Amazonian Adventure (Part 4)

It was time to go to the monkey island!! I was so excited to see monkeys up close and as our canoe approached the island Lena told me they will jump on us as soon as we arrive… my heart started beating really fast. “But I don’t want them to touch me, I just wanna take pictures of them playing in trees.” Famous last words!

We arrived and the lady took us to our rooms in the hut on stilts, it was very basic and to be expected, I didn’t like the holes between the planks of wood and I spotted some creepy crawlies trying to invade so I covered my bed with the mosquito net but it was only big enough to cover half. We dropped off our bags and went outside, I saw these cuuuute little monkeys that looked a little like squirrels and I wanted to play with them. I went near them and started making kissy noises, one ran up to me, jumped all over me, bit me everywhere and ran away. He was like the Tasmanian devil, I didn’t really know what was happening and then he was gone. They weren’t as cute as they looked! One of the keeper’s came up to me and told me those ones were small but evil, he was violent and vicious and I had learnt to stay away. I was a little bit shocked by what just happened so I walked back to the hut and thought I should go in and just watch them from where I was safe but then some bigger monkeys ran to the door and were hanging over it, I felt like they were waiting for me. “Just pretend they aren’t there, ignore them and just walk in they wont come near you”, that’s what I told myself but this is what happened:

That monkey was naughty, his name was Panchito and he was the most mischievous of them all but could also be very cute. At one point he pulled Lena’s top down and flashed me, it was hilarious! All of that specie behaved like that, very naughty little monkeys but then they can also be calm and cuddle you and come and sit on your lap quietly. I realised there was no getting away and if I was going to enjoy the two days on monkey island, I had to embrace monkeying around. One Monkey, Karina, came up to me and held out her hand, she was the most human of all of them, a spider monkey. I took her hand and she pulled me into the forest, eventually she decided to jump into my arms and wanted me to carry her around…so I did. I think because she was so friendly I lost my fear and she was not aggresive or naughty like the others. We played, she would hang onto me with her tail and I would swing her around in circles, she loved it. When we got back the other little monkeys like Panchito jumped on me again, they cover your eyes and swing on your hair and bite you but then you realise they are playing and the less you struggle the more they just relax and chill with you.

There was a young boy working at the sanctuary, Juan, he was about 17 and he asked if we wanted to go to a nearby village, we just said yes and didn’t ask any questions. We thought you walk there but you get the boat, it was just across the river, a small village called Santa Victoria. Karina really wanted to come and wouldn’t let me put her down, eventually a keeper had to come and hold her while we left, I felt really sad like I had just left a child behind lol. On the way Juan told us he goes there to play football, while he played we explored. It was really hot and we didn’t take any water, I asked the villagers if they had any but they didn’t. All these kids were playing with us and we went and sat in the shade watching football and playing with the children. Me and Lena had explored enough and were ready to leave, we didn’t realise we would be there that long so we told him that we would wait on the riverbank for the boat and sat there. The children followed and sat with us, they had never been to the monkey island although it was so close you could see it.

As the sun set, our boat came into view and we went back. Karina was waiting for us on the riverbank and jumped into my arms, she was so cute and I loved playing with her. She would take me for walks all the time, I would just hold her hand and follow her until she found a tree to climb, she would hang on it and then jump on me. The island wasn’t very known to tourists, I think they had tours every few days where they spend 30 minutes there but we were the only crazy ones who wanted to stay there for 2 days!! It was basically a monkey sanctuary that was not enclosed so the monkeys were free to roam the Amazon. None of them ever left that area though because they loved it and got fed and even made money…I saw one steal the wallet of an American tourist – it was hilarious (he got it back eventually).They had two bedrooms in the house where the keepers lived and me and Lena took one. The house had no electricity and as night fell the keepers gave us candles. We had dinner in candle light and then sat at the table talking and playing cards. The forest sounded sooo loud around us, I could hear all kinds of animals and insects and HUGE bugs kept flying into our candle. I couldn’t relax and decided to go to bed. I took all my sheets off, shook them all and then got into bed because I was sure there were creepy crawlies waiting for me and my mosquito net was useless. I couldn’t sleep.

Karina came to our net windows and it felt like she was asking me to go and play with her, she just hung there watching us, and then suddenly a huge roar of thunder came out of nowhere and lightning followed with a torrential downpour of rain. The storm continued for hours, it was so windy and sometimes I could feel the spray of rain blowing on me. The lightning lit up the whole hut and I could see the creepy crawlies in all the corners, I got up, shook all my sheets again and got back into bed and as the storm stopped I finally fell asleep at around 4am. We got woken for breakfast at 7.30, we ate and then I smuggled some food outside for the monkeys. It was like a marshland, soaked with rain and muddy. Karina spotted me from a mile away and I could see her running towards me, she jumped into my arms and grabbed the banana. She was soaking wet and full of mud and dirt and now…so was I. All the monkeys started running towards us, I felt under attack and then the keeper came out with a stick and they all saw it and behaved. He fed them and I helped him, it was great and some of them were eating on my head lol.

I walked around taking pictures of them, fighting with them not to take my camera as they kept trying to pull it from my hands, I pulled it back from one and he lay on the floor covering his eyes and peeking at me through a little gap in them, he was upset. Another monkey saw him and came and hugged him, they hugged for ages rocking from side to side and then they both decided to attack me together so I stopped feeling sorry for them. They were so human it was crazy, I would even speak to them like they were babies except I felt like Karina was older then me haha. She was so sad when we were leaving, she tried to jump into our boat and then she just stood on the riverbank waving until we had gone.

