In this journal:
500+ mosquito bites;
Hitler lied to my face;
I drink someone’s spit.
Voyager 2 routing
long journal, refresh if the pages do not load
For more information about this entire series of travels, please refer to the Introduction section linked above.
Peach Aviation A320-200
I followed the crowd, and stepped out onto the desolate apron of Kansai Terminal 2. The only plane in sight was my Peach Aviation’s tiny A322. The wind was howling, blowing a girl’s hat so far and so quickly that she gave up chasing just after 2 seconds of screaming. Other than that, it was a perfectly normal flight. The buy-on-board menu Peach offered was truly amazing, and I was really tempted to get some souvenir and food as they look so nice and cheap, however, my brain in budget-carrier mode suppressed such urges, rule 1 when you fly Low Cost Carriers: you will eat when you land!
menu for buy on board, best I have seen, and decent legroom
Upon landing, I quickly disappeared in the crowds, only to resurface the next day after a quick overnight in the hostel I stayed at previously in Voyager 1. The owner and I had already acquainted ourselves, so it was not exciting at all. Before I boarded my Korean Air flight towards Madrid, I realized I could not go through the automatic check-in machines, because my ticket was so complicated. That would have to apply for my next trips too, and Seoul had mostly automatized, leaving a long line in front of the very few counters manned with agents. I had to wait for a solid 30 minutes to get to the end of the line, every, single, time.
over Russian Siberia
Madrid Iberia Lounge food
Again, I ended up in the Iberia lounge after a long-ass transit. It was truly a painful experience, but I was rewarded with decent food at the end of the turmoil. Now, thinking back from it, I can not imagine what travel like this would feel if I had no access to the lounges. Can you try and extrapolate that!? 13 hours of flights piled on each other in economy, with nobody else, and no good place to clear your head in between? Oh hell nah! Around midnight, I boarded my flight towards Lima, suffering the horrendous LATAM 767 again.
Iquitos: Amazon’s Last Frontier
I landed in Lima, and cleared through the immigration. Due to the poor design, I had to exit the building in order to re-enter, since “South America” and “efficiency” were not very well acquainted. However, this gave me a perspective on how much Chinese influence had changed the country since my last proper visit in 2013.
Chinese cigarette ad in the most prominent position
The entire domestic terminal felt like the back kitchen of hell. Insane crowding issues probably stemmed from the ridiculous growth this country had experienced in the past few years. Now, cheap tickets were everywhere and readily available. Coupled with the explosive tourism growths Peru had to endure, this must be the new Cancun, for college kids a tad bid richer and a lot more self-centered. Peru had changed so much from my last visit 5 years ago, and I had a bad feeling: it might get really touristy in Iquitos, where I was heading. Touristy places only mean bad service, huge crowds, and expensive everything… Most importantly, I pride myself for being able to find places off beaten paths, but in an isolated island-city like Iquitos, it might be difficult, because everyone is associated to an agency who would love to put you on a packaged tour with a bunch of gap-year students first time abroad, with their giant party hats and annoying snapchat autotuned music.
domestic terminal, LIM
Interestingly, during our hour-long taxi to the runway, we passed by a few airplanes belonging to different governments attending the 8th Summit of the Americas. From the tiny jet stream flown by Bolivia to Canada’s A310-300 carrying Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. It was quite an interesting plane spotting experience as we wafted by aircraft used by almost every single major country on the Americas continent.
US’s Air Force Two and Canada’s VIP aircraft
And please allow me to introduce the strange city of Iquitos before we arrive there. Iquitos is the capital of Loreto department, the largest, and poorest one in the country. It was due to the lack of infrastructure: no roads, no basic amenities, and no people. It experienced significant boom and bust, just like Iquique in Chile. However, instead of guano and saltpeter, Iquitos had rubber, and oil. Similarly, many rich people built quite a lot of fancy things there, including another of Agustave Eiffel’s handiwork called Iron House. However, now Iquitos is mostly here for tourism, as it accepts more than 300000 visitors a year, and also as a regional center for all governmental things.
approaching the jungle city
The flight was really smooth, despite the region’s perpetually turbulent weather. Eventually, we touched down on the tiny runway of the biggest city in the world without access to road. The city of Iquitos is so isolated in the middle of the jungle that it still had no land access in the 21st century, despite its growing population way over half a million. You either fly in like I just did, or take a week long boat ride from Taropoto, where the roads end and swamps begin.
traffic jam, Iquitos style
Thus, this unique isolation blocked the city from ever massively acquiring automobiles. What is the point of getting a car when the furthest you can go is 60 miles away from your house? As a result, motorized tricycles became the hot hatches of the city. Every, single, street was filled with these younger cousins of tractors, due to their cheap price, ease of transportation on boats, and nimble navigation on the poorly maintained roads. Wait, hot weather, constant rain, crazy traffic, motortaxi everywhere, bad roads… IS THIS THAILAND?
As someone who had spent almost 1/5 of his adult life in Latin America, I could not refuse a good meal in a chifa here! If you have read my Ecuador journal earlier, you know that they do it relatively similarly here in Peru. The strange blend of Chinese and Peruvian food proved to be too much even for me, as a huge bowl of great “wontons” and noodles filled me to the brink of explosion. That is what I am talking about! Chifa had gotten so popular here that it took away the spotlight of sushi in most other countries, resulting in some hilarious conversations I had with some local owners who were of Asian descent: I asked them where they were from, since I am Chinese-descent. A guy shook his head and sighed:”I am 3rd generation Japanese but still have to do the family chifa business!”
