Constant Summer

Paul & Victoria's Travel Blog

Month: December 2015

The Deserts & Beaches of Northern Peru

A LONG TRIP TO MANCORA

Our trip to Mancora, a beach town in the far northwest corner of Peru, was a long one, to say the least. It took two full days, beginning with a 10 hour bus ride from Lima to the town of Trujillo. It was Mel’s first time traveling on the bus system here in South America, and while it was tough, it did give us the opportunity to stop overnight at a very friendly and fun hostel in a small beach town about 20 minutes outside of Trujillo called Huanchaco.

We arrived in the later evening, without much time to explore the quiet town. But were able to walk along the beach to a small restaurant that served yummy sandwiches and at very cheap prices, only a few dollars each. The small fishing town is famously known for the small, skinny reed boats that have been made by the people of Huanchaco for hundreds of years. The boats themselves look like a kayak, and are used to this day as one-man fishing boats, with fishermen paddling out, fishing, and riding the waves back in to shore. Because they are made out of reeds, they don’t last too long but we learned that they are quickly remade every few months. At night, the boats are all kept on the beach, stood up on their ends, which gives the beach a very unique and picturesque quality.

With a nice bed to sleep in and rest up for our second day of bus rides, we left Huanchaco early and made our way back to Trujillo.

SECOND DAY OF BUS RIDES

Once in Trujillo we caught our first of three buses for the day to work our way up to Mancora. We had researched the bus schedules as much as possible and knew that we had a tight schedule to keep for the day. To make things a bit more difficult, each bus we had to catch was at a different bus terminal from the one we would arrive at, meaning we had to find transportation within each town where we were connecting to the next bus. We made it to Chiclayo first (roughly 4 hours) and got in a taxi to our next bus terminal. Our timing was perfect as we arrived and were able to get on the next bus to Piura within about 20 minutes. That bus ride lasted about 3 hours. In Piura we were lucky enough to be dropped off just a few buildings down from the bus terminal to catch our final bus to Mancora. We weren’t able to get on the first bus leaving to Mancora but only had about 45 minutes to wait at the terminal. This gave us some time to get some fresh air and stretch our legs, and even grab some delicious street food right outside of the terminal doors. The last bus ride was about 4 hours, and we arrived in Mancora just about 8:30pm.

LOKI, THE HOSTEL OF FUN

When we arrived in Mancora we quickly grabbed a moto-taxi and they took us to our home for the next couple nights. Originally, we had only planned on staying in Mancora for Friday and Saturday night, but before we even arrived we had planned to book our room for Sunday night as well since we knew we would only get a couple days to enjoy the small surfer-friendly beach town. We walked through the main gate of Loki and instantly felt like it was a resort. The three main buildings looked more like a hotel, with a private patio for each room overlooking the pool and beach. The main common area wasn’t like most hostels. The enclosed grounds hosted areas of hammocks, grassy lawns, a pool surrounded by small cabanas and a restaurant and bar. This place was made for travelers to literally never need to leave.

We got to our room, settled and relaxed for a bit to get out of the funk from our two days of bus rides. The three of us made our way down to the pool area to hang out and make some new friends. After a bit, we headed out of the hostel for a short walk to explore the beach, which is lined with too many ceviche restaurants to count, bars serving pisco sours and even a few dance clubs.

We got up on Saturday feeling happy to be in such a relaxing and fun place. We let ourselves sleep in rather later than normal and got ready to spend the day at the pool catching rays and dipping in the pool to cool down. As we were chilling at the pool one of the staff members, a British guy named Harry, came around and explained to us that that day was the 7th anniversary of Loki in Mancora and he was planning a fun ‘pub crawl’ around the grounds of the hostel, with a pirate theme. We signed up and were given commemorative Loki shirts with skulls and crossbones on the front, and red bandanas. Everyone joining in on the pub crawl sported the outfits. This made for a very fun afternoon and night. We played limbo, raced while giving piggy back rides, crab crawled, and if you wanted to, jumping in the pool fully dressed. Our Saturday was full of fun shennigans to say the least.

