San Gaban is a pleasant village located on the Interoceanic Highway in the Puno Region between Puerto Maldonado and Macusani. Despite being only 100 kilometres’ drive north of high altitude, tundra-climate Macusani, San Gaban is lowland and hot year-round. This altitude and climate supports an abundance of tropical fruit.
A few kilometres east of San Gaban is the Lizard Mouth (Boca del Lagarto) or that’s what San Gaban locals called it. A natural swimming pool is at the mouth of the Chaquimayo River (Boca del Chaquimayo) just before it joins the San Gaban River. Nearby is Lizard Sanctuary (Santuario del Lagarto), a historically important series of ancient petroglyphs dominated by lizard motives.
Ice cream beans (pacay), cocona and monkey bananas at a San Gaban roadside seller’s tiny stall
In October 2016 Rocío and I travelled to San Gaban from Puerto Maldonado. We learnt of the town from our taxi driver and spent four nights here, extending our stay to experience the annual Tropical Food Fair.
San Gaban didn’t have an ATM and the only Hotel Roma’s café had wifi although Hotel Plaza included an internet café. There were several accommodation options ranging from the very basic to the basic. We stayed at Hotel Plaza.
Early on in our stay we became acquainted with a San Gaban shopkeeper who custom-made great juices and sandwiches. A particular potato variety is used in smoothies and when combined with pineapple provided an interesting, distinct flavour.
Pineapple and potato smoothies in front of pure cocoa paste and bags of cocoa shell tea
Local fruit cost little. Twelve monkey bananas were 1 sol (AUD$0.40) and at the food fair I paid 3 soles for a ~5 kilogram pineapple.
Dog guarding pineapples at San Gaban
Corn with cheese (choclo con queso) was one of Rocío’s comfort foods. One night we enjoyed this Andean staple at an old lady’s street stall.
Corn with cheese (choclo con queso) is a staple snack in the Peruvian Andes
The Interoceanic Highway (Carretera Interocéanica) travels across Peru and Brazil, linking the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Although strategically important, the section between Juliaca and Puerto Maldonado does not carry significant traffic. The road is quiet enough in San Gaban for chickens to cross and dogs to lie on.
Why did the chicken cross the Interoceanic Highway at San Gaban?
A dog sleeping on the Interoceanic Highway
While based in San Gaban we travelled north to Oroya for a wonderful day-trip (see blog post). While Oroya had an abundance of butterflies, San Gaban featured moths.
A beautiful bronze moth in the Hotel Plaza foyer, San Gaban
Is this a futuristic stealth aircraft or a San Gaban moth?
One evening we went out on the town, visiting San Gaban’s only disco. As the club’s sole patrons, we chose the music, including our anthem, Alphaville’s Big in Japan. 7 sol (AUD$2.70) large Cusqueña Trigo beers complemented the night.
San Gaban’s only disco was ours for the evening
Lizard Mouth (Boca del Lagarto)
The Chaquimayo River’s natural swimming pool is a popular spot for locals to cool off in the tropical heat. On our first day in San Gaban two young girls accompanied us in a mototaxi to Lizard Mouth and we walked there a second time after the food fair. Between San Gaban and the pool is a horticultural research institute and the San Gaban-Carabay Zoological Rescue Centre (Centro de Rescate Zoológico San Gaban-Carabaya). Near the rescue centre was a tree whose sap had medicinal properties.
This dear was one of the animals residing at the San Gaban Rescue Centre
Three black birds between San Gaban and Lizard Pool
After seeing a sign for the Lizard Sanctuary Archaeological Site (Sitio Arqueologico Santuario del Lagarto (Boca Chaquimayu)) on our second visit we decided to check it out. Only one primary petroglyph-containing rock was easily accessible.
Lizard Sanctuary petroglyphs near the mouth of the Chaquimayo River (Boca Chaquimayo)
The Lizard Mouth natural pool has refreshingly cold water, rocks to jump off (see blog post featured image) and is overlooked by a giant lizard sculpture. The pool area also has interesting leaf cutter ants and many annoying mosquitoes.
Leaf-cutter ants carrying their cut leaves at Lizard Mouth
Rocío in the pink top waving below the lizard sculpture’s mouth at Lizard Mouth; above, trucks transit across Interoceanic Highway’s Chaquimayo Bridge
Swimming in the Lizard Mouth natural pool