Peru Travel Diary Chapter 1: Chiclayo
June 8, 2015 (Monday)
I've been traveling in Peru for a couple of months now. Came down from Vilcabamba in Ecuador and stayed a few weeks in Jaén, a pleasant town with decent restaurants and good-looking women, though not much to do (not a problem for me, since I always have plenty of work to do on my laptop). Then I went on to Chachapoyas, a little cool at 2400 meters elevation, but a nice town with friendly people. Then a week in Cajamarca, where the Inca Empire fell to the ruthless Spanish conquistadors, and where I was sick for a week with bronchitis. Then on to Huanchaco (close to Trujillo), where I stayed for several leisurely and enjoyable weeks at the pleasant Hostal Naylamp, right on the beach, with surf and sunsets.
But now I'm leaving Huanchaco, and I eat a hurried breakfast of bacon and eggs at 8:30 and then take a taxi to the Emtrafesa bus station. Not many people queueing for tickets, and I get a good seat on a modern bus going to Chiclayo. The bus station is well-organized and there is no sign of chaos. I give my luggage in and board the bus after ticket inspection and very cursory security check. All the Emtrafesa personnel are polite and friendly — unlike when travelling in the West, where often one is treated as a suspected criminal or a potential terrorist.
It's a 3-4 hour journey and costs 17 soles (US$5.30) — bus travel in Peru is ridiculously cheap compared to Europe. There's not much to see on the way; mostly sandy desert with a few high hills and the occasional small town or village with a lot of small shops. On arrival at the bus station in Chiclayo I collect my luggage (two bags — I'm carrying way too much stuff), walk out the front door and get a taxi to a place where (according to my 11-year-old, 2004 Lonely Planet guidebook) there should be three adjacent hotels which should be acceptable. I have chosen them since they are close to the Mercado Modelo, which has a section of brujo stalls selling herbs, power objects, etc., and I hope to contact someone who can help me in my proposed study of Peruvian shamanic practice. My Spanish is currently minimal, but good enough to tell the taxi driver where I want to go to and to agree on a price (5 soles, $1.50).
I find the hotel I was looking for, but it's now gone from being "good value at this price" to being poor value at 100 soles ($31) per night. I pretend to the lady at the reception to consider it possible (and look at a room) and ask if I might leave my bags while I check another hotel (to which she agrees). The street is busy and none too clean, and the area seems a little grungy compared to other Peruvian towns I've seen (some, such as Chachapoyas having a certain charm). I walk a couple of blocks and go into an unpretentious but clean hostal, Esplendor, which has a decent room. The receptionist tells me it is 50 soles ($15.50) per night. After sustained bargaining we agree on 35 soles ($10.90) per night for a week (a little cheaper than the guest house in Huanchaco). The room has wifi, a decent hot shower and windows overlooking the (rather noisy) street, and I'm pleased to have found it.
I take a shower, and unfortunately forget to remove my two hearing aids. But I quickly notice this and get out. There wasn't much water in the shower, and it seems the hearing aids were not affected. Background: I've been deaf since I was a child, probably due to having measles when I was very young, and my deafness has gotten worse as I've gotten older. I've gone through several hearing aids since 1974. Got one for my (better) left ear (which I mainly rely on) in Thailand several years ago, and one for my (much worse) right ear one year ago (this hearing aid seems to help, but not a lot).
I go out for lunch and find a decent cafe, El Rancho, and have lemon-meringue pie and coffee. The coffee is cafe con leche — coffee with milk — and to my mild surprise the waitress brings a tall glass of hot milk and a tiny jug of black coffee, which one adds to the milk; so it's really milk with coffee rather than coffee with milk.
For the rest of the day I do some work on my laptop, then go out to have dinner at a pollería — a place which serves (mostly) rotisserie chicken, salad and chips (a.k.a. french fries, papas fritas). There are several close by. I enter one, pay 13 soles ($4.04) for a quarter roast chicken and a bottle of Inca Cola (with a taste I'd always liked — "cream soda" — since I was a child, due to tartrazine, but I don't believe it's unhealthy). I forgo my usual small bottle of beer with dinner, having decided that, while I'm researching Peruvian shamanism, I won't drink alcohol. (For this I don't have to stop smoking, since I never started.) The chicken is OK but the chips and salad are best forgotten. As usual in cheap restaurants here there's a TV show on, with scantilly-clad men and women competing at various strenuous exercises or ridiculous tasks; most people seem to find it very entertaining, but not me.