During the pub crawl, we made some friends that we ended up spending the rest of our time with at Loki, two guys both named Diego (who we referred to as Diego Uno and Diego Dos), and Enrique. All guys that were on vacation from Lima. Thanks to them our time at Loki was even more fun. On Sunday we spent some time at the beach, soaking up the rays and watching the many surfers and wind surfers. We had a good dinner at the hostel that night and geared up to leave Loki and started making our arrangements to get to the mountain town of Huaraz.

THE ANCIENT MUD CITY OF CHAN CHAN

On our way to Huaraz, we had a night and day stay over in Trujillo, the third largest city in Peru, about halfway down the long coastline from Mancora to Lima. The stop in Trujillo ended up being a fun one, because we got to go and see the ruins of the largest ancient mud city in the world, Chan Chan. Chan Chan is still being excavated and preserved. We learned that Chan Chan was at one point the largest city in South America, starting at the ocean and reaching all the way to the mountains that surround the city of Trujillo today. So the city of Trujillo is literally built over the majority of the mud city of Chan Chan.

The ruins that we were able to get a tour of is just 2% of the ancient city. We were in one of the ten temples that were built for each individual king that ruled over the people of Chan Chan. It was believed that once a King died he would be on a long journey to his next life. So once a king died, he was mummified and kept in his temple with all of his belongings, ranging from gold, food, and even his warriors and people that were important in his daily life. That meant that up to 700 people were sacrificed after his death to be with him along his journey after death. The massive temple was built with only one entrance which was also the exit, and was built like a giant maze.

The temple we saw housed three different plazas that were used after the king’s death to celebrate him every year for a two week period. During this celebration, the mummified king was taken out of his tomb and placed in the various plazas over two weeks, where the people of Chan Chan would bring food, drinks, gifts and celebrate his life. The separate plazas were for people of different social classes. Once the king had reached his journey through death, the celebrations for that king would end and continue at the newest temple for the latest king when he died.

The walls of the temple are made mostly from mud, with some small rocks for added stability. Because of this, the preserving of the temple is a constant fight against nature. Many areas were covered with high awnings to keep the elements from causing damage allwing the artwork carved into the walls of the mud temple to still be visiblSince the people believed that their ancestors came from the ocean, all the carvings have either fish, cranes, waves, and fishing net designs.

It was a very odd place to be, and to learn that an entire temple as large as it is was built for just the burial purposes of a single king and for a yearly party to celebrate. After our tour to Chan Chan, we got ourselves ready for our first overnight bus ride in Peru, and Mel’s first ever. A long and very windy ride later we found ourselves in the high mountain town of Huaraz at about 5am, seemingly a world away from the desert coast that we had left behind.

High Up in the Andes in Huaraz

Huaraz is a small city nestled in below the Cordilla Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world. With an altitude of a little over 10,000 feet, upon arriving in Huaraz it makes for a slight shortness of breath and takes some time to acclimate to the altitude, especially after being at sea level for the majority of or time in Peru.

It was still dark and very chilly when our bus arrived at 5am. Thankfully, we were able to get a taxi to our hostel, and they let us get into our room right away instead of waiting for the early afternoon check-in time (which is the standard way hostels operate). The three of us crawled into bed and got a little shut eye for our first of only two days spent in Huaraz. It was also Paul’s birthday! When we woke up from a 4-hour nap we went down to the common area and were pleasantly surprised with a free breakfast of coffee, juice, fruit and some bread and jelly. We decided that since our time was so short we had to plan something for both days. Huaraz is known mostly for the mountains that surround it and for the wonderful outdoors one can explore while here. But there are also some ruins, and since Paul and I love to check those out, we all decided the birthday day would be spent going into the hills and finding a ruin that isn’t as well known or a commonly visited ruin by travelers. We found a collectivo van and paid about $.50 cents each to ride up into the small, haphazard villages on the outskirts of Huaraz before being dropped off in front of the Monumento Nacional Wilcahuain.

