Lost in Transition: 5 towns, 8 days – Nazca, Huacachina, Lima, Iquitos (Peru) & Leticia (Colombia).

22 Apr

Its Saturday April 14, 8pm and we’ve just settled ourselves into our VIP seats on the bus bound for Nazca. Thinking it might be one of the quietest Saturday nights we’ve had in some time, this thought is soon ousted when 5 of the other 7 available seats were filled by a group of barely-out-of-their-teens females and their decibels. Not to worry, I pat our bottle of vino tinto and giant sized bar of chocolate and figure things could be worse. Luck is still with us when we are treated to an in-flight movie, Braveheart. Dubbed in Spanish, with English subtitles, I decide it does no justice to William Wallace’s “Freeeedomm!” speech. Alas, the good and the bad seesaw needs to be evened out, and the bus soon rolls to a stop. Landslide. Nobody moves tonight. No movie, no music, it’s raining hard outside and… we’ve run out of vino tinto…

When we finally roll into Nazca at 3.30pm, 6 hours late, we’re dumped unceremoniously on the outskirts of the quiet, dusty town, I think I even see a tumbleweed roll past… Arriving so late means we are also late for the Nazca Lines flight we’d pre-booked. So bags are speedily dropped, we roll our empty stomachs into a cab and high-tail it out to the airport. The flight turns out to be perhaps the most disappointing activity we’ve engaged in on the trip so far…

We board our tiny plane…

A ‘map’ is flung at us…

And the next 45 minutes consists of half-hearted pointing and identification of the lines.

“That is whale,” the co-pilot says.

“…Astronaut,” is next. (“ET phone home”, is all I can think).

And so it goes. No run-down about its history, the theories, the land, nada. Recommendation – don’t waste your money. Read Wikipedia. It’s free and much more informative.

We’re on the early bus outta Nazca to Huacachina the next day. It’s an odd little village which clings to 3 sides of a desert oasis, set amongst gloriously white sand dunes.

Sand-boarding and winery tours are the hottest activities to do around here. But my weary eyes have spotted a large cushiony pool lounge and that’s where my chick novel and I remain for the next 2 days. On our last night at dinner, we meet Livia and Margarite from Holland, then are joined by another couple from Denmark, and the red wine glass continues to be refilled. The night ends with me sliding off the edge bed and becoming stuck in the small gap between the wall and the bed, bedside table and its contents on my head, the sound of my beau roaring with laughter as he locates more items to throw on the mix. And he was the one telling me to shush!

The following day, after a much-needed breakfast of omelettes, aspirin, and strong coffee, we’re ready to face the bus to Lima. Poor Lima, it’s the only capital city on our travels we haven’t given a chance – a mere stopover night where we catch a pretty sunset…

… and enjoy a delicious seafood dinner (complete with white tablecloths and real red wine goblets – remember those?), before embarking the following day on ‘Kelly’s Jungle Crossover Tour’. Let me elaborate… we have no desire nor the time to see Ecuador and this little country is in the way of our trek to Colombia. Bus travel would mean about 3 days, nonstop on a bus. And not as cheap as you’d think. So… not an appealing option. Flying, MC’s choice, from Lima, Peru to Bogota, Colombia is US$500 each. Ouch. Also not so appealing. But my excellent research skills have discovered internal flights in both Peru and Colombia are very affordable indeed. And they have one border… in the Amazon. So we have a cheap flight to Iquitos, Peru (only accessible by boat and air), a ten hour boat ride up the river, and an internal flight from Leticia, Colombia (also only accessible by boat and air) to Bogota, the country’s capital. Peace. Of. Cake.

Iquitos (pronounced ick-y-tos) lives up to its name. It is, just, icky. And I’m not just referring to the humidity. Everything is just… well, icky! Prostitution is rife. And there’s something that doesn’t quite feel right about the noticeably significant number of white, wealthy, aged over 55, US males living in the town with much younger-looking local females. It’s a seedier version of Thailand, without the beaches and cheap cocktails to drown out the rest.

We rode from the airport in a mototaxi, the only kind of taxi here. MC offered to drive…

And arrived at our hostel, Camiri Floating Lodge. Well, floating it was. Tentatively at best. But a lodge and a hostel it was not. It looked so very pretty from the pictures – straw huts floating on the river, hammocks swinging out the front…

But even thinking about this place again makes me feel a little sick. So revolted am I, I am keen to write a letter. Yes, a letter. In our need-want-satisfy-now society, it’s a process rarely completed these days so its seems an appropriate way to describe my rage.

