Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Iquitos, Peru

The last night of the Huayhuash trek in Huaraz I twisted my knee. The twist hurt so bad, I had to rest for 3 days in the hostel. Knowing the Alpamayo Circuit, last trek left on my list, is the hardest of the ones I´ve done, I decided not to challenge a bad knee with it.
The next stop for me would now be - Iquitos.
Iquitos is the biggest city in the world which is isolated with no road leading to it from the outside world. The only way to reach Iquitos is by plane or by boat (down/up stream on the Amazon).
I then took a night bus to Lima, and caught the first flight to Iquitos...
During my travel, my father set me up with a contact person (a friend of my father´s colleague). Apart from being an amazing bird-watcher, Noam is the regional-governer´s advisor for everything to do with the community and forests around it. This means he is responsible for recommending new national parks and reserves. In general, Noam is the man you want to be with when arriving to a crazy place like Iquitos.
After a day of just walking around, knowing the city & checking my touristic options, Noam knocks on the door of my hostel and offers me a ride on his motor-cycle to his house.

Ignorance is bliss?

Here I have to interrupt the story and tell what I think about the following events and its consequences:
Most people who arrive to Iquitos or the Amazon area in general - go on ´´Jungle-Tours´´. These tours cost around 100US$ a day, depending on how far you want to enter the forests and where (Brazil/Peru/Colombia) you book them. I almost booked a tour with an agency in Iquitos for about 5 days. The only reason I didn´t was because of what Noam told me. He said these tours go to the same place with all their tourists. The guide walks through trails which thousands of people walk on every day/year. This simply means that even if you do see animals on those trails they probably were put there by the agency. He also added that not all agencies are like that, but to see ´´real´´ jungle one would have to pay three times the offered price of the market and so no regular tourist would be able to afford such a big expense.
To hear/read these facts (by a very knowing man), one doubts everything he ever done/planed on doing. Knowing I can´t afford such expenses I tried my best to see the jungle my way.
If I haven´t met Noam - I would have spent (like any other tourist) a fortune on a touristic jungle tour. On the other hand, maybe if I wouldn´t have known it was touristic - I could live with it just fine - like the people I´ve met on the way telling me how wonderful their jungle tour was...So maybe ignorance is bliss after all?

In Noam´s house I met Ethan. Ethan is an Israeli-American, living in Miami for a long time, travelling the world for the past 3 years. Ethan is staying these days in Iquitos in order to finish the book he´s writing about the evolution of cities in human history. Peace of mind is something easy to come by in the small city of Iquitos.
Noam is a working man, busy. That´s why Ethan turned out being my travel friend for my stay in Iquitos. We first went to Nauta, the closest city to Iquitos and the only one connected to it by road.

Fun Fact: There is only one road exiting Iquitos, that´s why when someone want´s to ´´go out´´ and have some fun, he would turn to his friend and ask if he/she would like to go with him to ´´the road´´ (La Caratera).

From Nauta one could take a Pek-Peke boat to ´´The Birth of the Amazon´´. Rio Marañón & Rio Ucayali meet and together create the world´s widest river. It was impressive to know that I´m standing there, but really - it looked just like any other two wide rivers, it´s either me or the dry season...sorry.
Nauta itself is quiet and un-touristic. Walking around the small market makes the local people turn their heads to see the strange tourist passing by.

A few days later, Noam offered me to join him for a one day jungle walk. Just 30 minutes drive out of the city NP Alpauayo Mashina lies. We dismounted the taxi (colectivo), and just walked in to the woods. Walking around with an expert like Noam is amazing even without the jungle surrounding us. Walking around, he carries: DSLR (big ass camera)+3 lens´ (400mm, 100mm Marco, 18-135mm), iPod+speaker, Microphone+Recorder, Binoculars.
Hearing a bird from afar, Noam would identify which bird it is, then he would search for the right track in his iPod and play it to the bird. The bird, hearing the right sound, would fly closer and search for it´s mate. Noam would then re-play the track, look though his binoculars and only after being satisfied from the work, he would quickly try and take amazing photos with his new camera. First I like to see it, he says. If he doesn´t have the voice of the exact bird, he would then record the animal ´´live´´ (with the microphone - remember?) and play the bird its own voice.
Not long after entering the woods, I understood birdwatching is just not for me. Being color-blind (thanks mom) I just couldn´t see all the birds Noam could see. Bummer.
Next time, I went on my own to Alpauayo Mashina. I went to a different area and managed to see some monkeys and more birds (less than what I´ve seen with Noam´s help, and far away...) and lizards.
So, in order for you to not be sad for me for not seeing all the animals the Amazon has to offer, I went to the Local-Animal-Zoo. There I could witness with my own eyes amazing creatures one could see, regularly, only in the zoo.

