Off To The Jungle

P1050231I can’t remember for sure which tributary is the one where Jorges home is. I think it’s the Yarapa.

Jorge  learned about jungle plants and animals from his father… who learned the local environment from his father, in an unbroken legacy that extends backwards in time at least several  generations.

Jorge was born in Peru and has lived here all his life. I read many glowing reports in a notebook he carries in a small backpack. They were obviously genuine,  written by a variety of young people. Some in French. One from a young Canadian lady.  The reports were handwritten descriptions of their experiences in the words of people who went into the jungle with Jorge.

I spent an hour or so with him. He was not the least bit pushy. I sensed in him an extraordinary quiet strength and calm. He was straightforward in his answers to my questions.

He did not blink nor hesitate when describing the reality of modern times. 99% of native peoples wear mass produced clothing, use mass produced tools, and have gone to some form of government public school. They all have ready access to transportation and will often visit larger towns and cities. The children have all seen TV, listened to popular music on radio and mp3 players, play video games, and use the internet when in town. They use money to buy things that they don’t produce, like anyone else. They get their money from selling local produce, logging, fishing and tourism.

It is also true that many people who have a tribal heritage still live close to the jungle.  Whether that decision is determined by preference or primarily by economic limitation I did not ask. Perhaps a combination of those reasons.

People like Jorge  have a foot in and know a great deal about two distinct ways of life. Jorge could, no doubt provide all the food necessary for his family from jungle sources. Yet, there are benefits to maintaining a presence in the city. His relationship with Javier and the Casa Del Frances hostel provides him with clientele.

He uses the money the same way any responsible husband and father does. He is a valuable man. He shares his knowledge with the clients who enter the jungle environment with him.

P1050315Jorge and me in at the front entrance to Casa Del Frances behind us is the street.  The Plaza de Armas is one or two blocks to our left.

Early tomorrow morning I will arrive at Casa Del Frances and store my bags there with Javier. It is a secure place. It has a reputation to keep. Backpackers read online comments.  After securing my two bags there Jorge and I will get a van to Nauta. In Nauta we will get on a boat that will take us to Jorges village and home. I will meet his family and make forays into the jungle with Jorge.

The tour business is different from, but located in hostel La Casa Del Frances. It is painted yellow and is within two blocks of the Plaza de Armas (center of Iquitos) The hostel caters to young international backpackers. The man who wrote my ticket and who manages the hostel and lives there with his wife is Javier.

Will be offline for five or six days. Will take extra batteries and use the Spot device often.

Will take lots of photos and a vid or two.  Will post photos and text about my experience when I return.

Uniquitos

P1050237This boat operated during the days of the rubber boom. Built around 1915, it is still in service, now as a tourist boat.

This is my second time in Iquitos having first arrived here from the journey down the Rio Napo from Ecuador.  The town is a one of a kind place with a one of a kind history. I like that.

This place has a very tragic (relatively recent) history. It is a classic example of the worst of human behavior. Tragic and horrible consequences result  when one group of (invading)  humans equipped with ‘higher technology’ who are locked into a personal power trip begin to use their power. The human beings who lived here prior to the encroaching invaders  had a hard enough time adapting  to the survival terms dictated by Nature.

I am referring to what recent history calls: The Rubber Boom.

The Iquitos rubber boom likely would not occurred if it hadn’t been preceded by another boom in another part of the world.  That boom started with the discovery of the black liquid that oozed out of the ground and was first commercialized in Pennsylvania (of all places) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pennsylvania_oil_rush

Along comes a man whose vision is to do away with the horse and buggy… and get fabulously rich in the process. Henry Ford. The one that was born in 1863 and died in 1947. The Henry Ford who historians credit with inventing ‘mass production’… the assembly line. The Henry Ford whose 4 x 6 foot portrait graced the walls of a fellow named Adolf Hitler. The same Henry Ford who visited Iquitos to observe the process that provided his cars with the pneumatic rubber tires on which they rode.

History has threads. Following those threads is the only way a person now alive can make any sense of how social orders got to be the way they are.

Let us review, shall we? Automobiles required several conditions to exist in order for them to  become ‘practical’. 1. Lots of coal to make lots of steel. Check. (Thanks Andrew)2. An easily produced and available fuel to run the engine. Check.(Thanks John) 3. A network of roads upon which to operate them. Check. (Horses and buggies required roads too). And finally 4. The new mechanical horse and buggy needed reliable, durable, and ‘comfortable’ wheels that made contact with the road surface.  Check.  #4 had complications… but was ‘under development’. Thanks to couple other USA fellows from the midwest: Charles Goodyear and Harvey Samuel Firestone.

(Was all this developing  really a ‘good idea’ in the long term scheme of things? I purport to have no definitive answer, I merely encourage the reader to ponder the question in the privacy or their own mind)

Notice that all of those discoveries, inventions, and men converged at nearly the same time.  They all looked at it as ‘progress’. Goodyear: 1800/1860, Rockefeller: 1839/1937, Carnegie: 1839/1937, Ford: 1863/1947,  Firestone: 1868/1938

Back to Iquitos. In one of the local museums there is a photograph of Henry Ford standing next to one Julio Cesar Arana del Aguila. Julio was the man who set out to solve the resource problem for Firestone and Ford. The natural latex that drips out of trees when slashed (Natural rubber) existed only in the Amazon basin at that time.  Julio’s plan included the old tried and true method of marshaling a huge labor crew in short order: slavery. (A brief history of Julio Cesar Arana – http://www.iquitostimes.com/julio.htm

And where might Julio find the humans who would be best adapted to the local conditions and who knew what a rubber tree looked like?  Why, the local indigenous Amazonian tribal peoples, of course.  Problem was, that they didn’t ‘slave’ well.  The solution: A few dozen other  psychopaths equipped with guns who would be willing to bring these primitive folks ‘in line’ for a fee and some special privileges of their own.  Add that to the proclivity of government folks to ‘grant privileges’ to corporations for a small fee and the ‘rubber boom’ is off and running. P1050309Some items from one of Aranas boats. The photo on the wall is of the captain of the vessel. 

All of this stuff happens because having power over other human beings releases the worst in human behavior and acts like a dangerous drug in the hearts and minds of those who have it. (Noted by John Dalberg-Acton – http://www.acton.org/research/lord-acton )

More later… have to leave the computer and go explore the local environs. May look at a piece of land on the Nanay river…  a half hour from Iquitos in a small powered canoe. 20 acres, with full legal title (many properties do not have ‘legal title’ status) Modest price. Opportunity knocks… or is that me doing the knocking and opportunity is a seductive siren beckoning?  Who knows?

 

Days 3&4 on the Ucayali Aboard Henry 8

P1040952Large trees are rare close to the riverbank. Takes less effort to get the logs to the river where they are then floated to market.

