We got off the boat in Iquitos, Peru, at a ridiculous hour (5:30am), but somehow managed to find an almost empty hostel (and cheap – $4) right next door to what became my very regular hang out, the Karma Café. The hostel also had two kittens, so I was very happy – I gave them lots of yummy cat food and tuna, which they loved.
Anyway, enough of the cat stories for now, that first sunny morning I made my way straight to Karma Café (1ft away from the hostel front door) and settled into one of the massive sofas with my laptop and ordered a tuna melt ciabatta and a fruit smoothie. Many hours later, Hannes and Catherine came in and said there was a football game on that afternoon. So we jumped in a tuk tuk (called a pecky pecky here) and joined the hordes of locals to buy our tickets – the wall of the ticket office had the team names actually painted on it; we felt for whoever had to paint over that every time different teams played… We went for the middle-priced tickets, only to discover it meant we were in the sunniest spot in the stadium (everyone else was hugging the top and bottom stands for the tiniest bit of shade). We couldn’t even buy beer – the only things the vendors sold were ice ream sticks, slushies and cake. Yes, we were fully aware that if this happened in England (the selling of cake as much as the lack of beer) either not a single ticket would be sold or the Arsenal fans would be smashing cake in the faces of the slushie vendors. Anyway, our team lost and the stadium was empty before the game was even over.
We then went off to a tour agency (via the minimarket to buy beer) to book an Amazon jungle tour. The guide, Gary, was going out dancing that night with an Aussie couple who was going on the tour the next day, so we decided to join them, in what turned out to be the biggest flop in the history of nights of intended dancing and revelry. It started promisingly: the Aussies and Gary both gave me the leftovers of their dinner, one of my favourite things to happen. But then Catherine and Hannes decided to stay at the boulevard (the riverfront where there’s entertainment and food etc) while we went off to a club that was known for playing salsa (the Aussies – Lloyd and Kishka – are salsa dancers). As we didn’t have phones we just told the others to meet us there. Then the bar turned out to be an empty dance club without a hint of salsa – or other patrons. So we decided to move on to a floating bar on the river, but first had to walk back to the boulevard to tell the others. They weren’t there anymore, but a mean stray dog was, and going against all my sane, rational knowledge, I ran backwards away from it when it started coming at me. Well aware I never forked out for the rabies jab, I panicked, while all the town’s homeless people laughed at me. We then retreated in the direction of the floating bar only to discover that what sounds on paper like the coolest bar ever had been ruined by the fact that it had hippy Russian management and a horrific clientele. For example: I saw Gary with a group of people, and so went and stood next to him to say hi. Immediately a Canadian girl in the group turned to me and said “Can we help you?” Seriously. The rest of the people were equally idiotic, hippy travellers in stupid clothes, no shoes and ridiculous haircuts, dancing stupid hippy dances to the Russian techno music. The Aussies and I quickly retreated and went to bed. Only I got back to my hostel to find Hannes and Catherine had got back before me and locked the shared dorm room from the inside. I was not impressed, and was forced to make Spanish small talk with a Peruvian guy until 2am. The kittens were glad for the extra company though.
The next morning I dragged a very hungover Catherine out of bed to go to Belen market, where they sell things like smoked monkey. It was in a rough part of town so I only got a couple of photos – you can see the chicken limb medley on flickr. That afternoon I went to the zoo, which is about 30 mins away. My tuk tuk driver offered to accompany me into the zoo and I said yes, feeling guilty, though I’m not sure why. We wandered around, I held an anaconda, then I told the tuk tuk guy I wanted to go swimming. He took me to an awesome part of the Amazon where the locals go swimming on sunny afternoons, and we watched the sun go down while paddling in the brown river.
We got back to town and the driver said he’d meet me after my Amazon trip to take me round town. I said yeah whatever and went for a very much-needed shower. That evening I went off to a little market, wandered around, then went back to Karma.
The next morning was the start of our jungle trip. It was two hours in the car to Nauta then two hours in a boat to get to the jungle lodge. I shared a room with Catherine, and our other roommates included a scorpion, a frog, a spider, lots of beetles and cockroaches and many other unidentifiable bugs.
Our first venture out on to the river (we couldn’t really walk anywhere as it was the rainy season and the jungle was flooded) we went to a small village where I got squeezed around the neck by a boa constrictor, had my ears nibbled by a baby porcupine and got a hug from a baby sloth. The village was really nice, just huts surrounded by forest and river, but the best part was the local jail – a wooden hut with two cabin cells – each 3x3ft, and a chair outside. You don’t wanna go stealing someone’s piranha in this town.
That night we went back out on the boat (just a dugout canoe with a motor) to look for caimans, and we all got to hold the little croc before he got fed up and asked to be placed gently back in the water. It was really cool boating in the flooded rainforest at night – the sounds are so different to daytime (lots of frogs) and you can just see tons of glowing insects floating on the weeds.