After dinner I walk around a few streets. It's mostly shops selling clothing, kitchen appliances, cellphones, etc., plus lots of street vendors and (presumably very lucrative) pharmacies. In most Peruvian towns there's a pharmacy on every corner of the commercial district, and sometimes two or three; and twice I have seen an intersection with four pharmacies, one on each corner; and they all open at 7 a.m. Chiclayo reminds me of Cairo, which has similar shops in the crowded main streets at night, but without all the pharmacies. I return to the hostal, begin this travel diary, and go to bed.
Breakfast at El Rancho, the standard desayuno americano (scrambled eggs with ham, juice, coffee, bread rolls, butter, jam), OK value at 11 soles ($3.45). Back at the hostal I have a bright idea for a web page and spend the rest of the day programming it in PHP, putting off until tomorrow my intended visit to the brujo market.
For dinner I find a better chicken place, this one with a TV which is not showing mindless "entertainment" but rather news, which is mostly of a huge landslide (mostly big rocks) in Oyón which buried a minivan containing 14 people. In mountainous Peru, landslides are common, but mostly just block roads and don't kill anyone. Many of the roads through the mountains are engineering marvels, but Nature has little respect for them.
Other news is that the cases of the mosquito-borne diseases dengue fever and chikungunya have been recorded in Chiclayo and Lima. These diseases are much more common in Colombia, but appear to be spreading south, probably due to global warming making southern climes more pleasant for mosquitoes. In some countries (notably India) ill-informed people ludicrously believe that you can get chickungunya from eating chicken.
Go out at 7 a.m., but my usual breakfast place is not yet open, so I walk a few blocks to the Plaza de Armas, which is pleasant enough, but not impressive. I find a place for breakfast then return to the hostal.
Late morning I go to the Mercado Modelo and locate the brujo stalls. There's one passageway with about a dozen stalls on each side, all pretty much the same, displaying bunches of various herbs, boxes of herbal medicines (all labelled in Spanish, of course, so mostly incomprehensible to me), plus some items of use in brujo ceremonies. There's a resident curandero (with several diploma certificates displayed) but neither he nor anyone else here speaks English.
I buy some apples and oranges, drink a mixed fruit smoothie and return to the hostal for an afternoon's work on my laptop.
In the evening I go to El Rancho for dinner. The Menu Decoder in my phrasebook tells me that anticucho means kebab, so I order that. It comes as two large kebabs (tasty) and a large pile of (as usual) forgettable chips. Cheap restaurants in Peru make up in quantity what they lack in quality.
I walk down past the Plaza de Armas, go into a cafe, the Baguetería Don Benny for lunch, and order a triple bacon sandwich and coffee. A girl comes in and sits down at my table opposite me (and looks at the TV); she's not unattractive. Not sure why she's sat down at my table (I later find she's awaiting a take-out order). She's wearing a T-shirt with the logo of the beauty salon I just passed, so I surmise (correctly) that she works there, and I say "Trabajar [name of salon]?", to which she replies affirmatively. But she doesn't speak English and my Spanish is minimal, so further conversation is not possible. The sandwich arrives, in two halves. I offer one half to the girl, just as the waitress is bringing her the take-out order (presumably lunch for the other employees at the salon). I suspect that, since she's now leaving, she won't accept the offer of the half-sandwich, but she indicates that, yes, she'd like it to take it, and does, and departs with a farewell smile. As I later walk past the salon I see her mopping the floor, and conclude that she's the lowest-paid employee there, and they don't pay her enough for her to eat both lunch and dinner.
Awhile back I had the idea that it would be helpful to have a Peruvian girl travel with me in Amazonas (one of Peru's 25 regions), since my Spanish is not good enough at present to converse with the shamans. So last night I'm thinking that this girl might be the one — or at least she might be able to help me find someone in Chiclayo that knows something about shamanism (chamanismo in Spanish). So I decide to go back to the Baguetería Don Benny for lunch at the same time as yesterday, in case she shows up again. I have made some online translations to help me talk to her. I go to the cafe, but she doesn't show. But as I'm walking back I see her sweeping the sidewalk outside the beauty salon where she works. What to do? So I say "Buenas tardes", and she seems pleased to see me again. I notice for the first time that she has buck teeth. Sort of charming in a strange way. Curiously, Ken Follett has an engaging character, Mildred, in his Fall of Giants (which I recently read) who has buck teeth. So what to say next? I manage to say "Mañana, almuerzo", gesturing back toward the cafe, and hope that she understands that this is an invitation to meet again tomorrow at lunchtime at the cafe. Maybe she understands, maybe not. I'll find out tomorrow.
