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Published: June 10th 2006
Well, afore I start i´d like to amend a comment from the last blog... Shanta does not have a strange bent gait and waggle a cigar from his mouth - he is in fact a "gaucho" type...
With the leg now holding up and having been very unadventurous in our Equadorian route thus far we thought we´d try a little used passage into Peru. Most overland entries are via Tumbes, although this is now noted for its abundance of touts and increasing numbers are now crossing at Macara. Very few westerners, or anyone else for that matter, go directly south from Vilcabamba to Zumba and onto La Balsa where you cross the river into Peru. Just before leaving we heard rumours of bandits on this route, but had already made up our minds. Glad we didn´t change our plans as the views were spectacular: very lush and somewhat reminiscent of Fiji. Only one army checkpoint to negotiate. The border guards and immigration were extremely friendly - even invited us for a beer sesh, but thought we´d better push on. It was slow going involving 5 changes of transport over 16 hours (1 bus; 1 ranchera - cool open-sided bus with
wooden benches as seats and a roof rack where we spent most of the journey; 1 micro-bus; and 2 colectivos - essentially standard old saloons that stop to pick up additional passengers en-route until totally full.. like: 2 in the front passenger seat, 4 in the back and one in the boot with the baggage) to reach our first Peruvian stop-over at Jaen. Real quaint town this with hundreds of motor rickshaws and great ceviche down by the river. Oh, found out whilst here that the night bus crossing at the safe site of Macara had been held-up the night before and the driver shot!
We then headed onto Chachapoyas up in the hills. This is a particularly picturesque, laid back, town with a generous number of bars (pisco sours ordered "bien cargardo" - mucho alcohol - are to die for and lethal.......) and coy resturants. We have now had picante coy, roasted coy, and coy in peanut sauce - no rodent is safe. From Chachapoyas we visited the massive pre-inca fortress city of Kuelap and the newly discovered (well, by westerners at least) waterfall at Cocachimba in the jungle nearby. This cascada at 771m is apparently the third
highest in the world - however it does have a break in it so this isn´t strictly true. It was a bitch of a hike to get to it, but well worth the effort.
Had been travelling for several days with a great couple from France and Quebec and just as they left us we met up, by chance, with friends from Equador. This small group was to grow over the next week or so until 7 of us have ended up together in our own appartment in Iquitos... Strange, six gringos and a peruvian travelling together and we didn´t see another western face for almost a week. Getting ahead of myself... From Chachapoyas we were thinking of heading west to the northern beaches or east into the Amazon basin. The latter won out and we plus 2 brits and a rigaton-mad french girl set out through various "wild-west" towns on some great transport. Camionettas are essentially utes (open-backed trucks) that will, for a small fee, let you hang-on atop the piles of spuds, bananas and fruit piled in the back with any other simple-minded folk with a similar inclination. Results are great views and a thick crust of
Waiting for a road
Rebuilding road after a landslide: enroute to Quelap
After the best part of 2 days we made it to Yurimaguas that sits on a tributary of the Amazon. Again a peaceful, friendly, place that we bummed around for a day or so whilst organising a trip into the jungle and in so doing gained an English and an Israeli girl. Bought essentials for the boat to Lagunas - hammocks n rum - then cruised on down. In gringo-sparce Lagunas we were lucky enough to stumble upon that travellers nirvana: a newly opened hostel that simply places you amongst the family. Several parties ensued... Then it was off into the jungle for 4 days. Was an amazing experience; the crew we went with were a new operation and couldn´t do enough for us. Days spent with us in pairs on 4 seperate dug-outs spotting a miriad of birds, monkeys, caimen, anacondas and fish, plus the odd tarantula in camp (one of which bloody bit me). Caught shed loads of pirhana (I was a god with the rod) and other fish (I, unlike our personal guide Rudber, was pants with the spear). Consequently we never went hungry. Likewise we kept the mossies well fed, so´s it´s to
be hoped that there really is minimal malaria here in Peru.
Returned to Lagunas to discover that the Peruvian elections were upon us: they had to chose between a thief and a fascist. Due to said elections there were no boats running anywhere so we were forced to hang at the friendly hostel. Took part in a very "different" Ayahuasca ceremony - details when we return. Finally the thief was declared the winner (muted hurahs - other geezer wanted to expell all foreigners immediately and impose the death penalty for gays..) and the boats started running again. Thought there was one due at 11pm so we arrived at the docks early... just as dawn broke a boat did actually materialise. This was packed to the gunnels and gave us an intertesting 48 hours down river to the Amazon proper and Iquitos. Iquitos is the largest city in the world inaccessible by road; it has a strange magnetism (many ex-pats have found local wives here - I contemplated a part-exchange..) with a feel somewhere between Saigon and New Orleans.
So, here we sit. Just watched England scrape a narrow victory over Paraguay and in desperate need of a siesta
following a shed load of very early morning beers. Group will go seperate ways tomorrow, with us flying (save time) to Lima afore busing it north again to Huaraz (back to altitude, mountains, plus some glaciers) afore lazing for a while on a beach....
Are loving Peru, the Peruvians and beginning to really get back into backpacker groove....
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