The Henry 8 vessel is over 250ft in length and about 35 ft wide. It requires skill and years of experience to handle a ship this size in the Ucayali’s powerful and swift current. The laws of physics apply. Mass in motion is continually in the domain of  immutable and unpardonable physical laws. Momentum is one of those principles. The heavier a vehicle (mass), the more energy is required to halt, slow or maneuver that vehicle.  The captain of a cargo vessel of this size operating in this swift river must be immediately and continually aware of the all conditions and must know how to maneuver his ship taking into account all of the above. It is no job for a careless person. Constant vigilance is required.

It is amazing how the Henry 8 vehicle would change it’s direction in the river.  On this trip the ship is going in the direction of the current. Wherever the boat stops to discharge or pick up passengers it must turn almost 180 degrees, such that the bow is pointing UPriver.  The reasons are that: 1. The propellers are in the stern of the boat, that is where the power comes from. 2. The rudder, the mechanism that controls the orientation of the boat is also in the stern. 3. The wheelhouse is in the aft (rearward) third of the boat and the person handling the engines and the rudder is facing towards the bow (the front). 4. The current.

The only way for the helmsman to maintain control of this craft while stopped on a riverbank is to point the bow against the current.  How it is done is that the ship begins to spin 180 degrees in middle of the river channel  before nearing the intended stop.  When the bow is pointed upriver the engines are revved up, needing to make way  against the current. Then, the bow is gently rammed into a very small area of riverbank that serves as the village ‘dock’.  These areas do not leave much room for error.  They were rarely more than 5 feet wider than the ship.  Sometimes there are other large vessels that are also docked.  Any contact with another vessel would be not only embarrassing, but expensive as well.

I witnessed the expertise of the captain (or helmsman) aboard the Henry 8 on at least 4 occasions. We made more than 4 stops but some of them were in the dark. This vessel does travel at night. The smaller rapidos do not.

P1040935 Stopping at a very narrow riverbank ‘dock’ in Orellana, Peru on the banks of the Rio Ucayali between Pucallpa and Iquitos. Looking toward the bow from the wheelhouse deck.

There is not a lot of equipment in the wheelhouse.  There is  a wheel (duh!), a large compass and what looked like depth indicating equipment. I did not see specialized radio nor gps equipment. The captain and all crewmen have at least one cell phone each. There are cell towers everywhere along the route. Looked to me like the predominant navigation method is dead reckoning.  Amazing, when you contemplate all that is required to maneuver a large, heavily loaded cargo vessel in a 7 knot current and make several stops in all kinds of conditions along the way. Several loaded Henry cargo vessels make the round trip Pucallpa/Iquitos route year round.

P1040957The small village of Dos de Mayo 

P1050049The petroleum town of Brettania. Henry 8 came within three feet of making contact with this very well appointed company houseboat.

Upon departure, the Henry 8 immediately reversed direction… very near the shore. The further the bow (remember it’s 250ft long) is affected by the current more and more. Very tricky maneuver near an expensive boat in a Brazilian dominated oil port. Maybe the captain was showing off. Maybe it was just business as usual. It was reported to me that this well site is owned and managed by a Brazilian company.

In total, I think we made about 8 stops before reaching Iquitos. The names I  remember are: Camana, Orellana, Dos de Mayo, Juanito, and Brettania. They are all very short stops, usually less than 15 minutes each.

P1040989My boots remained tied to my hammock the entire journeyP1050264Same feet six days after getting off Henry 8. Spent fewer than 4 hours per day on uncovered decks. Sky was overcast or raining most days. Solar radiation is powerful stuff within 5 degrees of the equator. 

P1040969Sunset on the Ucayali

P1050100Another lagoon

P1050080P1050089P1050083P1050081Cloud patterns on the UcayaliP1050130The channel to the left is the Ucayali. The channel to the right is the Maranon. At this confluence the resulting single river begins to be called the Amazon river.

Arrived Iquitos about 11:30PM Wednesday 19/03/14. It was raining. Some asked if they could spend the rest of the night aboard the boat and leave in the morning. I did that with about 10 other folks. About 6 AM the engines revved up and the boat repositioned it’s docking. Everyone was instructed it was now time to take down all hammocks and prepare to vacate the boat.  All passengers were off the boat by 7AM.  Got a mototaxi to a nearby hostel and was able to check in even though it was so early. Have been in the same hostel for six nights. Needed to recuperate a bit.

Travel is hard work. Not only on your body. Your mind needs time to process the new experience if you want to get full value from it. The best time to do that is immediately following a new experience. Otherwise, you just add one layer of new experience on top of another. Then, the new sensory input gets buried and more often than not remains unprocessed. Taking care to intentionally categorize and process new experiences is required if your intention is to make sense of your surroundings. Making sense of the world I inhabit has been my lifelong intention for as long as I can remember… and I have a lot of memories.

Internet speeds have improved radically in Iquitos from the month ago that I was here.  Have been able to upload photos and update the blog.  Am now planning the next phase. Continue downriver towards the three frontier area where Brazil, Peru, and Colombia join. Prior to that I will do a bit more local exploration of Iquitos and immediate surrounds.

Will spend a few days in the jungle with a man who’s father taught him how to survive there. I consider it a privilege of the first order to spend time with a man who bridges two distinct worlds. And who holds in his life experience, the centuries old legacy of handing down knowledge of the jungle environment from father to son.P1050166 P1050167Early morning Iquitos

Days 2 & 3 Ucayali River Aboard the Henry 8 Vessel

P1040861 The Ucayali in mid flood stage. The trees, plants and animals have adapted to the fact that once a year the river will overflow the banks and spill inland, covering  the roots and low lying plants.

I must have dozed off again around 8AM. Did not climb out of  my hammock because it did not seem we were moving.  I carefully slipped out of the hammock shortly after 10AM. The ship was actually in the center of the river and moving.  We had departed Pucallpa.

To be clear: I had boarded a vessel on Sat afternoon at 2PM. that was advertised as departing at 3:30PM which it did not do. Was invited to hang my hammock and spend the night aboard, which I did. No money was requested nor given for the night aboard the vessel. Henry 8 did not cast off till late Sunday morning. (In town I was repeatedly told that no vessel departs Pucallpa to Iquitos on Sunday)

In effect; I spent 18 hours or so on a vessel that remained docked  stationary in Pucallpa. No food was offered for the evening meal nor breakfast the following morning. Apparently, food is  part of the deal ONLY after casting off and the vessel is underway.  No one (including the crew) is fully informed as to the actual departure times. As is the case on all water vessels, the captain has the last word and is the “decider” in these matters. (quoting  a particularly erudite past president of the USA)

The scenes of the passing shoreline were familiar to me from my previous river trips. This vessel allows for a much better view because of it’s size. Passengers have access to four more decks above the main passenger (hammock) deck.  From the top deck, the one where the wheel house is located, a passenger is 50 or so feet above the water. You can clearly see a few hundred yards beyond the shore if the trees are not too dense. The other (rapido) boats are nothing more than very long, narrow canoes. On such boats, a passenger’s eyes are no more than 3 feet above the surface of the water.