The days in Iquitos pass by slowly but surely, I would spend a lot of time with Ethan. On Fridays we would eat great food at Noam´s house (great cook by the way). Everyday would end with ice-cream on the ´´broadway´´ of Iquitos. Ethan is amazingly kind and can not witness a child in need, every other day he would buy the children (living in the streets) ice-cream. It was just heartbreaking to see those kids, trying to sell worthless candy to tourists in the middle of the night.
Without even noticing, two weeks have gone by. I then took my vacation days in
strict hands and climbed the next boat leaving towards the Brazilian/Colombian border.

Tips for Iquitos:
- Think about what you want to accomplish by arriving to such an amazing place. You can always take the touristic tour, but is true? Is it real?
- If you do take a guided tour through the jungle, check carefully if the guide is known and get recommendations. Never go on a tour with just any guide offering himself on the main plaza (for example. There have been too many stories of people lost/robed/left to die in the jungle by unreliable guides.

Friday, 12 November 2010

Enjoy Huayhuash?

Back from the Santa Cruz and in Huaraz, Paz & I met Itai, another familiar face on my journeys. I first met Itai in La Paz, at Shaul's place. Dror went with him on the Rio Verde trek parallel to my voyage down the Pirita river. We also witnessed the Chola-Wrestling together. This time, Itai was gathering a group for our next in plans - Huayhuash trek.
There were already enough people in the group, they all seemed nice, and they were perfectly leaving the next day. The only problem was the agency they picked - I heard only bad things about.
10 Israelis, 1 Czech (AKA Martin), 1 guide (AKA Jesus), 1 assistant (AKA Moises), 1 cook/harriero, 2 horses for 8 days in the Cordillera Huayhuash, Oh well, how bad could it be?
Day 1, Thursday, September 9
Ready on time, we found out a delay in Peru (as usual) is constant and sure as loosing in the lottery. Our good luck continued with a dead van (engine got sick and tired of Israelis, who wouldn't?). So there we all were, eating bread with Avocado & waiting for a miracle to happen. The miracle took us all the way to our campsite - for only 150 $oles.
Sunset was great, tents were up in no-time, and I even got a private tent with Paz! Yummy!
Day 2, Friday, September 10
The next morning we got up way to late (for my regular trekking hours - but I got used to it..), than took our time eating and packing. While in the end of the latter, Jesus thought it would be OK for him to start walking without the group (a thought that followed frequently every day). One hour later, the group had a gap of an hour & a half between the first and the last person.
Reaching the pass and seeing I have enough time, I took Gil with me and we climbed a nearby, more impressive, rocky peak. Climbing back down - we were frowned upon - "crazy" is the term I remember most people used.
Mid-way to the 2nd pass of the day, we ate lunch. Near the second pass, I reunited with Itai (who was brave and strong and got to the 1st pass first as well!), we thought again about how much time we would have to wait until all the group arrived, and so decided to see the area around. The detour was amazing. We got better views of valleys and glaciers. Trying to return back to the pass, it was getting late; So we walked a bit faster and found the trail just as it got dark.
Having a head-torch we were not too worried, but a bit curious to why we haven't seen the guide searching for us?
Closer to camp, we saw lights spread around the area. Turning on my torch we found the worried searchers. Jesus, Moises & the cook were not included in the search. Apparently - Jesus thought we're crazy to go alone, and so we were not worth searching for - it's not his problem! The kind Israelis were worried and so searched alone.
Day 3, Saturday, September 11
New morning, new day. It took only 15 minutes before we couldn't find Itai & Gil. Jesus didn't even realize they were missing until I told him so. Turns out there was a junction 100m out of camp Itai & Gil missed easily.
Later on, same day, coffee break. Itai points at a direction and offers me to join his climb. Once the target is reached the only thing we could think of is why, in god's name, didn't Jesus bring us here? We shouted for the others to join us - they did not regret standing in the most beautiful viewpoint of the 8 days. It took us about half an hour more to take all the possible pictures from the spot.

