IT HAS been a year since I left Peru, and in three weeks I would return. But I don’t see how that’s going to happen, what this Covid-19.
Even if I could go there with the knowledge the borders in both countries will be open, would it be responsible? Probably not. It would be selfish, and best to forget how much those tickets cost.
Yesterday I bought my backpackers bag from the army disposal store. I decided to buy it anyway because I wanted to be optimistic. It was on sale from $290 to $170.
It’s selfish to whinge, it doesn’t even matter, there’s a lot more at stake than a one month holiday that has been cancelled.
On a positive note, my mum visited for the last week. It took some getting used to, as a 30 year old used to living on his own. But it was great to come home to a cooked meal, and even to see some things fixed that I never quite got round to doing. That included my remote door handle, which I lost and she replaced, and that means I can use my carport again.
One night I came home after a long day at work and I found a typewriter that she had bought from a second hand store, and now I would like to get that working. It is an Olympia, stuck in a brown suitcase. It has no ribbon, and I still need to buy paper for it too.
Perhaps I can use my one month holiday, at home, using the money I saved for dentist appointments long overdue, and to keep up with my writing.
Mum has returned home in Western Australia, but I really hope everything is sorted for her to travel to the UK in October. That month holiday means a lot to her, and is the first holiday she has booked, besides the time with me, in a long time. Not since she finished university, and not since her father was terminally diagnosed.
In three months I will be flying to South America. I’ll be there slightly less than a month.
My thought when I booked the trip was to dedicate my time to one country, but the reality is I don’t have that luxury if I want to do most South American countries in 30 years.
I will spend one week in Peru before I fly from Lima to Santiago. In Santiago I am left to my own devices for almost three weeks. I intended on travelling to the far south into patagonia territory and flying back.
I want to visit my ex while I’m in Peru. If I’m not careful I will be blogging about my ex, and I do wish to avoid that. She lives in Cusco, which is quite far from where I intend to visit.
The good news is it could make sense to fly to Cusco if I consider another option. I could fly to Cusco from Trujillo, in the north where I used to live and want to see again, and from there bus it across the Bolivian border to La Paz.
I climatise in Cusco, stock up on items that I need, hang out with people I trust, and head to La Paz where I can see Isla de Sol and Death Road. It would be a 14 hour bus ride, which is a perfect distance.
After an uncertain amount of days in La Paz, I would travel south. A train or a bus for 12-14 hours will take me to Uyuni.
Uyuni is significant. It’s a good place to see the Uyuni saltflats for three days. The guidebooks tell me it will be freezing and uncomfortable. But from there I would have to try to coordinate a trip across the border to San Pedro de Atacama, in Chile.
I estimate 10 days in Bolivia, and 7 in Peru, giving me enough time at leisure to get to Santiago.
ONCE I went to Barcelona. It feels a lot longer than four years ago. A friend of mine paid for my trip as a birthday present. We stayed for the weekend. Back then, I was overwhelmed by all the Spanish, the names of train stations, of ‘El’ and ‘La’ and ‘Los’ and the idea there could be more than one ‘the’ in a language.
The lady at the hostel reception by the beach was lovely. She taught me ‘por favor’ and I recall the hard rs that she used to speak it. We practiced ‘hola’ but I could never say it with a straight face. And I learned ‘pronto’, for as we returned to the airport I saw the phrase on the sign ‘hasta pronto.’ I thought it meant ‘immediately’. Subconsciously I still do.
My friend knew as much Spanish as I did. We spent another night at a hostel called Wombats in London, and I fucked up our friendship a bit, because in the brick basement of the hostel, where the bar and the foozball table was, she wanted to dance. I did not. She tried to persuade me. I was quite blunt when I said I wasn’t dancing. So we didn’t.
She was the definition of chaos, the one who found herself getting out of trouble by going directly into it. There was always a reason she lost her phone, or broke it. She wasn’t afraid to do anything, and I always felt straight edged and boring besides her. When I returned home, I’d hear about her adventures from a mutual friend and I’d laugh and sy “that’s her”. She never used social media, and I never heard from her directly, except once when she came back for a holiday.
I moved to Peru, and maybe it was because I recognised I had to do something brave, courageous, something different like my friends who moved to London.
In the hard times I wondered how my friend would manage to survive if she was in my position, until I realised it was my journey and my way. I became a bit arrogant about it, feeling that nobody back in Australia could understand my mindset, from the little things like the 15 minute walk to work in the mornings and watching the people gather at the street juice vendors, or to wait for their buses, or the school kids with their backpacks, talking about their school projects, and always, siempre, with that sense of alienation from it all.
