Snaking down Earth's pulmonary arteries
Trip Start Dec 03, 2005
38Trip End Jul 19, 2007
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Going from desert to jungle on a less trodden gringo trail I managed to add another form of border crossing to my list. Time stopped at the oasis town of Huacachina while the jungle kept all it's secrets secret. I felt like a beauty queen again and managed to get my first paid job with another one on referral!
I had returned to the land where you trade your soul for two churros with manjar. (Ed: "soul" and "souls" are common gringo mispronunciations of the currency in Peru, which is "sol" and plural "soles" - pron. sawl and sawlayz). After almost breaking the camera lense of a local Arica (Chile) journalist who insisted on taking my photo for the newspaper I hopped on a train to marvel even more at the desert surrounding me and tick off another form of border crossing on my list - the train.
Opting for just one night in Moquegua I arrived in Arequipa, the starting point for excursions to the Colca Canyon with a reputation to rival that of the Grand Canyon in the USA and also for it's family of condors putting on a regular show for the visitors every morning. The city itself reminded me quite a lot of Cusco with the Plaza de Armas and the churces around it. All it was missing was the steep streets but I could easily do without those! Originally I had called by here to visit the canyon but then after some deliberation I decided not to in the end as I had already seen many majestic valleys around Huaraz and numerous condors in Patagonia and Nazca looked more exciting.
The Nazca Lines are an ancient archaeological site where some unknown mysterious being/s sketched lines stretching for miles along the ground and on the side of some local hills. As you can guess, the theories range from the down-to-earth suggestions of an ancient group of humans creating and using it for ceremonial purposes to out-of-this-world ideas of evidence of an extra-terrestrial presence on earth! I have to say that I have seen some strange people on my trip and could be easily convinced of the latter!
And so, to tick off my final task on my list of must-do's, I headed for the skies in my smallest plane yet, a 3 passenger Cessna. I'd heard rumours of others being treated to leaps and dives while moving between Lines and suggested this to the pilot but he said the two in the back weren't feeling too good. Personally, I think he just chickened out of it. It was good to see the lines from above but whether it was worth it is still debatable. I had to choose either looking at them or taking photos as there isn't really enough time to do both. I chose photos on the argument that if aliens came and put them there, who knows, they may come down and take them back again!
You may have noticed from one or two previous entries that I have been searching for the perfect oasis (ideally including one hunk in a mud hut)? Well, I am delighted to report that heading north after Nazca I found the next best thing, Huacachina. I came for two nights and stayed for six! It was time to rest and recuperate after 3 months of non-stop movement and where better to do it than here. Some items were starting to age and required a bit of DIY so I claimed a seat by the pool and set about my business of repair. Shortly after I had a queue of people coming up asking me if I could fix their torn pockets, ripped trousers, broken zips etc etc etc and got my first paid job on my trip netting a whole forty soles (USD$13/€9/£6.50). Unfortunately I had to turn down most requests as I could see myself staying there forever and so I made a deal with Håvard that I would leave with him the next morning heading to Ica.
Håvard was heading to Lima while I was heading to Ayacucho. Backtracking isn't one of my favourite ways to spend my time but this was necessary for many reasons:
1) To avoid Lima (they don't have a central bus station there so finding your next bus out requires some forward planning);
2) I was aiming for Iquitos by boat and this was en route;
3) To visit the Wari site that I had missed on my last visit here;
4) Most importantly, to sample those apple pies that I have rated as the tastiest in the whole of South America.
In the grand scheme of things it was really just a stopover on my way to the jungle near Iquitos, followed by La Merced (where I treated myself to a night in a three star hotel for a princely fifteen soles (USD$5/€3/£2.50)) and Pucallpa. Isn't it funny that just when you become used to the dandelions a rose appears out of nowhere. Pucallpa isn't the nicest of towns and most of the people aren't Peru's best ambassadors. Whilst taking shelter during one of the many daily deluges of rain a chap came along and started chatting away. Having become hardened to the usual small talk before asking for money I pretty much ignored him but he just smiled, continued chatting away, wished me a nice day and left when the rain stopped. I've probably just been added to his group of "typical tourists, always rude". Peru 1 : Me Nil.
I arrived in Iquitos and selected what I thought was the best tour company in town for a tour to the jungle. While I would like to report that I saw massive tarantulas, monkeys swinging from branch to branch, almost fell into the jaws of a crocodile while fishing for piranhas and magically recovered from a venomous snakebite with the help of some jungle plants unfortunately I would be lying. And, if I believed the nuns at school, I would lose my shining halo if I did this.
I knew I would probably see less as it was wet season but at no point did I imagine I would see absolutely nothing...nada...zilch...zip. Whilst scouting for non-existent crocodiles I decided to play twenty questions with the guide and was amazed to find out that the depth of the river in wet season is an astonishing five thousand metres!! (According to Wikipedia it comes to a mere forty metres during wet season).
My idea of going on this trip was to camp in the jungle and listen to the sounds at night as well as see all the plants and animals. This same guide claimed it was too wet to camp, too wet to fish, too wet to walk in the jungle and basically just too wet to do anything. And so it turned out that my camping trip to the jungle consisted of sitting inside my tent all day to avoid becoming dinner for the mosquitoes for the one day that I camped there. Having holes in the tent provided my afternoon entertainment of "squish" and kept me busy indeed. All I could think was if there was ever a time I badly wanted to be completely constipated it was now and any visits outdoors for this purpose involved spraying myself, completely, with DEET only after which I discovered why all the men in Pucallpa took to pinching my derrière - I had one hot ass!
Needless to say, when I got back to the largest city in the jungle and most isolated in the world I had words with the agency owner who relented and refunded some cash. Of course, not the amount I was asking for but better than nothing. With this, I decided to treat myself to the fast boat to the triborder frontier of Leticia (Colombia), Santa Rosa (Peru) and Tabatinga (Brazil).