Everyone dies. Not everyone truly lives. -William Wallace "Braveheart"

Friday, May 27, 2011

Adventure in the Rainforest

We thought we had given ourselves plenty of time to get ready to head out into the rainforest by 9:00 am, but at 9:05 we were just starting to eat breakfast and Alejandro and Al still needed to go to Western Union to make arrangements for our secret trip.  At 10:00 am (an hour late) we finally headed out.  We went back to the boat and travelled back up the Amazon 1 hr and stopped at a little village where we walked to a farm where we saw caiman, paiche, and a couple wild parrots.  It started raining on our way back to the boat.

We had another hour and a half to go up river before we docked again, but our driver got a little lost and fortunately ran into another boat who let us follow him to the clearing where we were supposed to dock.  We pulled up, hopped out, and trudged into the rainforest, through the mud to our huts.  I was glad I decided to wear pants and my combat boots despite the heat.  We settled into our huts which we just oohed and ahhed over how cute and tropical they were.  After getting settled in we met in the main hut and had lunch which consisted of the best catfish I had ever had, rice, heart of palm salad, and yucca. 

At 2:30 pm already hot and sweaty, we proceeded to make our way deep into the rainforest with our guide Goblin (aka Alian) with nothing but a machete.  We saw a rubber tree, a laxative tree, a hanging vine you could cut and drink from (una de gato), and an iodine tree.  Our guide dug up a tarantula and I put it on my face (fyi I am TERRIFIED of spiders!).  I also got to put my hand in a termite nest and let them crawl all over me.  It turns out termites are natural insect repellent if you smear them over your body and yes, I realize the irony of that.  We also learned a lot: Don’t eat fruit that grows on a vine because it is poisonous, how to spot and dig up a tarantula out of its hole, and not to go with a tour group that doesn’t have any online reviews…… Our guide started saying that he was lost, but he was kind of smiling so I thought nothing of it.  I thought maybe he was trying to instill a little adventure into our trip.  So I’m still lollygagging and taking pictures when Alejandro runs up and says WE ARE LOST.  STOP TAKING PICTURES.  Now we start to get a little worried and we quickly dropped everything and followed Alejandro toward where our guide disappeared, but he was nowhere to be found…we were screaming for a good 20 min before we heard an answer in the distance.  The whole time I was thinking “OMG! This is why there are no reviews.  No one makes it out alive to leave a review!” Mom’s feet started hurting really bad, and we were still very much lost, and to top it all off our guide kept saying we only have 10 minutes til it’s pitch black out here.  After being lost 4.5 hours we finally found our way back to the huts.  The brush was so thick we didn’t even see the huts until we broke through 10 feet from them.

Drinking from an una de gato vine


 They had informed us earlier in the day that cold beers would be available for us to purchase that night, but after this ordeal I though “I will die if they make us pay for the only cold beverage here after getting us lost for nearly 5 hrs.” but sure enough, they did.  They informed us that they would turn on the generator for an hour so we could have light to get a quick shower and eat dinner, but the generator was broke.  After watching them struggle for a few minutes my man stepped in and showed them how to fix it J

We ate dinner and then took a FREEZING cold shower (the water was so cold it felt like needles!), then went to bed.  I tried to write in my journal, but the generator switched off before I could finish so I put my headlamp on to get a few more minutes of writing in….BAD IDEA! Bugs started swarming around my head and in my mouth so I gave up and flipped it off.  At night it sounded like one of those sounds of the rainforest soundtracks only it wasn’t relaxing because all you could do is sit there and wonder when one of those jumanji man-eating bugs or jaguars is going to tear through the netting, or crawl through the giant hole in the ceiling.  It started pouring and didn’t let up all night and all I could think is thank gosh we made it back and didn’t have to spend the night braving the elements.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Off to the Amazon!

Mom almost burnt down the hotel with her hair dryer.  Apparently she decided it wasn’t powerful enough for her so she switched back the setting Alejandro had put it on and it all but fried itself when she turned it on. We all packed for the Amazon and dropped the rest of our luggage off at Alejandro’s parents.  We tried to hail a taxi large enough for the 4 of us and our luggage, but weren’t having any luck so Alejandro walked 5 blocks to the main road to look for one.  Well of course 5 min after he left we found one so Al ran to go retrieve him. 