MONUMENTO NACIONAL WILCAHUAIN

The Monument of Wilcahuain consists of one large building, and a smaller structure off to the side, and like most of the other ruins, we’ve seen, is a tomb for the dead. With three different levels, one being underground, one at ground level, and the third on top, the structure looks like a big pile of rocks in the shape and size of a small two-story suburban house. Weeds and grass grow from some of the spaces in between the rocks, and when you look closely, a couple of rocks jutting out of the structure have been carved into the shape of human faces.

Before entering the building, we walked through the small adjacent museum which housed some artifacts from the building and detailed its history. Wilcahuain was built by the Recuay culture around 100 BC to house mummified bodies. Each level has small rooms and each room housed up to 7 mummified bodies. The small rooms in each level have 7 rocks that, to us, looked as though they were hooks for where they would hang the mummified bodies up along the walls. The three of us came up with that conclusion from the museum readings we could decipher and from the Spanish speaking guide that we overheard giving a tour to the only other visitor at that time.

We explored the entire building from bottom to top. The rooms and halls were dimly lit, and it felt very cool. Despite its loose appearance, the structure felt extremely solid, especially from the inside, where the walls were built from much larger rocks and fitted more tightly. A clever system of ventilation shafts in the walls allowed cool air to circulate, which was intended to keep the mummies from decomposing. The vents worked very well – you could hold your hand near them and feel the cool air moving through.

The whole place had a very spooky feeling, but as we were exploring the third floor, completely alone in the silence and darkness, it felt profound, like you could feel the history of all those people who had passed through here, and imagine their bodies filling the rooms, awaiting their passage to the next life. We took a few photos before the creeps got the best of us and we went back out into the bright sunshine and green grass.

After we had spent about an hour exploring the monument, we opted to walk back down the mountain that we had taken a collectivo up. As we walked down the curvy dirt road, we passed small farms, though a small quiet town where everyone we passed stared at us and a few school children bravely said “hello” in English, practicing what they must be learning in school. About halfway down we caught another collectivo to take us the rest of the way into Huaraz. Since it was Paul’s birthday, we planned on going out and having a nice dinner. We ended up at a small Italian place, had a great dinner and then headed back to our cozy hostel for an early night since Paul and Mel were heading out early the next morning for a hike into the Andes.

LAGUNA 69 HIKE (by Paul)

Our day started early with a 5am alarm and a 6am bus ride that wove through villages and towns high into the Cordillera Blanca, the second highest mountain range in the world behind the Himalayas. After a quick stop for breakfast at a small outpost, we drove up into a large valley. Our bus stopped briefly to allow us to see a large, bright turqoise lake backdropped by a dramatic black and grey cliff rising hundreds of feet above us into the clouds.

Following along winding gravel roads, we eventually arrived at the trailhead for the hike to Laguna 69, and quickly got moving. The beginning of the hike followed a winding river through a valley floor, through groves of small, twisted trees with bright red, paper-thin bark. All along the way, the valley walls rose quickly to meet the towering, glacier-covered mountains, over 20,000 feet in elevation, that seemed to hang right above our heads.

The trees transitioned to bushes and then to high-alpine grasses as the trail climbed up to another valley, and then another, periodically crossing creeks and rivers via precariously-placed rocks and logs. Spectacular waterfalls came down from the walls on either side. We could feel the air getting thinner and thinner as we got into the final valley, passing a large pond that fed the waterfall below, then a fantastic, shining black cliff, and another small lake flanked by a massive mountain and glaciers.

The final climb up to Laguna 69 was steep and Mel and I were both fighting to keep our breath in the thin air. We eventually came to the top and followed a short, flat trail above a creek before coming over the crest into view of the Laguna. The cloud cover passed over quickly, allowing moments of sunshine to illuminate the water in shades of light blue and turquoise. Behind the lake, several small waterfalls fell from the edges of huge, crumbling white glaciers on massive mountains. Occasionally we could hear chunks of the glaciers breaking and rumbling avalanches high above us.

