There’s No One New Around You

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‘Hairy’ stares at the fast crossing glacier stream, wondering how he is going to cross it, in order to follow everyone else. He is in the second deepest canyon in the world. His name means ‘hairy’ in Ayamara, and the entire community know him well and claim him.

For some strange reason I’m second guessing this blog post, which is fitting. I’m trying to write a blog post about the little ways I’m losing my self confidence, and I keep revising the first sentence.

Okay, the first paragraph is done, the momentum is there, I can carry on. I’ve paused a moment. Listening to music. Trying to get to the heart of what I actually want to say.

The best way is to begin with a story.

Last night I went to a colleague’s farewell even though I was sluggish for most of the day. The conversation was good, I was part of a core group of friend-colleagues and the conversation never struggled. But then I met another journalist from another organisation. She began making conversation by talking about a mutual Facebook friend who I have never met before, and then we compared notes about a place called Mount Isa.

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The local tour guide takes pity on ‘Hairy’, picks him up and throws him across. All Hairy needed was the height and the momentum. He could land on his own four paws.

I lived in Mount Isa almost four years before I went to Peru. I had burnt out from journalism and was broke, struggling to find a job, renting with my grandma. And then out of the blue I had the job offer for Mount Isa, and within weeks I traveled across the country, took the job, rented a room, and plunged myself into a small community in ways that became toxic, because I was trying to be someone else. I did cool things, was flown in charter planes to Indigenous communities, went to outback races, and interviewed my fair share of politicians. I left for Peru confident in my ability as a journalist in ways I was never confident in the previous jobs, and in a way, that I haven’t felt in my return to the career. Lately I doubt my ability. I shouldn’t. I guess. But I do.

And then, across the table, this woman tells me that she was offered the exact same job that I took (same year, same month), and declined it, deciding to work as a journalist in Cambodia instead. My friend suddenly came back with a beer for me because he was predicting how I was going to feel, an awkward unnerved feeling.

It came gradually. It’s silly. Because she was first offered the job that has defined my career, and shaped me, I suddenly felt I wasn’t good enough for it. That today she is the better journalist because she was ahead of me back then.

I know that’s not true. Mount Isa did shape me, improve me, made me a hell of a lot better. And it was her loss for not taking the job…maybe. That’s not my call and she had other great opportunities more suited to her.

But I explain this because it’s one of the little things that’s chipping at the confidence.

One can’t solve a confidence issue by other people reassuring that you’re great at what you’re doing. It doesn’t work. You kind of have to find your own way, your own world that you can retreat to, where you’re an authority in some form or another.

I went to Peru. So every few days here when I feel stuck in the grind again, I throw up a beautiful scene that I photographed in Peru onto social media. People like it, I feel acknowledged, and I carry on.

I want to talk about Tinder and how much I hate it. I went on one date but conversation afterwards by message was forced and it eventually stopped. I hardly match with anyone, although I’m to blame for that too.

When there’s a match, and I write a message, it’s so hard. Often I won’t hear back, and it’s difficult to gauge what it is I’m supposed to say. And then, I’m told by the app “there’s no one new around you”, a lie that is telling me that I am not compatible with anyone around here, not today at least.

This whole exercise is eroding my self-confidence. Why play a game I’m not good at or interested in? I should leave it alone. Enjoy learning to cook. I’m about to bake a cake. I should enjoy the big unit I have to myself. I can figure my way out of Resident Evil. Keep writing. Define myself, and not care how others value me. 

It’s just that people overlook me quickly, as an interest, and it drives me crazy. And there’s that squirm inside me, that breaks out usually in the middle of the week, on a cold night.

What if there’s nobody that’s going to see me the same way my ex did?

 

The melancholy in the return to Oz

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Getting that selfie with the quokkas.

I’ve been in Australia for a bit more than a week, and I have to admit it’s been a confronting experience. I suppose it’s up to me to try to put it into words as to why.

I landed in Brisbane Airport after more than 35 hours of travelling or being transient (12 hours in the Santiago Airport). I stayed at my friends’ place, and even there it all felt different. My friend Jon had married while I was away and he had moved out.

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Getting in my Spanish practice. This was given to me after I returned from Peru.

I couldn’t make decisions for days without questioning it. Everything was a mental haze. I didn’t really feel like speaking to anyone for long.

For 17 months I was surrounded by Spanish speakers and so instinctively I had to read body language. I had a theory that when I returned I would be overwhelmed by all the English spoken around me, and would be able to read body language extremely well.

That was partly true.