I also enjoyed quite a few juanes, named after the festival dedicated to San Juan Bautisia, during which this snack is universally consumed. It is made from a hodgepodge of rice, chicken, olive, herbs and spices, wrapped up by bijao leaves from the jungle, and cooked in clay pots. It tasted very similar to tamales I had in Argentina, since they were shaped similarly, but was as dense as the ones I enjoyed in Mexico City. Truly a marvelous food, I had to say, especially for breakfast, and the leaves are especially useful when you need to obscure your face as you devour down another 3000 calories before the clock struck 8.
little church (full name: Capilla Nuestra Senora de la Consolación y Colegio San Agustín antiguo)
For it being the jungle, the climate in Iquitos was ridiculously wet. It rained almost every single day that I was there, and I could not remember a full afternoon without thunderclaps. The tropic precipitation may brought the land its life, but it also brought inconvenience to my journey. To save weight and space, I only had a rainproof jacket, which also doubled as my emergency pillow and windbreaker. My shoes and pants were perpetually damp, and it felt like I was walking in a pool of humidity the whole time. It was not fun at all.
view over Itaya River and the floating communities
There was also a long walk along the riverfront. Itaya River blocks the city from advancing to the east, as its enormous fluctuation in water level prevents useful bridges to be built. Additionally, who does not want a gorgeous view over the unspoiled jungle by the house? The walking area by the river was also a popular place for the high schoolers to come and canoodle, while I silently cry as I walked by. Everywhere I go, I cannot outrun stupid emotions and loneliness, even to the heart of the jungle!
lady cutting a coconut
I then had to visit the notorious Belen market. There is nothing to hide here: it is a market at the very edge of the Amazon, in a very poor area of the poorest province in Peru, which itself was not doing very well to begin with, what else do you want to know? I grabbed my classic adventure outfit: short sleeves and a coconut, a pair of flip flops, and ventured deeper and deeper into this multi-district market.
For most people, it was straight up disgusting. Most walkways were extremely crowded, and covered in a layer of dark brown muck, probably a visible blend of rotten animal flesh, fruit waste, animal feces, used plastics, and freshly fallen rain water. It was a challenge to not fall down as everything was slippery. No differentiation of product was implemented whatsoever, and don’t even bother with sanitation. Over 150 tribes from all around the Amazon come here to sell stuffs, and where they come from, the word “soap” is as foreign as the concept of London’s banking system, or how funny the word “schnapps” sound when you are high as fuck.
fish stall comes with a complimentary cat
Then I found a shop selling alcohol, my favorite thing to numb the pain of my solitude, neat! Even though beer is the undisputed king in the cities, here in the jungles, only these medicinal alcohols made from aguardiente rule. Who wants a warm beer when you can have something much stronger and makes your girl wink at you? Yes, all alcohols here act as aphrodisiacs (do not ask me why), including the above called Siete Raíces, a mix of seven kinds of medicines. I happened to be at the stall when another white girl was bargaining, the only one I saw this entire adventure in the market. The guy looked at her and said, in his primitive English:”trust me it is good stuff! after some drinks, even him (pointing at me) would look sexy sexy~!” She looked back at me, who was basically frozen from the brutal burn dished at me for no reason, and looked back at the owner. “I’ll take 2.” She said, dead convinced, while I walked away in agonizing pain. I know I am ugly and Asian, but there is no need to roast me for 10 soles of alcohol, right? RIGHT???
another shop selling wild meats
And sadly, this also means numerous carne de monte/wild meat was on sale, ranging from lowland paca to caiman crocodiles. It is very common to see stalls selling butchered caiman, with its head as the grand welcoming sign, and many souvenir shops also offer jaguar teeth necklace as something to take home. I have a very basic standard: if it is endangered, I will not even touch it. This kind of unethical businesses exist because stupid frat boys decided paying 3000% more for a large necklace made of jaguar was worth it, and people blindly followed. There is no way to breed a lot of the parrots and wild animals in captivity, so I found it horrifying that some big shops use signs such as “locally farmed” to imply humane domestication. Sure, locals eat some exotic animals, such as majás, but it usually is infected with leishmaniasis, so why risk it? That is why on my strange food list, you will never see any endangered species harvested illegally. I try my best to ensure anything bizarre I ate was from a credible and justifiable source.
a chopped up majás
Of course, I was more than willing to give strange fruits a try, such as aguaje, the seed of a strange palm tree called moriche palm. It is very popular here to make juice and alcohol out of it, so I gave it a big bite: sweet just like a melon, I love it! In Colombia, where I had seen this kind of fruit before, it was called canangucho, however, the Peruvians are the ones who truly utilize the tree. Everyone seemed to sell it, and over 90% of the world production takes place in this province.
Brazilian nuts, fresh from the pouch
Then there is the skewer scene, dominated by probably the most notorious food Iquitos is known for, given that you would still call it a food. I am not so sure myself, so I want you to be the judge of that. Locals love this delicacy: palm beetle grubs, or called Suri Grubs, locally known as cocoteros. Yes, giant, writhing, wiggling, twitching worms, the size of a mini-sausage. It was too common to see people grabbing a bunch and impale them with a skewer, and proceeding to barbecue them on charcoal. Surprising part? It tastes quite good. Well, as good as it gets when you are constantly being reminded by others that you are eating a worm, that is. I had one done perfectly, and it tasted like a slightly tasteless bacon, and that is probably as high of a praise that I can give to a worm.
