Hell in the Jungle City

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October 26th 2011
Published: December 31st 2011
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I have never been happier to leave a city.

For those of you who have not read my previous entry, I had basically just spent eight days living in a hammock on a dirty, sweaty, noisy, smelly cargo ship to Iquitos - which I loved. Now, Iquitos is a crazy city lost deep in the Amazon Rainforest. It is only accessible by plane and boat - there is no road. If I'd known what was to come, I would've taken a leap into the river and swam through piranhas in a vain attempt to escape...

I arrived with Marianella, Tansy and Ines and we checked into a fairly non-descript hostel. Fortunately, despite its complete lack of character, it was blessed with a luxury few people can truly appreciate, a hot showed with clean water. After 8 days of washing in rancid, cold and brown Amazonian river water in a filthy sweatbox alleged to be bathroom as pools of dirt crested against my feet because the drains didn´t work correctly, a hot shower was absolute heaven. For the briefest time I felt clean before having to put back on my disgusted, dirty clothes once more.

My first problem in Iquitos kicked in shortly after the shower. I got travellers sickness. I survived 8 days on a cargo ship eating food that I was recommended to take prophylactic antibiotics for (and didn´t), but as soon as I hit mainland I was sick. I guess it´s a small mercy that it didn´t happen on the boat.

We left for breakfast to meet 4 middle aged French people who had also been on the boat. The word around, primarily from Ines, was that we shouldn´t waste too much time because due to the endless boat delays, Tansy only had this single day before flying out. This didn´t work out. After an overly long breakfast where a typical dull discussion took place over breakfast being expensive (Iquitos has no roads and is a gringo town, we all expected it to be a little more expensive than the coast), I got bored and left for an Internet cafe, hoping that the others would follow not so far behind.

Luckily, shortly after I got online, Ryan came online too. Ryan is a friend who I had expected to take the boat to Iquitos with, but got sick on the first night and understandably changed his mind. We did as men do and quickly arranged to miss outside the cathedral in a few minutes and so I left the cafe, bumping into the girls en-route after finally finished breakfast and who were walking in the wrong direction to the cafe.

Whilst waiting for Ryan I encountered my first of Iquitos´ endless supply of touts. He showed me his ayahuasca bottles and told me a little about the tours he could offer. I listened with no real intent, he was relatively young and I understand that many people do the shaman trip as purely a drug bender and if I was to do it, I would want to find someone older and more authentic. My scepticism was incorrect about the guy as I would learn later.

Ryan arrived shortly after the raising of the flag ceremony ended, during which I was hypnotised by the presence of a tanned white man wearing unofficial green military style clothing and sporting a perfect Hitler moustache. It is well documented that numerous Nazi´s left for South America, but this was the first I had seen in the flesh. Disturbing.

Ryan and I walked a while (FYI reader, this was my single good day in Iquitos and it was whilst I have diarrhoea), we left the central plaza and heading to the riverside, taking in some of the beautiful colonial building built during the rubber boom before heading back to my hostel to wait for the girls.

What a wait it was... The girls took well over an hour on the Internet, the morning was ending and we really needed to get moving, Tansy was in complete agreeance, she wanted to fit in as much as she could with her day. I am not entirely sure how it happened, but nothing happened. Ryan, Tansy and I were itching to get going, but the other two were simply not moving very fast. Personally, I believe that Ines was waiting for Marianella to decide what she wanted to do and perhaps this was confirmed when Marianella began to hand wash her clothes and Ines joined her. We left.

We took a moto to a laughable port where women covered in soot were packing charcoal and took a small boat downstream to a jump off point to visit Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm. We decided to walk from the small dock to the park, which turned out to be a good decision, despite the incredible sun powering over us. From the chaos of the streets of Iquitos city, where endless moto taxi´s belch around the city, we found ourselves walking through beautiful tranquil villages where locals appeared to have little to do other than sit, talk and play football.

We went into the park where I was greeting by a manatee poking it´s hefty nose out of a large pond, before we were whisked away on a tour of the park. Although formerly, specifically a butterfly park, over the years, the park has taken in various animals who have been rescued from illegal trade, hunting and for various other reasons. We were taken through the various stages of the life of the butterfly from caterpillar to cocoon to flight, but I was far more interested in seeing the animals down the line. Amongst the highlights was a jaguar, one that was aggressive to the point that it was obvious that it had been in the wild before ended up in the sanctuary. Also good to see were monkeys that had been rescued and were free to come and go and they liked from the park, one of which was a fairly scary looking howler monkey. Perhaps my favourite animal though was a typically hapless sloth, that clung to the T-shirt of one of the young workers as if it wanted to become a jumper.

