Hello from Hanoi! So I’m woefully behind on these blow-by-blow posts so here is an attempt to catch you up on my time in South America. I’ll elaborate in other posts, but this blog is going to change a bit in how I update with shorter place-specific posts and more musings and tips about long-term travel.
Traveling around and down the Amazon
After the Zona Cafeteria, I swung through Bogota for one last visit before flying down to Leticia, the southernmost part of Colombia and gateway to the Amazon leading to Brazil and Peru.
In hot and humid Leticia, I explored the mighty Amazon for a day complete with adorable monkeys, two-toed sloths (the slowest animal ever), pink and gray dolphins, and a poisonous tree that bleeds when you cut it (indigenous use the poison for their darts to hunt and it can also blind you). If you speak Spanish, negotiate with guys offering tours on the street for a much cheaper deal. With four people, we got our own boat and tour guide for about $30 each compared to $60-70 offered through agencies or hostels.
We stayed at Mahatu Hostel which is set on a beautiful property with lush trees, lagoons, and baby ducks. There was a pool which was great to break the heat when it wasn’t raining (it is the rainforest) and Gustavo is happy to give advice on tours as well as how to navigate a boat trip to either Brazil or Peru.
Other highlights included renting motorbikes (which dominate the streets) and riding through Tabatinga, Brazil, and the surrounding countryside in Leticia. For food, we repeatedly went to a series of food stands set up under a plastic tarp featuring grill meat, fried fish, and chicken kabobs served with rice and yucca for only $5.
From Leticia, we hopped on a 13 hour fast boat to Iquitos, Peru, at 3am in the morning. The boat was essentially the same as a bus with seats that slightly recline and sub-par food. For those interested, you buy the ticket in Tabatinga, Brazil, and must stamp out of Colombia and stamp into Peru (which is done in Santa Rosa island, accessible by small boat from Tabatinga) the day before you leave.
Arriving in Iquitos, we were mobbed by moto-taxi drivers, but with no Peruvian money, walking was the only option. Phil, one of my German traveling companions, had stayed at Mad Mick’s Bunk House on his last visit and while he warned that it may not be a place for ladies. I told him that I was no lady, I’m a backpacker!
Now Mick is a gregarious Australian and his bunk house is in a prime location on the main square, but I will say that the bare straw mattresses and staff walking through the room starting at 8am was a bit uncomfortable.
Iquitos is a rough around the edges town born out of the 1880s rubber-boom and was founded in the 1750s as a Jesuit Mission to convert the indigenous. While there we went to Pilpintuwasi Butterfly Farm & Amazon Animal Orphanage where they have an amazing collection of butterfly species and adorable animals, like Harry the ocelot, that have been saved from being sold at Belén Market or rescued from owners that couldn’t care for them.
After visiting Belen Market, it was clear that one could acquire pretty much anything within the maze of stalls shielded by plastic tarps selling homemade remedies, special roots from the Amazon, and live chickens as hundreds of vultures fight over the food scraps left by local sellers. I gave the locals a laugh when I got “carried” by a water-filled tarp that reached its tipping point just as I stood beneath. After the initial shock, I laughed and it was a moment shared regardless of language or cultural barriers.
While I only intended on staying for a couple days, we ended up going to a “Jungle Lodge” for a few days where we spent some time with a Shaman named Adella and Mike managed to get 150 mosquito bites.
Upon returning from Nauta, it was off to Lima to start traveling around Peru and make it to Cusco by March 22nd to check in for my 4 day trek along the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu.
Leaving Lima After Barely Arriving
Arriving in Lima with grey, cloudy skies, loud cars, and dirty, crowded city streets, it was clear that this town was not for me. While the Plaza de Armas and cathedral were beautiful sites, it wasn’t enough to stay there another day so we booked a bus to a beach town called Paracas, four hours from Lima.
Back to Nature in the small beach town of Paracas
Paracas is a tiny town known for its national reserve and the Ballesta Islands (also known as the “poor man’s galapagos”) which is home to millions of birds, sea lions, and Humboldt penguins. The reserve features a mars-like desert terrain, amazing coastline views, and El Candelabro, a massive Geoglyph carved in the Paracas Civilization.
It was a nice stop to take in some nature and also, celebrate St. Patricks Day in nearby Pisco where we were taken in by some locals and went dancing at a local club… though they had no knowledge of the holiday.
Sand boarding in the Desert, Staying in an Oasis
From Paracas, it was off to Huacachina, a literal oasis in the middle of the desert located just outside of Ica. A local vacation spot, this tiny town consists of hostels and restaurants lining a deep green lagoon and offers sand boarding and sand buggy rides.
Sand boarding was incredible. We took a dune buggy out of the oasis and within minutes all you could see was miles of massive sand dunes. While a bit cumbersome with your feet strapped to old snowboards, riding down the dunes was so much fun and falling was even better! The last dune must have been at least 10 stories high and I rode down on my stomach going so fast that I could barely hear myself screaming. The day ended watching the sunset over the desert and just soaking in my surroundings.
Before jetting to Cusco – as I needed to check in with the trekking company within 48 hours – I did a night out visiting the Pisco wineries in Ica and was lucky enough to participate in the stomping of the grapes. I won most enthusiastic as I dance in a massive concrete vat of grapes while sampling the finished product. We ended the night at a winery dancing among a hundred barrels of fermenting wine.
Next post, I’ll share with you my trekking adventures to Machu Pittchu (42km) and into Colca Canyon (25km). I discovered that I really enjoy trekking and will be embarking on another trek tomorrow in Sapa, Vietnam, near the border of China.
Til next time!