Instead I found in large places I didn’t notice the English spoken around me. It was all just noise and could have been any language.

And reading body language and tone was useful, but I could see quickly when people weren’t interested in what I was saying. Or could see they were not interested in what I was saying, but still cared about me.

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A much welcomed message from the Sydney International Airport.

I realised this too. I wanted to talk about Peru. They wanted to talk about their lives.

We all just wanted to talk about ourselves.

I bought a ticket to WA to see my family. My brother and his  girlfriend recently built a house together. They have a proud Bengal cat. A job that’s only five minutes away in a recently built-up suburb. Big TV. There’s a hot water tap for the kitchen sink, and you get to flush the toilet paper. They let me stay at their place. I sleep on the couch. It’s extraordinarily comfortable.

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Staring out over the ocean at Rottnest Island, WA.

Everything is spaced out and the houses have front and back yards. I can’t believe I miss the banana and strawberry sellers wheeling their carts on the roads, shouting, “fresas! platanos!” and annoying me while I’m trying to rest.

I made a joke that my brother had to drive his homeless brother somewhere. And then I realised it actually wasn’t a joke. For now I am homeless. I’m looking for work but my industry has changed a bit.

We went to the store the other day to buy food. And when we went through the auto check-out, I couldn’t find plastic bags.

“Oh, you have to buy them,” my brother said. Sometime recently the plastic bag was banned.

My mum, brother and I went to Rottnest Island to take selfies with Quokkas. I guess I wanted to show off to my Peruvian friends. The little marsupials were everywhere and have no fear of humans. We hired push bikes and cycled half the island, and this to me was the type of adventure that made me feel like I was still travelling in Peru.

Upstream of the Amazon at night

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When I booked my boat ride to get out of Lagunas, where I stayed for a three day tour in the jungle, I hadn’t considered the arrival of the express boat and its complications.

The boat was expected to be at the port by midnight, which gave me eight hours to pass the time once I left the jungle, stinking and sunburned.

I booked a night at the nearby hostel, had a shower, and rested. I hadn’t washed my clothes in a week, and had to resort to scrubbing the armpits of the Tintin shirt I was wearing, while in the jungle.

At 10.30pm I took a moto to the port, and I realised the risk I had placed myself in. The port was really nothing but a road that ended at the riverbank. A dim street light shone over the end of the road and empty market stalls, and a general store, and the ticket office.

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Men passed, preparing for a journey on a cargo boat. A few couples waited near the store.

“Am I safe here?” I asked the moto driver in rough Spanish. He said I was okay if I stayed directly in the area of the street light.

Men came to talk to me, in rough jungle-river accents, and I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying. I didn’t need the attention, or the risk of offending, but they all were trying to help me. One guy offered the transport on his friend’s cargo boat, and another said my boat wasn’t due until 2am.

The ticket master rushed to the office, unlocked the door, searched inside and returned to give me my ticket. Apparently three days before they had given me the receipt, not the official ticket.

And then the street light turned off. I felt dread, unsafe, and realising I was waiting at the shore in the dark. The power in Lagunas is rationed, or more accurately, the diesel that generated it, from 4pm to 11pm.

We could see the boat lights from almost an hour away, cutting out between the bends and islands, and as it passed, people shone torches and mobile phones to lure the boat in. It came and a crowd of us walked into the stuffy boat. It smelled strongly of sweat and eaten food, and I searched for a free seat in the dark and couldn’t find one. A lady took pity on me, sat her little boy on her lap and gave me space. The boat moved on but there was no room for my legs. It hurt to bend my legs at such a tight angle.

The dark became morning. As light shone, the children became active. There were so many infants, and they had to sit on their parents, because of the space. Children became more aware later in the day, and had a habit of staring at me when I wasn’t looking. Most of the time I pretended they weren’t, but when I did, they would shyly grin and look away. They were well behaved, considering, although some of them would lightly return their mothers’ slaps when they were reprimanded.

The boy next to me on his poor mum’s lap began playing with the boat curtains, which stretched the entire side, but soon a TV was set up, hanging from the roof, for the kids to watch some Peruvian situational comedy. They loved it, but for me, it was torture. I couldn’t understand why the tiny tough man with a mohawk was beating a chubby man’s stomach with a whip in some marketplace.

After 12 hours in the boat we reached Nauta, just upstream of the Amazon River, and I left exhausted. Police searched my bag, and then I took a bus to Iquitos.

This blog is part of a collection of my journal entries travelling into the Peruvian jungle region of Loreto. Another piece includes my jungle tour.

