My Amazonian Adventure (Part 3)

We woke up and decided to go to the Belen mercado for breakfast, it was about a 20 minute walk from our hostel, on the way we passed the famous Belen neighbourhood. It is a floating shanty-town with 7000 inhabitants. The colourful houses on stilts are a wonderful sight and in the rainy season these stilts are immersed in water. The inhabitants can only leave their houses by boat and market traders come door to door in their canoes to sell jungle produce. Unfortunately when I was there it was the low season and its dirty, unhealthy and dangerous to walk around so we observed it from a distance. You get street guides offering to take you in but I wouldn’t advise it.

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The market was fascinating, it was huge and sold everything you could imagine. Every street sold something specific so you had a street of clothes, another of shoes, one of the shaman witch doctors, fruit and veg and meat! These last two were the most interesting streets for me, I had never seen some of this fruit and veg in my life and was so fascinated by the colours and shapes of these different fruits. I bought one of each to taste, the flavours were so foreign to me, I had literally nothing to compare these new flavours to and it was a great food experience! Next stop was the meat and fish street, unfortunately this was where I saw the most animals during my jungle experience…none of which were alive.

They had everything from caiman meat, to turtles to fish that I had never seen. I walked up and down taking pictures and asking what fish they were, it was a mixture of fascination and disgust. I could write an entire blog on this particular issue but I won’t because after living with a family in the jungle I realised this was a means of survival for them. There are so many issues to be addressed such as implementing limitations on hunting of particular species but many of these civilisations are even unknown to governments, they are so remote that creating such laws would be useless. For example the family we lived with were allowed to cut down as many trees as they wanted, there were no conservation laws whatsoever even for rare species. Something definitely needs to be done but the issue is very complex.

We tried many new foods but I didn’t dare eat the grubs, everyone kept telling me they were delicious with the mango salsa but just looking at them made me want to vomit. Lena said they pop in your mouth like eyeballs and then slimy stuff comes out but they taste good…I often say “No thanks I would rather eat my own eyeballs” but actually..I wouldn’t eat any! We decided on a typical Peruvian breakfast Lena had Ceviche (fish dish cooked in the acid of lemon) and I had Arroz con Pollo (chicken and rice), in Peru you get used to eating dinner for breakfast! Belen market is a must see for anyone in Iquitos, its colourful and full of locals, it doesn’t cater to tourists so you get the real deal! Just make sure you don’t take any valuables, its known for having thieves and is the most dangerous neighbourhood so always be aware of your surroundings and don’t ever look lost!

The rest of Iquitos was also a colourful experience, the weather was tropical and the greenery was lush. One day me and Lena tried to get to a lake and the mototaxi took us to a puddle instead…it was across town in the same direction but obviously not the right place. We got off anyway as it was a tiny village that looked really interesting. There were houses scattered around and a few small tiendas, after walking around for a few minutes we had seen it all and decided to head to a tienda (cornershop) to get some drinks and play cards. The owner quickly set up a small table outside with a view of the river and we got some snacks and just sat there chilling for an hour. Passers by were really friendly and it was a cute place. That evening we went for dinner to puerta Bellavista, it is another market except this time where all the fish and meat is you choose yours and they cook it for you on the barbecue! It was where the locals ate and was cheap and delicious. I loved Juanes, it was rice steamed in banana leaves with spices, I ate it everyday that we were there.

By the river in Iquitos there is a lovely malecon, we came here the first night to eat and I loved it. It was like an Amazonian covent garden – bars, restaurants and street performers and people selling random things (mostly jewellery). There was this buzz in the air and I loved the atmosphere. We ate at Dawn on the River restaurant which I would highly recommend, the food was delicious. A Peruvian American fusion of flavours and it really worked, everything was simple but cooked perfectly. While speaking about “must-eats” El Sitio was AMAZING!! Its a restaurant with an array of different skewers – fish, cheese, meat, chicken, veggies – you just pick up whichever ones take your fancy and they are barbecued. A really cute old man grills them for you, originally he used to have a grill on the pavement outside and he did so well that he now had this restaurant which was completely packed and once the skewers are finished its over so get there early to sample the best ones!! If I had found that on the first day I would have eaten there everyday..thats how good!

The malecon also had an artisanal market if you turn left from dawn on the amazon, its full of beautiful hand-crafted things many of which are made by Amazonian’s clearly under some kind of influence. The tapestries are created by ladies while drinking Ayahuasca, each piece is unique and intricately woven and the colours are breathtaking. I found out they are actually made in Pucallpa. Iquitos is not the place to go souvenir shopping unless you are buying things made there as it is not accessible by road everything is imported and therefore more expensive, it was one of the most expensive places I visited in Peru.