Since we were due back at our bus in a couple hours, we moved much more quickly on the way back, running along some sections. We both had a very euphoric feeling on the way back, probably owing as much to the oxygen-thin air and strenuous exercise as the fantastic scenery. We arrived back at the bus with a little time to spare and got back into Huaraz around 6pm, giving us just enough time to clean up and grab an excellent Chifa (chinese restaurant) dinner before catching an overnight bus back to Lima for an early morning flight to Cusco.

Lima and the District of Miraflores

The flight from Iquitos to Lima was a quick and relatively easy one, apart from a long check-in line and a delayed flight chock full of small children and babies. We arrived at the airport in Lima and instantly felt a little bit more at home. Lima is so large and there are so many people, and the energy is completely different than the jungle towns and the country side of Colombia that we had so recently been in. It was an invigorating feeling to be in a place where a lot more seems to happen. We had two nights before our friend Melissa from Oregon was joining us to travel for a few weeks, so we were ready to get to our hostel and explore the upscale part of town called Miraflores, where we were staying.

When we arrived at our hostel, however, we were less than impressed and even felt a bit depressed looking at this place where we planned to stay for the next 5 nights. It seemed dirty and lonely. We sat in the waiting area for nearly half an hour before anyone who worked there came to check us in. Then, we were told we had a few hours before we were going to be able to get into our room. This wasn’t such a bother since we were excited to walk the streets in the city and had already chosen a place for lunch that we were very excited to try. Lima is famous for its food, so after traveling through Colombia and being in the jungle, where the pickings are slim and the variety isn’t much, we were so happy to have something new and different for meals. We had a wonderful lunch at a sandwich place, including a freshly-made juice, which brightened our spirits immensely.

When we arrived back at our hostel from our little jaunt, we were able to get into our room. This caused us to be even more down about our hostel. It was musty, with uncomfortable twin bunk beds and a bad vibe in general. We told ourselves we had been so lucky with all our stops and stays, and that sometimes you just gotta rough it. And we knew that most of our time spent in the hostel would be a place to lay our heads down and sleep at night. So we went out to the common area and tried to be social with some other travelers, and found that the place was dead.

With no one around, we left to walk the streets of the beautiful district and found ourselves at an ocean-front, outdoor shopping mall with fancy restaurants with views of the ocean and beach, a nicer mall than any we have back home. There was even a movie theater that showed movies in english! Since it was close to 10pm we decided we would come back to explore this area a bit more the next day and definitely bring Mel when she arrived.

We went back to our room to get some shut-eye and to hopefully wake up with a more positive attitude about our stay in Lima. But when we woke up, it only got worse. Paul took a shower in the dirty bathroom, and found the walls were moldy and the shower was ice cold. When he got out he looked at me and said, “I can’t take this place another night. We have an hour before check-out time. I am gonna go find another place to stay. Pack the bags!” So, I packed our bags quickly and within 40 minutes Paul was back with a new place to stay and we got out of there as fast as possible. The last irritation was while checking out, which was before check-out time, they said that since we had a reservation we had to pay for another night and didn’t even give our deposit back to us for the 5 nights we had booked. This type of policy is unheard of for hostels. Needless to say, if you ever go to Lima and book a hostel, book Pariwanna, which is the place we ended up staying.

PARIWANNA HOSTEL

Right when we walked into the Pariwanna hostel, our spirits were immediately lifted and we were so excited for the next few days. The place was bustling with cheerful staff and other travelers, our room and beds were comfortable, clean and had a very nice private bathroom as well. How great it was! We were taken around by the staff and showed the common area which included a roof-top patio, complete with a restaurant and bar that over looked the main square and park in the Miraflores district. We settled in our room, got ready for a little more exploring and headed out to find something for lunch. While walking around the night before, we had noticed a sushi place that looked promising, and with both of us craving something fun and different to eat, we went straight there. We had a great lunch, wonderful sushi and so cheap! We planned on going to a movie later that day at the theater we had found and were both excited to see a movie in Peru. Plus, it was a Matt Damon flick, so of course I was down for that. We headed back to our hostel took a nice nap in our clean comfortable room and got up just in time to make it to “The Martian”. The movie was in English with Spanish subtitles, which were very easy to ignore, so when we walked out of the movie we had almost forgotten that we were in Peru, let alone South America. That is how comparable the city of Lima and especially the district of Miraflores was to our places back home.