The next morning we attempted to fish for piranhas using string tied to a stick with a piece of raw chicken dangling off the end (we caught none, the other group got 10…), but the highlight of the morning was Gary waking up a nocturnal monkey by thinking it was dead and shimmying up a tree to poke it. Possibly the funniest bit was when the boat started drifting away and he was left clinging to the branch-less tree ripping a layer of skin of his arms and legs, kicking his leg behind to locate the awol boat and trying to look like he was fine…
At the cabin was also a couple of Swedish girls, Malin and Hannah. That afternoon Catherine and Hannes decided to go back to Iquitos, so it was me and the Swedish girls and two Swedish guys left at the jungle lodge. They missed out on the greatest part of the trip though – a impromptu dolphin display where about 20 dolphins surrounded the dugout canoe that held just me, Gary and a driver (is that what a boat-motor-puller is called?) and started jumping in groups all around us. Incredible. When I got back to Iquitos Hannes wouldn’t believe me till he saw the video, it was a pretty rare sight to see. That evening I got attacked by a swarm of red ants while out on the boat again (well I got three bites but they hurt), then later the Swedish guys and some new arrivals did Ayauashka, the hallucinogenic drug, in the dining area of the lodge. Given that this drug involved a lot of puking before you get the effects, I didn’t fancy having breakfast in that room the next morning (I did though, of course). Anyway, I went to bed to the sound of chanting and puking, while a new arrival, a rather large spider, stared at me through my mosquito net and dared me to fall asleep.
Before I went to bed though, I had a rather embarrassing incident – normally in the lodge the generator and therefore the lights would go out at around 10pm, so at 9pm I got undressed to have a shower before bed. The light in the bathroom didn’t work so I had my torch in my hand, ready. Then the generator went off early and I dropped the torch. In the pitch, pitch dark I heard the dreadful sound of the torch coming apart and the batteries rolling in different directions. I had to feel my way to the cabin next door to use theirs. Standing in my underwear in the Amazon asking for a torch is not my proudest moment.
The next morning a tarantula in the dining room but my eight-legged beast to shame, but against all my fears I almost held it – I say almost. Gary tried to put it on my arm but I was panicking too much so chickened out. He kept saying it doesn’t bite, only to admit afterwards that it does bite but is “only a little bit poisonous”. Then we went for a walk in the only bit of the jungle not underwater, where we followed the fresh footprints of a baby jaguar.
The Swedish lot and I went back to Iquitos on the third day, and all stayed at the hostel I was in before. I spent the afternoon soaking all my clothes and bags in hot water as I thought I’d got bed bugs from the lodge, only to find out the bites were from ‘chiggers’ – a jungle bug that I really hope hasn’t left me with permanent scars – I was (well, still am) covered in hundreds of tiny bites. That night I went to a live music bar with the Aussies, which had a band who thought they were Peru’s answer to Bon Jovi and an audience of nine who couldn’t care less. Still, we got up and danced, which encouraged a few sheepish locals to join us only for as long as we were on the dance floor.
On our last night we had some pisco sours until midnight, when the alcohol ban came in. For Friday, Saturday and Sunday Peru was completely dry due to the elections – people weren’t even allowed groups of friends round their house in case they discussed politics, which I kinda thought was the point of politics… Anyway we managed to get served some ridiculously cheap beer behind closed doors back at the music bar. The next morning Catherine, Hannes, Malin, Hannah and I were due to fly to Lima together. The flight was short and painless and we were soon in Lima looking at the foggy beach and shivering. Quite a change from the hot, humid jungle.
We passed the day wandering around and trying to work out if the couple making out in Love Park were indeed father and daughter (they weren’t) and going to the mall for ice cream. That night Peru was still dry, and although I don’t really usually drink, getting hold of alcohol became a challenge I felt I had to accept. In no time I was clutching a bottle of rum (two small glasses of Cuba Libre and I was down) and chatting to a couple of 19-year-old English boys who reminded me so much of Howard, my brother. They told me what they get up to when they’re bored – including putting a bee in the freezer till it falls asleep, tying one end of string to its leg and the other to their own finger, and watching the bee fly around in circles when it wakes up. Then they tied a message to the string for the bee to pass on – but he just went and got caught in a tree. Ah the things you talk about when you’re holed up in a hostel. At around 11pm the lady working there started telling us to go to bed. It was really weird, and we sat there whispering for about four or five more hours while she went *cough shh cough* in between demanding we go to bed. We stayed up just because she told us not to.
I eventually left Malin and the English guy to it and went to bed. The next day Catherine left for Cusco, while I went downtown with Hannes and the Swedish girl, plus Hannah’s boyfriend Anton. For a city that everyone says is a hole I thought it was really gorgeous. We got some overpriced cerviche then took a tourist bus up a mountain to look over the entire city. My bus to Huaraz was at 10pm so I left them all to go to a hostel that served alcohol to get my eight-hour bus north into the Peruvian Andes…