We hopped on our flight to Iquitos (The Amazon) which was 3 hrs with a stop in Tarapoto.  When we arrived to Iquitos and stepped off the plane I couldn’t even breathe.  It was so humid that it felt like I was breathing underwater.  We picked up our luggage from baggage claim and walked outside where our guide Guido was waiting for us.  Alejandro and I hopped in Guido’s car and Mom and Al hopped into a Mototaxi (since mom had been dying to ride in one since she saw one) and Guido took us to look at a hotel.  We pulled up to this gorgeous blue and white historical building on the river with giant rooms, 15’ ceilings, and a pool.  It was $75 per room or a “really good deal” of $150 for one room with 2 beds lol.  In the states a $75 room would be nothing, but we were trying to keep it under $50 so we pressed on.  We ended up staying at La Casona Backpackers Hostal for $30 a night.  It was simple to say the least and it smelt of incense and mold, the latter of which we were promised would disappear when we turned on the A/C.  A/C! Why didn’t you say so?! SOLD!!! Shoot, at this point I would have paid $100 for a makeshift paper fan and an ice cube and we had only been there an hour!

Just a hallway in the really nice hotel

It was only 4:00 pm, but we were already getting hungry and taking into account that we were on “Peru time” we figured if we set out for dinner now we might actually be eating by 9:00 pm.  The mototaxi driver told us of a great restaurant on the river where we could even take a dip in the Amazon.  He took us down the road 10 min to a small market on the river bank.  We got out and he led us through the market, across a little bridge and toward this shady looking building which wreaked of fish from the nearby market.  To our relief he bypassed the shack and directed us to crawl into a small thatch roof covered boat.  A 15 min ride up the river and there it was! It was like paradise.  Completely open, floating restaurant, on the Amazon River, with hammocks hanging everywhere, pisco sours, the sun set painting the skies with vibrant pinks, purples, and yellows…paradise.

They brought out samples of juices made from various indigenous fruits, such as manu manu and starfruit, for us to try.  We got acquainted with our new friends from Canada Alaina and Sean, and finally, after an hour at least, our dinner came out.  We ate Paiche (the biggest fish in the Amazon) and Caiman (alligator) which was delicious.  Then we got back on the boat and went back to the hotel.

Paiche- the biggest fish in the Amazon

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Swimming with the Sea Lions in Callao

I started my malaria pills today and they are making me SOOO sick!

Alejandro went to the dentist and while he was gone Mom, Al, and I wandered around Los Sauces trying to find breakfast again.  We found a Panderia (bakery) and bought some empanadas and peach juice and took it back to the hotel.

When Alejandro was finished with his appointment he came to the hotel and we all caught a taxi to Callao to go swim with the sea lions.  We arrived at Callao a little too early, so Alejandro and I walked around and found this lady carrying a large basket of powdered sugar filled bread and butter…it was SOOO good and soft and sweet! Just writing about it makes me want it all over again.  Finally an old wooden boat pulled up to the dock.  It didn’t look anything like the shiny speedboat in the flyer, but we hopped on and hoped for the best anyways.  As we were puttering away from the dock we pulled up to the pretty boat in the picture and piled into that.  After we started moving Alejandro called me up to the bow of the boat to enjoy the view, but as I was making my way to an empty seat I slipped and busted my butt. 

Thousands upon thousands (3,000 to be exact) of sea lions sat sunbathing, flopping around, and bobbing up and down in the water with the waves.  As the boat got closer the sea lions began to swarm the boat, inspecting it curiously.  We slipped into our wet suits and dove in.  The water was so cold it took my breath away and my hands immediately went numb, but I was too excited to care.  The waves were crashing against the rocky island violently and I remember thinking “is this safe?” but no matter how close the waves brought us to they always pulled us safely back as they retreated.  It was so surreal to be surrounded by thousands of bobbing sea lion heads coming right up to you.  They were even showing off for the camera

We went back to the hotel, picked up the laundry, and showered for dinner.  We ate dinner at that $1.75 hole=in-the-wall where we ate at a few days prior, but dinner was not as impressive.  They didn’t have anything on the menu, so we all ended up eating the same thing.

Mom had seen a Starbuck earlier and had been nagging us for an “American” cup of coffee ever since, so we decided to shut her up and take her.  I must admit it was delicious.  Coffee in Peru is nothing like coffee here.  It is really thick and gritty.  Starbucks did not disappoint, they even had Peruvian flavored coffee like Lucuma and Manjarblanco!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011


It’s hard to find a place in Peru to eat breakfast.  Aside from empanadas and bread, breakfast isn’t a big deal.  So when we woke up this morning wanting a meaty egg breakfast we were hard pressed to find even an egg.  Finally we found a pastry place that was willing to throw together a couple of eggs for us even though all they served usually were cakes and cookies.  We also took the opportunity to try some pastries, since we were, in fact, in a pastry shop.