MELISSA HAS ARRIVED!

The next morning Mel arrived bright and early from the airport, which was great since we were able to book a tour of the old city of Lima through our hostel – a perfect activity for Mel on her first day. We took the overcrowded bus system down to the downtown area, where we were able to see the main square of Lima. We were lucky to catch a film crew capturing a dance battle between traditional dancers (in full costume) and modern break dancers (in backwards hats) in the center of the square.

We walked down the old streets leading to the Monastery of San Francisco, a landmark for all the history it holds. It was built in the mid-1600’s and so large it took just short of a hundred years to finish. The age and architecture are beautiful and historical, but what lies beneath the church really makes the place unforgettable – the Catacombs. For around one hundred years there were people buried in coffins and tombs. Around the beginning of the 1800’s this practice ended since the people that would frequent the church were all falling ill. Obviously with decomposing bodies, the stench and the disease that was emerging from the Catacombs was overwhelming. When the city of Lima started to explore the Catacombs they estimated that nearly 25,000 bodies had been buried there. Our tour led us down narrow, dimly-lit stairwells and passageways to see it all for ourselves. Since all the bodies had been excavated, the bones that had survived the test of time were sorted into different bins, and some skulls and bones were even arranged into patterns, forming disturbingly macabre artwork. This activity was one that will stick with us forever. To walk through the tunnels where all the coffins had been placed one on top of the other was extremely eerie and somewhat emotional.

After the Catacombs we stopped at a small distillery that makes the traditional Peruvian drink, pisco. It is a sweet-tasting liquor that is made from grapes. Everywhere in Peru serves the drink, Pisco Sour, which is pisco liquor with sour mix and whipped egg whites on top. We tried one with our sushi lunch and found it to be very similar to a margarita and very tasty! From there, we jumped back on the overcrowded bus and headed back to the hostel.

MEETING FRIENDS IN PERU

We returned to our hostel starving, so made our way towards the center of the district and found a great place for some yummy quick dinner. Since we were out and about, we headed back to the shopping and restaurant area where we had been the night before to show Mel the area. We found a really cool restaurant called Popular and sat at a table with an amazing view of the ocean. We each ordered a nice glass of Argentinian wine and even though we had just had dinner, we had to order some freshly-made ceviche, which is a Peruvian classic – fresh fish, mixed in lime and lemon juice, along with onion and a little garlic. Usually it is served with a side and this time it had a small pickled sweet potato, which was amazing. We had been in Peru for about a week and still hadn’t had the dish, and Paul had never had it, so we treated ourselves to the most delicious ceviche I’ve ever had. That will definitely be something we have more of as our time in Peru continues!

The three of us made our way back to the Pariwanna hostel and sat on the rooftop patio under the moonlit night. Right away, we started talking to a few people who were actually Lima residents and who come to Pariwanna patio and bar just to hang out because it is just that fun. Yet again, we were so very happy that we had switched to the hostel, for if not we wouldn’t have had such a fun couple nights in Lima like we did. It was fun and refreshing to talk to people that lived in the city and who were able to give us tips on where to go, what to see and even more refreshing to connect to people living in a place we were just visiting. Edu and Maribel are two that we both loved talking to and getting to know and we ended up having one of our most favorite nights in Peru. Thanks you two!

BARRANCO

Because we had time to get to know Edu and Maribel, we were able to learn about a neighboring district to Miraflores, Barranco. The district is known as a bohemian area with small quaint shops and nearly hidden places to find a good cheap meal. So, for our last day in Lima, we walked along the ocean cliffs from Miraflores to the district of Barranco. As we were walking through, there were many times when we thought this area was like the Southeast Portland of Lima – we even saw some hipsters. We were there on a Wednesday so not much was happening in the area, but we were able to get some good people watching in and walked through some very pretty parks and church squares. We also found one of those hidden places for lunch and had awesome burritos, something that both Paul and I had been craving since leaving the States. We made our way back to Miraflores, and to our hostel for our final night in Lima and to prepare for our trek up the Pacific coast to the beach town of Mancora.

