Gorman´s Jaunt Begins, Preparations in Iquitos

Trip Start Sep 29, 2007
Trip End Dec 20, 2010

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Where I stayed
Mofla Hotel

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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

The train strike was nothing compared to what hit Cusco the next day. The nationwide strike was definitely in full swing by the time we awoke on the morning of July 9th. There were to be no taxis or transport of any kind to be driven on the streets of Cusco. We had also heard that there would be no flights out and no stores open nor food available. We really needed to be in Iquitos to start Peter Gormanīs jungle jaunt tour so we decided to risk the protests and marches and make our way to the airport to try our luck at getting out of Cusco.

I went to investigate in San Blas and found the streets to be empty. The advice we were given was to walk to the airport but it is very far. Jonathan who works at the hostel volounteered to walk us to a secret locals area and put us in a private car with a driver who was risking his car and himself to take us gringos to the airport in safety with the hope of making some money. We were most grateful to the guy who promised to drive us as close as possible to the airport. Apparently anyone who works on the strike day gets their shop signs taken away and rocks thrown at their cars, a little scary for us gringos sneaking around on a stealth mission around the city. The driver knew all the secret squirrel alleyways and map routes that would take years of driving Cusco to know. The guy would take swift turns when he thought there might be trouble and would get out of the car and check streets for people by listening and watching. The protest is fairly peaceful, just glass broken and tyres burned on the streets but then again..... the mob could turn at anytime and it was a little scary. We finally made it for our LAN flight from Cusco to Lima and were assureed that our Lima to Iquitos connection would fly despite the strike.

The flight was easy but once we got to Lima airport and were secure in the departure area lounge munching out on Dunken Donuts, we realised that the flight to Iquitos had been cancelled. We were told that it was very unsafe in Iquitos and that there was not much chance of flying on July 9th or even the 10th because of  the high number of passengers wanting to go. Whilst most people gave up on the flights for the day and went away, a  LAN desk attendant ended up getting us tickets on the one and only flight going to Iquitos at 6:55pm. Scored! and we made it to Iquitos.

After landing we found there to be Peter Gorman representatives waiting for us with a sign and five of his crew waiting on standby with mototaxis to take us to a bar and meet the man Peter Gorman and some of the other people we were to be going into the jungle with. Mr Gorman was fairly well tanked, honest and arrogant as hell, however a most lovable guy with a giant heart. I immediately liked him. After a quick welcome driink we retired to our hotel and were ready for the first day of the tour we didnīt know much about, to begin. It is all a magical mystery tour and there is real Amazon adventure in not knowing where we are going or just what we are doing next. Peter is full of surprises and is a natural storyteller never failing to delight us with an Indiana Jones style tale.

The first day we woke and a mototaxi took us to breakfast. We motortaxied around town and took longboats to a place called Pilpintuwasi which is a butterfly house and animal rehabilitation area owned by Peterīs friend. We saw the meeting of the waters of the darker Rio Nanay and the brown Amazon river and some sacred pink dolphins. At the house, not only did we see butterflies and caterpillars but some very friendly Amazonian creatures came out to play. When we arrived a white monkey named Tony Piranha, a mochin monkey (he likes to eat piranhas eyeballs) swiftly jumped out of a tree and wrapped around Nadineīs neck like a scarf, monkey scarf. The same monkey jumped on me then refused to leave and tried to bite me when i put him down. I really did not fancy a monkey bite but loved the monkeys crawling on us. The monkeys would pick pocket you and even stole Bryan`s  camera. they also had a go at getting my silver and Amber pendant. There were also red and blue macaw parrots. There was an anteater named Rosita who came out to eat a bowl of yoghurt then the caretaker picked it up like you would a pet cat and carried it away. There were other monkeys like the dark orange coloured howlers named Igor and Argus who made crazy jaguar noises and Chavo the Huapo Colorado monkey who was tiny and had a little red face. Chavo and his friends liked to sit on your head like a monkey hat or sit behind you and pick invisible insects out of your hair. Too cute they were. The guides caught some piranhas and we watched the monkeys play with them. The monkeys here at the house are being cared for there normally because the animlas have been tainted by people. For example some of the monkeys have been rescued at the airport because people have tried to sneak them out of the jungles of Iquitos by stuffing the babies into their socks. I wouldnīt have believed this but at breakfast on the street, a guy tried to sell us a tiny baby monkey smaller than your hand. We fed Lukas the Tapir some lettuce and bananas and also fed a Jaguar some beef. Lukas was alot like Mr Ed The Talking Horse. The jaguar was very close to us and we felt entirely blessed to be in itīs presence, such power and grace. Lucky ducks.

