Thursday, August 16, 2007

Peru; Lima and the Jungle

We were badly in need of a Vacation, and Peru with the Family was just what the doctor ordered. We left for Santiago, Wednesday evening after school. Our flight was scheduled to leave at 6 am Thursday morning, meaning we had to be at the airport at 4 am. Little did we know, that this habit of waking up before the sun rises and proclaims it's presence to the world, would be a regular event in the life of the Sanders\Rogers\Braun\Mayne Family adventure. Arriving into Lima and did not find our names on the numerous boards being held for arranged pickups. We searched our bags for the name of our hotel. Luckily we found it and asked a friendly cabdriver if he new of our hotel or where our previously arranged driver was. After a couple of minutes he returned with a man who had the name of our hotel on his sign but not the names of his passengers. The cabdriver helping us insisted with urgency and authority that he obtain the names of his supposed passengers before we enter the other guys car. We had heard horror stories of unreliable taxi drivers taking their unsuspecting and vulnerable passengers to deserted locations and stealing anything and everything they could, leaving them stranded without money or valuables. Though Kyle and I are sometimes naive and overly trusting, I believe that we are pretty safe travelers so we quickly agreed that the man should know who we are or at least be able to find out. After all of the hassle, it turned out that this particular driver from our hotel, did in fact obtain our correct names and he didn't rob everything we had. I was still thankful for the bossy cabdrivers assistance in our complicated and yet simple ordeal.

Driving past numerous police cars lining the streets, we discovered that the teachers in all of Peru were striking and affecting all aspects of Peruvian life including tourists traveling. Luckily the strike never effected us throughout the entire vacation, but we ran into several people along our path whose planes and buses were prevented from continuing to their appointed destinations because of the ruckus, including a couple who spent over 30 hours on what was supposed to be a 6 hour bus ride. Arriving to our hotel, we found Mayne, my mom's co-worker in the hotel alone. Mayne flew separately and my families flight had been delayed out of Miami, and although they should had arrived at the hotel the night before, they still hadn't left Miami. So here we were, in a foreign country with my mom's friend who I had only met twice before, who seemed very nervous with the whole situation, and all I wanted, was a nice shower and to crawl into a nice warm bed. Although Lima is definitely warmer than Pichilemu, the clouds were gray and ominous and looked to be threatening rain and possibly a demolition of our first day of this supposed vacation. We made an expensive international call to my mom, and learned that she is booked for the next flight out and should arrive before our next flight to Iquitos the next morning. As for Nancy and her kids, we still had no word. Lisa and Jonathan, who self-admittedly proclaim to have little patience with traveling, were ready to spit bullets and wanted nothing more to do with this trip to Peru. The original flight had taken off, but because of mechanical issues with the air pressure, they were forced to return to Miami, and endure the pleasures of sleeping on airport floors and dining with airport fast food. The entire trip from Texas to Peru took over 48 hours and during the whole ordeal, no one had a full night's sleep or anything remotely close. But as they didn't arrive until a whole 24 hours after we did, I will continue with our first day in Lima.

