Notes from Atalaya

July 12, 2008

I am writing from the humid environs of Atalaya, a town of some 5,000 people located at the point where the Urubamba and Tambo Rivers meet to form the Ucayali. As the major town of the region, it is the only place with internet within two days travel by local means. The machine is a battered seven year old IBM that looks like it has been repaired many times, and the internet connection is struggling to deal with the WordPress server. But the presence of internet is impressive nevertheless. I still remember from my first visits to this part of Peruvian Amazonia in the early 90s that telephones were scarce to non-existent, never mind internet.

I am on my way from Loreto, and fieldwork on Iquito (in northern Peruvian Amazonia), to a brief visit to the Lower Urubamba region for about two weeks of humanitarian aid and linguistic work in the Matsigenka and Nanti communities on the Camisea River (in southern Peruvian Amazonia). My time working with the Iquito speakers we know was very productive, and yielded some suprising results. I plan to blog about those experiences when I am back in places with reliable internet connections, probably in early August.

We arrived in Atalaya this morning from the major jungle city of Pucallpa by plane — a six seater into which they crammed eight passengers. Tomorrow my wife Chris and I will be heading upriver on the next stage of the trip, to the town of Sepahua, where we will obtain a boat and crew to take us up the Camisea. Unless the internet connection is still working in Sepahua, which I doubt, I will be out of touch until the end of the present month.

3 Responses to “Notes from Atalaya”

  1. The wife Says:

    Hah — the internet connection is not only working in Sepahua, it has grown! There are now three places with an internet connection, and one even offers a bit of air conditioning (no doubt for the benefit of the computers as much as, or more than, for the customers). Progress, um, of the technological variety, that is, continues to seep into peruvian amazonia… Who needs indoor plumbing if you can chat online, right?!? Hope you get to say a few words from here…

  2. Arjan Says:

    Hi, this is an old post, but I am wondering about the toponym Atalaya. Do you think instances of the name Atalaya in the Peruvian Amazon are the Spanish word atalaya ‘watchtower, lookout’ (derived from Arabic), or are there etymologies for the name in an indigenous language?

  3. Lev Michael Says:

    Hi Arjan,

    As you’ve probably noticed, there are ‘Atalayas’ scattered across Peruvian Amazonia. I know of no etymology that relates ‘Atalaya’ to any indigenous language, and given that it has an easily identifiable Spanish origin — and one that makes sense in the colonial context — I’d say that the name is of Spanish origin. I didn’t know that the name originally came from Arabic, btw. Thanks for that.


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