After a 12 hour rapid speed boat up the Amazon river, skipping along the murky waters as the driver expertly avoided water hazards, such as floating tree barks, lonesome fishermen and suicidal river dolphins, we arrived at our destination, Iquitos.
Once there we were whisked away by a moto-taxi man, his brief being somewhere without wildlife in the rooms (being in the middle the Amazon) and affordable.
As we set off from the dock and in towards town, the number of moto-taxi´s weaving in and out at speed increased dramatically until our arriving at the Plaza de Armas, which was a whirling one way system alive with the sounds of these wildly decorated, buzzing and beeping taxi´s. Iquitos being the largest city not accessible by road or rail, as a result only has a handful of cars, but a reported 25,000, easier to import, Tuk-tuk/moto-taxi´s! It certainly makes the city feel alive, as everyone uses this super cheap mode of transport to go anywhere.
So we were dropped off at a very reasonable hotel and checked in before exploring the city, we were immediately pounced upon by a gang of street hawkers all selling ´the best Amazon tours`, after battling them off we found a nice place for lunch. The food was incredible! We tried a variety of places in our time in Iquitos, most of them exceptional, serving delicious cuisine which was always very varied, with notable world influences. A real surprise highlight.
After shopping around the 3-4 day tours they all sounded quite similar, and the hard sell was getting tiring. Most of the places these people were offering to take us weren´t even in the Pacaya-Samiria national park, which obviously has hunting restrictions etc. and so the likelihood of seeing any live animals would´ve been decreased.
I chatted to the lovely man at the tourist information centre iPeru who confirmed this was a factor, and he could recommend some guides within the park. As he was chatting away I spied on the promotional TV screen beside him an incredible humming bird with two crazy long tail feathers, both with bright blue bulbous bits on the end, “pardon Senor”, pointing at the TV, “Does he live around here?!”
“No, no, that´s the Marvellous Spatuletail, which is endemic to a remote part of the valleys in the Chachapoyas region, Northern Peru” Pointing at a map he´d unfolded. (The region was parallel to our latitude but quite far away.) Wow I thought, somehow, I vow to see you soon Mr Spatuletail.
Back to the plot, we rang the guides in the national reserve park, who were attempting to charge what seemed like an unfair amount and they were very unwilling to negotiate. This it seemed wasn´t to be our jungle time, and so we decided to continue enjoying the magic of Iquitos for another day.
Our final 24 hours involved a boat trip to the beautiful butterfly sanctuary and a slightly crazy evening where mi amigo managed to drive and crash a moto-taxi into one of the handful of cars in the city, nothing serious, but the driver strangely/drunkenly(?) encouraged me to try to do better, I couldn´t, no injuries but a gained respect for the insane skills these people have while negotiating the traffic of the city.
So we were to leave Iquitos, and continue our journey, the options were to fly or to brave one of the cargo ships which meander up the river every few days. To the Cargo ship port!
We were told we needed hammocks sleep in and some Tupperware to be served food in. The journey time was uncertain but the cost was 40 soles ($13) and the departure was at 6pm, a quick supplies dash and last moto-taxi adrenaline hit and we were ready! The ship was busy with people hanging hammocks but we were clearly the only tourists aboard. I could feel eyes watching as I attempted to tie my hammock securely, making up knots, looking experienced, a quick sit down strength test saw me hit the deck, and bounce back up, raised by laughter and smiles from all around, sabotage? Nope. Second time round and my hammock was safe and a perfect height, I was then asked to help share my new found knott knowledge to help hang my comrades hammocks, Rob the now knott specialist.
So after sunset we set off, maybe 25 people on our deck, swinging next to each other, chatting, whilst looking out over the deep dark Amazon, magical. It´d been a long day and everyone began dosing off, securely fastened like bats to a cave roof.
Hello morning! and there was general movement among the people, our experienced old man neighbour (I´m bad at names) explained it was breakfast time, our Tupperware was filled with a sweet milky substance and we were given two sandwiches each, edible for sure. The day was spent meeting the people aboard (one man pulling a live parrot out of his luggage for us to meet), being fed, hanging out on the roof and stopping at various villages along the way. At each village people would come aboard and add cargo, or we´d drop people and their goods off, whilst these exchanges were being made, hawkers would come and try and sell all manner of things, we tried some crazy nuts, a disgusting root drink thing and almost brought a monkey for 50 soles.
After 4 days 3 nights of this simple life, we slightly disappointingly arrived at our destination, where decisions and interactions outside of the ship had to be made, ahhh. I asked one of the ladies who´d been friendly with us on the boat how best to get to Tarapoto, she said to join her and she´d give us more information on the bus. Jaddy gave us the address of her friend who lived in a place called Rioja in the North, she said we should go visit him and then maybe carry on, seeing some more of the North’s highlights. I agreed. Also noticing this was the around the same region as my dream bird lived.
After an amazing Saturday night in Tarapoto at the enormous Anaconda night club, we started our journey to find Raul in Rioja, the contact we´d been given on the bus. It was a long but beautiful journey, the second leg to be done in a 3 hour taxi ride. 2 hours in and we winding through the valleys of Chachapoyas, watching the scenery pass by…. “Stop!! Por Favour!” I blurted!