Lunch was a feast ordered by Peter at a good restaurant in town and we also got the chance to browse the Artesans Market close by. The lunch was fish, calamari, palm heart, yucca, potatoes, pork and bananas. The work here is extroadinary with woodturners, painters and organic jewellery made out of teeth, bones, skins and things like seeds and anaconda skin. We have also seen monkey skulls and teeth, piranha jaws and whole snake skins complete with heads. We bought an anaconda skin bracelot for Jackson. The work of the Shipibu indians is also for sale here. The work is done on a natural fibre fabric. These fabrics are alot of work with intricate geometrical patterns either embroidered in coloured thread or drawn with the black Amazonian fruit ink. The designs are inspired by visions seen during Ayahuasca ceremonies. Peter told us not to bargain the work down in price because the works take a tremendous amount of work and time. We were fitted out with rubber jungle boots and given a few insights into what is to come on the jungle jaunt tour, without being given too much information. Peter likes to keep the sense of mystery alive. The week sounds extremely intense and wonderful and anticipation came over the group. We talked about the sacred plants, Ayahuasca the vine, Sapo made from frog sweat and Nu- nu, a snuff made from ash and i read an article Peter Gorman had written for Shamanīs Drum magazine. We looked at Johnny Javaīs artwork that depicts ayahuasca ceremonies and the spirit world. next Sidily took us to buy the hottest song in Latin America, Perdonme .We have also bought music by Alborado. The group is comfortable so far with Jamie, Steven, Ally, Simon (Ic is his Mayan name), Bryan and Caroline and three more are arriving tomorrow. The crew are very intuitive to our needs and we feel we are in very safe hands. The group looks to be a good one. Some of us went out to a horrendous Discoteka (nightclub) where Latin Americans were dancing to terrible commercial, American pop music, bad style. Then we all squeezed into tuk tuks and did a kamikaze mission back to the divey Mofla hotel.

Iquitos with 500 000 inhabitants has a real Amazon jungle, border city feel, edgy, gritty, manic and a little on the edge. The transport of choice is the tuk tuk kind of mototaxis, mainly because there are no roads into town, only boat or air access. The streets buzz incessantly with revving motorbikes zipping past, we love to ride in them. The standard mototaxi seats three and has a shade over your head although some lads have pimped their ride up with flames and Che stickers and pom poms. The locals are thinking about making the vehicles battery operated and therefore quieter, the constant buzz does get to you after awhile. The nightlife is very active and people are out and about all the time enjoying each others company. Pizza and chicken shops are very popular. Iquitos is apparently the flesh capital of Peru and many young girls are dating much older men here, it is very much a part of the culture here. Some date foreign men so the men can help support their poor families. Child prostitution is rampant here despite the governments attempts to put the brakes on it and families are looking for ways for their daughters to make them money, it seems to be accepted by the locals.

The guy who is taking us on tour deep into the jungle is named Peter Gorman. Peter Gorman is an award-winning journalist from the US and we found his tour offered  through the conference website. Investigative journalist (and dad) Peter Gorman has spent more than 20 years tracking down stories from the streets of Manhattan to the slums of Bombay. Specializing in Drug War issues, he is credited as a primary journalist in the medical marijuana and hemp movements (High Time Magazine), as well as in property forfeiture reform. His work has appeared in over 100 national and international magazines and newspapers and we are discovering that he is a great guy to be on tour with.

