Lagunas and Iquitos
6/7/06 32 °C
Part One: Getting There is Half the...
I started my 3 day journey to the Amazon basin on a combi bus from Chachapoyas to Pedro Ruiz. The combi looked promising which should have been a warning sign because it:
1. Stalled for 2 hours to wait for more passengers (Peruvian combis can't start their journey until there at least 6 people hanging off the roof)
2. Stalled for another hour because there was some kind of bizarre sea street festival going on with pirate men dancing with white horses.
3. Tried to bypass a truck on a windy cliff with everyone screaming for the driver to spare their lives.
Six hours later, I found myself in dusty Pedro Ruiz trying to flag down a bus for Tarapoto and all the buses kept flying past me (can you give a girl a BREAK?) until a local felt bad for me and showed me how it's done...stand in the middle of the road and yell at the top of your lungs for the driver to stop at which point he will either: stop, run you over, or try to pitch an empty soda bottle at your head. Luckily, the first happened and probably the third too and I got the next bus out. At 8 pm, right on schedule, we had the obligatory flat tire and I ended up in Tarapoto in the middle of the night instead of at noon, jumped in a mototaxi and flopped down to sleep at a nice family hospedaje with clean rooms and cold water.
The next morning, I tried to will the Peruvian transport system to be more efficient but that's like asking me to not be long winded. I thought I outsmarted the system by taking a taxi to my next destination, Yurimaguas, and although the driver promised me every half hour we would leave "pronto!", we left four hours later. No matter, in the meantime fellow taxi driver Johnny took me on a cab tour of Tarapoto, where we visited Grandma Elvira's garden where she has 60 different types of orchids and ate some delicious 3 sol ceviche. My taxi finally left and what was supposed to be a two hour journey lasted eight because there is a bridge in the middle of the way that is only open 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the evening. So I got to port town Yurimaguas in the evening to yet another family hospedaje. There, I was supposed to catch a cargo boat to Lagunas which is is a jungle town departing point for Pacaya Samiria National Reserve, a tranquil non touristy alternative to the jungle tourism mess in other parts of the country. I was luckily helped by a little Brazilian old man that had taken a liking to me, Sisan, who helped my buy a cheap hammock for the boat, helped me pick a boat, and helped calm my nerves when I realized I had no idea what I was doing by myself 3 days from the nearest city and heading on a cargo boat to the middle of the Peruvian jungle. Well, he actually just bought me an ice cream cone but that always seems to do the trick.
I caught the boat Linares the next day, hung my hammock next to 200 flapping chickens (the cow section is smellier, trust me), and settled down for the 1 day journey. I hadn't seen a single tourist for 3 days but then last minute, a group of British and French people got on and quickly convinced me to go on the jungle tour with them. We ended up in Lagunas that night where we fought through the crowd to scramble up a muddy cliff to meet the tour guide who led us to EcoLodge, a friendly and basic hostel in the middle of port Lagunas which has a total of 3 cars and no restaurants for 9,000 people.
Part Two: Where's My Mommmmmmy...
The next day we headed off, seven of us, with four guides down the Tibillo River which meets the Amazon River further up north. It was Andy and Ally, a British couple; Edward and Pamela, British singles; Pamela from France; and Ana from Lima with Cesar, Rupert, Hill, and Esteban as our guides. We sat in dugout canoes built by Cesar's dad with machetes and fishing spears fashioned by our guides rolling down the jungle river, strange trees and plants hanging over, monkeys all around, and insects the size of your head buzzing toward your head. Brilliant! On the way, we stopped to chop some fresh pineapple and saw a 3 toed sloth, otherwise known as "perezoso" (lazy) whose fastest speed is 3 meters per minute when its young is in danger. We ended up at camp that night where our guides quickly put up a makeshift shelter out of materials in the forest and we slept on the hard ground surrounded by basic mosquito nets. Esteban woke us up in the middle of the night to show us a cute baby crocodile that I cutely stayed away from.