P1040882

Areas that look like lakes (lagoons in English) are called ‘cochas’ in Quechua. In such areas fish do not have to continually fight the current. Animal life is more abundant in cochas because all critters find it  easier to make a living.

At around 10:30AM a couple of young non uniformed crew members began going from person to person in the hammock area.  These men wrote out a ticket for each passenger as they paid their fare. We were informed that you needed to show your ticket to the kitchen staff before receiving your meal. After I paid and got my ticket I wandered around the boat and checked out the  upper decks, the bathroom facilities and the kitchen area.  Always a good idea to familiarize yourself with any new environment. Doing so expands your survivability quotient if conditions deteriorate.

A bell was struck several times sometime around noon. A line of people formed beginning at the kitchen’s half-door and tiny window. At the top of each (carbon copy) ticket there was a line with a repeating series of letters in boxes… D, A, C, D, A, C, D, A, C, D, A, C, D, A, C.  The letters stand for: desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch) and cena (dinner).  As the line moves forward toward the kitchen window, people leave with food in their bowl or platter. When it is your turn, you hand over your ticket, a man marks off the corresponding meal with a pen slash and returns it to you. You then hand another person your bowl and he hands it to the cook who laddles the food into it, and he hands it to another person who hands your filled bowl back to you through a barred window.

P1040871A small line of folks prepare to have their bowls filled

P1040872My bowl and spork with a sampling of the usual almuerzo fare

I ate every almerzo and cena offered. The desayuno I only ate once. Not because it was horrible, I just didn’t care for it. The desayuno was a very thin sweet liquid with no discernible grain particle of any kind. The watery liquid was ladled into your bowl and you were handed  three quite plain dinner rolls. The idea was that you use the rolls to sop up the liquid.  About two hours after I did not show for the second desayuno a kitchen staff member approached me and asked why I didn’t show for breakfast. I patted my stomach and frowned.

He was not offended but was concerned. He asked if I felt OK. He said that if I was not feeling well he wanted to know. If so, he would inform someone. What he was really saying was that they did not tolerate bad food being served. If people got sick, they would immediately get another cook. I assured him that I felt fine. I went on to spin a white lie saying that I rarely ate breakfast of any kind. He was visibly relieved with that response.

I ate every morsel of all other meals served me during the  four day journey and I never got sick.  It was plain food, but it was tasty and filling.  Almuerzo was always rice and a piece of plantain or yucca with small piece of chicken. Cena was always just a soup, also with rice and yucca and sometimes a small piece of beef instead of chicken.  There was a bar that sold bottled water or soda.  Most folks (like me) had brought their own liquids.

P1040915 P1040910

P1040905On the morning of the third day there were some low peaks near the rivers edge.

P1040935Orellana on the Ucayali. Looking towards the bow of the cargo vessel

P1040954 P1040955The luxurious bathroom facilities aboard the Henry 8 vessel

At the stern of deck 2 which is the same deck which hosts the hammock and kitchen areas, there is a bank of six metal doors behind which is a porcelain toilet bowl with no seat and an overhead faucet for taking a shower, all in the same space. The water that comes out of the sinks and the shower and that fills the toilet bowl is obviously pumped directly from the river. It is the same brownish color.  Only three of the six metal doors allowed access. The others bathrooms were out of order.

There were two sinks on either side of the bank of metal doors. The sinks also had industrial style spigots.  After meals, everyone would rinse out their bowls in the sinks. I did the same. Women with luxurious long black hair would sometimes shampoo in the sinks. Some people washed clothes in the same sinks and would hang their clothes on the rails at the stern when it wasn’t raining.

Everyone aboard, including all the children and the older folks, appeared to be very well groomed throughout the entire journey. Their faces and bodies were gleaming clean.  They often changed clothing. Pride in one’s appearance is a cultural norm here, no matter the (to the Western mind) ‘primitive’ conditions.   It was obvious that everyone was showering in the bathroom stalls every day at some point, including all the 15 or so crew members. I took my first shower in this manner on the second day. It was a quick one, but it sure felt good. I saw many people brushing their teeth using the water from the sink. This, I could not bring myself to do. I brushed using a spare amount of bottled hydrogen peroxide I had brought with me.

Day 1 on The Ucayali River and the Henry 8 Cargo Vessel

DCIM100SPORTPort of Pucallpa on the Rio Ucayali.  Some of those trees may be 100 years old or more. Some lumber will be used locally, some might be exported and become furniture, musical instruments, boat decks, or fancy dashboards. One port, one day. Multiply by the proper factors and new insights emerge.

P1040813Raft of recently cut trees in background being floated to market. Poor people doing hard, dangerous work to make a few bucks.

As I review the past few months in my mind, I am aware that I have only begun to process the scope of the experience. Have been traveling in the area where the Andes cloud forest runoff drains into the massive ocean of fresh water known as the Amazon river; one fifth of the fresh water on planet Earth.

Have now traversed a couple thousand kilometers of rivers  in and on several different boats on the four major tributaries that constitute the upper Amazon; The Napo, The Maranon, The Huallaga, and the Ucayalli.  This constitutes only a  fraction of the entire Amazon region. The Amazon is  humongous, gargantuan, mammoth, gigantic. It’s big.

It’s mind boggling immensity gives the false impression that it is indomitable.  6 billion mindless, self-seeking humans, some of them  equipped with fire, chainsaws, fishing nets, oil drilling rigs, and cyanide and mercury to leach gold from stripped soils say otherwise.

Iquitos is not far from the union of the Maronon and the Ucayali. The one river that results from that union is called the Amazon by the locals. Iquitos is 3600 river kilometers from the Atlantic ocean. The Amazon river continues to receive  more water from hundreds of other tributaries as it wends it’s way to the Atlantic.

It is possible for 9000 ton cargo ships that have up to 18 feet of their hulls below the water line to navigate to Iquitos. The Amazon river is two miles wide there. Manaus, Brazil is 2100 km DOWNRIVER  from Iquitos.  In Manaus the Amazon is 6 miles wide or more.  The Atlantic ocean is another 1500 km downriver from Manaus. Along that stretch The Amazon river  achieves depths of over 300 ft. Where the Amazon meets the Atlantic the river is 150 miles wide. That is a lot of  FRESH water!

Pucallpa is much larger than either Francisco de Orellana  on the Rio Napo in Ecuador or Yurimaguas, Peru on the Rio Huallaga.  All of the above towns are distinctly Amazon basin river towns. They are the main shipping ports between Iquitos, Peru and the Andean or Pacific cities/towns to the West.  Each town is on a different river, each of which is a major tributary of the ‘upper Amazon basin’.  Each of those rivers have many tributaries that feed into them and, in turn, they all feed into the Amazon. Pucallpa is linked to Lima by a paved road (560km) . There is an airport in Pucallpa.

