Stewing in self-iso

 

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ON Saturday I was supposed to be flying to Santiago, for a month of backpacking in Peru, Bolivia, and Chile. But the world has changed hasn’t it, and I guess it was self-entitlement to think I was ‘supposed’ to be doing anything.

I’m taking two weeks holiday instead of a month, and I am sitting at home. There’s a lot of time to process my thoughts, and there’s a lot of them that haven’t had time to emerge since I first left Peru. And even then I was in reverse culture shock, trying to get a job and a place to move in.

I left a year ago, and I know why I had to leave. I wasn’t happy, I missed Australia, and I wasn’t financially or socially stable. The time was just right to return. But I haven’t really stopped to think about it, except on the one month and six month milestone. And now.

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I just read an article about how the death toll of the coronavirus in Peru is about 80, with about 2500 diagnoses. In Australia there are about 5000 diagnoses, from the top of my head, with about 40 deaths. The article was about how an ex-con living in poverty in Lima is struggling to feed his kids at the markets. The money being distributed by the government isn’t necessarily flowing in places where it’s needed. It’s made me remember that I am lucky, that the worst complaint I’ve really got is a holiday is cancelled, and that I’ve got too much free time safe in my own home, with as many books, TV shows, video games as I could want. So many aren’t this lucky, and while my job isn’t safe, it’s safer than others.

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Mentally I’m squirming, because all this time has helped me to confront why it is I am isolated by myself. I’m not just self-isolated, I’m also having to confront why it is I’m actually lonely, what behaviours have led me to this decision, and whether or not this is the result of healthy choices, or poor ones. It’s probably a mix of both.

I look back and I feel there’s a long line of women disappointed in me, but I also know the reason they were disappointed was because I chose what I believed to be right at the time, or to choose what I wanted, in the right way. But when I’m the centre of this disappointment, I start thinking what it is I have learned, or what is wrong with me? Can I move on and have a fulfilling life, and is having passions like travel and learning Spanish helping that to happen, or is it getting in the way?

I reflect on the personal mistakes I made in Peru, with friendships, love, relationships, and there were a lot of them. I felt I was doing the right thing every time and not quite understanding why the people around me reacted the way they did. In a way, I was already in a form of self-isolation there.

I have a Chilean bottle of wine waiting for me in the pantry but I don’t think it’s a good idea to use it just yet.

I’m using this time to learn as much Spanish as I can. I have a few skype lessons booked, but I’ve also taken a beginners’ online course called ‘El Metodo’ and it’s been quite practical. I’m eight lessons in and it’s at my level.

 

Voy a volver

THE worklife has been consuming. And I don’t mind that so much at all, because when it is consuming, life seems to go by faster. I have a Spanish lesson every weekend, I clean, cook, and maybe buy some collectible cards from the local hobby shop.

But in 27 days, give or take a day, I will be on my way to Peru. Assuming that the agent I bought my tickets from isn’t dodgy, because they’ve changed the time of my tickets so many times.

I’ve calculated I will be in Trujillo for a few days, where I lived, and while there I want to catch up with friends and visit the school and visit the students I work with. That’s why I made the trip! I will see my goddaughter and her family, the people that let me rent with them. I will see my ex’s mother. But who knows who else.

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I was stressing, drained and exhausted after two weeks alone. But I’m in a new city, trying to figure it all out. What an embarrassing display for a beard!

Then I will fly to Cusco, and the plan had been to stay a few days, stock up, and then head east over to Bolivia. But I had planned to leave on Easter Saturday. Now I think I will have to stay the day after Easter because travel will be a nightmare on the buses!

I’m not sure how many friends I will see when I return, and in the last few days it has started to sink in. I would love to of course. But in truth I wasn’t happy with the person I was when I lived there. I was tense, stressed, focused on work, and trying to control everything around me.

And I can’t say, as a person now, that I’ve changed too much at all.

Chile, or Bolivia? O porque no los dos?

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.

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We’re on our own journeys

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.

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Arghhhh! My super gringo power level is rising! 

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.

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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.

 

Munaysonqo

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Munaysonqo

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.

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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. 

Argentina and fitting in and whatever

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I’VE found a song on Youtube I’m listening to on repeat.

Song – Nada fue un error

Tengo una mala noticia  
No fue de casualidad 
Yo quería que nos pasara, y tu, y tu 

I don’t know most of the words but it sounds beautiful, and it’s uplifting, and I like the core message that I get out of it. And the second singer, this wavy haired woman with innocent eyes, and a growling husky Spanish tone, charms me. The lead might be Andres Calamaro, an Argentinian who is possibly my favourite singer at the moment anyway, and he  has a cool laid back long haired vibe. I want to be like him, that guy on centre stage singing in Spanish. But I can’t play a guitar, I can’t sing, I can’t speak Spanish. That’s okay. I listen and every time I grab at another word and I try to sing what I do know at the same time they do.