Jungle Time In Colombia, Peru & Brazil

We flew into Leticia, Colombia, yet another place of high humidity, but this time, a land covered by the tall and green trees of the Amazon Jungle. As we flew into the small jungle town, seeing only the jungle going on forever out into the distance, we thought, “Where does anyone live here?” The jungle was so impressive, so green – and even a bit intimidating. When we landed we knew that we would only be spending two days in Leticia, one of which was the day we arrived. We also knew that there would be a few hoops that we would have to jump through before able to leave Colombia and travel into Peru.

Luckily, we found one of the best hostels we have stayed at, if only for the simple fact that our host had all the knowledge we needed to make our journey to Peru, taking a boat 10 hours up the Amazon river from Leticia, Colombia to Iquitos, Peru. And a huge plus, she spoke perfect english. Score! We got to the hostel around 2:30pm and immediately sat down with our host as she explained the town. One special thing about Leticia is that every night at around 5:30pm, thousands of small parrots come flying from the jungle to perch in the trees of the main square for the night. We had to see this – what an unexpected and unique experience, we thought. She also offered to book us for an all-day jungle tour the next day, which we desperately wanted to do. The only problem was that we would have to spend the rest of our first day making our travel arrangements for Peru, as there would be no other time to do so. As she started to describe the task we were about to embark on, our eyes got wide and we realized we only had about two hours to get it all done. Paul and Victoria’s South American Amazing Race was about to begin.

3 COUNTRIES IN AN HOUR AND HALF

First off, we had to leave the hostel and make our way back to the airport that we had just flown into. Thankfully, Leticia is small and taxis are extremely easy to find. Our taxi driver took us to the airport where we ran in and got our exit stamp on our passports from Colombia. While we went into the immigration office our taxi driver waited for the three minutes it took us to get this done. He drove us back into town and through broken Spanish, we explained that we needed to go to the dock to find a boat to take us across the Amazon river to a small island in Peru, Santa Rosa. We felt so very lucky, since the moment we got out of our cab, a young man locked eyes with us and said, ‘Santa Rosa?’, and led us down a short, muddy embankment to his water taxi boat. Phew, one task down two more to go. We boarded his small, long, and very skinny wooden boat while stepping through other small boats to start our short trek across the Amazon River. This took about 8 minutes and suddenly, we were in Peru.

Our boat driver, just like our taxi driver, understood exactly what we needed to do and why we were heading to Santa Rosa. We got the impression that the only travelers coming through from Leticia to Santa Rosa are going straight to the immigration office for their paper work and right back over the river. The moment we stepped of our boat, we were waved down by yet another man. He yelled, “Immigration?”, we replied, “Si”, and off we went in his small motorcycle taxi which, in the jungle, are called “tuk-tuks” (pronounced with a “two” sound). Right away, we got stuck in the sand and other tuk-tuk drivers helped push the motorcycle out of the rut, and then off we went into the small shanty town. Within minutes we were at the door of the immigration office. Thankfully our host in Leticia had warned us that the man that runs the office is usually very crabby, often drinking beer in the back, and to be patient for him to arrive at the door. Sure enough, an unhappy looking man eventually opened the door, led us to his office, and handed us pens and immigration papers. We filled them out, handed him our passports they were stamped for our entry into Peru, and throughout this 3-minute transaction there were literally no words spoken. It was a very odd and awkward experience, but one we still laugh at. Our tuk-tuk driver had waited outside for us, took us back to our friendly boat driver who had also waited for us, and we made our way back across the Amazon river, but this time to Brazil.