After cleaning up, Kyle and I find Mayne and we drew out a makeshift plan. Nancy had already determined what we would do in Lima, so I hadn't bothered to plan anything for our first day, which made us lost little puppies in the big scary city. We asked for advice at the front desk, and they sent us to a restaurant across the street appropriately named Las Tejas. I still claim that as the best food we ate in all of Peru. Of all places, the one named after our state! The three of us split an appetizer and then a large meal and headed on to the markets of Peru. Normally on the first day of a trip, I don't buy souvenirs as I am still testing out the waters of the appropriate price and the means of bargaining, plus I was just feeling non-committal. Having traveled in Italy with the cleverly thieving gypsies, Kyle and I are very aware of how to hold our belongings and how not to. Peru is infamous for it's high crime rate of tourists which puts one on edge to begin with, but walking with Mayne who was comfortable holding her camera dangling, from her wrist, making her a walking target, made us want to panic. We quickly told her, and the day continued on without hiccups. In the evening, after getting lost, which of course never happens to us :), we enjoyed a nice evening dinner by the ocean in the tucked away Larcomar, a very Ritzy shopping area that is literally on the side of a huge cliff. Tuckered from our early flight and painfully aware that our next flight the following morning was at 5 am, meaning that we had to leave the hotel by 2:30 am, we headed back early. Our nights rest, as I predicted was not very restful because my mom was scheduled to arrive around 11 pm to the hotel. Also, our friend Bethany, the other volunteer in Pichi, was supposed to arrive and introduce us to her boyfriend who was coming in from the United States at midnight. When our alarm went off at 2 am and no one had knocked on our door, I became worried. Where was my mom? Where was Bethany? Mayne informed us that my mom had not arrived, and that she had stayed awake waiting for her. I was baffled by the woman's energy! We asked the desk clerk where my mom was and he informed us that her flight had been delayed but she should be in the airport. As for Bethany, she was on her way. The way our flights worked out, Bethany, her boyfriend and Kyle and I should have had a couple hours to chat away the night, but as fate had it, we were only alloted 15 minutes to meet the man we had heard about for 4 months.

On our thirty minute drive to the airport, Mayne finally got some sleep, while Kyle and I marveled at the tackiness of the Casinos with their bright lights and silly English name like “New York”and “Atlantic City” illuminating our drive. We arrived at the Lima airport, which we later dubbed our home away from home since so many of our flights were through this particular airport. We found my mom, in her purple dress and bright Bahama bag, curled up and sleeping in a chair. She was very relieved to see us, and exclaimed that she was going to fall over and die of exhaustion if she didn't get some sleep soon. Nancy, Lisa and John were not going to make this flight to Iquitos, but were supposed to meet us there later in the day. As luck would have it though, our flight to Iquitos was canceled because of “weather.” This was funny because the other airlines didn't seem to need to cancel their flights. We were handed cards with phone numbers of the appropriate people to contact to reschedule and told to pick up our baggage. I made my way to a phone, and discovered that the phone required money almost every couple of minutes to keep it activated, and that the office wouldn't open until 8 am, another 3 hours away. After being given various and distinctly different directions from many different people, we decided to stand in line for customer service with many other English speaking people. An airline worker asked why we were standing in line, and told us that we were in the wrong place. Having deposited my sleepwalking mother and Mayne in chairs, Kyle and I refused to leave the line until we talked to someone at a computer. Another couple behind us decided to try and do some research over the situation and discovered that flights were being sold for the 3:30 pm flight. The Canadian girls in front of us who switched between speaking French and English informed us that they did not believe “this hocus pocus” about the problem being weather because if planes could land in Canada, they could fly and land anywhere. They instructed us to not move until we were given what we wanted, which is exactly what we ended up having to do. When we arrived at the front of the line, originally we were ignored for a good ten minutes after which we were told that there was nothing they could do for us, and we needed to call the number on the card. We explained to the woman that we could not make the call since the office wasn't open. We didn't have a phone and didn't have money to use a pay phone and she could do something for us because there was a computer at her fingertips. The Canadian girls walked off with tickets in hand, and we used that evidence as leverage. The couple who had previously been standing behind us also started arguing that there were seats available on the 3:30 flight because they were being sold, therefore the airport should give the canceled passengers first priority. The University of Texas biology graduate student(what a small world!) standing behind us also chipped in. We had formed a type of gringo blockade and were not leaving until we accomplished what we came here for, obtaining tickets. It was a painful process for me, especially since I hate confrontation and I'm embarrassed easily, but Kyle took the reins and guided us to victory after the stones of my wall front seemed to be in danger of a collapse. We stood in line for a good 30 minutes and argued for another 30 until we victoriously walked away with our 4 new tickets for the following day at 1 am. We then informed my mother of our valiant victory, but she couldn't hold her eyelids open. We went in search of finding a hotel, and in the process found Lisa and Jon. Our greeting was less of “hello, how are you, oh how I have missed you.” and more of barking orders. I felt like I had been at the airport for an entire day, and all I wanted was to get my mom to a bed, and make sure that Nancy, Lisa and Jon got on our same flight so this vacation could actually start.

