Friday, November 1, 2013
Tuesday, September 17, 2013
. The next day we had to head to a port city about 2 hours away from Tarapoto called Urimaguas to get a boat to Iquitos. Iquitos is the only city in Peru that you can only access by boat or plane because it is surrounded on all sides by the Amazon. The boat was a cargo ship that you can buy space to hang your hammock to sleep or a cabin with a metal bare bones bunk bed to travel down the Amazon and arrive to Iquitos by boat. We got a space for the hammocks and a cabin for our stuff and just in case someone couldn’t sleep hammock style. And yes there are showers and food served on the boat. Granted you are straight bathing in river water but dirty water is better than no water.. The boat trip is hypothetically a 3 day trip. I say hypothetically because the actual travel takes 3 days but there is the pretty high potential hat you will spend at least one day sleeping in the boat on the dock. Of course when we arrived they said we were leaving at 6pm sharp that night. That was just a bold faced lie. We did leave the dock at 6pm but not to head to Iquitos, to head to another part of the dock where they were building a new ship. We spent a solid two hours trying to pull one giant flatbed cargo boat propped up on logs off of land with another giant flatbed cargo boat in the water attached by one side with a thick metal string. As you can imagine this plan did not turn out as planned. After about two hours of strain on the metal rope it snapped in half like a twig with a loud snap and flying sparks. The wonders of construction projects in the developing world. . The next day roughly every 2 hours we were going to leave in 2 hours from that moment. I have become accustomed to “hora Peruwana” but even the best of us begins to get frustrated when hora Peruwana turns into hora you have been on a docked boat for 24 hours with no end in sight. Thankfully at 6pm we left and after another hour of pulling, successfully this time, the boat off land into water we headed out towards Iquitos. And it was defiantly worth the wait. The boat has an eclectic mix of people. The first floor of travelers is mostly Peruvian locals traveling for whatever reason. The second floor was mostly filled with backpackers, foreign travelers and a handful of Peruvians. On our boat there was a large group of young Haitians making their way to Brazil in search of a job. Every evening a young woman with a crystal clear voice would sing Creole hymns full of hope and sorrow. There were also backpackers from all over the world, mostly European and South American, traveling anywhere from 2 weeks to 2 years. There was also a Peruvian hair dresser who used to work in one of the nicest Peruvian salons but was moving to live with his brother in Iquitos, but we will get to him later. The first day I suffered from bouts of narcolepsy. It’s hard to maintain consciousness when you are sitting in a hammock all day. Thankfully I was able to take in the view the next two days and not fall asleep in the middle of sentences. The first two days we were traveling on a tributary of the Amazon. The water was a grayish color and about footballs field length wide. On either side there was grass up to 5 feet tall, twisted trees lining the shore line and the occasional small village dotting the landscape. Since it was dry season the river was low and there was a clear white marking on all the vegetation about 3-5 feet above the water marking the peaks of the river during rainy season. . The first day and a half of travel the houses were few and far between. Every so often you would pass a single house made of banana would and propped up on stilts. Normally not too long (under an hour) after spotting the first house there would be a small cluster of 5-10 houses, each made of banana wood and only one or two rooms. Sometimes the houses only had one or two walls, since it’s unnecessary to enclose yourself against the cold. These small villages often included a small school house and a cleared off area with something resembling goal posts that served as a futbol field. These villages were small and isolated. Often there were paths leading from the river into dense dark, tall, thick jungle. I always wondered where the paths lead and how on earth people didn’t just get lost and eaten by snakes when they took these dark and mysterious paths. . There are parts of the Peruvian jungle where there are still un-contacted tribes. People living in the heart of the jungle the same way they have for thousands of years with no idea what else is out there. Obviously the villages that were right on the shore line have been contacted but I got a sense that their contact was limited. There were rarely ever power lines in the villages, no cell phone towers and a sense that although they had been contact they still lived a very traditional jungle life. When we would pass thick uninterrupted jungle or see a path leading deep into the jungle I always wondered where the un-contacted tribes are. What must it be like to live in a community and have the people you have known your whole life and nature be all that you know. These are people who live I harmony in nature and have no concept of the information age which we live in. They are free to live regardless of the rest of the world. Their survival is dependent on a deep understanding of nature and skills honed over thousands of years. Something most other members of humanity have forgotten and replaced with dependency on technology and machinery. Even those who still use the tools of the past or understand nature in a way most Americans never will are getting pushed aggressively into the modern age. It was hard on the boat not to get overwhelmed by the vastness, majesty and spirit of the jungle. This is going to sound incredibly corny but I’ll say it anyways. The jungle is a very spiritual place. While on the boat you could feel the spirit of the jungle all around you. It was teeming with life in so many ways and yet so fragile. I think it is the ultimate representation of the power of nature, its fragility and our dependence on it. I’m the first to admit that I got really reflective about my life while sitting on the roof of the boat staring out at the sunset over the water and watching us gracefully move through space. It was so happy and peaceful, something unlike anything else I have experienced in my life. As we got closer to Iquitos we began to see larger villages and stop to drop off the cargo. These villages were by no means large; they were just larger than microscopic. In these small villages of 20-40 houses we would drop off everything from eggs to beer to laundry detergent. It was obvious that the way that these villages got basic necessities and food stuffs was from the cargo ships. Every time we would