Since we were leaving on a Thursday, the boat company that we needed to take up the Amazon into Peru was a Brazilian one. Therefore, we had to purchase the tickets at their office in Brazil. Somehow (we are still not totally sure how we managed this so perfectly without a good map), we got off the boat at the main dock, walked along haphazard planks overy the muddy beach, through streets filled with markets, took a couple random turns, because they “felt right”, and in about 10 minutes we were at the ticket office, which looked nothing like a ticket office one might find in the states. We knew we were at the right place though, because our host had given us landmarks around the office, thank goodness! We bought our tickets, which was only possible to do once we had both the exit and entry stamps from Colombia and Peru, hence why we had to go through all three tasks in that specific order. After the tickets were bought, we started walking towards the main street that would take us back into Colombia, several blocks away, and strangely did not have an official border crossing, meaning we were able to walk straight into one country from another with ease. We stopped along the way to escape the heat and have a celebratory treat. Our host had told us that if we had time, to stop and have an açaí drink. Açaí is a berry found in the Amazon Jungle and they make a slushy-like drink out of it. It’s popular in the states as a health supplement, packed with antioxidents. We sat in the air conditioned shop, ate our treat, and within minutes we we were crossing the border back into Colombia.

All of this, incredibly, took just over an hour and a half. We left our hostel at 3pm and crossed back into Colombia just before 5pm. We were just in time to make it to the main square of Leticia and watch the thousands of parrots make their way into the trees to perch for the night, which was a spectacular sight (and sound), as promised.

JUNGLE TOUR

The next day, we left our hostel at about 7am to make our way down to the dock and get on a boat along with about 25 other people for a day of sightseeing up and down the Amazon river. Right away, we made friends with a very sweet Colombian girl, Deandra, which ended up being even more helpful than one could imagine. She spoke great english and was able to fill in the pieces of the descriptions coming from the guide that we couldn’t put together, since he spoke only spanish.

Our first stop was actually what had sold us on the tour – Isla de los Micos, or Monkey Island. We got off the boat, walked through the small but impressive souvenir area and were led towards a clearing in the trees. As we were walking to the clearing, countless small and unbelievably cute monkeys appeared out of the jungle and were following and leading us. We got into the clearing and within seconds, the monkeys were climbing and jumping all over us. They were jumping from the trees, from other people and literally climbing up our legs from the ground. One might think it would be scary, but we were both so ecstatic. The monkeys were so light, and so soft, almost like they were small cats.The tour group was in the clearing for about 25 minutes and the entire time we were covered by multiple monkeys, on our heads, shoulders and back. One even found Paul so appealing that he sat on his shoulder and nuzzled his small monkey head into Paul’s mesh hat. By far one of the coolest experiences we had in Colombia.

Next, we made our way down the river to a part of the jungle that is still inhabited by a tribe of indigenous people. We were seated to watch a song and dance performance by the women of the tribe, then walked through booths selling their handmade gifts ranging from huge wooden bowls to intricate bracelets and earrings.

Our next stop was to see a pond where the largest lily pads in the world grow. We learned that the plant was named Victoria after Queen Victoria, because she had pushed forward and funded the exploration of the jungle that led to the discovery of these impressive plants.

Our fourth stop was for lunch in the small town of Puerto Narino. The timing was perfect – we ate lunch while watching as a heavy jungle rainstorm passed through. As the rain started to clear and became a light drizzle, we made our way up a tall lookout tower that gave us a great view of the isolated jungle town. Since it is not connected by roads, there are no cars in Puerto Narino, so all of the “streets” are really just wide sidewalks. We watched from above as school children walked home in their uniforms, and people walked through town, just like it were any other place in the world. On one side of the lookout, we could see the Amazon river and across the river to the jungle of Peru. On the other side, we saw jungle that stretched so far, it was overwhelming. All the green, the trees we had only ever learned about in school and seen in pictures. It made us feel so very small and far from home.

As we made our way back to Leticia, we stopped a few times along the river to try to see the dolphins, and eventually found a spot where there were a few occasionally popping up out of the opaque brown water. There are two different types of dolphin that inhabit the river. One is the cute grey type that most people would recognize. The other is what they call the pink dolphin. Because of the name I thought that the dolphin would be cute like its cousin, but I was wrong on that. They have a strangly shaped, large humps on their back and are more of a pink-grey hue. They might not be the prettiest of animals, but definitely were one of the more exciting things to see while traveling down the Amazon.

