better: she turned out to be an international model from Israel, he a shaman, no less.

Yes, you read that correctly. Peru, and Machu Picchu in particular, is attractive to those in pursuit of the spiritual; mystics and shamans and their followers. He had a touch of the zealot about him, but initially I wrote him off as a new ager Californian abroad. He was also a good photographer, and I admired some instagram shots on his Iphone.

The model was scratching, albeit decorously, at large, angry red insect bites on her shoulders and neck. Mike and I had doused ourselves in bug spray before arriving as we'd been warned repeatedly, emphatically, and with great urgency from all quarters to make sure to have it on at all times in the Amazon jungle. "I only missed these spots and look!" she said, pouting attractively. I handed over some salve from Thailand, which helped.

I am not generally a fan of pouting, but she made it look good.

The shaman began lining up Juan and Julia and the kids for a group shot, something I would have been too shy to attempt. Seizing the opportunity, I pulled out my camera and tried to stand discretely to one side and sneak some shots. This infuriated him, and he roundly cussed me out without bothering to take his eyes off the video screen. "Only one photographer or they won't know which way to look and the photos will be shit!" he snarled.

I suppose I looked wildly startled and lowered my hands guiltily, followed by a surprising rush of anger. The model looked over languidly and, with resign and a half-apology voiced her opinion, "you might as well do as he says. There's no reasoning with him when he gets like this."


He had a point, of course, but I decided then and there I prefer the happy stoned hippy type. Mike and I excused ourselves to go check out our room and give me a moment to gather my wits.

Past the coffee drying slab, and through a wooden door, our room was a delight. A peaceful oasis.

Nothing fancy, mind you; plain, immaculate, and simply furnished,  with a branch to hang our hats. We were instantly charmed.

Lovely windows to open to the banana trees just outside. Banana trees! Charming! With...enormous jewel-like spiders on enormous webs.

Really big spiders. Lots of them.

OK, that's not so charming.

A US dollar bill is 2.6 inches by 6.14 inches. Once of these spiders could sit on the bill and their legs would have gone past the top and bottom of the bill and nearly to the sides. That's not a tarantula, but still.

We were told salta, no pica, no pica. In other words, they will jump on you, but not bite.

Oh, good to know.

I informed them, regardless, that I appreciated their bug control and would they please stay outside and that I would do my best to not blunder through any of their webs.

Really do my best.

We dumped our gear and put on more bug spray.

Implicitly agreeing to stay away from shamans and spiders, we explored the farm a bit, the model companionably joining us while waiting for her bus to come, looking like some sort of beautiful elf crouched beneath the trees in a shaft of sunlight. Julia delayed our official introduction to her plantation, waiting and waiting for the bus to come, but as the sun sank lower and lower,  she decided to begin showing us her farm. We had already gotten the idea that she was the brains behind the operation and that Juan was more than happy in his secondary role.

Laura joined us, obviously feeling much better and began translating, to our great relief. Mike can order food quite well, and I kind of muddle thorough, but we were going to be talking about pruning and grafting trees and soil drainage.

close-up, banana leaf

After the spider information Julia sternly warned us not to touch any tiny caterpillars that we might see.

Spiders are fine, but for God's sake, beware the miniscule caterpillars?

The tiny caterpillars, Julia told us through Laura, should you touch one, it will stab you with venomous spines that will send an agonising, burning, electric shock sort of pain from your fingertip up to your armpit and will continue to cause you pain and swelling and can even make you sick...

Right. Don't touch those.

Welcome to the Amazon, where the spiders are ginormous and the caterpillars, well, I thought perhaps Julia might have been exaggerating, so I looked them up when we got home. She had actually been rather moderate in her warnings: they are responsible for a few deaths each year.

Death by caterpillar? Caterpillar?


  1. EEk! I'm petrified! Oh and here's a funny - if you mistype your blog address you get somewhere completely different: http://coffeescape.blogspot.com/

  2. Egads! That's not me! :)

    The funny thing is, Paula, that while the mostly harmless spiders were a bit daunting in their appearance, the caterpillars look like adorable fuzzy long-haired Shih-Tzu puppies! Triiiiiicky!