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A visit to Iquitos was a chance for me to ´dip my toes´ in Rio Amazonas, feel the jungle heat and connect with some locals. Since Iquitos is the world´s largest city which is unconnected to others by road, the only ways in or out are by boat or plane – the latter taking an inordinate amount of time. That meant that a journey via Lima was necessary in order to connect with a flight, which gave me a chance to spend some time in the capital. I enjoyed my time in Lima, Iquitos and Tamshiyacu in the company of my Brazilian friend, Sergio.
During the bus journey from Huaraz to the coast, the road descends 3,000 metres (9,842 feet), passing from the grasslands of the high planes, through barren rocky terrain with cacti to reach the dusty coastline – crossing a variety of landscapes and temperature in a matter of hours. The climate in Lima is cool and often hazy / misty because of the cooling effect of the cold ocean currents from the south of the continent.
The affluent Lima district of Miraflores was a nice enough place to relax after a lot of time in the much higher altitudes of Huaraz and the Cordillera Blanca. However, passing some days wandering around Miraflores and the old centre of the city was relatively uneventful since the city is not blessed with that many attractions to keep a tourist occupied for long.
In Perú, and particularly its coastal towns such as Lima, there are plenty of opportunities to sample one of the national dishes, cerviche. This contains raw fish (and sometimes shellfish too) marinated in lemon juice and onion. Often the plate also contains some sweet potato. It is very tasty, though I think it would be better if the lemon marinate was drained off before serving, as when it is swimming in this it can be overly acidic.
|Cerviche - One of Perú´s National Dishes|
Iquitos; what a different place to those in Perú I had previously visited – a hot and sticky jungle environment rather than a mountain or coastal one. Iquitos has the chaotic feel that one associates with hot cities – people hustling and mototaxis (like motorised rickshaws) everywhere. In fact, it seems that in whichever direction you turn there is at least one (and often three or four) mototaxis speeding in your direction, which becomes an irritation after a few days.
|Two of the Mototaxis Ubiquitous in Iquitos|
(View Through the (Inevitably) Cracked Windscreen of that Decrepit Bus)
In Iquitos there are plenty of opportunities to savour food from the local rivers – particularly if one goes to markets like the one at Puerto Nanay on the Rio Nanay, which Sergio and I visited. There are many types of fish on the barbeques as well as Lagarto (alligator / caiman) which is delicious. Despite Sergio´s offer of a cash reward, I was not brave enough to try to eat the huge maggots / larvae that are crawling around alive in boxes, before being skewered alive and cooked on the barbeque. We made the journey from Puerto Nanay back to the city centre in the most decrepit bus I have ever been on.
|Sergio Enjoying Lagarto|
|Boats in Puerto Nanay Near to Iquitos|
There are many agencies offering jungle tours where one stays in a ´jungle lodge´, with the trip including a chance to meet some ´tribal people´ - the ones who wear traditional dress for the tourists, then when that is done pop around the corner to put their jeans and t-shirt back on and call their friend on their mobile phone. Sergio and I were wise to this and were also aware that the only way to meet traditional jungle communities would be to have special contacts and spend days or weeks travelling by boat and on foot to very remote regions of the jungle. So we sought a community smaller than Iquitos which while ´modern´ is in fact a truer representation of how most people live in the Amazonas in the 21st century. We chose the small town of Tamshiyacu.
|Tim Waiting by the Boat Colectivo to Tamshiyacu|
We travelled by boat colectivo from Iquitos about 1 ½ hours up river to Tamshiyacu which is on the banks of Rio Amazonas, where seemingly every evening one can see a spectacular sunset view across the river. Away from the one or two blocks surrounding the town square (in ´suburban Tamshiyacu´), the housing is very basic – just an (often insecure looking) wooden frame with planks nailed to it to create walls. I´m not sure that the housing standard is always due to lack of funds as there may be a strong dose of the South American ´that´s good enough´ philosophy present. Evidence of this is the strange sight of a tumbledown wooden house with a satellite dish on one of the walls, or the noise of a substantial sound system inside (maybe costing the same as the wood to build the house).
|One of the Glorious Sunsets Across Rio Amazonas at Tamshiyacu|
|Housing in ´Suburban´ Tamshiyacu|
The days in Tamshiyacu are long and slow. It seems like the heat and humidity even find their way into your watch, with the soupy air retarding the progression of the hands of the timepiece. Hours are passed drinking a lot of water and snoozing. It is not uncommon to enter a shop to find that the owner has nodded off. When the rain comes, it does so in dramatic fashion with drops like pellets.