I’d pass the police officers with my head down, the panneria, the cafe on the corner near the cathedral which served the turkey sandwiches I enjoyed, but rarely tipped for. There were the grey bleak shops, and then the older, more colonial blue and yellow buildings, mostly converted to become government offices or a McDonalds. There was the super mercado and yet another busy road to cross with a dodgy reputation, Los Incas. There was the drunk men on the curb, sometimes, who began shouting at me until I got so angry that I did something all the locals would have warned me to avoid. I went to them and asked what they meant and because the conversation was in limited and awkward Spanish, they were embarrassed. For me, or for them. They never did it again. And then there was the lady in her fifties, a few houses up from where I rented my room on Avenida Moche, who I think was convinced that I was Venezuelan. I’d always try to avoid her, but sometimes she was in front of her place, sweeping the pavement or cleaning her window usually, and then she’d call to me. And it never seemed to feel nice.
I lived overseas 18 months, and I came back, bearded and blunt and for a while feeling my emotions rise up quickly whenever I was unhappy, until finally I felt a bit more adjusted.
I heard she was moving to South America.
I searched my shelves for a Spanish language guidebook I was given in the Amazon city of Iquitos, the sort of place I knew she would be drawn to, and I gave it to a friend who would be going to her farewell party.
She messaged me on an ambiguous social media account when she was in Peru. I enjoyed hearing how she thought of it, but liked giving advice just as much, and wishing, and waiting, that I could finally return. But that will be in another 12 weeks, and until then, I like imagining that I’m in her situation when she’s figuring it all out for herself. The roads she will take and the foods she’ll taste will be completely different from my own, even if I get pleasure from the sameness.
This monumental sculpture is about a historic event in Machupicchu Pueblo, which remembers the disastrous day in which a great mudslide almost swept the village and was marked in the heart of the villagers.
This fact is remembered not as a day of disaster but as a new beginning, a rebirth, and a new opportunity.
This mudslide was on 20 October 1947 and the data is based on the compilation made by the already deceased ex-mayor Jose Houchi Portillo and some ancient villagers. The story tells that there was a huge mudslide destroying everything in its path and the small town called Aguas Calientes (today Machu Picchu Town) suffered this catastrophic disaster and suddenly it was helped by the apus which sent giant cyclopean granite rocks blocking the path of the mudslide, protecting the old town of Machu Picchu.
In the sculpture the artists represent the protecting spirit of the rock saving and covering a child from the turbulent waters of the flood, this child represents the town of Machu Picchu and on both sides there are wavy lines and red dots representing water and rocks.
Sculptor: Francisco W Diaz Vampi, Manuel Quispe Poaquira, Misael Ballo Bellota.
This sculpture and story is among many found in Machu Picchu Town.
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.
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.
I’ve lived in Peru for 17 months and in that time I haven’t exactly been brave when it comes to new food.
I’m not adventurous anyway, but I suppose I got knocked around with a lot of stomach bugs in the first six months here. I guess I tried avoiding the drama, especially when it came to street food. But I avoided cheap Peruvian meals too under a certain price, especially when slurping chicken soup and seeing the foot in among the meat pieces.
That needs to change! So, I decided to taste anticucho (beef heart), and have given my thoughts on it in front of the phone camera. I hope you like it.
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.
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.
This is where we are.
Inside the express boat to Lagunas (and onwards to Iquitos).
The Yurimaguas boat port.
One of the small villages along the river.
Cargo boats continually pass by with rather interesting looking objects.
The shore of one section of the river.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The trouble with travelling without knowing the local language is not knowing what is happening as things are going on. You can only sense and adjust to the reaction.
I always hate stopping in Chiclayo (770 km north of Lima). I haven’t been there, really, except for at the bus station. The bus needs to refill and this one took almost 90 minutes and I kept feeling I must have missed the call to get back on.
I thought the bus to Tarapoto would take 24 hours from Trujillo. When we stopped after 21 hours, in the early afternoon, and when everyone left, I had to ask in clumsy Spanish if we were in Tarapoto. We were.
Moto drivers wouldn’t give me time to breathe. They offered a ride but I needed to think up my plan. I finally took a ride to the Plaza De Armas (town centre) and walked from there to my hostel El Mural. For 35 Soles a night I had a private ensuite with a desk, which was good value for what I later received in my travels.
*This blog is the beginning of a collection of journal entries of my three week trip through the north east of Peru.
MY landlord asked in Spanish if my girlfriend and I could be the godparents of his six-year-old daughter. I guess I didn’t really consider the responsibility. I only saw it as an adventure.