Another kind of skewer is of some kind of melon. Not like torched melon flesh actually for sale that I just saw in Osaka, but the seeds of a special kind of melon grown locally, and people told me it tastes just like enormous beans, nothing more. I tried really, really hard looking for the specifics of this kind of vegetables as I unfortunately lost the notes I did on the road (you will soon know why), as I even dug as deep as the third page on google search, and yet I could not find any results. For the first time in my blogging career, forgive me my readers, as I had no idea what the heck this is called.
grilled mystery seed
Finally, I sat down at a local stall selling all kinds of food: the market was so big that the owners of these stalls all had to eat too! For a super cheap 10 Nuevos Soles/ 3.5USD, I got an enormous meal made locally. Yes, it was in a very dirty sitting, but for someone poor and lonely like me, I would much rather eat here than going to a fancy gringo place watching old couples wrap their tongues together.
Here, the owner asked me to try the special little peppers they have, called aji. Do not get fooled by this tiny yellow fruit as cute as my chubby cheeks: it will destroy you. I tried just a tiny one, and the initial tingling sensation quickly turned into Bikini Atoll during hydrogen bomb testing. It was a numbing pain that quickly sends you down to hell in your mouth, and I had to drink 5 cups of drinks in order to quell the uprising in my stomach.
aji and the spicy sauce made from it
For the afternoon, I took a long ride on a motortaxi to the Manatee Rescue Center, a place run by local biologists and international volunteers for the rehabilitation of animals, and was the only place qualified to house manatees, an extremely demanding and gentle animal.
baby spider monkey
I first saw a giant fish in a crocodile pool. That is paiche, world’s largest freshwater fish, which can easily grow to more than 2 meters long. It is obviously a bottom feeder from the shape and size, but do you know it has not altered much from late Miocene? Yes, this large fish is actually a living fossil, having survived the world for more than 5 million years. It is so big that the caimans in the pool had to co-exist peacefully with this monstrously mammoth old fish. There was also an orphaned spider monkey, who remained super calm and loved to cuddle. awwww~ ❤
baby two-toed sloth
After seeing another sloth in my life, this one orphaned because his mother dropped from the tree (yes, it is actually a very legitimate way for sloths to die), and was now recovering by resting against a new human mom’s shoulders 24 hours a day. I also got lucky and saw a pygmy marmoset, the smallest monkey in the entire world, and is just a tiny bit bigger than a Berthe’s Mouse Lemur, weighing just shy of 100 grams/3.5 oz. The above picture you see is an adult male. However, they scream very, very loudly, like a giant howling monkey. Do not worry, it is in distress because the conservationists are trying to rehabilitate its broken legs.
And how can you forget manatees when you are here in the center? I got to see a baby manatee up close, and they are sooooo cute! This baby is basically a docile, chubby piece of water fat, in a super cute way, and do you know? Manatees have mouths shaped just like cats’, so in a way only I can write it out, :3 Isn’t that cute? I just want to cuddle them to sleep every day! Seeing people from all over the world come here and volunteer really instills hope in me for hu-manatee~! ahaha! No? Okay…
For the stormy dusk, I decided to shop for essentials for my journey into the jungle the next day. Repellent, check, sunscreen, check, snacks, check, extra repellent, check. All good to go! Luckily, a local recommended me to eat dinner right at the supermarket, where a restaurant serving Peruvian barbequed chicken provided cheap and hearty local food. I happily went for a full meal, and it was a big mistake: took me 2 god damn days to finish!
most popular place for afternoon stroll
For the third day in Iquitos, I packed up my stuff, left everything unnecessary in the hostel, and took off for the jungles. It was all nice and fun in the city, but the real amazon forest awaited me outside the urban limits. Say bye to modern comforts and beaten trails, time to hit the real part of Voyager 2, woohoo~!
Welcome to the jungle
Someone recommended me to add a local dude called Hitler (I know!) and I got in contact. For barely 25 dollars a day, he agreed to sign me up for 4 days in the jungle, or as locals call it, selva. I had always been someone looking for cheapies, so there was no reason for me to refuse. Quickly, I was hailed away in a motortaxi towards the port village of Nanay, about 3km from the center of Iquitos. There was a local market by the docks, and man was that a chaotic scene.
After waiting for a solid hour, I finally was joined by a bunch of dudes from Colombia, and a guy from France. Everyone spoke Spanish, thus it became the lingua franca of the entire journey. Great, another sausage fest, but at least it beats hiking Kilimanjaro alone or trekking Torres del Paine alone. Why can’t I just get slightly lucky once? We boarded a long ship for distance sailing, and then proceeded towards our first destination: gas station.
floating gas station
By the docks, many ships came and went frequently, as Iquitos is the center of the entire Peruvian Amazon, and Nanay the primary port of Iquitos, so it was not surprising to see numerous floating gas stations for the ships around, but it was still quite a shock to dock at one place just to fuel up. We slowly approached, and the owner of the boat hopped off, with a cigarette in mouth, and started filling up buckets with horrible smelling diesel. I like to say that I am rather fearless when it comes to death, but in that moment I truly sensed that would be a wasteful way for me to go…
amongst the mango trees
guinea pigs, for food!
