Tag Archives: Tradition

Day (and Night) 8 – Still in Bijagua

Sunday 26 February 2023 – The lack of an appallingly early start to the day backfired on us slightly. According to the B&B information in the room, breakfast was served until 0930.  But when we turned up at the lodge at 0915 it became clear that the service had only been until 0900.  Nonetheless, Michele, the assistant manager, sweet talked the cook into rustling up a bit of scrambled egg and toast for us, which was very forbearing of them, and so we had a decent breakfast after all.

After that, we actually had a free morning, so I had plenty of time to sit down and update these pages, which sounds fine, but in fact there was a continual distraction as new birds came to the feeders nearby – the buff-throated saltator, for example


and the yellow-throated euphonia.


and so the morning passed peacefully enough until it was time for our first scheduled activity of the day – a cookery class.  Now, those of you who know me will be well aware that I am to cooking as David Cameron is to Brexit. But I went along and tried to join in as best I could.  Actually, it was an engaging three hours in the company of the Casitas manager, Nana, and her daughter Camilla, spent at the house of Vicki and Marcelino.  Vicki is an expert cook of many years’ experience, a pillar of the local community, who is well established as someone who gives demonstrations of cooking traditional Costa Rican dishes. It being Sunday lunchtime, Marcelino honoured the local tradition by watching the football whilst we congregated in the kitchen and were directed by Vicki in the preparation of various materials.


Left to right above – Vicki, Camilla, Jane (stirring it as usual), Nana.

Vicki and Marcelino’s house is of a very traditional kind and they were happy for me to take photos of their very nicely turned-out dwelling – Lounge, kitchen and garden spaces.


It was interesting to note that the room walls don’t actually rise to meet the ceiling, so the house is more of a partitioned space than a dwelling with separate rooms.  There is a mix of traditional and modern appliances – an old wood-fired stove next to an electric cooker (and a large LED TV so Marcelino could watch the footie).

Anyone who knows me will also understand my attitude to sharing photos of food, so I won’t be doing any of that on these pages, thank you very much.  But it was interesting to see someone with Vicki’s skill at work, and one or two things – such as searing banana leaves in which to wrap tamales – were techniques that I’d never come across before.


The group (yes, including me) prepared tamales, empanadas and tortillas. Yes, we ate some of them as well. Jane practised her Spanish, and Nana translated for Vicki and Camilla and also told us about some of the traditions of life and cooking in that region of Costa Rica – for there are aspects of food preparation that are unique to the area, just as there are aspects that separate those of Costa Rica and Nicaragua and the other central American countries. It was a pleasant, if dietetically challenging, way of passing three hours, and Jane and I left feeling very full indeed.

We just about had time for a cup of tea before another ripple of excitement passed through the B&B, because another sloth had been spotted!  So we hastened down to the lodge to take a look and to try for some more photos.


It was a three-toed sloth. For all the sloth’s reputation for sluggishness, this one moved quite swiftly. Every time we thought we’d got a decent angle of view, all we had to do was look away for a second and all of a sudden it had moved to a different place.  Eventually it moved to where we could no longer see it, but it was nice to have encountered another one.

Then it was time to go out for the other planned activity for the day – a night visit to the Tapir Valley Nature Reserve. So off we went along the now-familiar stretch of road to the reserve, where a small number of people were gathered for their evening and night walk around the trails. Abner, our guide from yesterday, was there, as was another guide, called David, who looked after Jane and me and an American couple called Lisa and Scott. As before, we were equipped with boots, and, this time also, torches to light our way.

It was clear that David was very passionate about the mission of the reserve as he spent quite a lot of time explaining some of the background to what the reserve is trying to achieve.  He also set our expectations by pointing out that it was dry season (i.e. not raining much), and so there would be fewer animals around to see.  We did find a few, though: a coati, snuffling around for bugs;


a nightjar, just sitting on the path and not minding a bunch of people shining torches at it;


a couple of red-eyed tree frogs;


what David called a Sergeant Bird, actually Cherrie’s Tanager, hiding away in the reeds;


and miscellaneous other frogs,


so not really a bonanza of wildlife spotting, not that it was something that was under anyone’s control.  To me it was miraculous what David was able to spot. I was more worried about tripping up and falling face first into a pile of tapir shit, frankly.