dock to deliver something at least 10 women 15 children would rush on to the boat to sell food and beverages to the people on board. In the process of selling their goods at least 1 woman would get stranded on the boat, caught up in a sale the moment the bell rang and the boat left the port. To return home either a small wooden boat that looked like a canoe with a motor attached would come speeding after us from her village to get her or the small attached to the cargo ship would escort the stranded women home. Obviously these women could move from moving boat to moving boast as if they were walking on pavement. I imagined myself trying to do the same thing and just face planting into the water. The closer we got to Iquitos the larger the villages got and the more chaotic each stop became. People would be rushing on and off bustling in either direction, passing on precariously placed wooden planks with a grace I could never even dream of. Some time half way through the second day of travel we started traveling on the Amazon. Let me tell you it is a fucking huge river. That may seem like the world’s most obvious statement considering it is visible from space but it is a statement worth saying. It is about 3 football fields wide and there are huge tributaries or forks in the river that completely distort any sense of direction. Suddenly shorelines where you could once see clear detail seemed far off. The water was brown instead of gray and it was hard to orient yourself as to which way the current was going. We seemed to be engulfed by river and every so often the snout and fin of a pink dolphin would pop up. And yes in case you were wondering they are in fact pink. Our original plan was to get off in a port city called Nauta and take a car into Iquitos. Now I know I said Iquitos was only accessible by boat, but from within the department you can reach it by car. Getting off in Nauta would have turned 8 hours of boat travel into an hour and a half of car travel. Violent protests about a newly passes accountably law prevented us, so we spent another day on the boat. Naturally it was at this point that my friend sweet talked her way into a free haircut on the boat from the award-winning hairdresser. He completed her hair with a cute cut and then proceeded to do my other friends hair. It was at this point I decided it would be an awesome idea to also get my hair cut on the boat. Because how could getting a free hair cut while floating down the Amazon be a bad idea? Before starting the hair cut I was very animate about how I wanted to maintain the length of my hair. Past horrible haircuts had scared me and I did not want a repeat. I will say that it was not the worst hair cut I have ever received but it was the most shocking. As he flipped my hair upside down and twisted it I wondered where he was going with it. He then promptly proceeded to lop off three inches of admittedly mostly dead and uneven hair. But even still I was not prepared for such a thing. I made what can only be described as the world’s largest gasp and stood up in horror. Nearly the entire boat heard my shock. After about 2 minutes of freaking out I realized that I had dug my grave and now the only thing to let him do was continue with the hair cut. In retrospect not my most well thought out plan but now I can say I got a haircut while floating down the Amazon so at least there’s that. When we finally made it into Iquitos it was the afternoon of the final day of programmed protests. Even though there was no protesting still going there were still signs of the previous days protests littered on the streets. Literally. When we got off the boat we had to hunt for a mototaxi to take us into the city center because none of them wanted to due to roads being closed from the protest. When we finally came about 2 mototaxis willing to take us I understood what they were talking about. Right at the entrance to the street from the port there was a huge pile of burning trash. The roads leading out were blocked with a hodgepodge of people playing futbol in the street, trash, small bon fires of god knows what and turned over mototaxis. We had to weave our way in and out of obstacles to find a clear path. All of the stores along the road and in the plaza had their doors half shut, shut or with a person standing guard. There were about 20 riot police standing and chatting in the plaza de armas. All around there was a creepy aura that something was about to happen. Fortunately for us it had already happened and we were just on the tail end. Iquitos is a chaotic, hot, clustered, vibrant and fascinating city. You could spend an entire week there and not do everything there is to do. The markets are filled with monkey skulls and real tiger skin belts, countless isles every kind of fruit, nut and aji imaginable, and exotic foods. I indulged in eating grilled slugs, piranha, crocodile and a juice made of agroboina, honey, dark sweet beer and other random things I can no longer remember. Since it is surrounded by water most of the travel involves taking a boat combi. Which is amazing. These boasts are small canoe looking boats, with a wooden roof over the majority of the boat and can fit up to let’s say 15 people. Naturally everyone from the selva can get in and out of these small boats as if they are casually walking off a subway platform. I on the other hand look like an elephant trying to cross a balance beam. Not so smooth. Most of our adventures in Iquitos involved seeing animals in one way or another. The two notable trips were one trip to a very depressing zoo that was also accompanied by a swimming hole formed by the Amazon and jungle animals that looked like a giant guinea pig (roughly the size of a small dog). The entire time I saw them I just kept thinking of the South Park episode about the Peruvian Pan Flute. The other was a trip to a significantly less depressing animal rescue that saved animals that were abused, abandoned or on the black market. Since I have seemed to talk forever I will give you only one highlight from each place. In the animal rescue I saw a fight go down between a cockatoo and a monkey. Please note the cockatoo won. Birds are scary as shit. The monkey accepted his defeat stole as many lichi fruits as he could hold and scampered off. In the zoo with severely inadequately sized cages a group of Peruvian teens were poking their fingers through a monkey cage and taking photos as close to the monkey as possible. As, what I can only think was a form of retaliation for pissing him off, the monkey quickly stole one of the girls scrunchies and no matter how much she begged he would not return it. I think it´s a fruitless effort to beg a pissed off monkey for your things back. Well here is will I come to a stopping point. If you made it this far I applaud you.