Several years ago I wrote a computer program to calculate geocentric planetary aspects, which has received only a very modest appreciation by the public. I suddenly realize that it would not be much work to convert this to a program to calculate heliocentric planetary aspects. So I enthusiastically start work on this. Fortunately heliocentric astrology, although it has zodiacal signs, does not have astrological houses, which I consider to be an arbitary concoction by astrologers.
I walk down toward the cafe and see the girl just outside the salon. In my broken Spanish, I invite her to lunch, and she says: In an hour. My guide book (11 years old, as I said) mentions a Cine Tropical nearby, so I go to check that; it looks as if it has been closed for years. So I wander into the cathedral (which is much the same as other cathedrals in Peru, that is, fairly boring) and look through my second Spanish phrasebook (which I got recently in return for Fall of Giants at a book exchange in Huanchaco); the Spanish is European Spanish, not Latin American Spanish but nevertheless the grammar section is quite good.
The girl turns up and we go into the cafe for lunch. I introduce myself, but I don't understand a word of what she says. We communicate mostly by writing in my notebook. I find out that her name is Teresa, she's 28 and lives with her 6-year-old daughter and elderly mother. I tell her of my interest in chamanismo, but it's not an interest she shares. She orders braised beef and I order grilled chicken. But the lunch is pretty much a fiasco, since we can barely communicate. It's now obvious to me that my idea of having her accompany me to Amazonas is totally unrealistic. After lunch we part amicably. Since we can't communicate, there's no point in my seeing her again.
I go early to the Hebron restaurant for breakfast, which opens at 7:30 a.m. As I enter, the staff are all seated around a table, praying. Appropriate, since this is Sunday. I don't know what they're praying for, but whatever it is, the prayer soon ends and everyone gets up and goes about their work.
I spend the day continuing work on a new computer program. In trying to solve a simple problem during the morning's work I get embroiled in unacceptable complications, so after lunch I go back to the beginning and eventually find an acceptable solution.
In the evening I eat dinner at a Chinese restaurant, a good Wantan Especial for 10 soles ($3.22). As I'm walking back along the main street in the dark I notice two women standing together who appear to be prostitutes (I haven't seen many in Peru). I'm halfway past them when I notice them, so I don't get a good look at them, but one of them at least is quite attractive. Two months ago in Cajamarca I twice saw a particular woman walking along a commercial street who was well dressed and in a way that made it was fairly clear she was a prostitute, but who was also very beautiful. Apparently the prostitutes in Peru (from what I've seen, which isn't much) have good taste in dress and are not looked down upon by other people, though there are sometimes complaints by residents when there are too many prostitutes working a particular street.
I go again to the Hebron for my desayuno americano. There's a wide-screen TV in front of my usual table. The news this morning is about a baby, just a few days old, who was stolen. The mother, of course, is devastated. Later on the TV there's a long section of videos of crimes in Lima, mainly thefts. In one segment a woman, with her handbag over her shoulder and cellphone in hand, is at a counter when a man walks up and points a gun at her head as he removes her handbag from her shoulder, and — not content with stealing that — also relieves her of her cellphone, then departs. The woman then leans on the counter and begins to cry — perhaps not so much because of the loss of her handbag as due to sadness at realizing how depraved some humans are. In another part of the video we see a girl come into a cafe, sit down at a table and take out her laptop. She goes to get something, foolishly leaving her laptop unattended. A man then enters the scene, sits down at the next table and takes her laptop, putting it into a laptop case and then departing. The girl returns to find her laptop gone. Fortunately (as we now hear on the news) the thief was identified (presumably from the video footage), and the TV shows several pictures of him. Hopefully he'll being doing a few years in jail.