If you are doing jungle tours in Iquitos make sure you research them thoroughly and know which you want to do because the tour vendors will confuse you. They follow you in the streets really trying to persuade you to visit their tour companies and every hostel sells tours to, in fact so do most restaurants and so you can’t escape it. The night we went to book ours we ended up being so confused and annoyed and they are all so desperate for sales they say anything so you don’t even believe them. I was persuaded by a tour, spent 2 hours discussing it and then we decided to just do it and then the guy ends up saying its full. We got so fed up we decided to just forget it all together, I remember being annoyed in India by people selling me stuff but this was on another level. It was literally people fighting over you, telling you not to talk to this tour company or that and it was like you were caught in a tour war. We were walking back to our hostel and we saw this guy on a motorbike who Lena had spoke to a few days ago who had a tour company, he stopped and asked us if we managed to book a tour and we said no so he took us to his office…the tour was very different to what I initially had in mind but we were certainly in for an adventure! We had booked it for two days as the next day we were going to the monkey island, for those of you who have seen this video, you know part four is going to be entertaining.

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My Amazonian Adventure (Part 1)

“Lena!! I got the tickets from Chiclayo to Chachapoyas!!” I said excitedly, “Chachapoyas?! WHY?” she replied. “Didn’t you want to go to Tarapoto via Chachapoyas so you could see it? I asked confused” Blank faced, we realized…. we had last discussed plans before I went to Colombia over a month ago and they had changed so…the trip began with a slight misunderstanding but we were not going to let it dampen our spirits! We boarded our bus at around 10pm and would reach Chachapoyas at 8am where we would figure out how to get to Pedro Ruiz, a small town where buses go straight to Tarapoto. (FYI you can get direct buses from Chiclayo to Tarapoto)

ferry journey

Tarapoto lies at the mouth of the Amazon and we were trying to catch a three day ferry down the Amazon river to get to its belly which was in Iquitos.  At about 4am the busdriver yelled “Pedro Ruiz!”. “OMG Lena! This is where we have to try and get to tomorrow, we should just get off the bus now!” “Yeah you should” said the annoying american girl sitting across from us who kept jumping into our conversations… seriously doesn’t she sleep? We sleepily stumbled off the bus and got our bags and then we realised we were in the smallest, quietest town ever. There was not a soul around, no hostels, no coffee shops, just mountains, a few houses, pitch darkness and the pitter patter of stray dogs. The bus station had its shutters down but the bus driver told us we could get in. We knocked on the shutters and someone let us in, he said there would be no buses until 8am and we should reserve our seats, so we did. We sat down at a table, half of the bus station was a restaurant, we asked for a coffee and played cards till about 6am. Then we decided to explore the town and we headed to the market at the crack of dawn. The market was full of people having breakfast, lots of stalls sold hot drinks such as hot chocolate, coffee, soy milk and a soup type thing made with quinoa. It looked like every other modello I had seen in Peru, only the sizes ever varied but they sold all sorts of nik naks, all had a meat and fish section, fruit and veg and the food stalls.

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We headed back and waited for our bus, it had gone 8.30 and I asked the guy what time our bus would arrive, he said soon…11am and still no sign. We entertained ourselves by eating, drinking and playing cards. Eventually the bus came and we reached Tarapoto at about 7pm. We found a decent hostel, got some food and went straight to bed!

Tarapoto was ok, we stayed a couple of days but were worried that we wouldn’t make the ferry in time as some journeys are shorter then others and we wanted to get the 3 days/2 nights ferry rather then the 5 day one that a friend of ours had ended up on. I felt disappointed with Tarapoto, considering we were close to the jungle you could not even tell. It was a pretty big city and the only greenery I could see was the plants in our hostel. We went to the market in Tarapoto which was huge and got some things that we needed for our trip, I wish we had bought hammocks as they were a fraction of the price and much nicer compared to the ones in Yurimaguas, you need them for the ferry journey.  We mostly chilled, talked and played cards, went to eat, walked around a little. I think we were tired from our journey and just enjoyed the feeling of not having to do anything, there wasn’t a lot to do anyway as we had planned to do our jungle tours from Iquitos and Tarapoto had similar ones.

We found the combi (minibus) that takes around 2 hours to get to Yurimaguas, we waited for about an hour which felt like nothing after our previous 10 hour waiting for a bus stint. The journey was picturesque and the roads were not made for people with a weak stomach as they are high up and full of sharp bends however we enjoyed the drive.

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We arrived in Yurimaguas and I loved it! It was a small place with so much character, we arrived on the night of the elections so the streets were full of people crowding around televisions to see the results. There was a beautiful atmosphere and it was more green then Tarapoto, you could actually tell that you were in the jungle. We ate delicious street food at this great place and we enjoyed the tropical climate AND we bought our tickets for the ferry which would leave the next day 🙂 I was sooo excited! I need a separate blog for the epic cruise down the Amazon, there you will learn how our boat journey became longer then expected, how the boat left without Lena while I lay in my hammock and our little ferry family 🙂 Look forward to sharing Part 2 with you tomorrow!