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There was a Rotary Book Fair on the weekend. I went there with a soon-to-be housemate and colleague. I found three books, with one about police corruption in Qld in the 70s which it turns out I’ve already read, some book called Unpardonable Crime, and…a 2004 Lonely Planet guide for Argentina.

I wanted my next travel destination to be Chile. But after I bought Argentina’s guide and flicked through it I became more excited. This was a challenge! The land is massive, a whole new section of a massive amount of land that is monstrous in comparison to Peru. And having traveled Peru I had a context of the size of Argentina. And there was music, and a new history, and a new culture for me to navigate! I met Argentinas when I left Machu Picchu and they were really nice.

Yesss, Argentina. But the guide said I would need six weeks to three months to circuit Argentina. I believe it. So I think this is a trip that could wait after I quit this job, years from now.

Lo dejaste pasar 
No quiero que me perdones  
Y no me pidas perdón 
No me niegues que me buscaste 

I have an airfares price-watch set on Santiago, Chile. Qantas has just come through with a bunch of specials including a return flight next year, which is when I could go on holidays. It’s only $1000 return. I want to go. I’m ready to do so. I just don’t have the money in my pocket to book it. Just yet. I’ll still do Chile. Maybe fly into Peru and say hello to friends and former students, and then bus it south down the border. Or maybe into Bolivia. I still don’t know.

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There is a boxing troupe that travels in certain places. Fred Brophy runs this boxing tent, and he pitched it last weekend. The locals get drunk and then volunteer to take on his boxers. I’ve been in there once.

As I watched Fred, a true old school Aussie, drawl out for challengers to take on his boxers, and as we screamed in the tent for the next blow, “finish him!” I may have screamed at one point, as some of the lads shook the lights at the top of the tent to make the fighters hurry up. I left the tent and drove home, but happy. It felt good to be back, this tent came to where I used to live before I moved to Peru for 18 months.

Tinder hasn’t gone well. I’m a bit confused by that. One time I thought to myself it was a bit like “how to lose a Tinder match in three messages (without using a dick pic).” My soon-to-be colleague says he goes through the same thing.

For a bit when I came back I just wanted to be single, or be a fuckboy for an ego boost, and when that didn’t eventuate, and as time went on I realised I didn’t have the energy to be with a girl who’d even accept that.

I’m okay being single. I guess I just want to be accepted for who I am. I can be myself and loved for it. I want to vent, and I want to be heard. I had that in a relationship. I’m not sure  I get it when people aren’t invested enough.

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My new car!

I feel like something is still missing. Every week I felt that, I guess, but every week I either got a job or moved, or bought new things for the unit, or connected to NBN. This might be the  first week I don’t need anything new. So what’s new?

Los errores no se eligen 
Para bien o para mal  
No fallé cuando viniste, y tu, y tu 
No quisiste fallar
Aprendí

Peru has become a punchline with my colleagues, probably because I talk about it so much. It’s not meant to be cruel, and it isn’t, but it makes me feel a wall is there. I sit at my desk. And the joke is that I want to keep travelling even though I’m happy where I am.

Today a colleague asked me about music, and to give her a list of what she could listen to. And I did. Happily.

Nada fue un error.

Argentina. That idea. Of being on the road. And being exciting to people again

 

 

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?

 

Bank loans? Stability? What?!

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Three kangaroos talk to each other while my mum and I visit the zoo.

I’ve been fortunate. Already I have found a job, signed a contract, and am ready to start being a journalist again.

And yet I find myself, for the fourth time in a month, staying in yet another house, belonging to a friend or family member. I have to do this until I get paid. In an hour I’ll look at a nanny flat in the new town that I’ll call my home.

It’s a beautiful sunny place. It’s a stone’s throw away from the town I finished high school. Everyone including the electricians in the street will say “hello cobber” and even respond to your response. Automatically I wonder what they want from me. It’s a sign of the emotional defence I’ve had to put up in the 17 months abroad. The defense can go down now.

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The main park in town.

 

I start work in two days. Routine will begin, but for now I have no car and I wonder how I’m going to survive the basic needs for the next week while at the same time making a good impression at my new job.

I’ve survived on a lot of good will in almost a month, from friends and family. It made me wonder how I can get away with doing this again, travelling overseas and coming back with nothing. And with that thought I wondered about my options; credit cards, or a bank loan. From that thought and brief research it made me wonder about the feasibility of a car loan, and an interest rate, and the physical dynamics of it all.

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Eating Tim Tams. I did miss those in Peru.

There were these questions, and I never used to want to know the answers to them, but now I kind of feel helpless not knowing the answers. I look around and see everyone and wonder when they started looking old. When did everyone seem so distant? Did this happen when I was in Peru, or did this happen long before? Did I somehow get through my 20s not bothering to learn the practicalities?

And as I dig into these answers, Peru feels far off behind me. It’s only the people I met there that I miss.

 

 

 

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.