Food Vlog: Guinea Pig

 

On the New Years Eve of 2017, I tasted Cuy while in the mountains near Huaraz. The next day I was purging my body. It wasn’t a pleasant experience.

But I’ve had time to think about it and I realise I can’t let one bad experience at the beginning of my trip dictate what I will and won’t do. It might have been altitude sickness, or travel anxiety, or the potatoes. I had to try again. This time my girlfriend’s mum recommended the restaurant.

The cuy was served in parts but you can have it whole with the offal still in it, although not at this restaurant. Mine was fried with garlic. It had the tiny ribs and little paws.

There’s there little meat under the tough crackling, but it tastes good. Monica, on the right outside of the camera, also had cuy but managed to get a lot more from the bones than I did.

 

There’s a trick and a confidence needed to get the most out of it.

The final weeks of Peru

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Five months ago I had a decision to make. Well, it wasn’t really a decision, but I had to acknowledge that I wasn’t happy with my life here in Peru. Not really.

I left Australia 17 months ago and I wasn’t afraid to do it, for a better life. I couldn’t be afraid for the same reason to change my own life in Peru.

So I was able to leave my job and to travel for a while, scheduling my airfare to return to Australia at the end of March.

There’s less than two weeks until I return to Australia. I’ve done my travelling. I haven’t been able to blog about it all yet. But now I’m in a weird space, my mind turned to returning home.

  1. I spend my time watching Doctor Who and Marvel movies with my girlfriend. We watched Captain Marvel in gold class last week, eating lemon meringue pie and drinking Corona while we did it. At the moment we’re halfway through Season 4 of Doctor Who. I think we’ll finish the David Tennant era in time.
  2. I just bought Crash Bandicoot N.Sanity and we’re progressing through that twisted and fiddly nightmare of a game. I just discovered Fortnite as well.IMG_20190313_225323_131.jpg
  3. I’m trying to eat more different food, and I’ve been vlogging some of my reviews, such as the one about beef heart. I went to eat ceviche in Huanchaco the other day.

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    My former housemates and I call this place ‘Cheap Hostel’ and we’ve had many a beer here.
  4. I’m creating a scrapbook of my time here and that’s progressing slowly.
  5. I look at my filthy room and know I should be getting rid of stuff and packing. I grow concerned that I won’t have enough room to take everything back. And what about gifts?
  6. My girlfriend Tiffany and I sometimes practice speaking Spanish, usually in the taxis and sometimes in front of her mum. We’re mindful of how little time we have left before we go our different way. Being single again…a new identity and being in Australia….the emptiness…the adjustment… makes me nervous.
  7. Tiffany has a new job starting days after I leave. It’s fantastic, although she moves away from her family for the first time. The problem is she can’t see me off at the Lima airport. We’re both sad about it.
  8. I discovered a place that delivers chicken wings and fries!
  9. I’ve just began and finished watching Umbrella Academy. Now I’m watching a documentary called ‘Explained’ and in each episode it uses famous voiceovers to discuss important issues, like the water crisis, the female orgasm, and whether or not we can increase our life expectancy.

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    I went for a walk near the Plaza de Armas today. I was trying to print stuff for scrapbooking.
  10. That’s been my life for two weeks. It will probably be my life for the next two weeks. I feel sad, but I remember this was my choice, and the best option that I had. Sometimes I think I should do more…go do more things, but I already have!
  11. School has just returned. And I find myself talking about my students again, and wondering what they are learning in history, and whether or not they miss me.

A jungle guide named ‘Santiago’

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There’s a shack in the jungle, by the river, in the national park of Pacaya-Samiria. I’m there two nights. Other people pass through in that time. Some take tours of three days, or four, or seven. Some can be in the national park for up to a month.

My guide Santiago takes me on a walking tour on the second day for a few hours, while it rains. We see monkeys, and rubber trees, and the sap stretches. He shows fruits, and I taste a little bitter yellow fruit. He cuts through scrub with a machete.

 

He chops pieces of bark for himself from trees which he says can help with vaginal pain, and cancer, and other sicknesses. Everything we truly need seems to be in the jungle.

We collect strange fish, not just piranhas, from nets. He cooks lunch, we rest, and have dinner. He gets exhausted by my need to speak Spanish when we can ask nearby translators for help, and soon he offers me a boat ride in the night to search for alligators.

 

“Oh crap, I’ve offended him,” I think as we searched the creek by torchlight. “What a terrible way to die.”