The guys needed to “take Alejandro’s dad to the doctor” but they were really going to do running around in preparation for our top secret trip to Cuzco.  To keep Mom from getting suspicious I kept her preoccupied while the guys were out.  So, we walked to this salon called Annie Bells, which was in between the hotel and Alejandro’s parents’ place.  We both got a massage.  Mom’s masseuse was the actual trained masseuse and she said hers was the best massage she ever had.  However, since we wanted to get our massages at the same time and Mom got the real masseuse I ended up with the owner whose specialty was hair, NOT massaging…oh well.  For $20 for an hour I couldn’t complain too much J

The guys met us at the salon as we were finishing and told us we were going to go to the city because Alejandro needed to “run an errand for his father.” I pulled him aside and asked if he had gotten the tickets and he said that is what they were heading out to do and that they would drop Mom and me off to shop while they did it.

After the guys finished their top secret mission we drove to the port town of Callao to get information on the boat tour and swimming with the sea lions.  When we parked a Peruvian militant was patrolling the area and Alejandro tipped him to keep an eye on our car.  He said it was expected and everyone did it.  After a little searching and asking around we found the information stand for Eco Crucero.  As we were talking to the guys running the tour one of them asked me a question, but I couldn’t make out what he said, so he asked it again…I looked over at Alejandro who was laughing and he said “He said maybe you will find a man in Peru” “Oh!” I exclaimed grabbing Alejandro’s arm “I already have” I laughed.  He turned about 5 shades of red and his buddies who worked with him were laughing and punching him in the arm haha.  It made me feel good anyways :-)

We went back to Los Sauces and ate Pollo a la Brasa for dinner.  Mom loved it! Then we had Picarones for dessert.  Picarones are like a cross between a funnel cake and a donut…delicious!

Monday, May 23, 2011

Back in Lima

Alejandro and I stayed at his parents’ house last night and Mom and Al had spent the night back at B3 in Barranco, 30 min away.  When we woke up, we decided we needed to find Mom and Al a hotel closer to the house.  So we went on a hunt and found the Sumaq Inn…a brand spankin’ new hotel with nice new beds and a tub!

We changed more money in Barranco, since we had been frantically combining soles and begging artisans and vendors to take dollars for 2 days now.

Walking back to the car from the bank, we ran into this funny dog who was running down the sidewalk and barking every 5 seconds as if to say “Dog coming through!” We bought him some food at a restaurant and he was in heaven.  He was so sweet.

We ate dinner at an awesome hole-in-the-wall down the street from Alejandro’s parents’ house in Los Sauces which cost us $1.75 per person.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Las Day at the Oasis

We woke up and went next door to eat breakfast at a hole-in-the-wall with expensive coffee (17 soles which is nearly 6 dollars a cup).  This place had permanent markers on the table and you could write or draw on the wall while you waited for your meal, so I left our mark. Go Grupo Loco! 

We tried to find a bus back to Lima, but they were booked until 3:00 pm so we walked around and shopped some more, at lunch, I got another braid put in my hair for $3.50, and Mom and Al went out on the paddleboat in the Oasis. 

We ran into some students who were interviewing tourists for school, but the questions that they had “translated” into English made no sense.  They told Alejandro in Spanish, but he even had trouble understanding them lol.  I think we eventually figured out and answered all their questions though and after we figured out what they were trying to ask they kept coming back to us and asking us to translate for others. 

Al was going downstairs when the woman at the front desk asked how many people were staying in our room and he told her 4.  When all of us went downstairs to check out, the manager stormed up to the front desk and she and Alejandro began having an extremely heated confrontation.  I just stood there shocked and wondering what the problem could be.  After she stormed off still trying to get the last word in, I asked Alejandro what was going on.  He informed me that she was LIVID because according to her we were trying to “mock” her by checking out of the second room and staying in one room instead of two.  I couldn’t believe it! We had checked out of the other room and kept the other because we thought we were going to be leaving last night.  We just wanted a place to shower before we got on the bus.  We only stayed in one room (which had 3 beds by the way) because we decided to stay another day at the last minute! Alejandro proceeded to tell her that we weren’t in any way trying to “mock” her and that if there was a per person charge we would be happy to pay it, but that wasn’t good enough for her apparently.  She made it a point to try to humiliate us.  So to that I say…DON’T stay at Hotel Suiza at the Huacachina Oasis…stay at the Hotel on the other end of the Oasis or the “Expensive” $75 hotel in between, I was told this lady has a reputation and the only reason we were taken there is because the other hotels were booked.