Arriving at our new hotel, just in time for breakfast, we determined that we should do Lima for half of the day while we were still awake and come back to the hotel in the afternoon and sleep until we had to leave at 11:30 pm for our 1 am flight. I have to say the taxi ride was the most exciting part of all of Lima. Seeing the faces of the moms who we later dubbed as “The Queens” as they stepped out of their taxis was almost enough to have Kyle doubled over on the dangerous Lima street in tears of laughter. My mom exclaimed that Fiesta Texas should add “taxi rides in Lima” as a new roller coaster. If there are traffic laws at all, they are mere suggestions, and loosely followed. Nancy gave us the task of finding one stop sign in the entire city, which I am pleased to say, we found two, not that they were respected, but who cares about traffic laws anywho! Honking is the mode of all needed traffic communication. Whoever honks first and loudest gets the right of way. All cars seemed to drive with no more than two inches between bumpers, and we were nearly hit by two buses. Occasionally there were traffic lights, and luckily they held enough authority to stop traffic. It was also common for cars to stop where they pleased. In the middle of a street with moving traffic for example is A Okay. After our eventful roller coaster ride, we visited a church which was pretty dull in comparison to the death defying drive in the morning except for the catacombs underneath the church with the bones in delicate and interesting patterns. We wandered around the city admiring the sights and sounds of our foreign surroundings. We watched the changing of the guards, but what was even more interesting than a bunch of men in uniforms playing silly tourist songs was the old man with the graying and tired dog, dressed up in a hat and sunglasses obviously well accustomed to his picture being taken. He looked around at the laughing tourists as if saying, “Am I really all that funny and interesting? Can I go home now and have my treat?” But of course we had to take his picture, because what is cuter than a dog in human clothing, and even better, in Peruvian clothing! We also made our way to Chinatown and ate at a Dim Sum restaurant where Jon promptly fell asleep on the table. Shopping of course was inevitable in Chinatown, but after avoiding too much damage to our wallets, we made our way to our hotel. However this place was anything but restful, being situated right on a main street and very close to a drive through Kentucy Fried Chicken!


Arriving into Iquitos at 3:30 am, we waited for all of our luggage to find it's way to us. Lisa and Mayne's luggage were the very last pieces to be unloaded, and as they waited standing side by side, each with long, black, carefully groomed hair, wringing their hands awaiting the disastrous words, “lost baggage” I thought about how alike they both were. But luckily those words never came and peace reigned again as we were taken to our lodging in Iquitos.

Aware that we were in the Jungle, Lisa began asking what animals we might encounter. Lion was the first on her list, but Kyle assured her that even though we had just seen a statue of a lion, there were no lions or bears in the Amazon Basin. Our lodging in Iquitos was only temporary because our real lodge was four hours away from Iquitos by boat. We were told that we had till 8 am to sleep, which was only 4 hours away. Noticing the giant whirlpool tub in our bathroom, I excitedly stripped my clothes off for a nice relaxing bath only to find that we had no running water. I stood there naked, willing the water to flow out of the facets and grant me this wish after three nights of incomplete sleep, but it refused to listen to reason. We are still unclear as to why the water was turned off and why we were teased by this magnificent beacon of cleanliness and tranquility and not warned beforehand of it's impending message of sadness, no running water. After spotting the water in buckets, we brushed our teeth and crawled into our large magnificent bed which seemed like it would be true comfort, but it was more like a hard cardboard box with sheets. 6:30 am there was a knock on the door. Lisa wants us to wake up so we can stare longingly at the Amazon River outside our balcony. She hadn't slept the entire night for the excitement of truly being in the Amazon Jungle, but unlike Lisa, I could continue to sleep with that knowledge. An hour later, my mom knocks on the door and tells us we should wake. The time is 7:30 and I distinctly remember the woman saying we had till 8 am to sleep. Why is no one sleeping!? We grudgingly crawled out of our bed and dressed into our summer clothes! Putting summer clothing on after being in Chilean winter without heaters is why I came to Peru. It is a wonderful feeling knowing that one layer of clothing is sufficient, and that the sun will bath my ghostlike body in blankets of gold and keep me warm. I felt like, I hadn't seen the sun in years. This was entirely my fault, however, since, we moved to the Southern Hemisphere. To winter, when Summer with it's fiercely powerful rays scorching the air is in the Northern Hemisphere.