First stop was just a little area across the Amazon River called Fundo Pedrito, a conservation farm mostly for alligators. Besides the tough-skinned reptiles, it also had a large garden full of Victoria Amazonica, largest lily pad in the world. Some of them can grow as large as 3 meters in diameter, and can hold up to 50 kilograms in weight. The original name, Victoria Regia, was a gesture to honor Queen Victoria as this species was discovered in early 1800s. Its flowers were enormous, over 40cm in diameter, and changes color from pure white to blazing pink after the first night it opened. (huh) This is another interesting plant on my bucket list completed.
suntanning is free here
There was also a large pond for paiche, the large fish I introduced earlier, as well as some piranhas. Finally it was time to see how they frenzy over a drop of blood, woot woot! (warning: due to long terms of psychological isolation, Young has developed a sick sense of spectacle, please beware.) I dropped some cookies and meat in the pond, and watched the water started boiling. Imagine if I fall into the pond! Yes, I know everyone in the world would be cheering!
After a lunch, we continued cruising upstream towards our home for the next few days. Before I boarded the boat, however, an old man handed me a fruit from a tree nearby, and told me to eat it. Well, a random stranger handing me a completely unknown fruit in the middle of the jungle, what can possibly go wrong? I took a large bite, and boy, it tasted brilliant! It felt like a softer version of pears, and much more refreshing! Neato~!
just follow the current, and find what you look for
After 2 hours of cruising, we eventually reached the tiny eco-lodge perched at the side of a branch of the river. To call it an eco-lodge is like calling me presentable: it is quite a bit of a stretch, but technically correct. It was just a bunch of shacks stacked on stilts, and some dirty bunk beds inside one of them, with broken mosquito nets and doors. The kitchen was also just a large room with gas ferried from the city, and an opening towards the jungle to throw any waste. Having seen some eco-lodge advertised on the internet, I instantly realized I got what I paid for, but normal agencies were simply unrealistically expensive. It was simply unacceptable to shell out 200+ dollars a day for some basic amenities like a functional roof that does not leak when it rains, which happens 100% of the day. Mass tourism definitely had its downsides, especially in rural areas like this.
macaw that loves to hang out around here
They also had a blue-and-gold macaw that always hangs around. The owner of the lodge said he could fly but was lazy because people can feed him food and there was a roof. It had been around for so long that it had already learned “hola!” and some inaudible lines of German, for god know how. Base on my history with Germany, I presumed it to be some lines about baked goods or delayed trains, but hey, it simply sounded angry, so it could be anything! For the afternoon, we embarked on a little cruise to a local village, where a brewery was in place.
cane juice extractor
There was a round of alcohol tasting, besides the Siete Raíces that I introduced earlier, there were also other strange alcohols such as Chuchuhuasi, made from the tree bark of the same name. It glows a strangely tinted brown shade, and is said to be both an aphrodisiac and a muscle relaxant, boy imagine getting drunk on that! Also there was the expensive Siete Veces Sin Sacar, which the locals simply refer to as SVSS. What does that mean? Well, it stands for “Seven Times Without Pulling Out”, yep, why does everything here have to be an aphrodisiac? I just use alcohol to help me get over the fact that I would never get to use anything close to getting it on, like, exactly the opposite! The special ingredient that made this alcohol stand out was a penile bone of a coati in the bottle. I have no more comments.
For dinner, I asked the local lady cooking if those strange fruits around the fields could be eaten. “Oh, cocona! Of course!” She went ahead, picked a handful, washed them squeaky clean, dipped them in ample salt, and presented the cut fruits on the table. I thought it would taste quite exotic, but nope, for every single one that I ate, cocona tasted exactly like a tomato. In fact, if you put a blindfold on me and ask me to tell the difference, I would laugh at you, thinking that someone is pulling a trick by giving me all tomatoes.
a slow boat transporting chicken
For the next day, we first paid a visit to a village. It was very clear that the indigenous tribes were compensating the guide, as the only thing we did was passing by a few houses, where the locals tried to sell us their items, and then enjoying a culture show during which more goods were advertised. Numerous protected animals were put on display, including a lady with a pet armadillo, as well as a pet spider monkey. Her son held a sloth, obviously another family pet that was obtained through questionable means, and if you multiply this by thousands, you get a rough picture of how the tourism operated here in the region. Of course, taking photos with the family pets cost money.
lady with an armadillo and a monkey
However, I was offered a free drink called masato, a very, very unusual drink, even by Amazon standards. It is made from yuca and human saliva, and then fermented to a slightly alcoholic drink. Yep, human spit: usually young girls take up the job of chewing up yuca, and then spit inside a container for fermentation. The bacteria inside the spit is necessary to kick start the brewing process. I tried a tiny sip as I was praying to gods that I do not get rain forest AIDS before I even get my first girlfriend, but I found a great fruity taste instead. Sure the texture was not the best, like when a naughty 2-year-old puts his mashed potatoes into coke, but the taste was very pleasant. I even asked for another one, because it actually felt thirst-quenching. Wait, does that count as a kiss?
a sloth hanging
For the afternoon, we visited a serpentario, a place that claimed to be a place for many animals. However, I have to be honest: this is my least favorite place in the journey. It was clear that for the very few animals around there, the living standards were evidently subpar. To show us some snakes and boas, the owner pulled out a snake from a large bag, and threw it on the ground. There were also caged turtles and others. I simply could not take any pictures or write anything. It is partially my fault for supporting this kind of operation, but I had asked Hitler about the detailed itinerary and places I would visit before signing up, yet I got a completely different thing. Thus, after confirming everything I would do fell into the ethical tourism realm, I paid my deposit. I am still very saddened by the fact that these animals were subjugated to abuse for monetary gains, but I was kept completely in the dark. Hitler lied to me, can you believe that?
waiting for a dolphin
Afterwards, we took a short hop to a river fork, and waited for the legendary pink dolphins to appear. In this area, the endangered river dolphins hunt for fish using their ultra-senses, so we had to shut off our engine and wait, patiently, quietly… And voila! I first spotted a splash with a hint of pink, and then more, and more! It was such a magnificent sight, but due to the fact that my DSLR camera broke during the last segment, I had no picture to show you, and to be honest, no photo can do justice to the bewitching beauty of these intelligent porpoises.