The next day, we found a giant tarantula in someone's backpack and continued downriver deeper into the jungle. We went fishing along the way and I had no luck, just caught a billion piraniahs that chomp at you as they swing from the pole, which sent me off screaming almost capsizing me and Esteban from our canoe. That night, me and Ana helped with dinner, chopping vegetables on the canoe oars (for the record, I WON rock, paper, scissors but still let Ana chop the potatoes instead of the onions). After dinner, we went out on a pitch black canoe ride crocodile hunting. You wave your flashlight around until you see a pair of red eyes staring back at you. Creepy!
On the third day, we went for a walk in the jungle with Rupert and Esteban while they explained the medicinal uses of so many jungle plants, like the Tangarana Negra which cures malaria and the Heyho tree which has snake anti venom. Here is what I learned:
Recipe for a Snake Bite
1. Kill the snake that bit you. Chop up its meat.
2. Mix the meat with the flesh of a special kind toad
3. Apply it to the bite and, voila, venom out!
It was interesting the way the local people combine different world thoughtswithout a second thought. In the same sentence, Rupert would say that a certain tree aids diabetes and that its vines are made out of ant legs. It's a mix of western and indigenous science, really cool. On the way back, we met up with the highly venomous ergon snake and the choro monkey which shook the branches violently until we were forced to retreat. After that, me and Esteban left the group which was doing a 4 day trip while I wanted to go for six days into virgin, untouched jungle.
Me and Esteban headed off on our single canoe further downriver. On our way to camp as the sun was setting, Esteban taught me how to spear a fish. You find a nocturnal fish sleeping deep in the river marshes, stand up nice and tall in the canoe, aim the 8 foot spear and lunge at the fish. He first showed me how it's done, effortlessly spearing an 18" monster and then handed me the spear. Now mind you, after 3 days of jungle life, I was hoping I'd be a real jungle woman, but the only sign of this were my unshaven legs. I was still squealing like a girl at everything and was scared of even the little baby fish. So it was safe to say that both me and Esteban were prepared to laugh at my idiotic efforts. But then, alas, a miracle happened. I poised my spear and lunged at the water...and speared a one footer! We were both amazed enough to look at it in wonder for a moment and from then on, I was true jungle woman. When we got to the campsite to cook dinner, I scaled both fish and fed the guts to the swarming piraniahs. I'm sooooo hardcore, man.
The next two days, Esteban and I rowed deeper and deeper into the jungle. We met up with pink dolphins, giant otters, a paiche which is the largest freshwater fish in the world, and an anaconda. On the last night, I built the fire by myself and we slept right out in the elements with no tarp: a huge sky of stars above my head and unidentified breathing on all sides (apparently, a group of foxes). We rowed upriver back to Lagunas tired, dirty, and eternally happy.
Part Three: Is There a Taxi Around Here??
Getting off Lagunas was another story. No one in the village knows exactly when the next cargo boat will come and speculation runs high all day. At 10 o'clock, someone came racing to the hostel and told us the boat was here(!!) but when we scrambled down to the water, we still had to wait 6 hours and then push through the rioting crowd to get a hammock space. Crammed with 100 people, we ended up hanging our hammocks on top of each other and then 30 minutes later, there was a huge crashing sound. We scrambled to the deck to see our boat crashing into a cliff. Noone looked too concerned so we went back to sleep.
It took a day and a half to get to Iquitos, the largest city in the world only accessible by air or water. It's cool, nothing but jungle for 3 days and then a huge bustling town right on the AMAZON RIVER! I spent a few days there browsing the witches' markets full of bird and cobra blood potions and the floating shantytown of Belen and then bid the gang goodbye to fly back to Lima, shopped til I dropped (too much money), and then almost missed my flight home because of a little too much salsa dancing mayhem. That's right, home. Can you believe it? From the jungle of Peru to the jungle of New Jersey. I guess it's all the same in the end.