Our balcony had a fantastic view of the Amazon and I was so excited to finally be on the famous River that we read about in Geography and History class. It's undoubtedly, the widest river in all of the world, but it is also debated to be the longest river, when including it's tributaries. A river that holds so much majesty, and mystery, and has given birth to some of the worlds most interesting wildlife. Right outside my window, so close, I could run out and jump in if I so pleased. It is a body of water that regardless of it's statistics deserves respect just because of it's immense beauty and splendor. What secrets did it have in store for us?

After the long process of herding our family to the front, ready to face the jungle, we head out the door ready for breakfast. Iquitos, the self-proclaimed motorcycle capitol of the world, is a crazy place with truly more motorcycles than anywhere I have ever been. So many in fact, it is rare to see a car. But we don't walk to breakfast, we take taxis. If the only mode of transportation is zipping motorcycles, how did my mom in her bright pink shirt, and her matching and extremely wide brimmed pink hat, climb onto the back of a motorcycle, put her arms around a strange Peruvian cyclist's waist and hold on for dear life? Ha ha; I wish that had been the case, because that would have been a terrific picture. Instead of that hilarious scene, however, imagine horse drawn carriages, not so fancy, being pulled by motorcycle instead of horses. Two to three people could fit in one comfortably and off we went zooming around the motorcycle capitol in our motorcycle drawn carriages.

Ordering breakfast was an ordeal, not only because we seemed to have trouble describing French toast, but also because of the hoards of walking vendors who spotted unsuspecting prey in my mom and Nancy. We tried to warn my mom not to make eye-contact, but ignoring our advice, she got sucked into the world of “buy this!, real cheap, please miss!” and I knew we had lost her. Luckily she made it out of that jungle without too many bite marks. We finished our breakfast, with our guide Edson mulling in his head, “What have I gotten myself into.”

Finding our seats on the boat that would take us to our wilderness lodge, we settled in for our four hour journey down the Amazon. Who knew that all of our winter clothing would come in handy in our Amazon boat? The wind was forceful and cool off the water, making the air within the boat whipping around our scantily covered bodies much colder than we had anticipated. The boat consisted of our crazy family, a nice talkative couple, our guide and the driver. After pulling out my and Kyle's arsenal of winter clothing and passing them out to to the boat, the nice couple in the front were kind enough to share their winter gear with those of us still lacking in coverage. After arriving at the main lodge, and eating lunch, we headed to our lodge which was tucked even further away in the midst of the jungle, at a more leisurely pace. The winter gear was re-packed, and the sun found it's way from out behind the overcast clouds to shine on not only us, but the beautiful wildlife surrounding us. Nancy found herself the first victim of travelers illness along our route, not from motion sickness, but from something from breakfast currently in disagreement with her body. Her kids crowded around her concerned because they had never seen their mom ill in that way. Luckily travelers illness did not linger long with Nancy and moved to it's next victim of the trip Kyle, by the following day.