Eventually we headed back to town after a satisfying afternoon and began to chill out at the hostel with some drinks. The afternoon had been the reunion of the trio that I had travelled with from Lima to Pucallpa and it was good to be together again. Myself and Ryan once again got a bit bored of waiting for the girls and so we left to find a bar he´d heard about. Much in the same vein, if more upclass, this was a bar like one that Ryan and myself had got very drunk in in Cusco some time before. All of the spirits were meant with various plants for the jungle and served in shots. We´d didn´t last a huge amount of time.

Ryan had spent the previous four days having a fantastic time on a jungle tour, a great vindication for his decision to leave the boat and to fly to Iquitos. I had just spent 8 days on the boat with very little sleep and I was battling sickness at the same time. We were drunk in no time and then my voice began to fade.

When we got back to my hostel, the girls were just about thinking about going out. It was fairly late and both Ryan and Tansy were meant to be leaving early the next morning for the airport. They tried to convince us to go out, but my voice had for some reason, almost completely gone and I was exhausted. Ryan and I said our farewells and mentioned meeting sometime next year in Kansas once I´ve saved a little money from working in Canada. Ines decided not to go out, and so the pair of us went to sleep, leaving the other two girls to head out.

Tansy was not doing so well in the morning, the girls had had a BIG night and we helped her to get out of the hostel and in a moto to the airport fairly late. Fortunately she did meet Ryan at the airport and they both left for Lima.

Now things go downhill...

Marianella and Ines were both leaving the day after the drunken night. Ines left and took a boat to Leticia and onwards into Columbia, Marianella was taking a boat back into Peru to Yurimaguas. I should have gone with her, but still feeling sick and without much in the way of a voice made it a difficult idea for my to contemplate and so I changed hostels to a dormitory and one with Wi-Fi and settled in.

I spent my second day in Iquitos trying to recover in the hostel, using my time to use the Internet and to do some writing, not a bad day really, a good change from the chaos of the boat, though the change to a quiet and empty dorm room was a bit strange.

The third day an Australian moved in for one night. My voice recovered for the most part and my stomach was improving and so we went to the jungle bar. We had a good night, but an accident on returning to the hostel rendered the big toe on my right foot dislocated.

This has happened in the past unfortunately, but the following morning I realised it was far worse than normal. My toe was hugely swollen and so I spent the next several days barely walking, mostly confined to the hostel in my empty dorm. After the time on the boat there was nothing I could have wanted less than to be stuck in a small space without being able to move. It was a lonely time, the different between being surrounded by hundreds on the boat to no one being there was monumental.

My toe got worse during the days that followed the injury and the pain led me to Iquitos' general hospital, which was confusing to say the least. I floated between departments before being told I couldn't get an x-ray for two days as the doctor wasn´t working. It was a crazy place, lacking in cleanliness, but the staff were decent and tried their best to help me, although none spoke English and whilst my Spanish was vastly improved from the boat, medical Spanish was most certainly something I knew nothing of, compounded at the most difficult point by questions of 'Do you have pain?'. The word for pain is incredibly similar to the word for dollar and so I was under the belief that people were constantly asking me whether I had money. Strange situation. Eventually I was sent to a pharmacy with a prescription and ended up with some strong painkillers and the needles to administrate them, but at this point I decided I would just deal with the pain and bail on the whole idea of the hospital.

Gradually my toe got better naturally and I started trying to walk a little more. Wandering around the central area of Iquitos is not the most joyful of tasks; being a large tourist destination, possibly the biggest for trips in the Amazonas, there are endless touts everywhere. On top of these is the prevalence of a ceremony called ayahuasca, which is essentially a trip to the jungle with a shaman who administers a hallucinogenic drug which causes the taker to throw up before going on a crazy trip which is meant to be highly spiritual in several ways, something of a purging of the soul. Of course in gringo land, there is an alternative notion to the actual ceremony, which is simply the desire of some to go into the jungle and get extremely high and as such there are plenty of lousy touts who approached me on the streets offering me the opportunity to get messed up in various ways, offering me drugs such as cocaine and weed and mentioning the word 'ploughing' a disturbing amount whilst talking about the gringos they had allegedly, but more than likely not slept with, because frankly they were rancid. A lot of these people were also parasitic, they leached off tourists in multiple ways. Two that I unfortunately became familiar with, initially followed me after speaking briefly whilst I was hobbling to a chicken restaurant. After the usual spiel about someone else’s agency and the variety of tours I couldn't currently do because of my foot, they tried to lead me into an expensive local restaurant and tried to persuade me to eat there. Obviously I said no and they followed me into the cheaper place and drank some of the cola that I had purchased before diving on my food to finish it whilst I was done, all the while mentioned ploughing in their sleazy tones. They were not pleasant to be around.

