I spent three weeks travelling in Peru with Sarah and Graham. On our most recent week we decided to explore the jungle in the Amazon basin in the North east of Peru. I think it’s the first time properly in a jungle for me, and it did capture images of Conrad’s Heart of Darkness or Che Guevara’s journey on boats in the motorcycle diaries.
After a mere 18 hours delay, we caught a boat up river from a steamy small town called Yurimaguas (basically the end of road transport in this part of Peru). From then on boats are the only way to get around.
As a result, the port was buzzing as everything (and I mean everything) was loaded onto the boat – cows, bananas, pigs, petrol, fans, tvs, chickens, mangoes. They were dragging on very reluctant cows delivered by canoe or pick-ups right up to the last moment before we sailed.
We initially took the boat up the main river for 12 hours to a place called Lagunas. From there, we walked for several hours and then took canoes for three days further into the jungle. It is the rainy season here which turns the jungle into a strange watery world.
At times we would canoe down recognisable rivers but then suddenly we would be in the midst of a dense forest winding our way around extraordinary tree roots, ducking below creepers and palm leaves and listening to the echoing roar of monkeys in the distance.
There had been so much rain recently, that the usual dry camping spots had been flooded and we met a couple of fisherman who had built a little platform just above the water to sleep on.
We did eventually find a camping place, but quite how our canoe guides found them I don’t know. Then it was a quick setting up of a camp, cooking food and getting under the makeshift mosquito-net covered beds to escape the most voracious mosquitos I have ever come across.
During the day, we laid back and enjoyed wildlife(monkeys, toucans, macaws, snakes) whilst our guides did all the work. It was quite decadent (Sarah at times looked like she was in a Merchant and Ivory film), although my attempts at canoeing through fast-flowing streams may have convinced the guide that it was better that way round.
The most amazing animals we saw were pink dolphins which people assumed were extinct until not that long ago. They circled in pairs like synchronised swimmers around the boat. The legend here is that in the evenings they dress up as seductive and charming men who then seduce women who end up mysteriously pregnant and unexpectantly. Sounds like a good excuse to me….
Before too long or before I reached a record 100 mosquito bites, the expedition had finished and we were back on the big boat chugging further up the river for another 2 days. Proved to be incredibly relaxing… lying in hammocks all day as the jungle swept past, occasionally watching as the boat docked and loaded on tons of bananas. My collection of banana photos is now quite extensive.
To contrast with the jungle, we spent the previous week exhausting ourselves in the thin air of the Andeean plateau climbing up steep barren hillsides above fertile green valleys full of maize and potatoes inevitably emerging onto ridges with vast Inca ruins.
All over the mountains you can find these large complexes made up of huge precisely cut stones that lock together better than lego as if they were made by highly advanced machines. It has been strange that the Incas managed to build such amazing forts yet were defeated by very few conquistadores lusting for gold. Very sad too.
I think the Incas combined a great love of preciseness and planning with a great sense of drama (an unusual mix). Machu Picchu is the biggest example of it. An incredibly developed complex of temples, sculptures, houses, fountains and irrigation channels in the most inacessible place clinging onto a mountain amongst sheer green jungly peaks momentarily emerging from swirling cloud and mist into a brilliant blue andean sky before being hidden again.
Building it would have been a massive headache, but just spending a day there was mesmerising staring across at these unreal spiky peaks appearing and disappearing with the valley river winding its way along way way way below… In fact I was several times switching myself between vertigo and awe.