Toodles x

Guayaquil

My first stop in Ecuador was Guayaquil, I had heard that it wasn’t worth going there and that it was really dangerous but I actually thought it was a really nice city. I hadn’t really planned any of my trip, I just had a hit-list of places I wanted to see which meant that I had nowhere to stay in Guayaquil. I walked around with my backpack in the heat wandering from hostel to hostel completely shocked by the prices they were quoting me. Simple rooms were anywhere between $50 to $150 and the cheapest dorm I could find was $20 and it was horrible. As I walked around I saw a cute looking place called Manso Boutique Hostel and it was the one. They had dorm space and it was right on the malecon and very chic so that was to be my home for the night.

I walked down the Malecon and then went to explore the markets, the markets didn’t feel very safe, I could feel a lot of eyes on me and decided not to go to deep inside. I headed back to the hostel after a few hours and I met a girl who had just moved into my dorm. We went for dinner and then decided to walk up the malecon to the lighthouse in Cerro Santa Ana.

We took the 444 stairs up and through Santa Ana, I found the juxtaposition of this place crazy but something that I was growing accustomed to. The rich and poor divide is very apparent in South America and this was a perfect example of how one small hill was inhabited by two different worlds. It was actually a slum that had been transformed into a prime tourist location with bars and souvenir shops located at every level. On the other side of the hill lived many people in what was still a slum, a place so dangerous taxi drivers refused to take you there but only a few hundred metres away. The views of Guayaquil were breathtaking and I enjoyed snapping away for a while. Then we headed back and heard some live music so popped into a bar to watch.

The next day I went to see the famous Cathedral, it was very ornate and grand and outside was a park where HUGE land iguanas roamed freely! I wandered around and came to a park, somebody came and warned me to hide my SLR, all kinds of shady characters sat around me on benches. I thought I should head back and so made my way to the main street, I loved taking pictures of all the colonial buildings. Guayaquil was very Americanised, it had a lot of franchises and I saw a lot of tourists. I found it very expensive and had seen everything I wanted to see so I went back to the hostel to plan my next location. I had decided on Cuenca!

Carnival in Cajamarca

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  This blog post also appears on the Academia Superior de Idiomas’ blog I spent one of the best weekends of my life celebrating the carnival in Cajamarca. I heard about it when I arrived in Peru, it takes place throughout Feb but the main celebrations take place during the first weekend of March. If you don’t mind getting completely soaked, the celebrations are not to be missed. I thought I was prepared, armed with my water pistol, but after getting hit by a water balloon I realised I was going to lose this fight as I ran away from a guy who was trying to pour an entire bucket of water over me. Locals here are intrigued by tourists and often ask to take pictures with you, this happened right after one of them threw a water balloon at us but I took the opportunity to make friends. Its always nice to have locals in your circle, firstly they are generally really nice people, secondly you get exempt from “gringo tax” and thirdly had we not met them we wouldn’t have known about a lot of the things that were going on. They were also better prepared with bags of water balloons, and as they lived nearby they kept going home to get refills. We had formed an alliance and literally had a war against the entire square. It was so much fun, it ended with a downpour of rain which I danced in, firstly I missed the rain and secondly…nothing beats dancing in the rain 🙂

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Throughout Peru every town and city has a small park in the centre and by 10am it was  full of revellers. Some people woke up in the square from the previous nights festivities. Groups of friends gather with their drums and all play the same beat and sing the same song but somehow nobody gets tired of it! You can spot Llamas dressed to the nines wondering around the square and you should constantly expect to be thrown water at. wpid-IMAG1594_1.jpgwpid-IMAG1533.jpgwpid-IMG_24387019115418.jpeg Their is a daily parade and then the final Monday is the main parade which went on for hours and included huge floats. wpid-IMAG1563.jpgwpid-IMAG1546.jpgwpid-IMAG1497.jpg Although Peruvians travel far and wide to attend the carnival, spotting tourists is rare and it’s a very authentic experience that you can really immerse yourself in. We stayed at a good hostel, Hospedaje Jesús Trabajador Manthoc, it was centrally located so we could walk everywhere. They are one of the few hostels not to triple their prices during carnival, they also let us check out of our rooms at 10pm, gave 8 of us a 16 people dorm and didn’t charge us extra. It was clean with basic facilities…I wouldn’t plan on staying their longer then a weekend but for it was perfect for a short time. It was such a beautiful city and I missed out on a lot of the highlights such as the famous hot springs so I will be going back their before I leave! Toodles for now x