Not incredibly, but amazingly, we had hit one of the regions hummingbird sanctuaries, the driver keen to repeatedly mention this wasn´t part of the deal, although he´d charged us for 4 people when there was only 3, I quickly explained to him I´d been waiting a lifetime for this moment (a moths lifetime?). Clearly more excited at the opportunity at maybe seeing one of these crazy hummingbirds than my amigos, they joined me enthusiastically nevertheless. At the viewing platform there were hummingbirds of all different shapes, colours and sizes arriving for dinner every minute, but a quick glance at the guide who´d joined us´ shaking head, confirmed we hadn´t seen one yet, and then… there it was; magical. (PHOTO) (BBC Planet Earth link)
The moment cut somewhat short by the taxi drivers concern for his dinner going cold and his angry wife, but nevertheless the rest of the journey was spent shaking my head at the amazingness of every moment spent so far in Peru (a week?). Gazing out of the window, night had fallen and amongst the stars I saw the top of a mountain ablaze, it was at least 2000m high and not a volcano, it was all too much, a question for another day. We arrived in Rioja late, checked in anywhere, and dreamt.
The next day we knocked on for Raul who lived in a place called ´Museo Toe´, after the explanation of who we were, he greeted us warmly and led us through his liquor bar(!), past his modest sized museum(?) and to our room on the second floor, “You can stay here as long as you want” he said, make yourselves at home then come down for a drink.
We, slightly bemused, sorted our room out, then went and joined him and his amiga downstairs at the bar, we tried his ´7 Rieces´ (7 roots) liquor which brought flashbacks of the drink on the slowboat but with liquor comfort, not fun. Keen to politely clear the palette, we quickly ordered 3 Cocochamba´s, they too came in 200ml servings, he explained it was Aguadiente (sugar cane liquor) with coca leaves left to soak for 6 months. It tasted amazing, and made me want to hug the World and Raul for his hospitality, more so than usual, we finished our drinks, remembered we hadn´t eaten, and said we were popping out to eat some chicken or something. He said that´s fine, here are the keys, if you´re back at 9 we can watch a TV program about me/with me in it, chevre we said, slightly confused, and headed out.
Back at five past nine, expecting him and his friends sat around a TV, we open the door, but there was seemingly no-one in the bar, then Rauls Amiga pops out of the back room, “Where´s Raul?” we ask, come through she says, we enter a small back room with a portable TV; ahhhh there´s Raul with a co-presenter, live on Peruvian TV of course (!?) I couldn´t make out lots of the content but with help, got the live shout-out to his Portuguese, English and Welsh guests currently sharing his home, and learning the culture. The TV studio´s were in Rioja and he was home within an hour, we bought him a drink, shook hands then retired to bed.
We spent the next few days with Raul, learning about and visiting various places, one day an untouched wildlife rich Nature Reserve called Tingana, in Moyobamba by canoe for a quarter of the price of the pushy touts we met in Iquitos. We left Raul and Rioja, giving him some of the photos we had together as keepsakes and he in return gave us each a signed copy of his book, a sad farewell.
From Rioja we headed to Chachapoyas, a relatively large town similar to most other Peruvian towns, the centre squared as standard called the Plaza de Armas, making for easy navigation of new towns.
An hour from Chachapoyas lays Kuelap, a pre-Inca fortress built on the top of a 4000m high mountain; luckily the bus takes you pretty much to the door. Our tour guide was fascinating and even more fun after he´d shared some of Rauls´ Cocochamba which we´d purchased and taken along for the ride. There are many fascinating things about the fortress which I´m sure Wikipedia would love to tell you about, my favourites being; the few entrance gates that exist are wedge shaped so that advancing armies get wedged at the end and are dealt with one by one. The whole fortress is built like a compass and in the centre lies a miniature rock compass, a Finnish girl with gadgets clarified the accuracy with her super geography watch. Finally, the Chachapoyans built their houses circular for harmony but also because this design is more effectively anti-seismic than the Incas square building design. The Chachapoyans were defeated after 80 years of Inca attack, where they were boxed into the fortress which had no water or fresh food, this had previously been supplied by the their surrounding villages. Doh.
After this sensory overload I was ready for some beach life and so headed towards the coast, Trujillo. I called by Chiclayo, which boats the biggest witchcraft market in South America. I picked up various things for my Souvenir website but mainly got stared out by monkey’s skulls with red gem eyes and lured into the back rooms of strange smelling stalls and encouraged to sample various coloured powders. I declined to try the powders but gave them a smell, they all smelt the same like herbs or dried grass cuttings, I navigated my way out of the market which was now reverberating somewhat and there was slight sense of it being a living breathing organism. On the 3 hour bus to the Trujillo, near the beach I was glad I hadn´t sampled anymore, as though although my bag was safe with the tourist police, that stuff must have been pretty potent and crawling through the streets of Chiclayo with my camera etc may have been a recipe for disaster. In the correct surroundings with a Shaman etc there are arguments for consuming these mind expanding substances.
Arriving in the surf town of Huanchaco I was re-united with Sam and we hung out at this typical surf town for a few days, because the surf here is so strong, the local fishermen have developed a unique straw canoe/surf board to get out and in through the swells, the world’s first surfers possibly.
In addition to this we visited the world’s biggest Adobe city Chan-chan, which was very impressive and a perfect venue for a multimedia music and art exhibition I dream to organize one day. We also lunched with Jaddy (from the slow boat) at her home with her parents and son, a delicious lunch followed by stories from her parents, and some beautiful live music from her son and his friend.
Peru´s magic emanates from everyone and everything here..
In other news:
• The Tingana nature reserve we visited with Raul is nicknamed ´The enchanted forest of the walking trees´ as it´s often flooded, the trees roots system extend into the water, with or without psychoactive help you can see how they look to be marching through the water. Lord of the rings type stuff!
• We just finished an unguided, un-donkeyed 4-day trek through the Cordillera Blanca, too tired to let you know now.
• Andy from University arrives here in Lima in 12 hours to begin 1 month of Birthday fun, whoohoo!
Hope everyone is well well,