I spend the rest of the morning working on my laptop then go out for lunch (coffee and cake). I decide to go visit the brujo market again and take some photos, which I do. I talk to one man in particular, though with my minimal Spanish I can't say much. I tell him I'm interested in chamanismo and plan to visit Amazonas. I ask him about taking ayahuasca and he tells me that it happens also in Chiclayo. He shows me a coke bottle full of ayahuasca (as usual, it smells awful), which I could buy for 20 soles ($6.33), but I think I'll wait until I get to Amazonas, where (hopefully) I can take it in the proper (shamanic) context. He then says, "San Pedro?", and shows me a small bottle (the size of a hip flask) containing a dark liquid (this doesn't smell as bad). This liquid is an extract from the San Pedro cactus (which grows abundantly in many places in Ecuador and Peru), and the psychoactive ingredient is mescaline. I have not done San Pedro or mescaline before, though I've read a lot about them (mescaline is said to produce a lot of colorful visual imagery). The man indicated that one should consume half the bottle. So I decide to buy it (he sells it to me for 30 soles, $9.50) and try it. Tonight.
I've bought two apples at the market, so in preparation for drinking the San Pedro extract I forgo dinner. If I get hungry I'll eat an apple. At 7 p.m. I drink half the bottle (it tastes terrible) and lie down to see what will happen. (I agree with Terence McKenna's advice as to how to do psychedelics: "At night, alone, in darkness and silence.") An hour later, nothing much has happened, so I drink the rest. Unfortunately there's almost no effect, and I go to bed at 11 p.m., still having had no experience of the effects of mescaline. Maybe extract of San Pedro is just not my cup of tea.
Breakfast at El Rancho. The news is of dogs in Huaraz attacking people. I suppose now it will be open season on dogs in Huaraz. TV news in Peru is almost always about Peruvian events, sometimes extending to Latin American events. USA, Europe and Asia almost never get a mention. Well-off people can get cable TV, and thus the Spanish CNN, and fortunately also the Spanish RT (which is necessary to counter the lies and propaganda from CNN).
I realize that I'm not getting any benefit from the hearing aid for my right ear, which never was a lot of help, but it now seems to have died. Could this be a result of my wearing it (briefly) into the shower on the day I arrived in Chiclayo a week ago? Hard to say. I look on the internet for a Widex hearing aid dealer in Peru, but it seems there are dealers in Colombia and Chile but none in Peru. (Later, in Tarapoto, I find that I was mistaken about this; there is in fact a Widex dealer in Chiclayo.) I look in the online Peruvian yellow pages for hearing aid places, and find one located not far from this hostal. At lunchtime I go out to visit it, but don't find it, and all the buildings in this street look shabby and derelict, so I conclude that this place must have closed down years ago. In fact it does exist, on the 2nd storey of some building, but I didn't find it because I was mistakenly looking for #1420 instead of #1421, on the other side of the street.
Walking back to the hostal I notice a large and colorful advertisement hanging from an upper floor of a building, an advertisement for a shaman. He's shown with shaman headress and holding ritual objects. The ad says he's from Pucallpa and offers ayahuasca ceremonies for treating a long list of maladies (all in Spanish, of course). The ad gives his address as Pedro Ruiz 857, 2nd floor, office 207. It's fairly close, so I walk over, but when I get there and reach office 207 I find it's now a place where one can get photocopies. Apparently the shaman has moved away, maybe gone back to Pucallpa.
I've been following the long drawn out saga of the negotiations between the Greek government of Syriza and the Troika — the European Commission (EC), the International Monetary Fund (IMF), and the European Central Bank (ECB) — in which, in return for more "loans" of billions of Euros (which can never be paid back), the Troika is demanding more "austerity" for the Greek people (including more pension cuts) and more "privatization" whereby foreign corporations get to buy (cheaply) Greek assets and exploit them. So far, Syriza has not buckled to Troika demands. And today came a stunning announcement: Greek Debt Committee Just Declared All Debt To The Troika "Illegal, Illegitimate, And Odious". Greece is saying that the scheme concocted by the Troika to loan billions of Euros was never intended to help Greece or the EU but rather was a huge scam to destroy the sovereignty of Greece and take over all its assets. It was thus a huge crime, and the Greeks have no obligation to meet the Troika's "odious" demands. This will likely have major consequences. Perhaps Deutsche Bank will go bankrupt, bringing down the whole Euro financial system, followed by a huge crash of the multi-billion-dollar derivatives market. And then? [But in fact nothing came of this. The Greek Prime Minister Tsipras (afraid to stand up to the threat of being assassinated) betrayed the Greek people and cravenly submitted to the demands of the Troika.]