Eyes shine orange in the night. A branch resting near the canoe shakes, and I jump in fright. He shows me alligators close up but they aren’t anywhere near as big as salt water crocs. I relax.

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Orange eyes in the dark stare, not looking away from their predator. Sometimes they disappear when I shine the light away and back.

Santiago can find frogs in the trees by torchlight, and shows me, and eventually we return to the shack.

The next day he’ll canoe us both upstream to the park’s entrance, barely stopping except for lunch and to signal the river otters. Sometimes he drinks a brew from a water bottle made from ingredients from the jungle, but offers me none.

  • This blog post is part of a collection of journal entries set while I journey alone to the Peruvian jungle. It begins with this post, if you are interested. 

Welcome to the Jungle!

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My jungle guide is a Peruvian by the name of Santiago. He wasn’t too impressed with me, but I think he’s incredible.

We take a moto to the national park border, sign in, and pack all we need into a dug-out canoe. Santiago loads it up with rice, eggs, water, tomatoes, and potatoes.

For eight hours he paddles slowly downstream in the creek. The jungle around us is dense, and the mangroves all have spikes the size of nails running along their roots so that if I fell into the water, without a canoe, I would drown or be in agony trying to claw my way out.

The price of life here seems to be pain.

Santiago paddles a few times, stops occasionally, and listens. Then he paddles. Tree branches collapse, and I shift excitedly, but he ignores them. He zones out the unnecessary sounds, but can point out the monkeys, and an Iguana which takes me five minutes to find after he points straight at it.

We see two anacondas that first morning, curled into branches over the creek where the best place to get sun is. After one anaconda sighting he declares that I am lucky to see one on my first day. On the second sighting he is amazed. He shifts the canoe so that I am about a metre away from its coil. It makes me anxious knowing it could choose two ways to travel if it wakes, and one of them is the canoe.

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When river dolphins splash around, he imitates their call. When monkeys pass nearby searching for fruits, he calls to them. It fools the animals sometimes, especially when we sight the otters on our third day. They are really pissed off. They yell at us in otter-speak, the second time that Santiago fools them.

I’m sunburned by the time we reach a clearing with two shacks in the late afternoon. One of the shacks is for us. I rest in a hammock just as the storm hits us. Lightning strikes and I am scared.

But despite this there is peace. There is no reception or internet. As it grows dark someone turns on a motor, which powers the electricity. Santiago prepares dinner.

*This story is part of a series of journal entries travelling into the Loreto Region in January. You can read the first piece of the collection here

My 20 photo collection of ‘real’ Peru

In 18 months I have collected a bunch of photographs across 12 of the 25 regions of Peru.

I have seen snow for the first time, been at 5000 metres above sea level, wandered in the jungle, and used planes, boats, buses, and taxis to get to my destination. I have somehow managed despite a limited amount of Spanish.

The Ministry of Tourism sure would be keen for you to see a certain angle of Peru, but in my time here I’ve learned there are various levels. There are experiences beyond my comfort zone. There is so much more than Machu Picchu, and the fine gastronomy.

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There are people, and slums, and desert, and hardship, and I see so many Peruvians working extremely hard just to have a comfortable lifestyle.

And so I hope these photographs capture some of that. I hope you see what I saw.

Along the Rio Maranon

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People get into the express boat at Yurimaguas at 6am.

There’s much debate as to where the source of the Amazon River is, or even, where it actually becomes the river. But, according to Peru, and to Google Maps, the Amazon River is named once the two tributaries ‘Maranon’ and ‘Ucayali’ join.

The jungle between their joining is the Reserva Nacional Pacaya Samiria, which is Peru’s largest national park.

I want to visit the jungle and I hear the best way to visit it is by taking a boat to the small town of Lagunas, on the west side of the park. Most tourists come from the east, near Iquitos.

 

I travel downriver on an express boat, which leaves the Yurimaguas Port at 6am. It is a canoe shaped raft with a roof, and windows near the water, with a toilet at the back. There is an aisle which fits between three seats. After the passengers take their seat, the crew load up the front of the boat with fresh produce, and items that cannot wait for a slower cargo boat.

We stop at a few small villages along the way, with shacks, and thin horses, and the occasional telecommunications tower, of dug out canoes with tiny engines. It take five hours to reach Lagunas.

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Children and elderly people stand at the port of Lagunas, ready to get onto the boat to sell their wares.

Children and elderly women stand on the bank waiting for us and as soon as we hit land, they pile onto the boat before I escape. There’s too many of them. They sell soft drinks and water, beef hearts and fried egg rings, and strange jungle fruits. More kids get on the boat but find themselves trapped at the back. They cannot leave until the ones at the front do, but those ones are determined to reach more customers.

