A change of tact

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July 21st 2013
Published: July 26th 2013
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Paracas to Leticia

Longing for some warm beach weather and a change of scenery we have changed our original route and made a sizeable detour into the Amazon in Leticia, Colombia; on the tri border with Brazil and Peru. From here we will head to the Caribbean coast and finally warm up.

Leaving Paracas, the sky was still greyed out with the humid misty fog that had been with us since getting down to Sea Level. It was a 4 hour bus ride to Lima, the shortest bus trip in recent memory, and it wasn't long until we hit the outskirts of Peru's sprawling capital.

We stayed in the suburb of Miaflores, Lima's most affluent area near the beach. Apart from housing Peru's elite, it is also gringo central with expensive hostels and restaurants aplenty. Despite being a bit pricier then the rest of country, the food was really good, with great ceviche and pollo ala brasa (roast chicken that has been marinated in soy sauce and spices), as well as some great Chinese dumplings. We also stumbled across a great deli where we stockpiled up on French cheeses and Spanish Salami's and Jamon, a nice treat after nearly 5 months of eating the same crappy cheese.

Both of us were feeling the effects of travelling for a while; tired, still sick with colds, and just generally over being a tourist. It was also still quite cool, with daytime temps of low teens and night time not much less. So be bunkered down, gorging ourselves on food, watching some tv shows that we had brought with us and going to the cinema. We walked around Miaflores a lot, down to the cliff lined beaches, but still struggling to see more then a few hundred metres due to the mist. After 5 days of some normality, it was back to being a gringo as we flew from Lima to Iquitos in the Amazon.

Getting of the plane in Iquitos you are smacked with the humidity, and the screams of hundreds of people trying to sell you dodgy tours to the jungle or ayahuasca, the Amazonian healing potion that has been mass commercialised/bastardised and sees thousands of gringos flocking here to try it. I want to try it, but Iquitos is not the right place for me. It is a massive city, the largest in the world that is not reachable by road. In fact it is an island, cut off by 3 rivers. There are not many cars, just thousands of tuk tuks and motorbikes, or mosquitos as the locals call them. The city is noisy, dirty, and seedy with a rampant drug and child prostitution trade. All the locals see gringo's as big walking dollar signs, and it is impossible to trust anyone. At one stage we were followed around the streets by a crazy guy who had an upside down broom in his hand stomping it as he went and waving it in the face of unsuspecting people, grabbing food from the street vendors and deliberately pulling rubbish out of the bins onto the street. If we crossed the road, he would cross as well. If we stopped and let him walk past he would wait for us, it was a big game for this doped up twat. After about 15 minutes he gave up as we were not playing the game, and he got bored.

Not far from the main part of the city is the Belen markets, a massive street market in a shanty town, that becomes a floating village when the rainy season is in full action. It is dry season now, so there is no water, apart from the dirty market floor that was awash with pools of water and animal guts. This led to hundreds of vultures sitting on the roofs of the stalls waiting for the opportune moment to swoop down and pick up some part of the carcas that the locals don't eat (which is not much). In certain parts of the market it is possible to buy animals like monkeys, caiman, turtles and all sorts of insects to eat. But we did not venture to that part as it can be a bit dodgy for non locals.

Not surprisingly, we quickly made investigations on how to get the f*** out of town. 3 options existed, fly back to Lima, take a river barge over 3 days to Leticia, or take a 12 hour speedboat to Leticia. Not fancying backtracking, or living on a slow boat for 3 days we decided on the speedboat option to take us the 600km down the Amazon river to the tri borders of Peru, Brazil and Colombia. With Leticia residing in the latter.

With travel arrangements sorted, we still had a day to
Luca, Mojo and ILuca, Mojo and ILuca, Mojo and I

tight squeeze in a tuk tuk
kill in Shitquitos. Teaming up with Luca, a 6 foot 6 Swiss dude, we split the costs and crossed one of the rivers to a butterfly farm / animal refuge. This place has been run since 1987 by an eccentric Dutch women who initially started out researching and breeding butterfly's, but started taking in mistreated and malnourished animals. Ranging from Monkeys that had been trained by local kids to pick pocket tourists, tamarind monkeys that had been bought by stupid tourists wanting to take a pet home, to a Jaguar and a multitude of other jungle animals. The original intention was that the animals would be brought back to full health and then returned to the jungle, however the Peruvian government decided that she would have to pay an exorbitant and unrealistic price to release these animals. At the same time, the government officials would keep bringing in seized animals to the refuge. Totally bizarre and corrupt. Some animals, like the Uakari monkeys roamed free, but the rest were in decent sized enclosures and treated like royalty, putting most zoos to shame. It was a nice compromise to doing one of the jungle tours, as we had heard a lot of horror stories, ranging from drunk incompetent guides, to having pictures with animals that had been caught and orphaned in the jungle, and replaced when they died shortly after being fed the wrong milk.

With 3 hours sleep under our belt we were up at 4.30am to get to the port where the speedboat departed. The boat took 50 passengers, 90% locals, and was surprisingly quick (600km's in 11 hours), and not too uncomfortable. In between the spray that came down the sides of the boat as we bumped our way down the Amazon, it was possible to see the jungle on each side of the river. The further we got down the river the wider it got until we reached the tri-border, where a series of islands marked the end of Peru. We got a little motorised canoe to take us to Santa Rosa island where the immigration office was, and then across the river to Leticia, where we were greeted by a sleepy little town that reminds us of a big Rurrenabaque. Leticia is only reachable by boat or plane, and has a sizeable military presence to keep away the drug lords that used to run this place decades ago. It is now probably the safest part of Colombia and is a very nice change to where we had come from. We are staying at a hostel run by a Swiss guy who built a bicycle boat and peddled his way down the entire length of the Amazon, taking 2 years. Very emasculating when compared to our 600km in 11hours ....

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