Amazonian Ladies Ain't so Scary

2006-07-28

Well. I can now say I went to the jungle.

We were going to take a trip with our friend, but due to time restraints, we had to go out on our own. We booked a trip with an agency that promised a lot for not that much money. Sometimes, these things work out poorly, and sometimes, they´re fantastic. It´s a crap shoot to say the least. Everyone we´ve met who has had similar experieces can vouch for the fact that down here, it´s not what you pay, it´s who you pay.

So, monday morning, we woke up, packed our bags and waited for our guide. He showed up on time, but reported that there were problems with the van. We left a half hour late, and when the cab pulled up to the van, I could see the problem. It was a hyundai mini van, with no 4×4. But, we all loaded in, and prepared for the best. Our driver´s name was Roofo, and he knew the way.

We drove down paved roads for about 30 minutes, and then it was gravel. These aren´t gravel roads like we have at home, these are narrow stretches carved into the sides of mountains. From Cusco, it´s hot, arrid, deasert-like scenery. Within about 20 minutes, we heard a crash, and saw our food spread out on the dusty road. We got out, repacked it and the rest of the roof rack and were off again. We wound our way through the mountains for a few hours before we stopped for lunch. We were in a colonial outpost. The place was perfectly scenic, and absolutly what I would imagine when I close my eyes and think Andean.

After lunch, we continued to bounce our way through the mountains, until we arrived at the Jungle Frontier town of Pilcapata. This place is like nothing else I´ve ever been able to experience. It´s isolated, lush and beautiful. Before dinner, we walked through it´s market, and bought sandals and personal supplies for our trip.

At dinner, our guide Cesar told us stories about the jungle. He told us about the animals we might see, the plants we should and shouldn´t touch, and a bit of local lore. He is our age and was raised in the jungle, but now lives in Cusco.

When we woke in the morning, we continued our trip. We stopped along the road to visit a small coca leaf plantation. Cesar showed us plants, told us how they´re used and told us about the local cocain production, and the good and bad associated with it. Nothing in this world is black and white.

Again, we continued on our way, and we soon saw everything change from the dusty, arrid country nearer Cusco, to the entrance to Manu National Park. You know you´ve arrived, because everything is shrouded in heavy mist. The plants change almost instantly, and soon, we were in the San Pedro Cloud forrest. The trees are covered in heavy moss, and the forest is alive with Monkeys and colourful birds. We were about 10 feet from a monkey who was feeding and playing in a bamboo tree directly in front of us. I thought this was the jungle, but I was told that it was just the beggining.

We pushed on, and arrived at the river port of Atalaya. We were supposed to drive to a town further up, and then get a boat, but we found that it had rained the night before, and the road was totally washed out. Where we were supposed to be driving, a mighty river rushed by and told us to forget it. Roofo tried to drive his van across, but got it stuck on a gravel bar in the middle of it all. We had to push him out. It´s different than pushing a van stuck in snow (which I have all together too much experience with). After it all, we ended up getting in a boat just up the road, and taking it to the boat that was waiting for us.

Over the next 6 hours, we saw the mountains dissapear, and the Jungle change, swam in natural hot springs (where I fell in the river with my pelican case, hurt my ankle, and thanked providence for pelican cases). Finally, we were informed that we had arrived. I didn´t see anything, but a narrow set of wooden steps. We beached, unloaded and climbed the steps, and saw our lodge. It was just the three of us, our new friend from Toronto, Nell, and our cook and guide. This place had no electricity available for us, only for the kitchen. We got settled in, and then had dinner by candle light.

After dinner, I found out I can walk a half hour into the Amazon at night, before my mind finally kicks in and tells me to get the hell out. After a near panic attack, I found myself resting in our room at the lodge, wondering what I thought I was doing in the middle of the jungle. I found looking into myself that night both challenging and rewarding. I considered everything about who I am, why I´m afraid of the things I´m afraid of, and how I had beaten all the odds that have been stacked in my path. I was in the middle of the Amazon Jungle with my friends, only because I made that choice. That felt great.

That night, Ed and I drank Rum and Inca Cola on the river bank. As we looked up, we saw the stars shining as bright as I´ve ever seen. The milky way was so prevelant, and like nothing I´ve ever seen at home. We accidentally drank all the rum, because we couldn´t see how much we were pouring, due to the fact that it was pitch black. We shared stories from when we were kids. I told everyone that The Three Amigos was one of my favorite movies, because it was the first movie I ever felt completely mesmerized by. I don´t think anyone else really got it.

I woke up the next morning cursing Ed and his stupid Rum, and when the group went on a walk, I opted to sleep. Turns out they didn´t see much, so the nap was the better choice.   It was the best nap I have ever had.  Outside my screened walls, I could hear nothing but birds, insects and other unknown animals conversing. I dreamed about a friend of mine, who once bailed me out without question. I really needed help, and he was the only one I could turn to, and he definatly showed me kindness. I hadnt thought about him for a while, but I dreamed about him in the jungle. I think that his kindness is what started my life on the turn around, and so, in a way, I really owe this experience to him. If you´re reading Braden, thanks. If not, everyone should know Braden Sustrick is a gem of a human being.

Our time passed quickly, and we saw a lot. We saw plants and animals, we learned about nature, and ourselves, and then it was time to leave. We made the return journey in one day, leaving the lodge by boat at 5am. We pushed upstream for 7 endless hours, litterally had to get out and push in some shallow spots, and then we finally saw Roofo sitting on the shore in Atalaya.

We had lunch, and continued. We blew 3 tires, and arrived in Cusco at 10:30. We had bus tickets for Puno, leaving Cusco at 9:30. We missed our bus out, but thankfully, no one had cancelled our reservation at the hostel, so we found ourselves in bed right away.

Today is peruvian independance day, and the town is full of celebrating Peruvians and Gringos. I find it hard, because I don´t really celebrate Canada day, and I feel like I have no place celebrating someone else´s day either, so I´ll observe. We leave tommorow for Puno and Lake Titticaca.

Today is also the halfway mark in our trip. This morning, Shaun and I looked at all his pictures, from the first days in Lima to now. It seems like more than two and a half weeks, and I know the next two and a half will be even more varried. This trip was a great idea. I´m having a blast.

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