The captain shouts something, probably to say it is time to go. I try to leave and a kid laughs at my expression, but in a nice way. He sees the humour and the madness of the situation, expressed on the face of an outsider.

 

I’ve been told by the Lonely Planet guidebook and by a man at the Yurimaguas port to seek the president of the ‘Asociacion Huayruro Tours’, Miguel. I am told by the last hostel owner that he will get him to wait at the port for me. A man beckons me to his moto at the Lagunas port, and I assume he is Miguel. He take me to a hostel. I get a room and after a bit realise that there has been confusion.

I visit the association three times that day, but each time I’m told the president will return from the jungle in an hour. The truth is I am anxious.

There is no way to get money in Lagunas. There is no bank, no ATM, no exchanges, nada! I brought all my money, about 700 Soles. I am worried it won’t be enough for three days in the jungle, more than a day in Lagunas, and a boat trip to Iquitos. At the same time, I feel it’s too much money to have with me.

The main street is fine enough, but most houses are made of wood and appear run-down. Every street that branches out from the main one become dirt, and in most cases are overgrown with grass. It’s intimidating, and after three times not hearing from the association I buy my boat ticket out for that night. I’m impatient and not accounting for jungle time and limited reception, but I’m also scared of the jungle and for what I’m going to expect.

But I quickly learn as I walk through town that the people are kind, and the best of Peruvians. They offer advice, aren’t greedy, and are hospitable. I begin to feel safe as Miguel finally contacts me. I agree to take a jungle tour for 500 Soles total which would last three days. I go to the dock and am able to reschedule my ticket.

I’ll leave for the jungle the following morning.

To the edge of Loreto

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Some of the boats at the river port of Yurimaguas. 

Tarapoto was a small city in a cleared valley, nestled in by the mountain jungles. It’s the first place from the coast I really notice the motos. There are thousands of them zooming through the narrow one-way streets.

The hostel was great value and the people were friendly, more-or-less. The tourist police had a big building next to the plaza and although the officer who helped me couldn’t speak English, was patient and considerate. We had a small mix-up when he thought I asked if I could take a photo of him, and he had to say no because he was a police officer.

He suggested a zoo when I asked for places to see, but it was really a rescue centre. I went to visit for animal photos but the pens and fences made it hard to do that. They showed a hidden pen with the most ‘dangerous’ animal, and the visitors were taken in one-by-one to see it. The pen was empty, except for a mirror.

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There are plenty of waterfalls, a lake, and a small town with a colonial castle, but I continued by mini-bus to Yurimaguas. I sat squeezed among locals and realised it might be a rough ride when everyone grabbed a small garbage bag for themselves. One small girl around 10-years or so, needed it a few times even after we made it through the mountainous jungle route. It felt cold there, almost misty, as if numerous waterfalls and springs weren’t too far away.

During the drive we crossed over into the Loreto Region, easily the biggest of all the 25 regions of Peru, and one that includes the upper Amazon and its jungle basin.

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I’m in Yurimaguas. Eventually I will get to Iquitos, but since it’s unaccessible by road, I will have to get there by river.

Yurimaguas felt rougher. A moto driver immediately approached me as I got off the bus, and stopped the moto halfway on the journey just to let me know it was better if I was stocked up at the market first. I went to buy a hammock, and the guy offered to sell it for 36 soles until I walked out. He was offended when he agreed on 30 Soles, and while it was still a high price, it was a good hammock.

It was a dock town, one where money was made by trade and the transport of it, and not by tourism. My hostel was near the plaza right on the bank of the river. I nearly walked away because it was a shack on stilts, but when I was inside I saw the charm. It was run by a Frenchman, and he was friendly enough.

I bought my boat ticket to Lagunas at the dock. It was sold by a woman with the hardest eyes I have seen. They weren’t just cold, or angry. These were intense, as if she would fuck up anyone who fucked with her, and she would do it without feeling bad about it. She would put some thought into it.

I nearly walked away with my ticket, forgetting to pay for it. She wasn’t amused when I apologised.

As night fell, engines revved and smoke clouded the riverbank. At first I thought it was a stupid time to whipper-snipper the grass, but then the haze spread through the markets as I searched for a general store. The haze was a repellent for the mosquitoes, and it worked well. My hostel was open out to the water, a patio that was also the lounge room and dining room, and the rest of the shack but the bedrooms. The mosquitoes barely touched me. We watched the boats pass us on the river.