After almost two weeks on boats, travelling on and around the Amazonas, I'm on the good old road again. Yesterday I arrived here in Tarapoto and the following night I?ll head towards Lima (anybody around here?).
After one month of relative boredom in Quito?s Gringolandia, taking some more Spanish classes and binge drinking, I decided to take the least traveled route into Peru. From what I heard, it takes about six days through the rain forest to reach the first bigger city in Peru, Iquitos. If there is an adventure waiting, you'll likely find it in the jungle. I refused to do one of those ridiculous expensive tours, taking pictures of piranha teeth, paddling around in canoes etcetera. I just went there and hoped that something would happen.
Eventually, things happened.
After an exhausting, bumpy bus ride at night, I arrived in Coca (the city's name actually is Puerto Francisco de Orellana, nobody knows why it's called Coca) at aboout 7 o'clock in the morning. Tired as hell, I walked through the streets as I bumped into this guy.
I almost said something like "Sorry man, don't got no change", as this Latino with his deep-layhing, bluury eyes and dirty clothing stumbled towards me, spreading the aroma of alcohol - but wait, he's tourist guide. So why not gather some informations about the upcoming boat trip - let's go for a beer and have a chat with him. Of course, not only one, some friends of him and his wife joined soon and we were getting seriously drunk. I needed some hours of sleep, so we agreed to meet again later that day. No way - after too little rest in Hotel "Basura" (Hotel "Trash"), someone hammered against my door quite persistently. Well, this evening Marco (this shady tourist guide) and his wife are going to another city to some cultural event. Something religious they said. Do I want to join them? Let's have some beers and think about it. After short time I lost count of the bottles and felt a serious hangover creeping around. But let's join this religious thingy, I haven't been in a Latin American mass anyways yet. Well, sort of a mass they said. His wife was evidently more excited about this trip than marco. However, we arrived at this village at about 5 o'clock. Guess what the first thing was - we went to a bar and had some more beers. Marco was merely wasting time. Somehow it seemed he didn't want to go there. Delilia was getting quite angry by that time, she never drank a sip and said she doesn't want to arrive late. So she left alone. Now he told me some more about what was going on. Actually, it wasn't an ordinary church, more a group, a movement... A movement a bit more extremist, to be hones. People who lost the right path in life, say alcohol, drugs, prostitutes, stuff like that, join them (or are forced to) to get saved. If I understood right, among other things the "patients" are enclosed in a room for three days, only reading the bible to each other. Today, they beg pardon in the presence of their family and friends for all the things they have done wrong. Eh, and this guy in front of me was a member of this group?
"Yo no. Me gustan las chicas y la cervesa."
He grinned and ordered more beer. Someone in Delilia's family was, I would see. So wel left about an hour too late. Man, I was wasted. I think Marco as well. As he asked for directions to "Convent 23" he scared me a little bit. This was definately no regular church. He led me outside the village on dirt roads, no more houses, no more lights and no more people. I know it was careless, but this was too fucking interesting. We reached a sports hall packed with people. I guess almost 1000. As I arrived, I received some uncomfortable stares, a gringo really didn't fit into that place. They told me about six times that it's strictly forbidden to take photos or videos of this convent. They set up a stage on the end of the hall, with speakers and stuff and in the center of the hall were the 150-200 sinners sitting. One of them climbed the stage, his family and friends in front of him. They asked his name, profession and what he wants to say. The he fell on his knees, started to cry and scream, wailing apologies under heavy sobs. After about 1-2 minutes he left and the next one got onto the stage.
It was so funny, drunk as a skunk in the middle of an extreme sect who support an ascetic lifestyle, joking around with Marco about the cute girls in their movimiento-shirts.
And, of course, the inevitable happened: He caused trouble.
