The CHANCHAMAYO VALLEY, only 300km from Lima and 750m above sea level, marks the real beginning of the Central Selva directly east of the capital. Originally settled in 1635 by Franciscan monks on mules, the region was repeatedly reclaimed by the native tribes. These days access to the main towns of San Ramón and La Merced is easy and relatively safe, with much of the produce from the area’s rich tropical-fruit plantations (oranges and pineapples) and productive chacras (gardens), transported over the Andes by road to Lima.
The market town of LA MERCED, some 10km further down the Chanchamayo Valley, is larger and busier than San Ramón, with more than twelve thousand inhabitants, a thriving Saturday market a couple of blocks behind the main street, and several hectic restaurants and bars crowded around the Plaza de Armas.
A real jungle frontier town, SATIPO is an ideal place in which to get kitted out for a jungle expedition, or just to sample the delights of the selva for a day or two. The settlement was first developed to service colonists and settlers in the 1940s, and continues in similar vein today, providing an economic and social centre for a widely scattered population of over forty thousand colonists, with supplies of tools and food, medical facilities and banks; the bustling daily market is best experienced at weekends.
Slightly off the beaten track, some 78km by road (two hours) north of La Merced, and nearly 400km east of Lima, lies the small settlement of OXAPAMPA, a pleasant and well-organized frontier town strongly influenced culturally and architecturally by the nearby Tyrolean settlement of Pozuzo. The town is also conspicuously clean, situated on the banks of the Río Chontabamba, some 1800m above sea level; the Mercado Municipal, one block from the main square, is probably the most orderly and most relaxed in all of Peru.
Some 80km further down into the rainforest from Oxapampa at 823m above sea level, POZUZO is significantly smaller than Oxapampa. Reached via a very rough road that crosses over two dozen rivers and streams, the vista of wooden chalets with sloping Tyrolean roofs has endured ever since the first Austrian and German colonists arrived here in the mid-nineteenth century.
Pozuzo’s Tyrolean roots
Pozuzo’s Tyrolean roots
Back in the 1850s, Baron Schutz von Holzhausren of Germany and the then President of Peru, General Ramón Castilla, developed a grand plan to establish settlements deep in the jungle. The original deal between Germany and Peru required Peru to build roads, schools and churches; while the Austro-Germans needed to be of Catholic religion, have some kind of office and impeccable reputation.
The first group of three hundred, mainly Tyrolean, immigrants left Europe in 1857 on the British ship Norton, arriving in Lima on July 28. During the overland journey, cutting their way through jungle, almost half the colonists died of disease, accident or exhaustion. The town of Pozuzo was founded in 1859 when the area was ripe with virgin forest and crystalline rivers owned by the Yanesha tribe. Nine years later, a second group of immigrants arrived to reinforce the original population, which had been left, more or less abandoned, by the Peruvian authorities. The colonists began to expand their population and territory; first, Oxapampa was founded in 1891 by the Bottger family, then others went on to found Villa Rica in 1928.
Today the economy of Pozuzo is based on beef cattle; but lederhosen are worn for fiestas and Tyrolean dances are still performed, creating a peculiar combination of European rusticism (the local dance and music is still strongly influenced by the German colonial heritage) and native Peruvian culture. Moreoever, many of this unusual town’s present inhabitants still speak German, eat Schottsuppe, waltz well and dance the polka.