Took me three days to scrape the dust off and to stop vibrating from the Chachapoyas to Pucallpa push.  Left my room only a few times.  Once to  familiarize myself with the port in preparation for my cargo boat ride down the Ucayali back to Iquitos. The other times I went out of my room were to go to the local market for breakfast or to have lunch downstairs.

The Romero hostal where I stayed had an attached restaurant downstairs that served a decent almuerzo (pronounced: Al moo air tzo) for about 8 soles.  In Peru, almuerzo consists of a set daily menu served from noon to 3PM that includes soup or salad, a platter of rice, yucca, some beans and your choice of a small piece of chicken, beef, or fish… and a jar of fresh fruit juice.

On my first visit to the port I located the area where the ‘Henry’ cargo vessels tie up. It was obvious that ‘Henry’ dominates the cargo route between Pucallpa and Iquitos. Don’t know whether ‘Henry’ is owned  by one person or one family. Maybe it is a co operative of individual owners who joined together to simplify management and branding like the ‘collectivo’ vans.

Went to the port a second time on Saturday morning (15Mar14). There was one of the largest ‘Henry vessels’ I had seen. It was over 250 feet in length. A sign said that it would depart that day at 3:30PM. I spoke with a hand who invited me to check things out. I asked for the fare to Iquitos. 100 soles… including  meals.  How long to arrive? 3 or 4 days. Cabins available? He asked someone else. How much? 300 soles.  He allowed me to have a look at the second deck up where the bulk of the hammocks are hung. It did not look crowded. I told him I’d be back by 2PM.  Should I get a ticket now? Not necessary, was the reply.

Went back to the hostel, packed and readied my gear. One last item. I needed to get my own bowl for on board meals. I already had my own spork. Went to market, got plastic bowl. Had almuerzo. Took a nice cool shower thinking that it might have to last me for a few days. Paid hostel. Got mototaxi. Arrived port. A dock worker was quick offer his services. He grabbed  BOTH of my bags, tossed them on his on his back and off he went.  He was in his twenties, could not have weighed over 150lbs and was wearing a pair of flip flops. He nearly ran across the ruts of mud in the port and across the narrow single plank that was the only way onto the ship… and onward the 200 feet to the ingress area. This was not his first rodeo.

These primitive version of longshoremen are amazing.  Anything not larger than a steamer trunk and not heavier than 300 lbs. goes on their back. That includes huge sacks of rice, several heavy stalks of bananas, bags of cement, furniture, cement blocks. Vessels go from Iquitos to Pucallpa several times a week. They all get loaded and unloaded on both ends of the trip.

Passengers who enter and exit in river towns along the way  handle their own stuff.  Many go the the ‘city’ to sell produce and to buy consumer items not available in their small river village.

A crewman told me it was company policy and necessary that I open both my bags for inspection. He was impressed with my gear, especially my new 23 inch long machete. There was no problem. He looked at me and asked how many years I had worked in the jungle. Don’t know if it was his genuine assessment of me or if he was stroking my ego… but his comment made me feel good.  When he was done, he got a crew member to help carry one of my bags up to the second deck. I asked about tickets and payment. He just pointed to the upper deck.  The very visible sign still indicated that we were due to depart at 3:30PM. It was 2.

I checked out the hammock area. It was less than half occupied. Many places to choose from. I had been told by others that a vessel like this could get very crowded. I was pleased to see that there were people from all age groups.  Grandmothers to infants.  I was the only Anglo. I took my time in placing my hammock.

I placed my cases directly under my hammock.  Used a heavy duty cable lock to join them together. They are plastic, waterproof and knifeproof.  I had custom painted them a bright blue. It would be very difficult to make off with both of them cabled together and not be noticed. Was warned that when you stop at some river towns there are vendors who come on to sell stuff and sometimes the stops are at night. Possibility for a random sneak thief robber exists.  Everyone else seemed to have at least one traveling companion to keep an eye on things.

P1040804My hammock within an hour of boarding. I staked my territory in the center of things so there would be lots of eyes around. I wasn’t thinking about it but it was a good spot because it was drier when the wind blew the rain sideways.

More passengers arrived. The hammock space began filling up. It got to be 3:30.  No indication of casting off.  Then it was 5PM. Then it was 6PM.  The rumor was that we were waiting for a bit more cargo but would be leaving at 8PM… which came and went. The new rumor was 10PM… which also came and went. The next rumor was we would be departing for sure at 6AM.  Before 11PM rolled around the new departure time was 8AM.   No one so much as rolled an eye.

Blankets come out of plastic bags and get spread on the metal deck below the hammocks. The hammock deck is above the engines which are two decks below us. The space is open to the air. You can hear the big diesel engines the whole trip. Only once did the air get nasty with diesel fumes. And that only lasted for 20 minutes or so.  The lights in the area stay on all night. Some passengers take it upon themselves to physically unscrew a few of them to reduce the light, but there is light all night long.  A few outlets are available to charge cell phones and laptops. I volunteered my triple outlet extension cord for the duration. It was always in use.

P1040853Saturday night, Pucallpa. Barge next to us and the snarl of other Henry vessels

Removed my boots and tied them to the lines holding up my hammock.  Put my flip flops on one of the cases. Had to use a case to stand on to negotiate my way into the hammock. All other hammocks were lower to the deck than mine. I had more breeze at night. My hammock has a zippered mosquito net sewn to it’s edges and hung above it from another line. I slept bug free every night.

With as many people as was in that small space and given our individual circumstances it was amazing to me that there were no loud unruly children, no loud unruly adolescents, no loud unruly anyone. No harsh words. No tempers flaring. Everyone accepted things exactly as they were. Nipples on swollen breasts were offered to infants who suckled contentedly. Young children listened to their parents and were very respectful of everyone’s personal space.  Fifty and sixty somethings settled themselves.  Everything was incredibly orderly, and calm.  People who chatted or played cards did so quietly.  No one shouted orders. There were no policemen. No one was drunk or obnoxious. 80 strangers of differing ages, in many separate groups, sleeping together in an industrial environment, in hammocks or on blankets tossed on a hot metal deck …without rigorous rules or instructions.

Healthy, strong, patient, compassionate, calm and temperate is how I would characterize most of the river people I encountered. You notice different facial features that different tribal people have. Now, all being homogenized with TV propaganda and the ever expanding availability of the internet. Everyone has a cell phone.

The night passed. It gets cooler from 3 to 6 AM.  Dawn happens. Mornings are usually misty and the mist does not rise till 8 or 9AM. Stayed in my hammock and glanced through the net looking through the many windows trying to notice if we were moving.  Cargo vessels have an annoying way of revving engines at odd intervals. Only the captain or crew know what’s really going on. The passengers must be patient.  Eventually, you know that the boat will actually cast off and the engines will engage the propellers and the boat will be moving in the direction you are going.

