Thursday, January 10, 2019

Christmas Break

No, I haven't been gnawed up by a jaguar, or strangled by an anaconda.....not yet anyway. I'm alive and well and still enjoying my elongated Christmas break. I would need several hours of typing and maybe a few finger replacements to explain the past few weeks. Even then it would be an abreviated version since I myself haven't even fully taken things in. I'll share a quick story and let the pictures do most of the talking.

Perfect way to finish off the year. Mud bath and hot springs.

Well, the day we arrived in Tarapoto we obviously looked out of place. We rode around town hunting a hotel when we were spotted by a fellow Gringo. This bloke's name was Anderon, and he changed the course of our stay in the jungle. Anderon is American and a bit of a hippy too. He is a vegan that grew up down south in Georgia and eventually moved to Oregon where he started his superfood company. Now he splits time between his home in Oregon and his place in Tarapoto where he sources the strange and exotic plants that he uses in his products. His products that we tasted included, trail mix, trail bar, smoothie mix, and tea. Anderon said he was gonna be in the jungle for about ten days and invited us to crash at his place for as little or as long as we wanted.

If it weren't for the mosquitoes that came out at night is call this place paradise.

We happily took him up on the offer. My first adventure with him was the night we arrived at his place. The plan was to sneak into a mountainside hot spring at 2 in the morning. Sounded like fun, so we took off on his motorcycle on a long ride through the mountainous jungle. It was pitch black and the road was a typical South American road with sharp turns, landslides, waterfalls, streams, and no guard rail. "Hopefully this guy knows what he is doing!" I thought to myself as we cruised through the fog. We found a dense patch of forest near the hot spring where we could hide the bike. We grabbed piles of fern leaves, branches, and vines to disguise tge bike from any passer-bys. At last we approached the entrance. We tiptoed past the sleeping guard then quietly popped open the unlocked gate. After closing the gate behind us we trekked through dense forest on a muddy path. At the end of the trail we arrived at the final obstacle standing between us and the hot springs. A rushing river, churning with muddy water. There was a small raft made entirely out of logs and rope holding it together. It looked straight out of the Flintstones. We tied a rope onto the raft and Anderon took one end under his arm. He dove into the rushing water as it forced him downstream. He swam across and tied the rope up to a rock. We now had a makeshift ferry. He pulled me across along with all the gear. We reached the objective of the mission and chilled out in the natural Jacuzzis. The sun was about to come up when we made it back to his motorcycle, which was still hidden under piles of foliage. When it was finally time to take off, he turned the key and nothing happened. The motorcycle wouldn't start. He tried a few  more time, but to no avail. We resorted to flagging down a truck to take us back to town. After a couple failed attempts he took matters into his own hands. He began clipping, disconnecting, and reconnecting wires together. A few minutes of fooling with the electrical work and he gave it another try. This time it started right up. MacGyver had fixed it! He revved up the engine and took off. Just as he drove the bike out from the hiding spot "Clunk!". Those vines we used had came back to haunt us. The back wheel became so tangled up in vines that it ripped the chain out of place. Thankfully it didn't snap. We rolled the bike onto its side as I unraveled the vine off of the wheel. Soon we were back aboard the cycle headed to his bungalow. On the ride back we watched a spectacular sunset that popped up from between two mountain peaks. What a night and what an adventure!

Me and Anderon on one of our treks.

Fruit ninja.

Double rainbow all the way across the sky.

Sucio Dan.

Tarapoto just before the sunset as the motos line up.

Pacu for dinner.

Popasquat on a headless palm.

Pure tranquility.

These friendly little guys were everywhere.

A highly toxic poison dart frog. And to think he looks so harmless.

A new friend in Tarapoto.

New Year's resolution. Overcome your fears!

The fun continued for the next week and a half as he took us on numerous jungle hikes full of swimming holes and wildlife. Our Swedish friend Patrick that we met in the Galapagos Islands, and a new friend from Utah, Maddie also joined us while we hung out at Anderon's place. Christmas and New Year's proved to be experiances for the history books of my mind. A much different experience to Christmas in the USA.