For dinner, I tried paiche, the large freshwater living fossil that I encountered before. I thought this kind of fish would be rather bland, as it looked like a normal, albeit ancient, bottom feeder. However, I was so, so wrong. This was the most delicious freshwater fish I had ever laid my tongue on. The slightly rubbery texture coupled with the ample fish fat made each bite an explosion of flavorful juices, and I would take this over any kind of meat! Normally in China, where eating freshwater fish was way too common (ocean pollution was the default), the freshwater fish all had very strong fishy smell and numerous little bones, but this paiche tasted exactly like large silver cods. Yum! Then I also got a fried piranha, but it tasted nothing but bland, like a piece of paper in flavor form, or a visual static in the mouth. I guess for a fish that lunges at anything, it was not that big of a surprise. However, I can finally yell at the fish:”so who is eating who now, bi-atch!”
deep fried piranha
After a stormy night, I woke up to another beautiful day in the jungles. Today we would do a walk in the deep forest, and that just sounded too fun! However, little did I know that this day would probably go down in my memory as one of those ones which I wished I died.
wading in water
As we stopped in a tiny patch of shallows after cruising for a solid hour in the swamps, the guide told us that we had to equip those thick rubber boots prepared for this very trek, as we were gonna do some wading in the water. “Oh that sounds fun.” The innocent me exclaimed. However, as we encountered a tiny lagoon, formed by the water trapped in these lands as the river retreated from the high season last year, we were instructed to go through it. I thought it could not be too bad, until I took the first step. Instantly, my boots sank to about 1 meter deep, and water poured right in. I noticed something was not right, and started moving everything I had in my pockets: cellphone, paper towel, repellent and snacks, into the top pocket in my jacket. Little did I know that this was just the beginning of the nightmare.
an insect on the hat!
Quickly, the lagoon got deeper, and deeper. Before long, I was wading in water as deep as my belly button. The guide’s son was accompanying us on the trip, acting as another machete user to clear a path, besides the guide and me, but he was also carrying our lunch in a backpack. However, he was just 12, and the water was basically at his chest, so he was holding the lunch pack high above his head: nobody wants a rice bowl covered with rotten leaves! I offered to carry the bag for him, since I was the tallest in the group. Nonetheless, as we ventured deeper, the little boy had to start swimming, and I found myself in unfathomable troubles.
young man enjoying the swim
Water kept getting deeper, and within a blink of eye it reached my chest. I gave up everything unimportant, including tossing away the notes I left for this leg of the journey, leaving just the cellphone and lunch pack, and held them above my shoulders. However, this meant that I had to tread very, very carefully, as the many roots and mystery objects on the lagoon bed could trip me, and if I fall, not only would my cellphone finally take its last breath and leave me camera-less, but also the entire group would blame me for starving the whole day. It was tough, as I could not fend off the thousands of mosquitoes attacking me incessantly, because I had no hand to spare. What scared me the most, however, was that if it got any deeper, I would have to start swimming, and forget about lunch or my phone since I might even die myself, as I had not swum in quite a while!
last selfie taken before I started worrying about my death
Luckily, my chest was as deep as it got, and after coming back ashore to the other side of the lagoon, we all found out that those rubber boots were huge burdens: they were all now full of water, and each step taken was like dragging a sandbag tied onto the legs. The guide was quite light-mooded, however, as he kept laughing at the blokes and saying:”aventura!(adventure!)” But for the other guy holding his DSLR camera, it was clear that was not the time for jokes. He was shorter than me and had a camera worth 15 times of my cellphone, so who was gonna compensate him when the guide led us into a lake just a bit deeper?
balancing on a log
Then came and went multiple lagoons, full of mosquitoes and strange water bugs. The only thing that could make them worse were probably leeches and aquatic snakes. However, the guide found a way for us to avoid walking into the water, as we just needed to pass through the different logs fallen onto the lake surface. I am not terribly good at balancing, as the Ecuador journal had shown, so it was really challenging for me. However, the stakes were too high: for some lagoons, I could not even reach the bottom of the water using my 2m/6.5ft walking branch stick! If I fell into those, it was definitely game over.
more balancing on logs
view of the lake
After nearly 2 hours of the worst time in my life, as my heart rate was consistently over 150, fearing for my life and my cellphone, we finally reached a tranquil lake in the middle of nowhere. I opened the lunch pack, and luckily, it had not sunk beneath the water. There were not plates, but it was a jungle full of many types of plants, so everyone had a large leaf as the container. A pinch of salt, a bit of chicken and a few dead mosquitoes, the lunch was not too bad. The guide told us that this was one of the few lakes that still had enormous catches, due to its inaccessibility. Duh! Given the nightmarish trek, I would not even be surprised to come and witness Bigfoot playing footsie with Loch Ness monstier!
in front of an enormous tree
After a bit of a break, it was the same gruesome way back. It rained, and stopped, and rained again, adding misery to the trek. We did not see many animals either, except some termite dunes and monkeys. As a result, I was not satisfied with the walk at all. I did not expect too much, but I still got disappointed, let alone shocked that I had to fear losing my electronics during a walk. When we reached the tiny boat docked under a web made by an enormous huntsman spider, everyone released a sigh or relief: nothing important was lost, maybe except our dignity.
you can see the many mosquito bites popping up
I did a bit of a counting that night, given sleeping was not quite a thing when you had to scratch your back ever 12 seconds, discovering that during the 6 hours in the jungle, I got bit by mosquitoes in at least 550 places. That was given the fact that I had sprayed myself with multiple layers of repellent, on the skin as well as on clothes. Of course, after a few minutes in the rain, it did not matter to the drunken vampires on wings, so desperate after many months of starvation.