Anyways, enough of my ranting.  We grabbed a taxi to the bus station and hopped on Cruz del Sur, another double-decker bus, 4 hours back to Lima.  This time dinner was half of the same ham and cheese sandwich and an orange “woo hoo!” By the time we reached Lima at 7:30 pm we were starving.  We met Alejandro’s parents, his sister Rosa, and his niece Betty at the Chifa (Peruvian/Chinese) restaurant across the street from their house for dinner. Dinner was $40.00 or $5.00 each and we ate like kings!

We gave Alejandro’s family the gifts we had brought them, then went to bed J

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Huacachina Oasis

When we woke up, got ready, had breakfast, and walked outside it was like we had stepped into paradise! Huge sand dunes surrounded this tropical oasis and all you could see was rolling hills of sand for miles and miles.  Mom and Al checked out of their hotel room, but we kept ours so we could all shower after sandboarding before we caught a bus back to Lima that evening.

We went for a dune buggy ride.  Actually, it's an injustice to call this a ride, I can't think of a word to describe what this was.  We thought catching a little air on a bumpy patch of sand would be the highlight of the trip, imagine our shock and shear terror when we crested the top of that first hill and were staring down 80 degrees into the valley of death.  You know those couple of seconds before the first drop on a roller coaster where the last thought that runs through your mind is "Oh shit! What possessed me to do this?" Well multiply that times 1,000,000 because at that point we didn't know if our driver was aware that certain death was lurking over the top of that hill.  We look over at him and he just smiled as we plummeted toward our sandy doom.  We were going so fast and at such a steep incline that I swear we weren't even touching the ground most of the way down! It was crazy! It was such a highlight of the trip that I told Alejandro I want to do it every time we go to Peru lol

After about 5 of these death drops the buggy stops and he tells us we are going to sandboard down this hill.  "Who wants to go first?" he asks.  I volunteer.  Why not? I've already cheated death 5 times today...what's one more? As I walk to the crest of the hill and look down I start having second thoughts.  But before I know it I am laying on my stomach on this board and the only thing between me and the drop is the guide kneeling in front of me.  He starts rattling off instructions very fast in Spanish and Alejandro is trying to relay them to me, but all I hear is "something, something, dig your feet in to slow down, something, something." "Wait" I say "I don't know about this, what was that part about..." "Don't worry, Don't worry, Not important" he says, and he swiftly steps away and I'm off.  I make it to the bottom victorious and completely denying my previous fear and instructing Mom, who is next, not to dig her feet into the sand and to just go down full blast! One by one the group comes flying down each exclaiming "THAT WAS AWESOME!" We went down a few more and then our guide took us to see another oasis that had dried up.  He said the said part is that the water is only a couple inches underground, but they don't have the money or resources to dig it up.  We make our way in the dune buggy back to the Huacachina Oasis.

I told you all you could see was sand :-)

Just to give you a little perspective of the steepness

We didn't have time to go back to the hotel to shower before our wine tasting tour at one of Peru's largest vineyards, Bodegas Vista Allegre, so Alejandro asked the owners of the small convenience store that gave us the dune buggy ride if we could rinse off in their not-so-private "showers" in the back.  After our very interesting wine and pisco tour and tasting we went to a smaller winery called El Catador.  It was interesting to see the difference in technique between the large winery and the small, local one.  I had a little too much alcohol for my new smaller stomach to handle and I got really sick at El Catador.  So sick that I ended up in the bathroom hugging the toilet

Next, we went to la casa de Rosalia (original Tejas inventor).  Tejas are a sweet delicious combination of manjar blanco, macadamia nuts, and a prune rolled into a log and dipped in white chocolate or rolled in fondant.  She is a celebrity in Peru and has pictures posted throughout her little shop with Miss America, famous soccer players, and even Pope John Paul II.  Rosalia has since passed away, but her daughter, pictured here, still carries on her mother's legacy.

After we grabbed a bite to eat for dinner I got my hair wrapped for $5.00 by a 23 year old girl from Uraguay who was backpacking through South America with her boyfriend. Other vagabonds were putting on a show nearby juggling fire, singing, dancing, and carrying on.  It was actually quite freezing at night.  I did not pack accordingly to be able to stay out too long in the cold.  So, after gritting my chattering teeth and baring it for my hair braid, I retired for the night to get some sleep before another busy day.