Maddie, Anderon, Tormod and I out on a jungle swim.

Mud warriors.

Don't mess with this guy.


Heart hot spring.

This place rocked. There were four fixed up hot springs and three or four untouched ones.

Anderon is looking to buy this hot spring place.

The pretty road leading up to Anderon's house on the hill. 

Fruit ninja x2.

Livin' the life. Mango trees, fresh coconuts, and a gentle breeze.

My trusty machete.

This is a very special town.

The view of Tarapoto from Anderon's house. Not a bad Christmas view.

Once Anderon took off for Oregon we left Tarapoto heading for the fabled jungle city of Iquitos. Iquitos is a truly unique city. Situated right on the Amazon river in the heart of the Amazonian rainforest it is the largest city in the world not accessible by road. If you want to get to Iquitos, you go by plane or our preferred method of transport, river boat. We left for the port town Yurimaguas to catch a boat to Iquitos. In the morning we bought hammocks and some food and took a moto taxi to the port. When we arrived we could see our boat had just taken off. Shucks, we missed out by 20 minutes. No worries though. We were informed that another boat was leaving the next day at 5 am. We enjoyed a day in town and eagerly waited for the morning boat.

Our guesthouse at our friend Bruno's place.

The kids in the jungle always have smiles on their faces. Their joy is infectious.

Their disposal techniques are still quite a ways behind the times.

Us with our new friend Mike the cabby.

A Peruvian classic. Ceviche. A large mound of raw fish soaked in line juice.

This poor guy was missing two legs.

Amazonian street food.

I was not willing to climb this tree without shoes.

Volleyball isn't my only sport.

Chickens, get your chickens. We got geese too.

While we waited, Patrik and I wandered around town and tried to get a feel for the place. We stumbled across a game of street volleyball. This was some serious stuff though. There were about 20 spectators and some sweet dinero was on the line. This was a volleyball gambling ring. I found two locals that wanted to play plus Patrik we made a four person team. The team that had just won was happy to get some fresh meat and collect more winnings. We weren't going to make it easy on them though. We were taking on the pride and joy of the Yurimaguas volleyball league. Once our game started about ten more fans gathered around to watch the showdown. Whispers of "Gringo" could be heard all around. The other team had a good hitter named Billy. Billy was the LeBron James of this league. Early on Billy went up for a smash and I blocked it straight down onto his side. Like a prefessional game of football the crowd went wild. It was the loudest cheer I've ever gotten in a VB match. They started screaming "Bien! Gringo!" as they laughed and rooted as loud as they could. They couldn't believe that we were putting up a fight. Patrik was struggling a bit in the back row so we moved him up front with me. It wasn't long before he also got a big block on the same guy, Billy. The crowd erupted for the second time. We narrowly won the first game out of three. Then we lost the second. It was now down to the cinamtic final game. Every few minutes the game needed to be paused and we lifted the net a bit to let an oncoming moto taxi drive down the road through the court. In this third game the pressure was on. There were now over 50 people watching and Patrik and I were the only two players smiling. For everyone else this was a serious pride match. The game continued on and the score remained close. They began targeting Patrik who had the least volleyball experiance, but he continued to perform well. For the final point our setter put the ball right up to the net for me and I spiked it down backwards. The ball hit the ground in bounds and the crown went nuts! We did it, we won! Our teammates ran over to us with huge smiles and double high-fived us. For a few moments I felt like a superstar that had just won the big game. It was great to see such a strong sense of community. We collected our winnings and walked off the court as champions.

I like the matrix moves the guy with the yellow shirt has.

Number 1. The champions of Yurimaguas.

I did have a bit of a height advantage.

The kids look suspicious at first, but eventually they come around. 

We got a tour of a indigenous man's farm.

"What is this thing? A huge lime?!?"

Found this guy cruising up the river and he offered to give us a ride and showed us his farm.

It was not Tormod's day. He missed the first half of his soccer match he wanted to watch. You can see the disappointment.

Small river boat cruise.