Luckily, the parakeets hanging around the lodge were much less bitey. A half dozen of these little birds hang around the kitchen, waiting for any leftover fruits or dishes to fall off the table. Surprisingly, they were very friendly, and would go on a ride on your fingers if you offer. Oh and also, they can scream very loudly, especially after they bite you, learned it the hard way as I tried to trick one from some nuts that I wanted to eat myself.
waiting for someone who wants to jump on board
For the last day, I went on fishing for piranhas. Since there were not much water in the season, these fish made from pure anger and fury were not very active in the region. Additionally, we used some rather old meat that had lost quite a bit of bloody smell, so none of us had a piranha catch. However, the young guy piloting the boat got a large catfish to bite, and apparently they did not like to eat this type, so it was released promptly. Except a painful sunburn, I got nothing the whole morning. They say there are plenty of fish in the water, and I still have never got one…
fish fish fish!
I went fishing alone because all the other guys went for the ayahuasca treatment. I did it back when I was visiting in 2013, and I thought the 25 dollar price tag that came with it was already quite outrageous, but here in Loreto region, home of this ancient rite, it had become so popular that the normal asking price fluctuated around 100 US dollars. What. The. Fuck. It was one thing to see an ancient ritual come to light because people appreciate the culture and the tribes behind it, but it was another thing to exploit a traditional sacrament for monetary gains and internet fame. Apparently, in the past few years, so many North Americans and Europeans came to Iquitos, the easiest place to access for such kind of treatment, and demanded to drink the hallucinogen. These rich kids with a tinder profile tag of “spiritualist” were so fat in their pockets that they jump-started a whole sub-industry here. Many fake shamans popped up like mushrooms after a tropical thunderstorm, and the improper training they went through had already killed a few young men and women. Additionally, most people did it just for a bragging rights, or for the reason of “self-discovery” like trying heroin for the first time. Some told me they wanted to do it because it was an ancient tradition, but none of them could tell me why it was done. It had gotten so rampant that street touts changed their line from “cheap tours~!” to “AYAHUASCA!!!”, and souvenir stores in Iquitos sell a supposedly funny t-shirt of “Ayahuasca diet: no oil, no spicy, and no sex!” This is the new-era hypocrisy at its finest: claiming you are here to purify your body, while promiscuously fuck around in parties and one-night-stands in the two dozen gringo party houses in Iquitos. As someone who was born a millennial but never had a chance to fuck around, I cannot feel anything but shame: we are so fake in our living, especially when we claim to live so simply.
red macaw on Monkey Island
For the last afternoon, we headed for a nice walk on Isla de Los Monos, aka, Monkey Island. The conservation island is home to 7 kinds of endangered monkeys, all heavily threatened by the encroachment of human into their territories. Monkeys roam for a large area relative to their body size, so human advancement, especially clearing forest for eco-lodges, greatly shrank most species’ active area.
I first saw a bunch of titi monkeys, a rather shy and timid kind of monkey. However, no shyness can deter them from getting their favorite food (wait so I am a titi monkey!?), nuts, and I got close to a few and was able to play with a cute little boy monkey. He had a coat of soft fur and a brilliantly agile tail. Actually, for these monogamous monkeys, the best way to establish a connection with each other is by entwining their tails like a little braid. Awwwww~!
Then came the stars of the show, two wolly monkey youths. These little pranksters loved to play with humans, and found me to be a rather useful walking tree branch. Using their tails, which had textures similar to their hands perfect for grappling, they grabbed my arms and swing about all the time. Don’t you just love them when animals like you more than humans do?
ahaha stop it!
Because they are the biggest of the New World monkey species, wolly monkeys are under threat, as indigenous people love to catch them for food. However, just a 2% loss of the female wolly monkey population can cause the entire social structure to breakdown, leading them to the broad highway of extinction. Thus, these little cuties were severely under threat, and had to be protected at all costs.
wolly monkey eating nuts
The island also had numerous other species, such as spider monkeys, saki monkeys, howler monkeys, incredibly strange red uakaris, and some marmosets. We also encountered a bunch of tamarins jumping from tree trunk to tree trunk as we moved around in the forest. Apparently they were smaller than I thought, barely the size of a loaf of bread. However, they were extremely agile, making photos extremely hard to capture on my phone. Thanks to their small size, they can sleep on the vines at night!
cruising on the Amazon River, true Voyager style
It was finally time to go back. After 4 days of blistering sunshine, heart-wrenching rain, incessantly enraging mosquitoes, and lack of any communication with the outside world, I was ready to be back in the civilization. A long boat ride took us to the tiny village across the river, as the flooding from upstream increased the width of the Amazon by over 100 meters overnight. At the end of the day, just as everyone was losing patience fighting against the currents, we arrived at the little port of Mazán.