The next day we met Sandra, Mollie and Nadya over breakfast and we all zoomed around town with Johnny Java, Sidily and Getstallion in Tuk Tuks. There was a man around at breakfast trying to sell us a tiny little monkey that was smaller than your hand, apparently there is a tourist trade in real live monkeys. This guy also has caiman (crocodile) feet on necklaces and jaguar teeth, claws and bones. The other vendors, mainly local children are fiercely pushy trying to get you to buy their souvenir jewellery, wrist bands and  Iquitos t-shirts. We adopted some of these little guys and bought them food at times. Nadine bought a t-shirt with the Iquitos map on it but the map is wrong. The beautiful indigenous ladies who sell the Shipibu fabrics inspired by Ayahuasca visions are also out in full force in downtown Iquitos and will stand over and behind you for your whole breakfast in case you glance their way. As soon as you take a peek at the work they will open out bedspread sized fabrics and keep on unfolding fabrics until you look away. They are beautiful pieces but you can't buy them all and support everyone even though you feel you want to. Some of the work is better quality than others and you need to spend alot of time observing different women's work before you can be a good judge of the quality. The children are also very hungry and are often after the left overs of your breakfast, we always left them some milkshake, some juice or a few bites of our food.

The main street of Iquitos for tourists is called the boulevard and it is located on the Amazon river. It is over priced and touristy but the food on offer is not too bad in the restaurants there and it is a convenient place to meet. We ate at the Yellow Rose of Texas where thay had banana splits, peach slices and Colombian coffee (a tacky Texas themed restaurant where the fat Texan owner walks around amongst Amazonian paraphenalia with a giant coffee mug and swatting flies with a plastic hand) and the chillout drinking local was called La Noche. La Noche was fairly laid back and had a good local liquor drink called 7 Raisers made from herbs. Peter Gorman liked to write himself off here. The boulevard had a cool fountain that was really just a giant art frame, i never saw the fountain on and the people who stood behind the frame seemed to become the art installation. There is a strange monument of a jockey looking man spray painted gold and a statue of a pink dolphin those of which are found in the Amazon river.

We visited the Belen market which is a very lively, trade market where people from all over the Amazon river come to trade goods and purchase supplies. These goods are everything from bootleg DVDs to knives to lingerie to stuffed Spongebob Squarepants dolls, anything and everything is available here. This was a most interesting market where the locals were more than happy to show us their wares. There is a crazy fresh meat market selling everything under the sun including pieces of  animals legs and raw body parts. We played around with a guy who seemed to have recently ripped some bull horns from a bull's head and put the still dripping with blood and flesh set of horns on his head to dance. There were crocodile tails for sale and lots of fish including the prehistoric Amazon fish with its exoskeleton on show. We got onto the  roof  of someones house in a run down, wrecked building for a good look at the Iquitos riverside shanty homes with their rusty tin roofs contrasting against the green of the jungle and the brown of the river. We saw live, plump grubs crawling around in plastic tubs then saw them cooking on skewers on a grill. Peter Gorman advised us to try eating them and a brave few of us did the deed. The photos show our faces as we bite into the worms, like witchety-grubs in Australia, not sure i would try them again though. We purchased some natural, Mompacho, jungle tobacco that had been hand-rolled into cigarettes by the friendly vendors. A large roll of the rolled tobacco cost 5 soles, very little. Peter took us to medicine alley where he showed us some very important Amazon medicines like cats claw, una de gato, maca powder, noni and a couple of vital root looking plants that are used for successfully treating cancer. There was also jungle remedies for insect repellant and things like snakeskins and anaconda fat for sale. Johnny one of the crew bought two green baby parrots that were for sale in the market with the view to let them go free.
With all the crew and guests ready to go we savoured the last of the creature comforts in Iquitos before the adventure began.

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