I had such a good time, I would encourage anyone going to Iquitos to book a stay at the Isla de Los Monos, they told us people only stay once a month or so but it was really cheap and worth it if you can handle the bugs, personally one night was enough for me!

Ciao for now x

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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.

My Amazonian Adventure (Part 2)

At 2.47pm on Tuesday the klaxon blew and we pulled out of the harbour, that meant we had been on an anchored ship for over 26 hours! We were told we would leave on Monday at 3pm and to be on the ship by 12 to find a spot for our hammock so we did. As 3pm drew closer the ship buzzed with rumours of a late departure and slowly it got later and later until we were told we would leave at 10am the next day…which became 2.47 but as we pulled away I was relieved that we were getting closer to our real jungle adventure.

They serve breakfast and dinner on board, you line up with your bowl and spoon, it felt like Oliver Twist. I was starving by dinner time and was waiting for the bell to sound, as soon as it went off I rushed downstairs with mine and Lenas bowl, and hurried back. I handed Lena hers, tried to sit on my hammock, obviously in a way that you shouldn’t and fell off backwards, my piece of chicken and potato went flying past my ear and I landed with the bowl still in my hands with some rice left…I was devastated! I didnt even care that I fell because I was just looking at the chicken on the floor beside me. Thankfully Lena eats EVERYTHING so she was happy to eat my chicken and gave me hers (this is one of the reasons I love travelling with her).

The boat was taking us to Iquitos, the only city In the world that is not accessible by road, it was a city deep In the Amazon and although we were told our journey would take 2 days and one night, we were prepared by stories of friends that told us their journey ended up taking 5 days. We didn’t mind, we learnt to love the boat, to spend our days playing cards, chilling in our hammocks and watching the scenery as we floated through the Amazon.

There were several stops along the way, you were never told how long they would be but the ferry would collect cargo, often in the form of animals, or just more passengers. The second morning I woke up and didn’t feel too great, I told Lena I felt sick and shortly after began puking. It was nothing to worry about, this happened regularly to me in Peru, the food often didn’t agree with me. It carried on more then usual, a lovely couple who were both doctors came to see me at my hammock, they were from Germany. They gave me some medicine to make it stop and warned me that I should stay in my hammock as it causes dizziness… I got dizzy, the swinging of the hammock made it worse so I stumbled to the bench which was outside at the front of the boat and thought the breeze would do me good so I lay on it.

We had been stood still all morning, since about 6am at a village where they had been loading cargo. At around 10 Lena said she wanted to explore a bit and to get me something to make me feel better. I could see all these watermelons from the boat, literally thousands and I told her I was craving a slice. She went with Manuel, one of the Swiss guys, as she was walking off she said “Make sure the boat doesn’t leave without me” And I replied “If it leaves I will wave at you from my hammock.”

It was meant to be a joke but about 15 minutes after they got off I realised we were moving! “OH NO!!” I shouted to the other Swiss guy Peter and ran off to the captain to make him stop. He didn’t really care, he just said “too bad, they will have to get a car to drive them there.” I explained Lena had left her money on-board and they might be stranded but he just carried on driving very nonchalantly and it was really annoying me so that was the first time I got angry in Spanish. I told him we waited on the ship for 26 hours for him to leave and now he won’t even wait for 10 more minutes for them, we realised that the Daniel the ex-war veteran who was in his 60’s was also gone and so was the Brazilian, Eduardo! This did not sway the captains decision, I felt better that Eduardo was with them, he was this very cool and capable character. He had travelled the world and he was helping us with everything, he tied our hammocks on, told us about the various things we passed, showed me where the Amazon river really begins and how you can tell by the two colours in the water changing. He had all these amazing stories and just spouted knowledge and everyone on the boat knew him. Anyways I had to leave the captain to throw up and then I went back to my hammock, we were long gone by then. I was thinking about how I would carry all their bags and me and Peter decided they would probably have gone by car and will in fact be waiting for us there as its faster.

I heard a speedboat and some people went over to look at it, I just stayed in my hammock…they were all talking I was not really paying attention, just thought it was bringing more passengers but then Eduardo came up the stairs! I jumped out of my hammock and asked him where Lena was and if he even saw them. He said no he didn’t even know they were there!! Shortly afterwards they came up the stairs, he was joking! They all got the speedboat and we were reunited. “sorry I let the boat go, he wouldn’t listen to me” I said, “sorry I ate your watermelon” Lena replied. So I guess we were even…like I said Lena eats everything hahaha. That night we pulled into the harbour in Iquitos! We had made it!

We waited to get off but they wouldn’t let our boat dock, all these police boats were around and then we were told the small water taxi in front of us (which me and Lena take on our next trip to monkey island) had a murder on it. Apparently they robbed people and killed a woman and so we had to wait. Not the nicest welcome but I just thought logically that they probably wouldn’t rob trampy looking backpackers like us and they must have known those people had more to give then we did. I look forward to telling you about Iquitos and the monkey island, tune in for the funniest video of me getting attacked by a monkey, best places to go in Iquitos and how we lived with a family in the heart of the Amazon!

Ciao for now x

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