As our tour was coming to what we thought was an end, we landed at a small town where even more magic happened. Inside a couple of small shelters, we spent about 30 minutes in what can only be described as an Amazonian petting zoo. We got to see not only more monkeys of a couple different species, but got to hold and cuddle a baby sloth, which proved to be Paul’s most favorite part of the day. At one point I was holding a sloth, with a monkey on my shoulder and a parrot on my head – cuteness overload! I had no idea parrots of that size were as heavy as the are! We were even able to hold and pet a small tiger-like cat. We still are not sure of the name, but know that it is a relative of the tiger. It was pretty restless and wild-eyed, and we were only allowed to hold it for a second while taking a photo before its handler took it back. As we were leaving we came across the largest rodent in the world, the Capybara, grazing in a grassy area near the shelters. It is a close relative to a guinea pig, so it looks like a HUGE guinea pig, about the size of a big dog. They are grass-eaters and very tame – it seemed to completely ignore us as we stood beside it. After seeing a couple other people pet it, Paul was brave enough to get a photo petting it. I opted out of that, and took the pictures instead.

BOAT TO PERU

Since all of our paperwork and passports had been stamped to leave Colombia and enter Peru, we got packed and ready to embark on our next part of our South American adventure. All I can say is that the amazing race of being in three countries in less than 2 hours was far more easy than the ten-hour boat ride to Iquitos, Peru. We woke up at 2:30am, and a tuk-tuk picked us up at the hostel to take us to the dock in Brazil at 3am. There, a small boat took us across the Amazon River to another dock in Santa Rosa, Peru, where we waited around about an hour until we were able to board our boat. Incredibly, while we waited we were pleasantly surprised to run into a german couple whom we had met on our second night in Cartegena, Colombia, at our very first hostel. They too were traveling to Iquitos. Small world.

Finally we were able to board the boat, which basically was a floating bus. It had rows of seats, and no deck or anywhere else to go. The seats were below a row of windows so you couldn’t even look outside unless you stood up in front of your seat. All of this made the 10-hour boat ride feel more like 24. It was cramped, hot, and muggy, and both of us were ecstatic to get off the boat once we docked in Iquitos.

THE BIG JUNGLE CITY OF IQUITOS

Iquitos, Peru is the largest city in the world not connected by road to any other place. As a result, all things imported are coming mostly by boat, and some by planes. Since we knew this, we were very surprised to see how large the city itself actually is – it felt like a big, bustling, fairly modern place. There are few cars, but the cars that we did see were more consistently nice than any other cars we had seen for the most part along our trip. The majority of transportation for average people are motorcycles and moto taxis, and as a result, the streets seem chaotic, like a never-ending motorcycle rally coming from all directions.

Since the city is in the jungle, we expected it to be extremely hot, which it was! Thankfully our room had air conditioning (our first in quite a while). We spent a couple days in Iquitos. One day, we made our way down to the largest market we had been to yet. It is a place rather hard to describe, but almost everything and anything one would need for day-to-day life can be found in the market. Different booths had everything – clothing items, household items, health and beauty products, small electronics, a ton of different foods. Every type of fruit and vegetable. Freshly-caught, bizarre-looking fish from the Amazon river, sold whole or as prepared dishes. Then we started to enter the “meat department” of the market. This was an area that was interesting, to say the least. We saw every type of animal to be caught or raised along the Amazon, Chickens in their entirety, or parted out into piles – even just baggies of chicken feet. We walked past tables with complete heads of alligators, and to top it off we even saw an armadillo literally cut in half from head to tail (a complete cross-section), which was an eye-opener for sure. After a while of being in this area, we were overcome by the undescribable smell of all of this stuff wafting around in the afternoon heat. We made our way out and caught a moto taxi back to the main plaza. But we must say, we are glad we spent the hour we did walking around in the market, being able to see the way of life in that part of the jungle was a lesson, experience, a small adventure and one that we will never forget.

We spent about a week in the jungle and after that we were ready for some city time. We boarded a plane in Iquitos and made our way to the city of Lima, not only for a change of pace but to meet and continue our Peru trip with our friend Melissa!

 

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