P1040819 P1040800 P1040798

Space filled up more as the actual time of departure approached

 

 

Chachapoyas To Pucallpa

P1040492

Roadside view taken  during road work traffic halt

This entry will be out of chronological order. Will describe the journey from Chachpoays to Pucallpa while events are still fresh in my mind.

P1030863A lady in the Chachapoyas mercado central shows off her extraordinary butchering skills. Each of the cuy’s organs are completely clean and open to view. She was very proud to have me take a photo of her work.

P1030868Huge calabash Chachapoyas market

P1030554More delights of the Chachapoyas mercado

Spent two nights on the road from Chachapoyas to Pucallpa. First night in Moyobamba. Second night in Tocache. Arrived Pucallpa on the third night.

It is probably a good thing that I am slightly off my rocker. I am a tough old codger, and this jaunt kicked my butt. Make no mistake. A full on charge from Chacha to Pucallpa is not for the faint of heart. Spent three nights in Pucallpa to recover.

There are a few special things to see using Chachapoyas as a base. The main ones are: Kuleap, Karajia, Gocta Falls, Revash, and Leymebamba.  There are others.  Wanted to enter my Chacha tours in order.  However, have now actually departed Chachapoyas. Pushed hard to arrive in Pucallpa on the third night.

Promise to self… If I ever return to Chachapoyas area, I will immediately proceed to Pedro Ruiz and on to Cuispes. Will hike the Yumbilla waterfall route: http://wikitravel.org/en/Yumbilla

(I am now in… and posting this entry from Iquitos… admit to experiencing a weird kind of time warp sensation these past few weeks… how the heck did it get to be here and now?  I have full memories and photo/video/Spot device records of the days and nights but time seems to have sped up or something… or maybe I’m slowing down… or maybe when you’re traveling alone you don’t have others to help ‘anchor’ your sense of time. Note to astronauts: never travel alone… are you listening Hal?)

Departed Chachpoyas on Monday March 10th.  Rode with the collectivo service called ‘Turismo Selva’. My ticket was from Chachapoyas to Moyobamba, usually a 3 to 4 hour ride. Not bumpy, but constant curves. You will be tossed from side to side in your seat the entire way.  

 It is possible to get from point A to point B in these parts. The routes between the larger towns nearly always run parallel to a river. The road is carved into the side of a mountain with one natural rift after another…meaning constant curves. Sometimes the road is nearer to the bottom of the narrow valley.

On the morning after my night in Moyobamba I breakfasted on coffee and eggs in the market directly across the street from the hostel. Nice to not have to struggle to locate a hostel nor have to learn the layout of a town from scratch once in a while. 

After breakfast, got a mototaxi ride to the local Turismo Selva office.  Learned that I could book a ride directly to Tocache from the Moyobamba office. This was good news as I was expecting to have to get out in Tarapoto and find another van heading South. The ‘Turismo Selva’ collectivo service dominates this area.

If you want to be assured of a seat you’ve got to get your ticket early. This service actually assigns a specific seat to each passenger. It eliminates arguments, and they make sure the van is full before they depart. Turismo Selva requires and keeps a record of all passengers aboard, complete with name, passport number, destination, age, etc.  The smaller (competition) services just tell you how much you will pay upon arrival at your destination. You take your chances with those kinds of services because they don’t have the kind of support that the larger services have.

Had to rush because the van to Tocache was departing one hour later. Bought my ticket with assigned seat and was reminded that it would depart in one hour. Got another mototaxi back to my hostel. Very quickly showered, hurriedly packed everything and prepared for the long journey. 9 or 10 hours depending on the road, the weather, the van, other passengers, etc. 

Any ground or water transportation travel in Peru is going to be an adventure. It is a given. All you can do is resign yourself to the discomfort and get used to the many unknowns ahead.

Arrived back at the terminal with eight minutes to spare. The driver has to pack whatever large items you have on the roof rack of the van and then covers the items with a tarp and over that is a sturdy fishing net. The drivers are truly experts. They know the processes very well. It is sometimes disconcerting to the newbie because the drivers and support people are so proficient that they may appear careless.

All humans are prone to error and quotidian routines often lead to laxity. My personal experience is that the transport people in this neck of the woods are above par in their attention to detail and in their ability to perform their tasks. It helps that nearly everyone relies on them to get around. Few people have personal transport. People are aware that there are competing services. Word of mouth is the very best advertising, good or bad. Services here understand this very well.

I have traveled thousands of kilometers and have been on numerous buses and vans and cars and mototaxis. My two very heavy cases are still with me. I am careful to observe that they are properly packed in or on the vehicle in which I am going to ride. Use common sense. You must rely upon your own judgement. But, don’t allow your (possible) ‘Western’ attitudes or expectations to dampen your trust of legitimate service businesses in these places.

Enroute; the van drops some passengers off in what may seem to be unlikely places. Most passengers exit at one of the many ‘Turismo Selva’ substations that exist in smaller towns along the route. The drivers are always trying to keep the van full. Simple economics.

The bigger the ‘terminal terrestre’ (station), the longer the stop.  We stopped for about 20 minutes in Tarapoto before heading South. The next sizable town was Juanjui.

The roads themselves, even if they are asphalt, are challenging.  They continuously zig zag, back and forth, from left to right. Negotiating the thousands of curves requires a passenger to buckle up, hang onto something and to get used to leaning into the passengers that flank you. In addition to the curves, the road is either ascending or descending much of the time.

The drivers sometimes give out small plastic bags to passengers as they get on.  Some people, even the locals who travel this way regularly, are prone to motion sickness.

Imagine you are continuously being thrown side to side as the van negotiates the curves. The van is packed… usually a minimum of 12 passengers, sometimes more than there are seats… 18 or so.  The van does not use air conditioning. It is hot. Often above 90 degrees F. The van does not have roll down windows. Some passengers like to sleep with their heads resting against the one or two windows that do slide open a few inches. The road is often very bumpy in addition to all the other motions and movements.

On the way between Tarapoto and Juanjui a young man sitting to my left began to empty the contents of his stomach on the van floor. (Juanjui is pronounced: Whuan Hooey… mmmm… sounds like someone blowing lunch) He did not have a bag. One was quickly offered from a lady behind us but it was too late. He wiped his face and put his forehead on the back of the seat in front of him. Hard not to notice him drooling. I hoped for the best. He must’ve been on empty. Thankfully, the odor was not all that offensive for some reason.  Passengers took it all in stride. The driver never slowed, nor was he perturbed in the slightest… just another typical day on the road for him.

P1040578The ‘terminal terrestre’ of the thriving metropolis of Juanjui

Upon arrival in Juanjui the van had five or six vacant seats. In Juanjui the driver gets lunch and takes a well deserved break for himself. Everyone was informed that we would be there for at least 45 minutes. Time to use the bathroom facilities. While riding in the van for 3 hours or more someone will invariably request a side of the road pee stop.

