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.

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