On that topic, David was able to demonstrate the seed-spreading effect of the tapir, by showing us a pile of faeces out of which several trees were starting to grow.


as well as samples of the fruit of the tree that they share that special relationship with, the Parmentiera Valerii (commonly name the Jicaro Danto tree). Thanks are due to Jane, who has spent quite a lot of time chasing down the exact name of this tree.


These samples were at the reception area of the reserve to which we’d returned after over three hours’ tramping (and often squelching) around the reserve. We were about to take our leave when David got a call on his radio from Donald, the founder of the reserve, to say that he’d located a couple of tapirs, and they were quite close by. So we rushed out to find them. it was a female (a daughter of Mamita of the previous day) and an as yet un-named male, and they were presumed to be courting. I even managed to get a couple of pictures of one of them (the male I think)



and you can tell that it had just caught wind of us.  But it didn’t seem perturbed by our presence, and after a while we left the two of them to get on with their nocturnal foraging, and headed back to the reception to take our leave from David and the reserve.

So, once again we’d been lucky enough to catch sight of the tapirs, which made the evening’s exercise a very satisfactory activity.

Today was our last day in Bijagua; tomorrow we head a couple of hours south, for two nights at La Fortuna and, doubtless, further adventures, quite probably involving wildlife, so I hope you come back to find out what was in store for us.


…And Boats (well, Boat)…

19th April 2018

The last Major Tourist Thing on our itinerary was a boat ride on Lake Titicaca, proudly calling itself “the highest navigable lake in the world” on the basis that there is a steam ship in the harbour which took two years to assemble from 2,500 parts which were made in England and shipped to Puno by rail over a period of four years. So we’ll give them that, shall we?

As usual with Major Tourist Things, the bloody alarm went off at 0500 so we could catch a boat on the lake. We knew from the comprehensive itinerary that Sunvil had prepared for us that this Major Thing would have two component bits: a visit to the lake-dwelling Uros tribe; and a visit to another island called Taquile where we could wander round (lunch included). Nothing in the descriptions we’d seen prepared us for the utterly absorbing day we experienced.

The waters of Lake Titicaca (pronounced with very strong K sounds and meaning stone (titi) puma or cat (kaka) due to a fanciful interpretation of its shape) are very shallow in the Puno section (there’s a bottleneck caused by a pair of peninsulae which separate it from the main body of the lake). This shallow section hosts a vast area of reeds, which the Uros tribe (a pre-Inca people) used at first to make boats that they could live on which could easily be moved as a defensive tactic. This graduated into the building of rafts and there are now several dozen such rafts which are the location for an entire way of life.

OK; so far, so good. What we were utterly unprepared for was the scale and sophistication of the area. These pictures show you just one side of a channel, and the other side was of the same order of size.

Uros tribe rafts

Here are a couple of video clips, one of each side of the main channel, which I also hope get across the scale of what’s there.

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We landed on one of the rafts and were treated to a comprehensive education on how the rafts are made.

Some day I shall try to make a video about it, but basically what you see in front of you is some approximately one-metre-square chunks of reeds that have been hacked out of the mass of reeds because they have broken free of the mud and started to float. These days the people use large saws to hack out sections, but they used to use much more primitive tools (something like a large, bladed hoe) to do this. They embed sticks into each section which they then bind together – again, today with nylon cord, but originally with rope made from reeds.

The bound sections are then left for a month so the living reeds can grow cross roots bonding the whole thing together; they can then be hauled into place and added into already-extant rafts, after which they’re covered in a reed flooring (about 1 metre of layers placed alternately at right angles to each other) and so are ready for building reed houses on. The flooring has to be continuously renewed as it rots away from the bottom, and so occasionally they have to lift a house, refresh its reed base and replace it. The whole raft is anchored in place to stop them waking up in Bolivia if the weather turns nasty.

