My name is Tony Dunnell, I’m an Englishman and full-time freelance writer living in Peru. I live in Tarapoto, a mid-sized town in the Peruvian jungle. This is my base of operations, from where I write primarily about travel and history while continuing to explore Peru.
I freelance for various websites and publications, and also have two blogs of my own. The first, TarapotoLife, is about this particular region of Peru and all the fun and frustrations of living here. The second, HowtoPeru.com, is a site for backpackers in Peru, an honest travel advice blog written from experience.Where, when and why did you move abroad?
Well, the “why?” involved a girl, as is often the case. Before living here I had backpacked solo all over South America for about a year. During that trip, I met a girl in Tingo Maria, another Peruvian jungle town. We made our way up through Ecuador and Colombia together, before heading back to Peru. By this point I was out of cash, so I went back to the UK for seven months, scraped some money together and came back out (in May 2009).
We chose Tarapoto because it’s a very relaxed place, it’s not too far from her family (and not too close!) and it has decent connections with the rest of Peru (by air, land and river).
What challenges did you face during the move?
I came back out to Peru with my backpack, not much money and no real plans. It was all a bit sketchy, really. We travelled up the north coast from Lima, cut inland, and headed towards the jungle towns. We didn’t know where we were going to live at that point, but after a few days in Tarapoto we decided to stay put. We were travelling so light that any normal problems associated with relocating were not really an issue.
How did you find somewhere to live?
We stayed in a hostel for about a week, all the while looking for a place to rent. We wanted a cheap mini-apartment or something similar, but people here generally rent out small, single rooms, while the modern apartments were beyond our budget. Luckily, I stumbled across two rooms for rent on the top floor of a building. The stunning views across Tarapoto sealed the deal, and I decided to rent the whole top floor (it’s basic, but there’s a refreshing breeze and the rent is about $100 per month).
Are there many other expats in your area?
There are a few expats scattered across the town. Some of them are retirees, some have set up businesses here, and others seem to divide their time between Peru and their home countries. I’ve never really gone out of my way to seek out other expats, but one Dutchman has become a valued friend. We have a shared sense of humour, and often laugh about the cultural differences, the quirks and frustrations, that we are exposed to as Europeans in Peru!
What is your relationship like with the locals?
I think I have a good relationship with the locals. The people in my neighbourhood are really friendly, very respectful and good fun. They are always inviting me for a quick beer, so much so that I have to turn them down half the time or I’d never get any work done. Being the only foreigner in my part of town, I’m known simply as “el Gringo,” but in an affectionate manner (I hope!)
What do you like about life where you are?
Tarapoto is incredibly relaxed. People go about their business with minimal fuss, partly due to the heat but also because the general attitude is very laid-back. It’s also a really safe city, night and day; in all my time here, I’ve never felt any edginess or threat towards me, something that I have experienced in other South American towns and cities.
Tarapoto isn’t the most beautiful city in the world (no colonial architecture etc), but it is spacious and surrounded by countryside and jungle. Rivers, waterfalls and lakes dot the surrounding area, and there’s a whole world of exploration waiting on my doorstep.
What do you dislike about your expat life?
Inefficiency and a lack of logic and reasoning! Seriously, I’m a very easy going guy, but sometimes things here just don’t make any sense, and the way businesses and services are run can get frustrating. Getting the simplest of things done often involves a herculean effort, and time frames mean nothing (“mañana” means “tomorrow, give or take a month or two”).
What advice would you give to anyone following in your footsteps?
Be patient. Don’t try to make your life in Peru like your life back home. You really do have to accept the local idiosyncrasies, the sometimes strange beliefs and the general way of doing things. It really is a different lifestyle, maybe not so much in the major cities, but certainly in the provinces.
What are your plans for the future?
I want to build up my reputation as a travel writer, and eventually be widely recognised as a reliable, authoritative source within the Peru/South America travel niche. Things are definitely heading in the right direction, but I’m still relatively new to freelancing (and blogging), and things will take time.