Field Notes: Pangoa

By Emma Chevalier

Field Notes: Pangoa

To get to the town of San Martín de Pangoa, you drive straight down from the airport in the high plains of Jauja. From there, it’s a five or six hour commute to the Selva Central. It’s real cold and real high in Jauja, and it gets real hot about four hours in.

The landscape on the roads in between changes quickly: from the pale, cold, and scrubby grassland plateaus (almost 4000 meters above sea level), down through more temperate, deep green fields of vegetable crops, down further still through the steep, rocky crags of the eastern montane cloud forests, into the warm, dense jungle of the Selva Central. The high plains are big sky country. The mountain roads are narrow, and wind sharply on the edges of cliffs. Tunnels cut through pure rock. Small agrarian towns lie in the valleys, where eucalyptus trees lean with the wind. You hit traffic on a dry, dusty road, right when you start to see ginger laid out on blankets for sale. Past the dust, there are three large rivers: the Ene, Perené and Mantaro, with cold springs welling throughout. Fruit and juice stands line the roads that follow the water. Pineapple. Coconut. Camu Camu. Coffee and cacao are cultivated here in abundance.

The Selva Central lies on the western edge of Peru’s Amazon Rainforest, just east of the Andean ridge. Individual farms in the area are remote, somewhat far away from each other, scattered throughout the jungle. During our visit, most of the lots are still being processed at the mill in town, and we aren’t sure exactly which lots we will buy. We do, though, spend our one full day in Pangoa visiting William’s farm. William is one of the co-op’s former presidents. His coffee is included in a bulk of small mixed lots from the region, showcased in this year’s Lonely Hunter.

William’s farm is about a two hour truck ride up into the mountains from town, and another two hour hike through the jungle, which is thick and shadowed, but illuminated by cool, filtered light. Higher up, in the brighter clearing of the farm, our hosts roast fresh coffee over the open flame of a wood fired stove, and brew it right after. It’s juicy, and peachy, and sweet. It’s good, and we enjoy it on a long wooden table to the left of the stove, under the shade of a lean-to. Blue and white and hot orange plastic and enamel cups hang like chilies, or braided garlic, from its corner. There are higher summits still. We can see them through the opening of the lean-to. They appear beyond the coffee field, beyond the forest that continues upwards. Every few moments, steamy clouds reveal the peaks’ silhouettes, then swallow them again. We eat chicken and rice stew with potatoes. We talk about common goings-on of the regional farms. We talk about how the co-op is in the continual process of further identifying farmers in the region who produce high quality cherry, about the need for more lot separation. We swim in the cold river on the way back down.