It’s very obviously a major undertaking and it takes a lot of maintenance. But the end result is something that can support a group of people consisting of several families.

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(We were told that if a family in a community annoyed everyone else they were simply cut free.) There is a medical centre, school, churches… a population of around 1,000… the mind boggles.

The original tribes lived on boats and it’s clear that boats are still very much part of their culture – apart from anything else, they need to use them to get necessities from the mainland such as fabric for clothing, fruit and veg (although the reeds are edible) and so forth. Some of the boats they build are large (double-decker, in fact) and capable of carrying several people, and are often decorated with ceremonial animals

People aboard an Uris boat

and they are moved by two Uros rowing at the front (as you can see from the first video clip in this post) – at that altitude, they must be really fit!

The Uros people don’t shun modern technology at all – they have solar panels for electricity, for example, although there’s no internet. Tourism is clearly a major source of income, although I gather that the tourist boats that visit them tend to alternate sides of the channel so that individual communities are not beset every day. The people knit and weave and so have produce that they can sell to visitors, but the retail opportunity is nicely managed and not at all importunate. They managed to separate us from a few dollars for something we didn’t really need, but we gladly paid up, as the experience, particularly that of being rowed about on one of their “Mercedes Benz” boats, was so striking and such a pleasure.

The next stage of the day was a visit to a real, solid, island called Taquile which is out into the major part of the lake. We landed at one pier, and embarked on a short hike around the island, on a prepared path, to another pier where our boat was there to meet us. We had to take things quite slowly, as the path was at times steep, and we were at over 3,800m above sea level.

Taquile Landscape

The island is a pleasant place, with much terracing for people to farm crops.

Taquile Landscape

and it’s divided into six neighbourhoods (based around the six families who originally settled the island in Inca times); each neighbourhood is demarcated by a stone arch.

A traditional stone arch

We stopped for lunch at a place which caters only for visitors. The island doesn’t have hotels and restaurants, although people can visit and stay with families to learn aspects of the local ways of life; and families eat at home. But we and other tourists were served a very agreeable lunch of quinoa soup and trout. Before lunch, our guide, Aidee, explained some details of the culture that the island people are working hard to keep active. A key aspect of this culture is the clothing, and there are many things that people wear to show their status or role in the society. All of these things are knitted (by men) or woven (by women) on the island and it was fascinating to learn about them.

Taquile hats and other knitted and woven garments

Above, moving roughly from right to left:

  • A loom which men use to weave belts made from the hair of their fiancee (collected from childhood onwards).
  • A felt hat which signifies a person of authority – mayor, head of council, police, with, underneath it the multi-coloured wollen headpiece signifying that this was the island’s mayor.
  • Above the hat, a shawl, with pom-poms. The pom-poms come in various sizes and levels of flamboyance, depening on whether the woman wearing it is on the lookout for a husband, or is married, etc.
  • Three woollen hats, knitted by the men of the island signifying (from right) a married man, a boy child and a girl child.
  • Among the hats is a part-knitted sample to show how fine the knitting is. We were told that one test a woman can make of a man’s knitting skill, when deciding whether to marry him or not, is to empty water into one of his woollen hats. If the water stays in the hat, he is a fine knitter; if it drains away, he needs to go and practice more.
  • At top left, a colourful bag which married men use to carry coca leaves (used instead of a handshake as greeting).
  • At bottom left, two belts, the upper one woven by a woman from wool and the lower one by a man from human hair. When a man and a woman get married, two of these belts are joined together as a symbol of the union.

The women really do spin wool in the old traditional way, with a spindle, and the men really do knit.

A man knits

This very well-defined culture was as unexpected of the island visit as the scale of the raft society was earlier in the day, and so we made it back to Puno feeling that we’d had a very rich pair of experiences, and that we got very much more out of our last day in South America than just a token piece of tourist activity.

Tomorrow will be Time For The Journey Home. But now it’s Time For The Bar.