The view from this day's pass wasn't satisfying enough for Itai & I, and so the adventure continues - we searched for better viewpoints on the ridge.
Day 4, Sunday, September 12
The day starts with a long and easy ascent. Jesus said that we will all just meet up in the camp for lunch. Itai & I were the fastest all day (even though we did take our time). We found ourselves climbing small peaks & ridges just for a slightly better view of the surrounding mountains. Later on we passed by the most amazing lagoon (number one of this trek anyways...), it was a warm day and entering was obligatory.
The camp of day 4 was near hot-springs. We all took a long bath with Mr.Rum by our side. Exiting the baths late, it was cold. We all hung our cloths to dry during the night just to find them in the morning raped with ice (a very beautiful sight).
Day 5, Monday, September 13
Waking up, I felt fine, mid-way up the pass I felt as sick as a dead dog. Without any other option - I mounted a horse. 10 minutes up I found Omry feeling even worse and so gave up my horse. Climbing with the help of my tired legs I also passed Shani (did I forget to mention? She was sick as well...).
After falling asleep on the pass, I was woken up by Moises. Descending, I passed sick-Paz. Lunch was "served" at the end of the descent. Right after eating, Jesus asked: "who's climbing to San-Antonio?" Even though all knew it is a hard climb, only Paz & I conceded. Jesus accompanied us both to camp and left Moises to walk with the rest.
Day 6, Tuesday, September 14
Long story short:
Gil & Hilla spent the night on the mountain, in a snowstorm. Israelis (Paz, Omry & I were too sick..) and Moises were looking for them all night. In the morning, Feeling a lot better I volunteered to run to the nearest village to call the Israeli-embassy. Moises found me 2 hours later in the village and told me Gil & Hilla are fine and found their way down by their own.
Where was Jesus? He spent all night in the village with his family and got notice of the crisis only when I got to the Village.
Moises & I stayed at the village and waited for the rest of the group which arrived, tired & late.
Day 7, Wednesday, September 15
Paz, Shani & Hilla (the sickest), drove off with the investigation police that interviewed us right after breakfast. 7 of us, Israelis, remained.
Mid-day, the pass, Itai was shivering cold. I took the liberty of trying to warm him up. Coffee, clothes & rubbing his back helped but he still was feeling bad.
By the end of the day, Eliran & Hagai were not feeling so well. Spending the night besides Itai (thinking I'm already immunized, I was sick just 24 hours before), I woke up sickest of all.
Day 8, Thursday, September 16
The next day and a half passed slowly and with loads of sufferings. All were feeling bad and getting worse. 2 horses were not enough and sick people had to try and climb with unbearable pain and bathroom breaks.
Mesner (the owner of the company Enjoy-Huayhuash), met us an hour before the end. He gave some of us medicine and promised he will arrive to Huaraz on Monday and get everything fixed.
Back in Huaraz, I was too sick to fight, but all the rest did the best they could. Unlucky for us, the receptionist couldn't do anything but give us 20US$ each for that was what Mesner told her to do. We all decided not to take that money & return the next day to try again (with newly charged powers).
Here I would like to state Ishay, the greatest of friends, who tended me with my needs all through my sickness. Thank you very much!
The story continues...
The Agency was closed every day until Monday. By then, only Omry, Gil & I were left in Huaraz. Mesner was pissed (don't ask me why), we couldn't really talk without him shouting at us (weren't we the victims here?), So we returned to the hostel empty-handed.
After all, it's only money. At least all are well and healthy.

Tips for the Huayhuash:
- Choose an agency carefully. There are a lot of tour-operators in Huaraz, gather information and think a bit before putting your life in some one's hand.
- Detours. There are a lot of them. If walking something you like, keep a lookout for more viewpoints near the main trail.
- Do not register a tour through Enjoy-Huayhuash or any guy named Mesner. Re-opening agencies with different names is common in Peru.

