Saturday, May 11, 2013

Rumble in the Jungle

That rumble would be the sound of your favorite blogger getting old(er). If you would have asked 10 years old Brice, 18 years old Brice, or even 25 years old Brice where he'd be when he crests the hill out of his twenties, I doubt 'the Peruvian jungle' would have been the response (weird how life works like that).

The trip, a very laid back casual journey, was shared with a Ryan and Kerry (Peru 17 friends from Ica), and a couple of other surprise guests that appeared along the way. We (Ryan, Kerry, and I) flew from Lima to Tarapoto, and then after a few days, we took a barge 3 days down the Amazon Iquitos. After a few nights in Iquitos, we headed out to a jungle lodge on a side tributary of the Amazon. Then I needed to return to Lima to welcome my brother to Peru.

I'll hit the highlights for each major stop, and let the pictures do the most of the talking.

Stop 1: Tarapoto. I think this was my favorite of all the places. It was a smallish town with lots of fun day hikes to cool tropical waterfalls. Also the town proved to have good food, an active nightlife, a entertaining plaza de armas (apparently in the jungle it's customary for people to go to the plaza at night to tell jokes... fun to see), and tons of motorcycles. Everyone there commutes via motorcycle, and so the streets are constantly lined with bikes parked, one after another (Think Sturgis, South Dakota, minus the people wearing tight leather... it's too hot for that).

Rainy season in the jungle means lots of waterfalls.

This first day hike we did took us to a cool waterfall with a nice pool to swim in. 

It included small cliffs to the side to jump off. 

Our next waterfall hike included a 45 minute motor-taxi ride out of town. Unfortunately the taxi didn't have enough motor to haul Ryan and I up the hill. We walked the inclines...

... Meanwhile, Kerry was treated like a princess and was carted up the hills. Here's her view. 

Again, Ryan and I walking... I'm not complaining though, just look at that vegetation!

After arriving to the trail head we had another 45 minute walk which included river crossings. Here's Ryan making it look easy.

The three jungle explorers.  

Kerry and our 2nd waterfall. This was by far  our favorite waterfall,  Kerry included (even though shortly after this picture was taken she slipped while jumping, belly flopped in the water, and hurt herself). The jungle never sleeps... gotta stay on your toes. 

An action shot of Ryan and I helping Kerry get out shortly after her flop. 

Your's truly taking a jungle waterfall lunch break. 

Our moto waiting to take us back to Tarapoto.

This is the typical street view in Tarapoto. 

Looking in the opposite direction of the previous photo. 

The Tarapoto plaza de armas, a fun place, and the last picture my camera took on this trip. 

Stop 2: Yurmiaguas and the Boat to Iquitos. Yurmiaguas is a crusty port town two hours away from Tarapoto where a barge that runs the Amazon river stops to pick up cargo and passengers heading to Iquitos. The town is typical of most ports, as it has a very transient population, with blue color pride, and a general rough, tumble, gritty feel. Walking around the town I typically noticed that my guard was elevated more than normal (although no concrete treats ever appeared).

We had originally planned on only spending a pair our hours there. This plan was confirmed when we bought our hammock spaces on the boat and the captain told us we'd depart at 5:00pm that night. Then we met Nick, a traveler who had been told the same thing for the last 3 days. Then at 3:00pm the boat's sign was changed from "departing tonight" to "5:00 pm manana" (we started to worry, while Nick showed clears signs of rage mixed with frustration... clearly he was past the worrying stage).  Fortunately, after a night spent sleeping on the docked boat, and bumming around the town the next day, the sign didn't change, and we headed off down the the river to Iquitos.

The boat ride, was very calm as we spent most our time sleeping, reading, and talking to the other travelers on the boat. The 3 days become blurred, without too much to mention besides: having to line up 3 times a day to receive our food from a mess hall (they'd ring a bell, and we'd all respond better than Pavlov's dogs), sharing the boat with 15 Haitians heading to Brazil to work, watching the full moon from the middle of the river, watching the crew throw the black hefty bags full of the boat's trash into the river, and fantasizing about either: what you'd do if you fell off in the middle of the night, or if Peace Corps had placed you in one to the small villages that only sees limited boat traffic, and floods six months out of the year (no Peace Corps volunteers are in the Peruvian Jungle).

This devastation from last year's floods was our view from the port.  

This was my typical activity... watching my eyelids. 

These canoes are the main method of transportation. 

This was the dock area where our boat was docked in Yurmiaguas. There was a consistent flow of people bringing  their goods on board. 

Jungle fruit such as this, was continually for sale from venders walking around on the boat. 

It was a 4 story boat, with the 2nd and 3rd story being used for hammocks. 

Jungle kids playing in their environment, water. 

A small town we stopped at on the way to Iquitos. 

The houses were definitely built for high-waters.  

Little kids in the jungle seem well adjusted to their environment. 

Meanwhile... Brice sleeps. 

The sunsets were always noteworthy. 

See what I mean. 