disembarking in Iquitos
Just in time to catch a fast boat called pequepeque towards Iquitos, woohoo! They called it fast, and they were not joking: it was practically a jet ski crammed with 30 people. I would never imagine myself skipping down the waves on top of the Amazon River at 50 miles per hour if you ever asked me what I would do in 5 years in 2013. We arrived at LAO port, and disembarked quickly. This was the primary port for passengers in Iquitos, and man was it chaotic. Numerous boats coming from all directions converged here: from the tri-border area in the northeast, to Coca in Ecuador, or Cali in Colombia, and even Manaus in Brazil, coupled with floating shops selling meals, packaged snacks, live animals, and motortaxi touts selling their services, it was a clusterfuck on water.
locals waiting for a storm to approach
There is no embellishing here: I was not very happy with this segment of the trip. I paid very little, and got what I paid for, from a guy named Hitler. The serpentario was very cruel and inhumane, even for me; the jungle trek was borderline life-threatening; the flippant attitude of most people working on the front line was insulting; these are all unacceptable. This is the most fragile part of the Earth, and I witnessed how it was carelessly treated first hand. I admit I made a mistake, and that is why this paragraph is here to warn everyone about the broken tourism of Iquitos: do not fall victim to cheapness, and become a murderer of Mother Earth.
Next day, I ordered a motortaxi and hailed for the airport. The seemingly drunk buses here piqued my interest. They were basically large trucks with a roof added on the back, very similar to the tap-tap in Haiti. They looked incredibly unstable, as the roofs were very heavy and created a lot of side-drag. As a result, watching them wobble along the road became a scary hobby of mine, not especially funny when my motortaxi was passing those buses.
Finally, I went through all the securities, and boarded the same tiny plane back to Lima, just with 500 more mosquito bites on my body. After 3 hours of cruising, I cleared security and immigration, officially on my way to Ecuador, en route to Santiago de Chile for the second time in this trip. Peru and your irresponsibly explosive tourism, you will not be missed.
noodles in Guayaquil
I slept soundly with a working mosquito net in the room, which put me to tears, and woke up to catch my flight to Santiago. However, as I approached Guayaquil airport, I realized I was famished, and thus approached a local vendor for food. He recommended the noodle/potato thing shown above with added tripes, and I had absolutely no idea if he gave me this because I was Chinese or because that was actually the best thing he had on offer. It did taste as great as a 1.5-dollar-meal can get, though.
over the Andes, 3rd time this trip
Santiago de Chile
For this time in Santiago, I started with a nice cocktail with my old pal Dani, who I met way back in the days in 2013. She fell in love with a guy from Argentina, and moved to my favorite continent last year. She and her friend, Drew, were having a great reunion here in Santiago, as Drew was about to embark on a long, long journey across the Americas. We met the second day for a visit to the Human Rights Museum, somewhere I missed during my past 3 times in the city. It was a horrendously sad museum, with detailed descriptions of how Pinochet made people “disappear”, and the numerous atrocities committed by his junta. (The museum was brilliant, but it made me very sad, just a clarification.)
all those who were still missing…
I was not allowed to take photos of the exhibitions, except this wall, so I would respect the victims. After bidding the two friends farewell, I had some extra time, so Drew’s friend Constanza and I decided to walk along the streets of Santiago a bit more. Constanza is a local, who had been fervently passionate about the local art scene, so I gladly asked her to take me around some places that she liked: it was never too late to stroll the streets with a local!
family admiring a mural
We came across a mural freshly done by Inti, a Valparaiso born artist, famous for his mysterious, almost creepy, style of blending Incan culture, South American animals, life, death, and Christianity. His style can be prominently observed in many street corners around Americas and Europe. Most of his paintings also convey some serious political issues going on in Chile. However, since this one was freshly put up, like, less than a week before we laid our eyes on it, we spent a long time debating about the undertone Inti was trying to convey. What was about the bullets and the Andean cross? Also why was there a baby with a dollar symbol on it? How about the rose and maize in the basket? But hey, maybe not everything has to have a clear meaning, right?
another enormous mural
Another mural we came across was Dasic Fernandez’s. His style is famous for the reverse-dripping effect on a lot of his drawings. Most of his drawings contain some form of stickiness, or fluidity, and as a native Chilean, he had completely blown out of the water for his influence globally.
If you have read my first ever journal about Chile, you would know that Chileans are not exactly known for eating healthy, so of course, when I met up with Anne, a fellow Canadian who moved here for love, I had to go for the notorious chorillana at 11pm to show off my Chilean-ess. It was the first time meeting someone from Flyertalk community, and surprisingly, I was not robbed of my American Airlines mileage account password! She was a very nice girl, committing to a world so far away and so foreign for the sake of love, and I wish someone would be willing to do it for me… Ahhh… Oh wait, and yeah, this kind of pipe dream indeed took place in my food-induced coma. Wakie, wakie, Young! Time to get your sorry lonely ass back on the road, for your destiny lies on the path, not in the alcove!
Air Berlin 737
Next morn, I woke up for another long leg back to Asia. However, for the day, I would first go to Bogota, Colombia. On my way to the airport, I saw a lonely 737 far from home, belonging to the defunct Air Berlin. It must arrived here recently, and probably would be converted to LATAM. Rest in peace, sweet sweet Air Berlin. Air Berlin 4Ever.
Santiago LATAM lounge food
I ended up in the Santiago lounge again, and devoured a good table of food before leaving. My flight was operated by a WAMOS A330, due to the B787 engine issues going on, and surprisingly, the plane was modern, clean, and quiet. It had an entertainment system way better than what LATAM was equipped with on their shameful 767, and even 787. Most importantly, due to the massive increase in size, the plane was practically deserted. I owned a whole row to myself at the back, and most people got 3 seats each.
say cheese, the Asian way!