I invite you to read for yourself the few internet sites about these routes: Juanjui to Tocahchi and Tocache to Tingo Maria. Most cite reasons to avoid this route. Bad road conditions, past reports of daylight armed robberies. Some of these entries are a few years old. Some cited that this route was once the known territory of the ‘Sendero Luminoso’ … the revolutionary (leftist) group known in English as ‘Shining Path’.

There has been a strong effort by the official Peruvian government to get those guys to behave better. How that actually occurs is open to speculation.  I can only report what I personally witness and experience. 

P1040586This not a lemonade stand, nor is it where Lucy offers cheap psychiatric advice. This is a typical roadside shack of your friendly local militia,  uniformed, gun bearing  folks who stop vehicles and panhandle for donations.

I witnessed many places on this route where men and women in various forms of ‘uniform’ who carry rifles or shotguns and the wave down passing traffic to stop.  Some, cleverly situate their shacks near where road crews are actively improving the road or clearing the frequent rock slides. Traffic is halted in both directions when the road crews are working. Sporadically the road crew will allow traffic to pass, first from one direction, then the other.

The armed uniformed people first talk to the drivers. They usually work in teams of two or three, sometimes more.  They proceed to opening the doors. They explain to the passengers that they are the local ‘security’ service and they are requesting financial support so that they can continue their efforts. When in Rome… I watch what the driver and the other passengers do. If they fish around in their pockets, then I do too. Not all passengers kick in. The polite booty jackers seem to be satisfied with a peso each from the ones who fork it over.

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Traffic is halted for regular road work. The ‘militia’ guys ply these stops for donations, notice the guy talking to the driver of the green bus. He is not a Peruvian policeman nor soldier.  See what’s slung over his shoulder? Local entrepreneurs also take advange of the road work. They offer popcorn, slices of papaya, cold gelatin in plastic bags, etc. to passers by.

I have been in vehicles that have been stopped by as many as five different self-appointed ‘security guard’ groups in the course of a hundred kilometers or so.  Some have professionally made billboards; colored ink on vinyl, with insignias, giving the impression of being ‘official’.  Who knows? Maybe these groups think of themselves as a kind of militia who intend to monitor and control their piece of earth. I suspect that in times past these same folks or some of their relatives were associated with the ‘path’.

I noticed that I did not see any coca leaves offered for sale in the markets in Moyobamba, Chachapoyas, or Pedro Ruiz. Did not visit the market in Juanjui. 

The route between Juanjui and Tocache is 50% asphalt more or less as of March 2014. Other internet reports inaccurately report otherwise. The other 50% is several layers of graded rock in various states of preparation for asphalt. The old hard top has lots of divots.  This area goes through some spectacular mountain scenery and overlooks a wide river valley.  The Huallaga river gets flat and slow between Juanjui and Tocache.

Arrived Tocache about 7:30 PM.  Ride started in Moyobamba at 8:30AM.  Time spent in actual transit: 9 and a half hours more or less. The rest of the time was due to stops of one kind or another. It is a jarring, bone rattling, hot, ride. Your innards get a rigorous free massage from being tossed from side to side. “Buckle up, Dorothy, Kansas has gone, bye bye”, to paraphrase the Matrix character, Cypher.

Immediately upon exiting the van in Tocache and getting my gear next to me there were two or three young men who wanted to put my stuff in another car and whisk me off to Tingo Maria. They had little interest in my day nor in my obvious condition. I was tired and had had enough. 

They had cars they wanted to fill.  They do not travel if their car is not full.  I had to insist that I was going to spend the night in Tocache. They continued to harangue and explained that Tocache was much smaller and not as modern and that I would really like Tingo Maria much better. I thanked them for their information and stood my ground. I would not be getting in another vehicle until the following day… period.  They frowned and I got a mototaxi to take me to a hospedaje.

This is NOT gringo territory.  Have not seen more than ten ‘Anglo/European’ looking faces in over a month. Hard to tell whether or not the people here have any prejudice one way or another to gringos.  Usually, in places where many ‘Anlgos’ have either settled or travel the locals assume that all whiter folks have lots of money.  I often have to describe to them that I have been a ‘trabajando’ (worker) all my life, just like them.  They then usually begin seeing me as an equal.  I always ask for the ‘barato precio’ hostels. Then, they really believe me.

P1040694View of a Tocache side street and signage of my hostel

The hostel in Tocache did not have internet service. It was late and I was tired and in desperate need of a shower. Funny, how after a long hard bone rattling, teeth crunching, day that a cold water shower seems wonderful.  Just to wash the sweat and grime off becomes a luxurious experience. Ah!!! Cool and clean!!! Refreshment from heaven coming out of an overhead industrial faucet!!!

Next morning arose at 7AM. Walked down the three flights, exited the front door and hailed a passing mototaxi. Asked him to take me to the central market. In every town in Central or South America there is a ‘mercado central’.  These places are where locals both buy and sell every day.A walk through a mercado will tell you all you need to know about the local economy.  

The market in Tocache was the first market in Peru (on this journey) where I saw large plastic bags filled with coca leaves. Coca is not illegal in Peru. Cocaine most definitely is.

Local, indigenous farmers still cultivate the plant in the highlands of Peru, Bolivia, and parts of Colombia as they have for thousands of years. The local tribal peoples have an authentic spiritual reverence for coca. This is not a recently invented bit of hypocricy. They most ernestly deem coca to be an integral part of their cultural traditions.

P1040721Leaves of a Natural plant called coca in large plastic bags Tocache mercado

It is a touchy topic in these parts. Everyone now knows that it is possible to turn the leaves into a drug that reaps incredibly huge profits for those involved in the illegal manufacture, transport, and distribution of the refined product. 

The locals also know that coca is a Naturally occurring plant and the leaves are Natural medicine for upset stomachs and for altitude sickness.  They know all too well that the farmers who grow and tend the plant and who harvest the leaves are the ones who make the least from the illegal trade if they are involved at all.  It is a touchy topic for many people.

The other interesting thing I noticed in the Tocache market was the fish.  If you look at a map of the area you will notice it is well inland and it is bordered just to the West by low mountains.  There were a variety of beautiful, large, fresh fish in the market. All these fish are caught fresh and come from their part of the Huallaga river. Wonderful and noteworthy, I think.

P1040712 Local freshly caught river fish on sale Tocache mercado

After breakfast in the mercado, went back to my room and prepared for the next leg of the jouney:  Tingo Maria and onward to Pucallpa. Gathered up my gear and descended the three floors of the hostel

A few men on the other side of the street saw me wrestling with my gear.  As I passed, one of them asked where I wanted to go. Upon my reply he immediatelygot on his cell phone. I heard him tell the listener that someone was wanting to go to Tingo Maria. A minute later a late model Toyota Yaris appeared. There were two people in the back seat and one in the front, and the driver of course.