Friday, 5 November 2010

Santa Cruz Trek, Huaraz, Peru

I had 3 more treks on my ''to do'' list, and Santa Cruz was the easiest. Only 4 days and accessible without any guidance, we decided to find some partners to share the costs.
We walked around rumors & hostels in Huaraz, searching for the right people willing to join the ''adventurous'' us.
''Without a guide? Too crazy for me.''
''How are we to find donkeys to carry our stuff?"
And so, luckily we met Eido. Eido just came back from the Huayhuash trek, and was eager to keep on trekking. 3 was a good number, but still turned out expensive. So we kept on searching.
Jutta & Tal also returned in the same group with Eido, but Jutta wanted to wait until her blistered legs felt better. Because the three of us were really slow going and took our time in search & in arranging the trek, Jutta's legs manages to get better and - HOP - we were a good group of five. Paz, Eido, Jutta, Tal & I.
Happy we have a group, we now concentrated on the trek itself. We bought food and rented tents. Even set up with a company to call one "harriero" (donkey operator), so that we would meet with him in the starting point village.
All set and ready we took the 6 o'clock bus to Vaqueria. Peru like Peru, the bus left late and arrived later than our wildest bad dream. And to add up to all of that - no harriero.
A local woman washing cloths on the road offered us an operator - "just wait half an hour and he'll be here!" Two hours is how long it took us to give up, grab our belongings and start walking as happy as possible in search for a harriero in the closest village.
Eido ran ahead and completed the mission. 2 donkeys and a lovely harriero named Sesimo.
Time was against us, but we did manage walking for some 2 hours before sun-set and we "felt like knocking on heavens door". Setting camp, we built our 2 tents, and made a good rise and soup dinner.
The second day was the hardest. From camp (3800masl) we had to ascend to the Punto-Union pass (4750masl). Waking up early enough, making quick breakfast and planning on a sandwich lunch - we knew we had enough time. Five hours of climbing separated our group, putting Eido & Tal at the pass an hour before us. It took the rest of the group the exact 5 hours planed for the climb (amazing!).
Punto Union is said to be one of the prettiest viewpoint in South America. The clouds covering the picks made me disagree. What a shame climbing all that way and not seeing the complete view.
We did witness a photo-shoot made by the Japanese group arriving with us to the top. Those guys just amaze me every time I see them. They were busy taking photos of every possible combination between the 12 Japanese tourists & guide - with the sign of the pass. While every group was in position near the sign - all the cameras of the group were being used! Chaos and order all in the same time and all with the biggest smiles on their faces.
Descending to camp, we thought Tal & Eido were already waiting for us there - dinner already made and ready to eat. We were proven wrong. Apparently, they liked how the lagoon near the pass looked like and decided to approach it. Later, they were stuck underneath a big rock, using it as shelter from the pouring, sudden, September rain. We were really surprised to arrive to an empty campsite.
All we had to do on the 3rd day was a 2 hour detour and a 3 hour descent to the next camp. Morning time - it was raining, and so the other 4 were wusses and decided to wait until the rain stops and only then continue to camp (skipping the detour). I found myself walking in the company of Josh. Josh is just another AWESOME Kiwi (from NZ). We had a good walk, finding almost every topic to talk about - in our common interest. The climb up to the base camp was easy for us, but not for the animals. 10 minutes up from the Alpamayo base camp lies a lagoon as beautiful as Lake 69, only this time, instead of seeing the summits all around us (Alpamayo included), clouds were still unfriendly. So I did the only thing I could think of - gave my camera to Josh and jumped into the water, making sure there's coffee when I exit the water (of course!).
On the way down (switching the topic to un-religion), we met Eido, Tal & Jutta. The rain had stopped and they regretted their decision. Paz helped Sesimo with the donkeys. Josh & I arrived to camp early, met Paz and listened to good music. If you want to know what happened later - you'll have to check with my good friend Mr.Rum.
The last day of the Santa Cruz was short & easy. The path gets wider, and the way to Cashapampa is all down.
Where the river opens up, there were Eucalyptus trees, some frames really looked like the Golan-Heights back in Israel.
At the end of the trail awaited us a cab (colectivo), all six of us (now with Josh) rode it till the nearest city,where we awkwardly mounted a touristic van already following us all the way from Cashapampa.
Time was running out (for Paz anyways), so we took a single day of rest and joined a large group of Israelis for the famous Huayhuash trek, all ready to leave the day after that.
Having so much fun with Eido, Tal & Jutta - I felt sorry they'd already been to the Huayhuash.

Tips For The Santa Cruz:
- DIY! Do it yourself. There is public transportation to the starting/ending points, donkeys are easy and cheap to hire and anyone could cook for himself! To clear the fear of getting lost - ask the harriero to walk with you and not run to camp.
- The Alpamayo detour - Go for it. Anyone could finish this trek in 3 days, but taking the extra day for this detour is really worth it.
- Rum in Peru is cheap - I've discovered this fact far too late.