I was so glad to see Bi Hui again as I landed in Bogota. If you read my Panambia journal, you would know that last time we met almost 2 years ago. It was such a great time to meet this wonderful girl and her mother again. She is half-Chinese too, if you do not know! We ended up eating in a Hilton, for reasons unknown, and we enjoyed a great conversation about our lives. I was glad that my Spanish improved between the two times! However, since it was an intentionally long transit only, I had barely 20 hours to eat nice food; before I could say hi, I was sadly hugging Bi Hui goodbye in my hostel. Next time, you have to come to me!
my hostel’s courtyard
LATAM lounge in Bogota
I was shocked when I found out that LATAM had a proper lounge in Bogota, despite the fact that it did not have many international flights departing from there. For Christ sake, they don’t even fly to New York, or anywhere in Europe from this hub! Meanwhile, in Lima, where they had flights to Madrid, Barcelona, Los Angeles, and a whole slew of countries, they could not even afford to get a contract lounge!? You gotta be kidding me!
Not to mention, the catering was relatively decent, and given the lack of long haul flights from Bogota, the lounge was consistently empty. The ladies serving the lounge also kept it spotless. While some Japanese tourists were having trouble passing through the front reception due to communication errors, I could see the agents being very patient and trying to look for middle grounds. All in all, I was happy that I got something to eat and a nice view of the large terminal.
I took a quick transit in the dreaded Lima airport, and flew another 13 hours on the self-worth-questioning 767 to Barcelona. It was my first time even in the airport, and I was very impressed with the size and operations out of the airport. The reason why Iberia completely abandoned their operation in BCN and threw it to Vueling I could never understand, but I really enjoyed the efficiency of their multi-level gate managing, as my international flight was departing on the 5th floor, 2 levels higher than normal intra-EU flights. Good use of space and smart thinking, unlike Madrid with terminals spread out as thin as my patience. I waited and waited for a Korean Air staff to show up at the gate, as they told me they would, and after 4 hours of painstaking sitting, an agent finally showed up: 30 minutes before departure, and 10 minutes after the scheduled boarding time. She had no choice but to give me a middle seat, as I could not check in online. I was practically furious, as people kept kicking the ball to each other during my wait, and that resulted in me, who could not even exit the immigration for a boarding pass for 5 hours, getting the last, and probably the worst, seat in the entire plane, for a 13-hour flight. What the hell?
plane spotting at Barcelona
13 hours of agony took me back to Seoul, and I was ready for round 3 of my round-the-world torture. As someone who tends to think positive at the very end, I usually put a very good spin to every place I visit when I write the journal months later. Hell, I even said Haiti‘s trash-piled rivers were beautiful! However, there is no denial in this journal: Peru gave me a bad taste in the mouth this time. Do not get me wrong, that magnificent country started my traveling career back in 2013, and I still believe it is probably the best Andean country for a beginner. However, its rapid commercialization proved that unchecked expansion, especially in a region as vulnerable as Iquitos, was extremely detrimental to both the pristine nature and visitor experience. This was the first time in a looong while that I felt like a tourist, a walking money sack being thrown around to squeeze out some coins, in the whole Latin America, and that is coming from a guy that has experienced things from Patagonia to Cotopaxi, Uruguay to Mexico. Usually speaking Spanish could give me an edge over the normal tourists, but in Peru, the efforts proved futile. The craze around ayahuasca, and the travel porn industry online, as well as the cheap accessible party locales, coupled with a relatively long shoestring notoriety, made the entire tourism sector indiscriminately hostile to people who wish to look for a good, authentic experience. And that makes sense: if everyone is a young gap-year college student with a freshly minted passport ready to fuck on a bunk bed in a party hostel, why bother giving them something unique? On the other hand, it also felt very similar to what I experienced in Nicaragua in the beginning: the hashtag-trendy influencers were chasing away the authentic, real travelers. Gone were the days that you could negotiate a price. You don’t like getting scammed by a motortaxi driver? Then get the fuck out of the line, there are twenty people behind you waiting eagerly to pay 20 dollars for a ride! The government also does nothing to help regulate, resulting in horrible tours being offered by guys like Hitler. I do not condone harming animals for materialistic gains, and that was why I refused to ride the elephants in ThaiMar 2016, and I would never do this tour in serpentario again. However, my opinion does not matter: since when does an ugly Asian’s voice carry any weight? Hitler would gladly take a white blonde frat boy over me so his promotion photo would look more glamorous, and there happen to be a bunch of them who do not give a single fuck about snakes getting restrained in tiny bags in serpentarios. Actually, some would intentionally ask for those places as they allow you to pay 5 dollars and take photos with snakes and sloths, who are practically unresponsive due to malnutrition. What a bloody fucking joke. Something has to be changed, or the next disaster begins with a nasty accident, or an ayahuasca death, or a media exposure. Peru, it is time to wake up, or you might find other countries slowly taking your place as the prime South American destination.
looking for a nice sunset
All the negativity aside, I still believe that the jungle was the perfect exhibition of prime Amazon, with all its beauty and charms. It was definitely not for the faint-hearted, yet I believe anyone can find something out of this piece of green lung that belongs to Mother Earth.
I shook my head, and cleared my mind. I stepped onto the soil of South Korea again, for the third time in this journey. What began from now, would be the heavy hitters of this epic voyage. Next leg: Czech Republic, and Malta.
I exhaled slowly, and told myself: time to chin up, and be a true Voyager now.