In one word… Filthy. Everything. Ants, unidentifiable bugs and spiders are everywhere and in everything. Your sugar bowl, your café con leche (although the kitchen-hand will kindly pick them out with his fingers when he thinks you’re not looking), your bed-sheets, your waste basket, your shower. The hostel nonchalantly admits to sending all toilet and bathroom waste into the river. The hostel owner is injudicious, arrogant and egotistical. I’m not sure if that’s him as he is normally, or if that’s only when he’s on drugs and drinking – both of which he enjoys indulging in before the clock strikes 10 – a.m. that is. Oh, and let’s not forget the large, sparse nightclub located right next door. Please, please will someone go there. It is desperately irritating to never ever see anyone inside, no matter what hour you look out the window, but to still have to  endure listening to head-crushingly loud doof doof at 4am (through earplugs) when you have a boat to catch at 6. Unsurprisingly on our final departure day, I’ve woken with a terrible rash across my chest (and its spreading fast), and am crawling to our rotten toilet and phoning China for help. Seems the boat ride to Leticia is going to be a very, very long one…

A few hours later, we are aboard the Volvo Jet Super Rapido Fast Boat (brownie points to be awarded for most original name), and with fresh air whipping my face, I’m feeling a little better. Albeit getting more and more perplexed with the number of people discarding their rubbish out the window. Wrappers, alfoil lunch lids, tissues. All into the Amazon river. I’m baffled at the neglect for the environment.

As we stop at remote villages along the way, it was incredible to see how badly these areas are suffering. They’re trying to survive their worst flooding of the river in more than 50 years. The Red Cross now estimate that in the region 200,000 people have been affected, 43,000 homes flooded; a number that is still rising as the water levels increase meaning that perhaps close to 1 in 3 people in the area will have to flee their homes. Authorities say it will be several months before the flooding is over, during which time disease remains a significant hazard. This is on top of the hazards of electrocution and dangerous wildlife (think alligators) floating in to join you at your dinner table.

It is, therefore, not surprising that when we arrive at the border between Peru and Colombia, a town called Santa Rosa, water is up to the roofs of where houses once stood, and we need to be rowed in a tiny fishing boat to the make-shift immigration offices to complete paperwork before being dropped at Leticia. Historically, Leticia is known for being drug smuggling central. Its inaccessibility by road, remoteness, abundance of hidden jungle hideaways and proximity to Peru and Brazil meant it was an ideal location for drug drops from international locations. The official word is they’ve cracked down on the town and drugs are no more, and while they weren’t touted to us, the abundance of electronics, jewellery and other expensive consumer goods, in a town with no other trade except small-scale fishing, there are many questions still unanswered.

With only one day in the town and little other attractions unless your embarking on a jungle river tour, we take the only other option – visiting a serpenterio. Unfortunately, there used to be a very large caiman negro found here – one of the largest carnivorous crocodillians in South America, found commonly in flooded Amazonian areas (glad we decided not to dip our toes in the river). But it died of old age so I had to make do with the display version…

We take a tour in Spanish, but this time my Spanglish isn’t holding up – when this happens I find it far more entertaining if I just fill in the blanks for us (read: make it up), doing my best to see how much MC will believe of my ‘interpretation’ before he realises I have no idea what’s going on.

The camera’s battery lasts only for the boa constrictor and a quick snap of the anaconda sleeping in his cave…

We then leisurely muse places for dinner. To MC’s disappointment I elect not to indulge in the pork sold at the street stall…

…And instead we indulge in another delicious dinner of ceviche and pirarucu, a large local fish served grilled with fresh lime, before embarking on our flight to the Colombia’s capital, Bogota. 5 new cities in 8 days – technically it sounds like we have seen so much, but with such fleeting time in each place, we’ve been left wanting much more. As we settle ourselves into our plane seats, we resolve to take it back down a few gears for the rest of our trip through Colombia… less is more after all.

x kel

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2 Responses to “Lost in Transition: 5 towns, 8 days – Nazca, Huacachina, Lima, Iquitos (Peru) & Leticia (Colombia).”

  1. Wendy June 6, 2012 at 12:34 pm #

    I was moaning about the rain today until I read this chapter of your blog – it made me feel very lucky! Stay safe love Wendy and co

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