Painted on the outside of the car was: ‘Tocache Express’. These guys are in competition with the larger van ‘collectivo’ services. How they compete is by not needing to fill a vehicle with 15 people. They only need 4.  They do not issue written tickets. They do not require forms to be filled out. Simple, straightforward business transaction. 

The part where there is no record of you being in the vehicle could be troubling to some. Think about it.  You are getting into a car with strangers. You are going to be traveling on a previously (to you) unknown route. You do not have friends or family who are expecting you to arrive. You do not have friends or family who know you are getting in this vehicle with these strangers.  There is no record of your having gotten in the car or where you asked them to take you.  That is a lot of trust to place… in the people who live in an area that was not so long ago known to be a trouble spot. 

I have an advantage. I was not required to come here as a conquistador, nor did I arrive as a missionary zealot. I am an observer. I am a voracious and genuinely interested tourist. I am a wise traveler; equipped with an inner radar to which I owe much and to which I pay attention.

I engage in life with the sure knowledge that I mean no person any harm. I believe that there are ‘Universal Laws’ that govern Life. And I believe that those ‘Universal Laws’ serve and protect fellows like me. I attract like minded and like spirited people. Have had many, many experiences that tend to confirm those beliefs. 

The driver said the fare would be 30 soles upon arrival in Tingo Maria while he was putting my two cases in the trunk. I then allowed myself to be stuffed in the middle of the back seat of the Tocache Express, Toyota Prius. (actually, I got in quite voluntarily) My right shoulder was in contact with a young native looking woman and my left shoulder was in contact with a young Peruvian man. Both appeared to be in their 20’s.

P1040761My view from the middle rear seat moving 90kph or better

I may be intrepid, but I am not stupid. I immediately began to engage my fellow passengers in conversation. I determined (and intuited) that everyone was a stranger. They did not know each other.  They were legitimate travelers who had chosen this service to meet their travel requirements. 

The young man in shorts who was the passenger in the front seat did not talk much; not even to the driver. There were no sideways glances nor was there any body language that might have set off any of my internal alarms. The driver was all business from first meeting… putting my gear in the trunk… to clearly and immediately stating the fare. He had been ‘dispatched’ there by the phone call of the men who had seen me. There was a brightly painted logo on both sides of the car.

The driver operated the vehicle as though he was in competition at Le Mans. We zipped over the excellent, all asphalt paved road, barely slowing as we passed through one small village after another. The road between Tocache and Tingo Maria is excellent. It has a balanced amount of straits and curves. It does not pass through high mountain areas. About 75 minutes into the 2 hour journey we were flagged to slow down and stop by the Peruvian national police.

Sometimes drivers will just zip past the local ‘security guard’ militia checkpoints without stopping.  The Peruvian national police do not take no for an answer. They are more than equipped to chase and nab offenders.  They did require to be shown everyone’s ID’s… driver and all passengers.  I took photos and a short vid.

We were given the once over by the seven or eight of them. The ID’s were taken to a car several feet away and shown to an officer who examined them carefully.  About ten minutes later, the ID’s were returned. The armed, helmeted, sunglassed, gloved policeman in a flack jacket who returned mine smiled and extended his hand for a handshake afterwards. Maybe he was just trying to convey to the old Anglo (me) that this was a safe place these days. Unknown. It did strangely please me that someone else knew that I was in this car.

We stopped at a small restaurant very close to Tingo Maria. The proprietors carried a clear 5 gallon can with gasoline in it and a large funnel to our gas tank. (just like a road race) Maybe the Tocache Express guys don’t trust the gas stations in Tingo or Tocache fearing gasoline sabotage issues from their much larger competition… only a speculation.

P1040774Tocache Express pit crew enroute to Tingo Maria

In Tingo Maria, at the Tocache Express ‘station’ (a doorway with a sign over it on a side street) the same phenomenon happened that had happened the previous night. No sooner than I exited the vehicle with my gear than I was asked if I were going to Pucallpa. Upon a nod from me my gear was instantly being whisked off to another car.

As is happened, the young man and young woman who flanked me on either side during the ride from Tocache were also going to Pucallpa. This time I demanded a seat near the door. We went to another location where we picked up the 4th passenger; an older man with a large carton that had to be stuffed in the trunk with my two pieces. I held my ground. I got the door, he got squashed in the middle rear seat. 

I had rear shotgun so only my left shoulder was in contact with the guy the entire ride from Tingo Maria to Pucallpa. Well… almost the entire ride.

Adventure is just around the corner around here. We were about an hour into our expected 4 hour ride when, at the bottom of a long steep gorge, it occurred that all traffic had come to a halt. A continuous line of semis, cargo trucks, vans and cars, could be seen along the side of the road for as far as the eye could see.

It is the rainy season. A huge rock slide had closed the way ahead. We were near a tourist spot that features the waterfall  ‘Velo de la Novia’ and a natural pool area called ‘Banos del diablo’ which is at the very bottom of the canyon. This area is spectacular.  It is about a half hour on the Tingo side of Aguaytia.

https://www.google.com.pe/search?q=aguaytia+velo+de+la+novia&hl=en&tbm=isch&tbo=u&source=univ&sa=X&ei=HJstU8_CI6P30gHorYHgBQ&ved=0CCQQsAQ&biw=1280&bih=653

Our driver determined that this was the end of the line for him and turned the vehicle around. We were free to go or stay. If we stayed, we owed him 15 of the 45 sole fee to Pucallpa. The four of us opted to stay. We would walk past the obstruction and attempt to catch a ride with vehicles who were probably turning back in the direction of Aguaytia on the other side of the obstruction.

P1040780All traffic stopped due to rock slide obstruction ahead. The semi driver ahead might have been a jerk or he might have been signalling  people that it is pointless to go around.

I grappled my two cases and started off in the direction of the unseen rock slide/obstruction. We did not know exactly how far the line of vehicles extended to get to the obstruction.  My gear is heavy. The road surface was very wet, rocky gravel.

The young man who was also headed to Pucallpa offered to carry one of my bags. I was grateful for the help. He hoisted it on his back with ease and soon was way ahead of me and the young woman who stayed back with me. After about ten minutes of walking, the young man was out of sight, so was my bag.  I experienced a slight bit of apprehension.  Slight.

I asked the young woman if she could see man with my bag.  No. She couldn’t see him either. We continued to hoof it past the stopped tractor trailers, cargo trucks, vans and cars. I broke into a full on exertion sweat and picked up my pace.

P1040783I humped my forty pound case on my shoulder a mile or so down the road past the parked vehicles and the obstruction

Suddenly, there are cars headed in our direction.  No trucks, but cars and vans. Maybe they cleared the road ahead enough to allow small vehicles to pass? I could only keep moving onward toward and past the obstruction… and to my bag. The young woman stayed with me.

Finally, I did spot the young man with my bag a quarter of a mile ahead. The young lady and I caught up to him. He was standing next to my bag that he had placed on the ground next to him.  There were cars and vans now going in OUR direction, beyond the narrow gap cleared by a front end loader near the rock slide. 

