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.

Peruvian Patterns

I’ve been here in Peru for a month and have gone gaga over Peruvian stripes and prints. I really love the vibrant summery colours and contrasts. I went to an artisanal market in Monsefu and couldn’t get over how cheap it was. I got this weekend bag and coin purse which has a white leather back for less then £10!

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 The textures and colours are really interesting, even the sweetcorn has amazing colours and patterns. Here are some Peruvian textiles, prints and stones
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Peru So Far…

I arrived at 5am in Lima and rushed to get a taxi to the bus station (Taxi Green are recommended), as I sat in the taxi, the driver asked me to hide my bag under the seat in front. He said it was the law as there are many car-jacking’s and it prevents us from being targets. I quickly removed my earrings from the night before in Miami and I looked pretty rough from the flight so I wasn’t really worried  about anyone targeting me. I was offered an emergency exit seat on the plane before I knew the plane was like a hundred years old so I took it. Unbeknown to little old me, a freezing cold draught comes through the rickety door for the entire flight.

Anyways, I was greeted by beautiful warm Peruvian weather and I was SO happy to be warm. The driver asked me where I’m from and was very excited to know I was from London and proceeded to play me the Oliver Twist audio book which was strange but somehow comforting. “What is ‘Getcha!’ he always says I’m gonna Getcha, what is this word Getcha! Getcha!” I explained and he pulled the taxi over for me to write it down for him “I’m going to get you” I tried to tell him it’s an accent and not really a word but he insisted it be part of his growing English vocabulary which I thought would be pretty fun for the next Brits who took his cab! “Hello! I’m gonna GETCHA!”. Then he started talking about the movie and I had to tell him my bus was leaving soon so I couldn’t stay and chat even though he was lovely and very entertaining. Had I known I wouldn’t get to speak English for another 24 hours maybe I would have stayed to chat a couple more minutes as he was a cute old man but hey…you live and you learn.

I boarded the double-decker bus with blacked out windows, reclining seats and footrests which  was a dream after that plane journey. Cruz Del Sur was the name of the company, they made National Express look crappy and they are known to be the best bus company in Peru, I would highly recommend them. The stewardess on duty handed out blankets and pillows and as I unpacked mine I could smell baby powder, wow, scented blankets! I noticed there was Wi-Fi on board so I suppose the 13 and a half hour journey could have been worse. I Skyped friends and family on the way showing them my first glimpses of Peru and it was really cool! The driver for some reason chose not to drive over 50km per hour although he was allowed to do 90 so in fact it was a 15 hour journey. I watched Spanish films and took pictures of the beautiful changing landscapes. I thought it would feel really foreign but every new landscape seemed familiar, the coastal scenes looked like Cape Town, the desert looked like the UAE, the mountains and luscious green vegetation brought flashbacks of Uganda. Although I don’t speak a word of Spanish the lady next to me insisted on talking to me in Spanish every hour for the first 10 hours and then resorted to talking to herself. I just nodded and smiled and then pretended to sleep a lot, the stewardess didn’t speak a word of English either. I soon learned that nobody did. I was met by a driver in Chiclayo who was supposed to take me to my place of residence.

Around 11pm, we showed up at this house somewhere close to the beach and I could hear the waves. I was met by Alex, another local who didn’t speak English, he showed me to a room. I wasn’t sure at that point where I was as he couldn’t answer any questions. The room had an unusual number of mosquitoes so I asked if he had a spray but unfortunately he didn’t. It also had someone else’s things in it, I later learned a girl was moving out when I moved in and it was in fact my room.

I asked him for a key, pulled out my sleeping bag and fell asleep pretty much instantly but awoke every few minutes to the sound of mosquitoes screaming in my ears…I’m not kidding they were SO annoying. I woke up the next morning looking like Quasimodo. I’m allergic to mosquito bites, I slept with my sleeping bag over my head but I guess one of those little s**ts got in there with me and feasted on my face. I literally looked like I had been beaten up, bites on my eyelid, forehead, one under the other eye and a couple on my cheeks. I had about 30 bites on my body but at this point they were the least of my worries.

I had my first day of Spanish class and then first day of work in the afternoon…great first impression. I think everyone wants to be the cool kid on their first day, well I just looked stupid, I went in with massive sunglasses on and eventually took them off and apologized for my face to which everyone was like “oh I can’t see anything”. I wasn’t sure whether they were being polite or whether it was because they hadn’t seen me before so they just thought I looked like that but anyways, they said I could take the day off and rest if I wanted to. I met a girl called Robin who offered to come with me to Chiclayo and showed me where to get a mosquito net and I got every kind of mosquito killer available. Sprays, coils, plug-ins, swats and plenty of repellent, I was on a mission and I succeeded. My room has since been a mosquito free zone, I burn those coils like incense and do a daily spray before I leave for work. I cleaned every surface and wall with a mixture of bleach and Raid mosquito killer so they know not to chill on my walls and I purposely left one of their deceased friends on the windowsill to make them aware that they are not welcome here.

So far I am really enjoying my experience here, I am in a seaside town in the North of Peru completely untouched by tourists other than the students who come to the school. More then anything I love living by the water and the amazing sunsets everyday. You just live the Peruvian way which is pretty chilled, timing doesn’t mean a thing and there are little restaurants which are actually in people’s houses all over town. You get a really authentic homemade food experience and grub here is to die for. So far I haven’t had a single thing I don’t like, the chef at the school has this magic touch when she cooks and makes everything delicious. We have BBQ’s every fortnight which she prepares and no exaggeration it was the best BBQ I have ever had! I am learning Spanish for four hours every day and I guess because nobody speaks English outside of work you are forced to practice. I was really proud of myself yesterday, I took a trip to a market and managed to bargain in Spanish, obviously I learnt the necessities first lol (will blog about the little treasures I bought in the fashion section later).

I have so much more to tell you but you will have to wait till the next blog …

Ciao for now! xx