I said yes.
It wasn’t until we were on the way to the church for the baptism on Saturday night that I really even got to speak to my goddaughter. She stared out the window at the traffic pushing its way on-and-off through the narrow Trujillo laneways, in the backseat with my girlfriend Tiffany and I.
I remember how formal it looked, how nervous or vulnerable she was pretending not to be, in a white baptism dress and a garland of pink flowers on her head.
She spoke few words in English, maybe a ‘hello’ and ‘goodbye’, but when we first met she did recite the Lord’s Prayer, at the request of her mother. But somehow, I began talking in Spanish. It was broken and clumsy and needed some work, but slowly the conversation became less awkward between an Australian and his goddaughter.
“Cuantos anos tienes?” she asked Tiffany and I. How many years do you have.
At first I didn’t understand, but it clicked in my mind, and with a proud ‘ohh. Entiendo!’ I said, happily, “Tengo Veintiocho anos.” I have twenty eight years. (In Spanish, think of external forces like cold and warmth, hunger and thirst, and the years you have as a possession, and not a statement of who you are).
“Te ves mas de treinta,” she said. I knew enough to know this meant, You look more than 30.
It was the first time I have been considered looking older than I am, but she was six, and I wore a tie, and had grown a beard. And my beard was showing the occasional gray hair.
There was another moment that really stood out to me in that taxi ride, during which the car continued to stop and start and push its way ahead of the disorder through the laneways. We were talking about kangaroos and koalas and crocodiles, although she only reacted to the kangaroos.
I said that I needed to learn Spanish.
“Por Que?” she asked. Why?
And maybe I was over examining the basic question from a young girl, but in that ‘Por Que’ I saw a girl in her own world that had continually been taught that English was the important language, that Spanish wasn’t as necessary, and that as a foreigner who already had mastered the one language, didn’t need Spanish. It made me sad.
“Porque todos aqui hablan en Espanol,” I said. Because everone here speaks in Spanish.
‘Ah,’ she said, and accepted the answer.
And that’s when we arrived at the Santa Rosa Church.
I have these doubts and wonder what it is I can do for a godchild when I return to live a world away. At the very least, presents for Christmas and birthdays are important, and so I think are the occasional letters.
By this action alone it is clear to me that I cannot just return to Australia with some happy memories and some stories to tell. I am collecting knowledge, but responsibilities too.
I have rarely been in a catholic church, but the last time would have been in visiting the second floor of the Church of Francisco in Cusco, with giant pillars and gold chandeliers, and wooden carvings that took decades for slaves to craft. Compared to that church, or even to the one on the hilltop of Huanchaco, this was a humble building. It was old, with remnants of the original painting on the walls, with the elaborate designs of the Mother Mary and of Santa Rosa and crosses in various shapes and forms around the building.
We stood at the front at the baptism bowl with the padre leading the service. Eight family members stood by the two pews recording the event on their phones. The padre spoke in Spanish and everyone repeated, knowing exactly what to say, and moved their hands to the signs of the cross in a specific order.
It was then clear to me that nobody had really considered the ignorance of a foreigner, standing at the front with everyone. It wasn’t only just the lack of Spanish. The family knew that. What they hadn’t considered, perhaps, was a foreigner who didn’t know how the structure of catholic ceremony worked. I hadn’t been actively involved since I was expelled from my catholic school in grade 4. These aren’t things you tell the parents and grandparents of your goddaughter.
But there was a powerful moment. It felt like it had meaning, the sort of intensity in which I now try to reach for my phone to collect it. My goddaughter stood at the bowl and the padre poured water down her forehead. I stood less than a metre away. She didn’t shy from the water. Her face was calm. It barely dripped. She stepped back, as did the rest of us, and then we held lit candles as the padre read to us in Spanish.
I’ve been thinking about my own baptism since Saturday night. It was a different sort of event. My family didn’t celebrate it, that’s for sure. They treated it like a 15-year-old getting a tattoo. Well, no, with a tattoo there would have been a reaction, and that is not the same as indifference.
There’s a church in Perth designed for suburbanite snobs to keep walls up and pretend they are better than everyone else around them, and my uncle and aunt took me there. I am glad they encouraged it because I wanted to do it for some time, but I sat in a bathtub full of water and in front of everyone in the church in swim shorts, and the pastor pulled my head into the water carefully. When I emerged the room cheered like I had done something great, and I suppose I wanted that feeling of acceptance from the crowd to last, like with my friends who sang with the band every Sunday.