Naps were the first line of business, followed by a hike through the woods. Dinner was fantastic and I found myself eating too much and breaking my rule, of only eating until full. After dinner we walked down the treacherous wooden stairs without handrails and uneven planks down to the water's edge. After risking life and limb just to arrive at ground level, we had to make our way from one log laid in the mud to the next, without falling or slipping. As soon as we had found our way to the boat, the rain released from the Heavens in sheets. Our intent, this evening, was to go Caiman searching or crocodile hunting as Nancy liked to call it, to make the adventure sound more exciting. But soon it was right back through the obstacle course to the lodge as it started to rain. We weren't giving up, only retrieving our ponchos for protection. The rain let up, and we made our way back to the boat, and within fifteen minutes had caught a Spectacled Caiman. He was much smaller than I anticipated, but beautiful. We then continued on our night outing. We didn't find anymore that evening, and our guide decided to turn around, when he noticed some of his passengers passed out in the boat from exhaustion.

Each bed at the lodge had it's own mosquito net. We learned how important these mosquito nets can be when camping, after hearing a story of one of the other guests at the lodge. He said that while camping in the woods, he once leaned against the mosquito net surrounding him, and in the morning along the side that he had leaned against, the mosquitoes had feasted, leaving him welted and in pain. The next morning the Queens went on a bird watching outing, and came back with a long list of birds they had seen. Honestly, it is a miracle that Nancy convinced my mom to wake up before six at all, but miracles obviously do happen. After breakfast, we headed back to our lodge were we hiked, laid in hammocks, and tested out the zip line. Our hike was hilarious in itself, because we all had to find our size boots for walking through the mud. I have discovered that trekking through sludge is one of the greatest feelings in life. Normally we try and avoid stepping in mud because we ruin our shoes and the rest of the day our feet are cold, wet and covered in goo, but with the protection of our mud boots, we were allowed the privilege of stepping in every mud puddle we could find. Mud was not our enemy on this outing, but a friend and a playmate. The brown soft, squishy substance that makes wonderful gurgling noises when stepped in filled my being with over bounding joy. I felt like I was rebelling against all the years of oppression of not being able to enjoy the loveliness of stepping ankle deep in a mud hole. With each step through our hike, I specifically attempted to find the best mud pits. If I had worn clothing that could be thrown away or if I hadn't been afraid of some of the creatures I might find, hiding in that gooey substance, I might have rolled around in it, to fully appreciate the release of my emotions. I felt like a child, who was allowed to get as messy as possible, it was great! After our hike, we ate lunch and laid around in hammocks again. Kyle was taken hostage by the evil traveler's illness and therefore turned down the idea of zipping along the tops of the trees in harnesses. The rain started again, but the trees protected us from the forcefulness of the water. Not to say we didn't get drenched, because I was completely wet, from head to foot, but I didn't mind. Because of the rain, we ran more than we hiked to the location of the zip line, and the rain increased the depths of the mud holes, causing more splatterage along my unprotected pant legs. After harnessing up, we zipped from one tree house like structure to the next, admiring our height and the immense world around us. It was a really beautiful sight, and would have been even more lovely, had the mosquitoes not feasted on the only unexposed area of skin, my hand. After that outing, I discovered 21 mosquito bites on my hands alone, which was with mosquito replant.

The following day, before we returned to Iquitos, we visited a small village with a school and a market, just for us. The shopping was the best part, and we would have bought more had they been able to make change or accepted bills with any type of damage. But as it was, any bill that wasn't brand new, was rejected, limiting our ability to buy their goods. We also visited a school in the village, where the children sang us songs, and we taught them to dance the hokey pokey.

We spent two nights and two full days in the Amazon. If our flight hadn't been canceled, we would have spent three nights and three full days roaming around the jungle. Because of our limited time, we had limited activities. I enjoyed myself there, but I was aware of our press for time and that caused my anxiety to lash out. I would like to return someday and explore more of that mysterious world. On our boat ride back we spotted three gray river dolphins. I had really been hoping to see the pink river dolphins, but the baby gray dolphin made up for our loss by jumping out of the water, dancing for us.

link for photos

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