Three times during my time in Iquitos I was approached by a con-man from London who approached tourists with his bent finger pretending he has no money for medical treatment. He seemed unconcerned when I told him he would receive nothing from me as I had read about his scam and seen his photo in a local tourist newspaper. The third time he approached me I told him in clear terms what I thought of his scam. His presence seemed insulting to Peru.

A German guy moved into my room during the week. Initially he seemed like a decent guy, although perhaps not the brightest. He had taken an Amazonian boat for two days in the wrong direction before getting on one in the correct direction to Iquitos. Before the boat journey he'd spent 10 days in the jungle taking ayahuasca, perhaps that explains it, although he seemed to know a lot about the ceremony and its surrounding elements. We went drinking and ended up at a huge drive-in concert where a boy band sang cheesy Peruvian pop whilst led by a scantily clad lead singer and sided by two dancers wearing even less clothes. Another strange evening in Iquitos. I left and went home, but the German decided to stay out.

I saw him his second evening in the hostel when he slept briefly, before waking to snort several lines of cocaine to kick-start his night. In the most unfortunate moment of my South American travels, the German in his drugged state managed to knock his main backpack off his top bunk, which landed on my left big toe, causing me to recoil, dropping my laptop, breaking half of the screen and dislocating the big toe on MY OTHER FOOT as I pulled back in pain. He apologised manically before leaving the hostel.

So I had half a functional right foot and a completely mauled left foot. I was not having a good time in Iquitos. This after spending most of the past several days alone, being sick and losing my voice, whilst not having been able to move and being annoyed by dirty and sleazy locals. It got worse.

I had a few drinks with the German guy and someone from Poland the evening after the second toe incident in the hostel. It started well and casual, but again the German was taking a lot of cocaine (and presumably other things too) and as far as I could tell, he had only slept for a few hours in the past few days. At some point, he took three lines in a row and changed for the worse. He started getting irritated due to not understanding the conversation that was going on around him and this irritation turned into anger and he started to act erratically and increasingly abusive.

At this point the Polish guy and I left him to go to our rooms, quickly realising it was the right thing to do. Luckily for the Polish guy, he was in a different room. Unfortunately for me, I was not and later in the evening the drugged and crazed German entered the room and woke me up to tell me how terrible a person myself and the Polish person were, to ask why we insulted him and why were we such awful people. I lay in my bed, barely reacting and speaking slowly on the rare occasions when I thought I felt he actually needed a response. It wasn´t often. I had no idea what to do in this lousy and bizarre situation. It went on for perhaps half an hour with no interruption, a long rant about hate and bad people, he had completely lost the plot. Before storming out of the room with his bag, he told me he'd stab and kill me if he ever saw me in Germany. Delightful.

Somehow I managed to get some sleep, it was pretty great knowing that he was out of the hostel and that the complete insanity of the evening was over, but it had one more twist. At around 6am and still in a coke fuelled rage he clattered back into my room bellowing that because myself and the Polish guy had been mocking him for not having a towel (?!), he was going to take mine. He picked up my towel and in an act that is comical in retrospect, but was full or personal terror at the time, he held it to his face to smell, before throwing it back on the floor, shouting that it was disgusting before leaving once again. It had been with me on the boat for 8 days...

I was done, I had had enough of my time in Iquitos and so hobbled to an Internet cafe and booked a flight out for the same evening. I bumped into him in the afternoon as he walked around with one of his dealers, he was still intensely stoned and ranted at me on the street for a brief time before I walked away. Fortunately I didn't see him again.

Later I bumped into one of the many touts, the one I had met in the plaza on the first day in Iquitos. I had encountered him several times and unlike others, he never tried to leech, only wanted a donation for going to the jungle and the shaman was actually his grandfather who he was learning from. He genuinely respected what he was learning and I respected him for his honestly and person. We spoke for a while and he asked me how the German guy was doing, he had seen him the evening before and had become increasingly concerned over his mental state during the past few days; clearly with good reason. I told him about the previous night of madness and he seemed disturbed and mentioned that if was to go back into the jungle again, it would definitely not be with the pony tailed crazy man.

With my last terrible day out of the way, I made my way to the airport and flew back to Lima. It was 10 or 11 days during which my friends left in different directions, I got travellers sickness, I lost my voice, I got hassled relentlessly by touts, I dislocated both of my big toes, could barely walk and got fantastically bored before a crazy person turned up and threatened to stab me. I have never been happier to leave a city.


3rd January 2012

Wow man great writing, sorry to hear about your bad experience in Iquitos, when I arrive there early next month if I happen to see the german dude he will for sure get knocked out :-) seems like a douchebag...anyways man cool blog again!

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