We headed back to the boat to check on the status. The plan was that the boat would leave at 5 am. I slept on the roof of the cargo ship until morning. Morning came, and transformed into afternoon.....the boat still had not left yet. Now the story had changed to 9 am, then noon. We were now told it would leave it 3 o'clock. 3 came and we were told it would leave at 6 pm, then 9, then midnight. We were unsure if the were leading us on, or if they were so disorganized they really didn't know. Based on 99% of my experiances in South America involving time, I'm gonna go with the latter. I still felt like I was being toyed with. One more night sleeping on the roof and the boat finally took off at 5 am. Almost 48 hours after we attempted to catch a ride.

Big river boat cruise.

Doctor Patrick prepares to treat his new patient.

Hammocks galore. This is what life aboard a riverboat is like.

This lady invited herself to chill out in Tormod's hammock. He was far from thrilled. He went so far as to move his hammock to a different part of the boat.

They say everything is bigger in Texas, but I doubt the toads are. 

The cargo ship was filled with quite a mix. The hearty crew making their living loading and unloading the ship. Families seeking a better life in the big city. Backpackers wanderlusting for jungle adventure. A Venezualan refugee looking for work and new home in Iquitos. The boat was about to burst with bags of cements, corn, appliances, a few hundred chickens, a single cow and the 50 odd people aboard. Once we took off, the ride seamed magical. The jungle scrolled beside us like a never ending roll of wallpaper. Pink dolphins poked their heads above tye water to get a breath of fresh air. Colorful birds flew above the canopy as monkeys played in the trees. Then out of the blue, the show came to a complete halt. With a loud crash, and a thump felt throughout the whole body, the boat stopped. I rushed over to the side of the boat to see what had happened. We had crashed into a hidden patch of sand. The boat had run aground in the middle of the river. The water blasted  against the side of the boat and dug us deeper into the sand. The ship slowly shifted sideways. In an effort to reduce the weight on board they ferryed all the passengers to land on a tiny wooden boat about 5 passengers at a time. After an hour or so all the passengers, were ashore and watched helplessly as the boat attempted to break free. After another hour or so a second cargo ship popped into view and I thought we were saved. This second ship tried everything to break out boat free. From ramming, to tugging, to boosting, but nothing working. The group of us waited on land amongst banana and gum trees. We looked like a group of passengers on a tropical deserted island that had narrowly survived a ship wreck. Then a monsoon hit. We had no shelter except the surrounding trees. We began using large banana leaves as umbrellas as we held them above our heads. By a stroke of luck one of the passengers had a large tarp. We were all able to squeeze underneath it packed together like sardines. The tallest people lined up around the perimeter of the tarp and did their best to hold it up. Here we were. A group of strangers from all walks of life working together to keep ourselves and our gear dry in the Amazon. It was a special moment in the jungle. After several hours a third cargo ship came into view. This ship was not here to help, but did offer to pick up any impatient travelers ready to continue on. Our things were still on board the first ship so we decided to wait it out. A large percentage of tge passengers did jump ship though. As a last ditch effort they unloaded a large portion of the cargo onto the second cargo ship, and our ship finally broke free from the clutches of the quicksand. We had gotten stuck around 8 am and didn't get out until after 5 pm, but hey at least the boat didn't go down. We made it to Iquitos after 5 days on the boat. We were served "Prison food" as Patrik called it. Every meal was some sort of soup that was actually more of a cream. Everything was just blended together. Rice soup, oat soup, wheat soup. The best part, the water used in these soups was pulled straight out of the Amazon river. You must be thinking, "Well yeah, makes sense. They must have a good filter." Nope they scoop it out, and drop a few chlorine tablets in it and it's good to go.

Some rooftop sunbathers.

This is one of the bowls of boat slop. And a bit of rock hard bread. I could hear Anderon's warning "The food of the boat is gnarly."


The display was off the charts.

I am the captain of the ship.

Five days on the boat evaporated in what felt like minutes. Life flies, don't waste it.

A few of us got some loopy stomachs the last day on the boat, but nothing too crazy. I will chill in Iquitos for a few more days then head back to Tarapoto. I have a few repairs to attend once I'm back in Tarapoto. After that I'll be back on the road headed for Lima and Cusco.

The Amazon is magical.

Los tres amigos.