Seven Reasons to like Pucallpa
Pucallpa is a noisy, dirty, dusty, rubbish-strewn, crime-ridden city. It is also the ugliest city I know. There is maybe one building of any historical or architectural merit. In his remarkable book, ‘One River’, in which he lovingly recreates the extraordinary Amazonian voyages of Richard Schultes, (the celebrated Harvard Ethnobotanist), Wade Davies says of Pucallpa: “it is a place so dismal that within hours of arriving I had booked passage to Iquitos”
So what is there to like about it?
First, bear with me whilst I give a short preamble about the title of this entry. It is recommended to write lists on blogs. As I wrote before, the most popular post on my blog about living and working in Mexico was called “Seven Reasons to Live in Ciudad Guzman“. Partly as an experiment in the list format, I wrote a post on this blog called “Seven Good Reasons to drink Ayahuasca“. So far, I have had more hits on that entry in one day than any other entry in this blog.
I have another post on my Mexico blog called “Ten Reasons to Fall in Love with Mexico“. It’s a bridge too far to attempt a blog entry entitled “Ten Reasons to Fall in Love with Pucallpa” but let’s try for seven reasons to like this crazy, humid, jungle city on the West bank of the River Ucayali in the Peruvian Amazon.
1. La Madre Ayahuasca
The main reason most foreign tourists come here is to drink ayahuasca. That is a very good reason. There are some wonderful indigenous ayahuasceros living in and around Pucallpa. There are also many charlatans and, worse, people here who can do you considerable harm. I hear more and more stories of people being taken advantage of – financially, sexually and psychically.
If you are coming here to drink ayahuasca please make sure you drink with someone recommended by someone whose judgement you trust.
As I wrote elsewhere, when I first visited Yarina, the indigenous part of Pucallpa, and I commented to my friend, who has lived here for ten years, that the vibe was much gentler than Iquitos, he said to me in a conspiratorial whisper: “It’s the heartland”. He meant it is the heartland of the Shipibo-Konibo people who have lived for thousands of years along the river Ucayali and its tributaries.
Unlike downtown Pucallpa where most people I know only go to spend the minimum time to do necessary errands, it is pleasant to walk around Yarinacocha. The lake itself is beautiful, especially at dawn or sunset.
The human-scale plaza here too is quirky and attractive, unlike the monstrous Plaza de Armas in Pucallpa, which is a concrete wasteland ringed on one side by two hideous buildings – the cathedral and the city’s municipal offices – displaying the monumental, neo-fascist style favored in the eighties in many Latin countries. As one of my favorite Spanish phrases says, “como si fuera poco”, the plaza is topped off with a central, intimidating phallic sculpture.
3. The Restaurant ‘El Paraiso’
Having been rude about the Plaza de Armas above, it’s saving grace is that on the opposite side to the cathedral and municipal office buildings there is a very good vegetarian restaurant. It’s run (well) by Seventh Day Adventists but we should not hold that against the place.
Besides, the family who run the restaurant are charming, and the food is excellent. They do a very good value set menu for 7 soles (less than $3 USD). It’s the only place I know in Pucallpa where you can get a reasonably-sized portion of freshly-cooked green vegetables. They also sell good products such as granola and muesli, natural yoghurt without sugar, and healthy biscuits.
4. The ice cream parlor ‘La Muyuna’
Conveniently just around the corner from ‘El Paraiso’ in the street Jr. Sucre, there is another little oasis of paradise in downtown Pucallpa. This is ‘La Mayuna’ which sells natural, possibly organic, regional ice cream. It’s surrounded by three other ice cream parlors but the quality and taste here is head and shoulders above the others.
I nearly always order the coffee ice cream as it is so good, but have recently branched out to two more flavors – chocolate and peanut and strawberry yoghurt. For the more adventurous, there is fantastic range of jungle fruits including aguaje, guanábana, camucamu, charada, taperiba, sachainchi, ungurahui, tamarindo, maracuya, humari and lúcuma.
5. Hotel ‘Los Gavilanes’
This hotel has a good location in a quiet part of the indigenous area of Pucallpa within walking distance of the Plaza at Yarina. It’s another oasis in the frenzy of Pucallpa and has a good restaurant.
For Pucallpa, it’s relatively expensive – a double room costs 90 soles (about $36 USD) per night – but for that price you get breakfast, occasionally erratic wi-fi, cable TV, a good room with a balcony, and the use of a good-sized pool.
The staff are, mostly, very friendly and a few go by weird and wonderful names. The best cook here, who unfortunately now has left, is called Hitler. The tiny, undernourished odd-job man is called Rambo.
The owner, Don Ramon, used to allow ayahuasca ceremonies in a wooden hut on the roof until the bad publicity occasioned by the American teenager dying in an ayahuasca ceremony and being unlawfully buried in the Chimbre Shamanic Center, in the region of Madre de Dios, just under a year ago. He has, though, allowed me to plant chiricsanango, bobinsana and ayahuasca in the hotel gardens.
Vigilio makes the best mapachos (pure, rolled, dried and shredded tobacco leaves with no additives) in Pucallpa and most likely the whole of the Peruvian Amazon. He used to have a stall in Mercado Dos but since the municipality closed that down, he has moved operations to his daughter’s shop which sells cleaning products at Jr. Sucre #785 (UPDATE. He’s now back in one of the stall outside Mercado Dos)
7. El Reloj Público
OK, I’m beginning to scrape the barrel now. This tower, the only building of any interest in Pucallpa, located by the main port, has a certain colorful, surreal charm, enhanced by the fact that, despite it being known as the public clock, the time is fixed permanently but differently on each of its four faces.
I hope I have been able to do Pucallpa justice. I missed out the best place to have coffee – one of the only two expresso machines in Pucallpa – which is Dulcemanía on Jr. Raymundi #389. The other place with a small expresso machine is ‘Si, C’est Bon’, (pronounced here as ‘Sexy Bon’), which has a good location on the Cathedral corner of the Plaza, but the coffee is wayward at times.
I also heard recently that the market at Bellavista is good – although it has a section illegally selling animals.
I’ve also just found a good yoga class after months of searching.
If you have any other suggestions for liking Pucallpa please add them to the comments.