We got busy sticking out our thumbs and other body language indicating that we were looking for a ride. I don’t know what happened to the older man with the large bundle. He did not stick with us. Maybe he had already gotten a lift with someone.

The cleared area was only one lane wide. The traffic took voluntary turns which lane was to  move. Within five minutes of the very slow moving traffic passing us we got a ride in a 15 passenger van heading to Aguaytia.We piled in tossing all gear inside… no time to tie it on top. 

P1040787View from the van we entered on the other side of the obstruction. Notice the oncoming line of traffic ahead

We picked up two more passengers and soon we were traveling at normal speeds on a gravel surface that passed the scenic/tourist area… and then on to asphalt.  We arrived at the Aguaytia terminal terrestre about 45 minutes from entering the van. Our van  was not going further. I paid for the three of us and thanked both fellow travelers  for their help and companionship. 

Now we had to exit this van and find a different ride to Pucallpa. Same deal. The van had to wait until it was full. We departed Aguaytia around 4PM.  Was told to expect a 3 hour journey before reaching Pucallpa.

Did finally arrive Pucallpa around 7PM. Same issue… new place… new station… but in Pucallpa. Negotiated a mototaxi to take me to a previously unknown hospedaje.

Parted company with my most excellent traveling companions. We had shared an adventure together all the way from Tocache to Tingo and Tingo to Pucallpa. I thanked them both once again and admitted that I would probably be taking a shower and then go immediately to sleep after arriving at my hostel. They chuckled and nodded. I am privileged to have met many wonderful strangers. I hope I added value to their lives in some way.

Negotiated for suitable lodgings in Pucallpa. Alone in my room I peeled my sweaty togs from my weary frame, stood under a glorious cold water shower for ten minutes, dried myself and hit the sack.

Was up early next morning.  Hailed a mototaxi to take me to the (new to me) port of Pucallpa and located the Henry cargo vessel area. Spoke with a captain of a vessel that was departing at 6PM. 

Was worn out from the mad dash from Chachapoyas to Pucallpa and all of the ‘adventuring’ in between. Did not get aboard the vessel leaving at 6PM that day.  I was wiped out. Stayed a few more days in Pucallpa which was new to me. Much, much larger than the other Amazon basin ports I now know.  Larger than Ecuador’s Francisco de Orellana (Coca to the locals) and much larger than Peru’s Yurimaguas. 

As vessels arrive Pucallpa from Iquitos… they have to unload all cargo and then reload cargo destined for Iquitos.  That process takes three days. Did get aboard one of those vessels on Saturday, the 15th of March.

Stay tuned for the next exciting entry.

Gocta Falls

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Above photos are mine and are not ‘photoshopped’ in any way. That’s the real me on a real horse with the real Gocta falls in the background maybe a mile or so away.

There are different ways of doing anything; that includes ways to engage an adventure. I often prefer to do things on my own. When I do things on my own and not with a group the things that I learn seem to be more stimulating to my imagination somehow. Maybe it is a Natural thing that  when a person is part of a group their individual identity is necessarily diminished.  The Japanese culture is a text book example of this phenomenon.

Sole ventures are demanding. Anything new place or activity is challenging to the mind and sometimes to the body.  The very word adventure alludes to the process of exploration into the unknown. Even if thousands of others have experienced something, if it’s new to you, it’s an adventure.  Adventures, if they are to be successful,  demand preparation. Adventuring heightens awareness on all levels, mind, body, spirit (intuition).

My body is not in as good shape as it once was.  Elders, throughout the history of humans, compensate by going a little slower.  While visiting new lands I am constantly reminded  that humans were required to adapt themselves to different environments to survive.

Stretch your imagination. Ponder the instances when tribes/groups are invaded by other humans who are newcomers.  The invaders are not intimately knowledgeable of the characteristics of a Natural environment that is new to them.  More often than not, the invaders make the mistake of superimposing survival modes that are specific to the Natural environment from which they came.

Empire building, worldwide, has always been  about dominating, ruling and controlling  an ever expanding network of tribal communities. Empires (civilization) usurp the accumulated knowledge of tribal communities. Empires rise  by exploiting the  value created by humans who spent generations becoming experts in a specific Natural environment.

There are some advantages to going to particular sites with a tour group.  They service arranges the transportation to and from. A knowledgeable guide leads the group. The expenses are spread among all the individuals in the group.

I opted for the group tour option to visit Gocta falls. It was a good choice. It would have taken me (traveling alone) a long while to figure out all the particulars of the journey. I had figured out that the off the road hike would begin in the tiny village of Cocachimba. I did not know the best method to get there. The tour option solves all those problems.

It is the rainy season. Not the best time to visit this area of the world if you plan to do hiking. Unless you like the idea of hiking in downpours and on muddy trails studded with slippery rocks I would recommend planning your trip here some other time. The rainy season begins in January and runs through May.

I am here now. So I resigned myself  to putting  up with the potential discomforts. I did not want to pass up having a look if it were possible. The local people are not stupid. They do not put visitors in danger. They do not want to risk a mishap because of the damage it would do to the reputation of the tour. They really are experts.

Was told that it was a 2 and a half hour hike each way. Most of the other members of the group were much younger. They all appeared to be in great shape. We were offered horses for a small additional fee. Both of my ankles have a history of past injury. I knew I could do the hike but I might slow the group down. I like horses. One of the other members of the group and I opted for a horse.  (Actually the young lady was mounted on a mule).

The leader of the hike was 60 year old woman who leads such tours 2 times a day. Just to give you an idea of the kind of people who live in these parts.  She was small and obviously in top notch condition. She was kind and particularly attentive to the needs of the female hikers. Many Peruvian tourists visit here. Today was no exception.

Some horseback views of the trail

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Kuelap

P1030019 Kuleap; Fortress of the Chachapoyans… The Cloud People

Here is a pertinent Youtube link:

http://youtu.be/GvGf0JIat0s

Have been in Chachapoyas for five days. Almost did not come here because it requires backtracking to continue the Amazon river part of this adventure.

When I depart  Chacha (that is what the locals call it sometimes) and backtrack through Tarapoto will then head South and pass through the towns of Juanjui, Tocache and Tingo Maria. From Tingo Maria will head East to Pucallpa where I will book passage on a large cargo vessel and return to Iquitos on the Ucayali river. On that vessel will hang my hammock among the hundreds of others for whom that method of river travel is common.

Almost stopped practicing my own good advice. That being; that if you want to see or experience something you had better do it now because if you wait you may never experience it. That, and if you do get around to doing it, the place that you want to see may not exist any more, surely, it will not exist as it does now.

I decided to follow my own good advice and get on with it. Very glad I did.  Lots of things to see and do in Chachapoyas that can only be experienced here. One of those is Kuleap.

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Will add more later…