Breakfast at the Hebron. I notice that some of the chairs have a cord attached, with a clip at the end. What could this be for? Surely not a seat belt. I ask the waitress, "Por el perro?" ("For the dog?"), thinking that maybe patrons bring their dogs in, and it's a leash to prevent the dogs from wandering around and annoying other diners. No, she says, and indicates that it's for fastening handbags. Ah, that makes sense — so you won't have your bag stolen while you eat.
All sorts of things to see on the streets. This morning there was a blind man at the Plaza de Armas playing a trumpet. As well as lots of good-looking and well-endowed women, and men eager to shine your shoes for a buck, there are many vendors scraping a living by selling pens, socks, caps. chocolate, tooth brushes, toothpaste, batteries, cakes, fruit, fruit juice, shoes, knife sharpeners, sun glasses, earrings, flip-flops, shirts, kebabs, rubber ducks, cigarette lighters, scissors, glue, soft drinks, wallets, coin wallets, coins, felt monkeys, nail clippers, underwear, peanuts, soap, tweezers, magnifying glasses, combs, brooms, mops, belts, TV remotes, key rings, honeycomb, necklaces, plastic toys, nunchakus, toffee apples, video CDs (mostly Hollywood trash), pigeon eggs, and adorable puppy dogs.
The last Volkswagen Beetle was produced in Mexico in 2003, but in Chiclayo you can still see many. And they come in all colors: red, green, blue, yellow ...
I decide to send my hearing aid back to the place in Germany where I bought it, to have it repaired, so I walk to the post office, just west of Plaza Aguirre. There is no-one in the post office except for a girl selling envelopes, etc., and a couple of women behind the counters. Don't Peruvians ever post anything? An attractive woman is at the counter for accepting mail. I tell her that I want to send this item por correo certificado. Fortunately I have a larger-and-thicker-than-normal envelope, which I've been carrying with me for years for just such an occasion as this. After writing the recipient's address and my (hostal) address on the envelope and inserting the item, the woman takes the envelope and tapes it up securely, puts stamps on it, franks the stamps and gives me a printed receipt for 29 soles ($9.02). No customs declaration or other forms required to be filled in; the whole procedure is quite painless.
I now need to plan my route back to the hostal. I think of sitting down with my guide book in the post office to do this, but decide to look for a seat outside. I walk outsde, but see nowhere to sit. I cross the road to a building and on the entrance step I lean against the wall and consult my guide book. As I move away I feel my (white) shirt sleeve peeling away from something sticky. It now has blue paint on it. The wall has been freshly painted! But there's no sign to warn of this! There's some yellow tape lying on the ground, which one of the workers should have put up to keep people away from the wall, but he did not do so. I'm very annoyed at this, since I like this white shirt, and splotches of blue on the sleeve don't improve its appearance. I walk around the corner to find several men painting the wall, and I express my annoyance by shouting at them. One of the workers walks back to the entrance and puts up the tape, which he should have done before. Unfortunately the building is closed, so I can't complain to the owner. I have to content myself with loudly declaring (within the hearing of the others) this worker to be an idiot — idiota in Spanish — since I don't know the Spanish for anything more insulting.
Breakfast at El Rancho. The TV is again showing lengthy footage from CCTV cameras in Lima: Juvenile delinquents breaking windows, trashing places and setting them on fire. Then we see a series of fathers with their babies or young childen; the fathers are mostly acting the fool. Then we have several segments of Peruvians behaving badly.
I've stayed nearly two weeks in Chiclayo, and although I have got quite a bit of work done on my laptop, I have made almost no progress in my intended study of Peruvian shamanism, and I'm looking forward to returning to Chachapoyas (which I had previously visited two months ago). Besides, there are no good restaurants close by, and the wifi in the hostal is somewhat unreliable (which is common in Peru). But I can hardly leave without visiting the renowned Museo Tumbas Reales de Sipán (the Royal Tombs of Sipan) in Lambayeque, 11 km away by collectivo (minibus). So I walk over to the one place I know where the collectivos depart from (near the post office), and for 1.50 soles (47 cents) I'm on my way.