The size of the river was always mind-blowing for me. At this spot, it was roughly the  width of Seeley Lake (and it only gets bigger as you go downstream). 

Typical to form, Kerry made friends with every little child on the boat. 

Another town we passed by. 

Spot 3: Iquitos and the Jungle Wolf Lodge. Iquitos is a major destination for a lot of travelers. You definitely notice that while being in the middle of the jungle (only accessible via plane or boat). You don't feel like you really are in backwoods Peru (i.e. my site). People travel to Iquitos for various reason (i.e. nearby jungle access, nightlife, food, just say you're in the middle of nowhere); however, unfortunately the is a more dubious reason people go to there: child trafficking. Is a sad truth that was brought to my attention when I saw the state issued posters hung in most public spots and in all reputable hotels. The posters clearly stated the laws against the sex trafficking and usually showed a small child. (Also Ryan shared with me that there was a Peru 15er that wrote his Master's thesis (He was a Masters International student, a pretty cool PC program where you can work towards you Masters degree during your service) based on research he did in three major jungle ports in Peru). I don't write this to stereotype people in Iquitos (although I do admit to being unfairly suspicious of my fellow tourists without just cause), but only give you sense of one element of the city and that it unfortunately does happen too frequently. Other than this, I really liked my time there.

From Iquitos, we (Ryan, Kerry, and I) headed out a jungle lodge for 3 days. The jungle is always amazing, as the I'm baffled on how people survive out there... so many bugs, poisonous things, rain, and unseen dangerous. With that said, our digs were actually pretty cushy, the only thing was it was the  middle of rainy season, so that meant there was no jungle walking... the 90%  of land (my estimate) was underwater (only the hill tops were dry, like little islands we could canoe to; however, that also meant that all the snakes were concentrated there too).

The highlights for me included swimming around the lodge with the little kid that lived at the lodge, seeing a huge coral snake, and listening to our guide tell stories about unfriendly and un-contacted tribes (maybe you'll remember these guys: 2008 Uncontacted Tribe in Peru/Brazil. I also found this kinda interesting NGO information about the issues). Unfortunately and luckily, I didn't see any unfriendly tribal people, but did see some other stuff. Here's the pictures:

The boat docks where we caught our canoe out to lodge (An interesting side story: there was a guy walking up and down the boardwalk trying to sell an abnormally small,sickly kitten. I thought that it was strange, in that the guy's product was of such poor health, that one look at the cat suggested this 'pet' was obviously living on borrowed time. Then later  at the lodge, while eating a delicious golden catfish meal, our guide told us how they catch the catfish... it involves a hook, a two day wait, and small kitten sitting on the bottom of the river. Scrumptious).   

Our canoe heading out to the lodge. 

The Jungle Wolf Lodge

Ryan was here 8 months ago, and said that they were able to walk around the lodge  and go back into the jungle... not the case this time around.

Those are bird nests that hung in the tree outside our window.

The bunk house (or the Gertz, if you will). 

Me in jungle, is like a polar bear in the desert. I like being far away from spiders and snakes, and prefer the cold. Needless to say I was out of my element.  

With that said, the jungle is cool... to visit (however, our guide did pique our collective interests when he told us about lots with sale prices around 1,000 soles). 

Jungle sunset.

He's just a little guy.

Lots of cool trees and plants. 

These are beautiful, but probably have some crazy jungle twist to them ; like a poisonous bark, flowers that eat you, or the ability to shoot nail like thorns (this is all my irrational speculation, of course... but you never know in the jungle).  

Again a cool tree. (Remember me mentioning how I'd day dream what I'd do if  you fell off the boat in the middle of the night, our guide told us our best chance is to climb a tree, avoid the snakes, and hope someone finds you.). 

This is the coral snake. Pretty deadly. If you get bit, you have an hour to get to Iquitos, where hopefully they have the anti-venom. However, two small issues: It cost 500 soles, so the Iquitos hospital doesn't usually keep it in stock, and we were about two hours away.  

Here's our guide talking us on a tour. 

1000 soles, and this could be your private jungle escape. 

A pretty intense storm passed through one day. It was kinda scary as you could hear it coming, like a roar of train, way off in the jungle 30 minutes before it hit. The guides were scrambling, as they were worried that a tree may fall on the lodge. Fortunately, only one tree fell, and it went away from the lodge.  

More storm shots. 

This is the little kid that live at the lodge. He was a fun loving kids with a lot of independence. For example, he canoes to school every day... how cool is that!

Ryan and his little buddy. 

Kerry and I. 

Taking a tour of a near by village. 

This is the town's municipality. 

The chickens are kinda out of luck 6 months out of the year. 

Here's the school. Crazy, right?

Can you imagine that this is your classroom?

Sunset on the river.

Going to an oxbow lake to fish and see the giant lily pads. 

A vividly colored grasshopper (probably deadly). 

Piranha fishing. 

I ate this guy. Pretty tasty. 

More jungle plants. 

Here are the pads. Pretty impressive. 

Look at the size of this thing. 
That's all folks!