At the end, the party dissolved in a disorganized crowd, chatting, exchanging felicitations etc. as I heard Marco shouting around that he's going to beat someone up. If I got it right, it was his stepfather who accused him of being an alcoholic (guess he was right ) Delilia and I just grabbed him and dragged him under scary stares outside. We got back to the main street as soon as possible and hitched back to Coca. Everything under the neverending complaints of Marco. Both of them decided they won't join the convent next time
By then, everything was prepared for some days of river-travelling and, to be honest, I couldn't wait to get out of this weird place
The next day I got up at 4:30 and met with Delilias daughter, she was travelling to the border of Peru as well. It turned out she was the girlfriend of any mayor. I stuck to her and could avoid the usual gringo tax
The first part was from Coca to Nueva Rocafuerte, 10 hours down the Rio Napo in a relatively small boat. About halfway, in the middle of nowhere, Dave, an Englishman, got on the boat. He told he was stuck a couple of days in this village (actually not a real village, only some huts). As we arrived in Rocafuerte, we had to register ourselves and then found a family who had a room where we could sling our hammocks. They prepared caiman for dinner.
The next day we hired a boat to the peruvian side of the border (took some serious bargaining though) and after 2 hours we were in Pantoja, Peru. Again, we just asked around and a woman allowed us to sling our hammocks in her hut, but this time straight across the kitchen It was impossible to find out what day the lancha to Iquitos arrives. Many told us in 3 or 4 days. Even more told us tomorrow. Someone said the last gringos here waited for 2 weeks. And an old guy told us it's a running gag in the village with the gringos, because nobody knows it for sure xD
Dave was already thinking of returning to Coca and I was desperating, but the lancha really arrived one day later. Though, we had to waste some more time in Pantoja, the lancha would leave after 3 days. In the meantime, three more travellers landed in Pantoja, happy that the boat was already here
The first three days were actually quite pleaseant, though the food served tended between terrible and inedible...
It was a cargo ship, picking up plantains, animals and stuff and selling it in Iquitos. After some time it felt like being on Noah's Ark: 5 cows, 10-15 pigs, dozens of chicken, turtles, piles of dried fish, snails and more strange animals that creep in and around the river.
Everytime I thought not even a child more would fit into the boat, a 20-head family boarded and proved me wrong. A rooster on the left side of your head, dried fish on the other, a leg of someone above your face - it got quite personal the last night. After 5 days without shower, proper food and something to do, I was quite glad to arrive in Iquitos
It's the world's biggest city without road link, you can reach it only by plane or ship. Thus there are no cars, only three-wheeled 'moto-taxis' - a lot of them. I've never seen such a chaotic traffic. Unfortunately it's dry season right now, so the floating city of Belén was floating only to a small part, but the market in this area was incredible. You could buy anything. Besides the usual stuff e.g. parrots (in 20 piece baskets), cooked maggots, dried frogs, hallucinogen plants, sloths, snakes in jars, dried snakes, snake skins, monkeys and who knows what else i just haven't seen.
But things went bad in Iquitos. I already contacted a shaman to assist an Ayahuasca ceremony which includes the strongest known psychedelic drug in the world, used for healing purpose since ages in the Amazon region. But then I had a struggle with the owner of my hotel and got so angry that it got impossible for me to take hallucinogenics So I chickened out and took the lancha to Yurimaguas instead. (a bigger and more comfortable one, but not that interesting, too )
I'm in Lima right now, after the worst bus ride ever. It took me 55 hours from Tarapoto to here - 3 days and 2 nights on this fucking bus. There were political protests and road blocks on my route. I was on the bus with a soldier I've met on the lancha to Yuri and at night he tried to organize a breakthrough... So a group of 30-40 angry truckers and passengers went to the riot and made some trouble. I was standing in the first line as the road occupants started to throw rocks and boiling water. I had incredible luck that i got hit only by some smaller stones, but I saw a rock the size of a pineapple missing my shoulder only centimeters as I ran as fast as i could...
Some of them were not that lucky. It was quite a picture, some men sitting around on the street, bleeding, in the background the mob with its fires.
So we decided to wait :P