I'm not sure where to get off, so I stay on the minibus until the end, which turns out to be quite some way from the museum, so I get a mototaxi to the museum. (A mototaxi, also called a motokar, or usually just a moto, is a motorcycle hauling a compartment for 2 or 3 people, similar to a tuk-tuk in Asia.) Or rather, back to the museum, since, unknown to me, the minibus already had gone close by it. Before entering, however, I get lunch: salad, drink and a small pork chop with beans and rice for 5 soles ($1.55).
The museum is architecturally interesting, perhaps unique; it was modelled on the truncated pyramids (with external ascending ramp) built at the time of the Moche culture in Peru (during most of the first millenium of our era). I buy a ticket (10 soles, $3.10), deposit my shoulder bag at the consigna, walk up the ramp to the top floor, and enter. It's dark, but the exhibits are illumined quite well. Apart from the guard I am the only person in the museum the whole time I'm there, except for a Peruvian couple who came in later. The exhibits mainly show (apart from decorated pottery) jewelry, ritual objects and ornaments (mostly gilded copper with inlaid turquoise) recovered from several tombs discovered in 1987, comparable to the much-better-known tomb of Tutankhamen in Egypt. (A good description of these tombs is here.) The darkness of the museum, broken only by the light from the exhibits, and strange flute-like background music, gives it a slightly eerie quality, and one can easily imagine oneself in another world, at risk of becoming lost.
As I leave the grounds of the museum I approach a young woman sitting on the curb who is offering trinkets for sale. I automatically say, "No,gracias". But after I have crossed the street and am walking away I reflect that, since I saw no other visitors to the museum except that Peruvian couple, this woman is unlikely to make many sales today, and maybe none. What would a trinket cost? I walk back and take a closer look at them. They are keyrings with small attached replicas of some of the artistic and ritual objects shown in the museum. I ask how much, but at present I can almost never understand spoken Spanish, so I'm not sure if she's asking 10 soles or more. I get her to write down the price, and it's two keyrings for 5 soles ($1.55). I almost feel embarrassed to pay so little, even if they are trinkets. So I give her 5 soles. At least now she can have something to eat for dinner.
Incoming CME (Coronal Mass Ejection) predicted to hit the Earth today and to cause a severe geomagnetic storm, but (according to spaceweather.com) it's not likely to do much damage beyond blackout of shortwave radio transmission in some areas. When the Big One happens we may have 24-48 hours warning.
No reason to say longer in Chiclayo, so I decide to get the next bus to Chachapoyas (no day bus, it has to be a night bus). After partaking of the menú del día (main course: pork chop) for 10 soles ($3.10) at a downtown restaurant I walk to the post office to post a letter to Europe. It's the same attractive lady at the counter as on Friday — pity that I can hardly put a sentence together in Spanish. Then on to the office of Movil Tours, where I find that there's no bus tonight to Chachapoyas, but there are a few seats available on the bus tomorrow night, so I buy a ticket (55 soles, $17.42, for the 10-hour journey). Get a taxi back to the hostal. The wifi conection is worse than usual today.
I decide to go again to Lambayeque to visit the other museum there, the Bruning Museum. As I leave the hostal I have to decide whether to walk to the place I know from where minibuses go to Lambayeque, which is quite a walk (though I could take a taxi), or to go to the much closer place where minibuses congregate near the Mercado Modelo, hoping to find one going to Lambayeque. It's decisions like this (seemingly unimportant, but with unforeseen and unforeseeable consequences) that can have a major effect on one's life. I decide to try the Mercato Modelo. But I find that there are no minibuses from there to Lambayeque. What to do? At this point, a random event occurs which diverts me, leading me to other concerns, and in the end I abandon my intended visit to the museum, return to the hostal and pack my things.
At 8 p.m. I get a taxi to the Movil Tours bus terminal. It's well-organized and I check my two (heavy) bags in. There are a lot of people waiting for various buses. I notice a Western girl, and find out that she's also going to Chachapoyas.
The bus leaves, a little late at 9:30 pm, and after awhile we are served dinner, chicken and veg, piece of dessert and tea. Unusual in a bus. It's not a luxury bus, but comfortable enough, and I fall asleep. At 4 a.m. we stop somewhere; I get off and take a piss, then return to the bus and go back to sleep.
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