So there I was, flying over the Peruvian Amazon.
At the time, I think I was most impressed that the Peruvians had been able to put their plane back together after it crashed in the Andes with that rugby team aboard, maybe you saw the movie…
Seriously though, I saw duct tape on the wing and when they brought peanuts they also handed out parachutes.
In 2009 I went to Peru with my friend Drew. Drew and I have been through a lot together. As high school seniors, we had to share a child’s twin bed because we were scared that the giant German exchange student sleeping in the other bed would force us to be the little spoon if he caught one of us alone. We also got a horrible parasite in Jordan together during our first summer at college. More to follow on that. Jordan, not the parasite.
Back to the story, please stop distracting me.
So Drew and I were aboard this aircraft that was likely constructed sometime during the Korean War, and we were very aware of our tenuous grip on mortality. To distract ourselves, we struck up a conversation with the man across the aisle from us. As it turns out, this man was a professor of ethno-botany, headed deep into the Amazon to work with native tribes in order to help them protect their ancestral lands, very Indiana Jones…sans Nazis. Our plan was to get aboard an Amazon freighter and Huck Finn our way up to the Brazilian border. Significantly less noble, I’m aware. The professor, whose name escapes me…should have started this blog in 2009, acknowledged our half-baked plan, and then told us about a company he had worked with that would provide us with a guide and set us loose in the jungle to chase animals and do whatever it is we felt like doing. I am not sure how Professor X knew that he was talking to Bear Grylls‘ two biggest fans in the entire world, but he had us at “chase animals.” He offered to take us to the company’s office and to tell them we were his graduate students in order to get us a discount. We agreed.
So excited were we at our good fortune that we barely noticed the plane’s divebomber-esque approach to the runway, which was surrounded by burned and mangled aircraft and looked like an LZ that the Seabees had blasted out of the jungle in Vietnam. We did, however, notice the 3 firetrucks parked at the end of the runway, lights already flashing…waiting for our airplane. If you’re at an airport where airplane fires are so common that the firetrucks don’t bother leaving the runway or turning their lights off, you should probably worry. Welcome to Iquitos, the largest city in the world unreachable by road.
We caught the first bastard child of a motorcycle/rickshaw that we could grab and went directly to the offices of Amazonia Adventures. Offices may be an overstatement. We talked to a woman at a desk down at the docks. By about midnight we’d haggled our way down to $400 a piece for a boat ride into the Peruvian Amazon, beds, a guide, and food for a week. They only took cash, surprise. So we went to the ATM, where I made an interesting discovery. My ATM pin had changed. After numerous failed attempts to access our meager trip fund, we were left with two options: selling our bodies or convincing the guides to take us for free.
All the good hooking corners were already taken, so we moto-rickshaw’ed our way back to the docks to beg Amazonia Adventures to take us into the jungle on good faith. We sounded like desperate crackheads trying to score, “No we swear, we HAVE the money, we just don’t have it right NOW!” Either they believed us, or they pitied us, but the next morning we were on a boat, motoring 100 miles into the heart of the Amazon. At this point I was fairly sure that someone in Lima had purchased themselves a new four-wheeler on my debit card, but that could wait, destiny could not!
After hours of cruising through the setting for a South American Joseph Conrad novel, our jungle base camp came into view. Few moments in life truly exceed our wildest expectations, but this was one of those moments. It was like Swiss Family Robinson! If you’ve seen the classic Disney version (we watch it regularly) we were pretty sure there was going to be an ostrich race and possibly a battle with pirates.
Our week in the jungle was glorious, and I’ll tell you all about it later, but right now I want to focus on the time we spent the night in the jungle with Batman.
I mentioned Bear Grylls earlier. It’s about to become relevant.
When we arrived at the stilt houses that comprised Amazonia Adventure’s jungle station we met our guide, Edson. Other people were meeting their guides at the same time and we could hear them all begging their guides to take them bird watching, or frog licking, or whatever. When Edson asked us what we would like to do, I think he was a little taken aback. “We want to survive,” we responded in unison. He looked even more shocked when Drew said, “Just take us into the jungle and let’s go nuts.” He promised to look into the possibility.
By the end of the week, we’d seen some pretty amazing things, but nothing that required our Bear Grylls skills. Alliteration. We asked Edson about our request to “survive”, and his reply was like music to our ears…ominous music.
“Be at the boat at dawn. Batman will be waiting.”
To be continued…