After years of planning, my sabbatical has finally arrived. Over the next four months, I will travel to Peru, Bolivia, Ireland, Kyrgyzstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia, (a brief stop in Dubai), Brazil, Argentina and a quick wine trip to Uruguay.
My first stop is Iquitos (Seattle to LA to Lima to Iquitos), which is the gateway to the northern Peruvian Amazon. Iquitos is the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road. There are only two ways in: you take a plane or you take a boat. I would be flying in via Lima.
The trip to Iquitos was largely uneventful, although there was one disappointment. I was supposed to fly the Dreamliner from LA to Lima, but for some reason the plane we flew was not the Dreamliner. Big bummer since I have never been on the Dreamliner and was super stoked to fly on the plane.
No matter, I arrived in Lima on time and safely and that’s really what counts. Once in Lima, I was to connect to a flight to Iquitos, but first I had to pick up my checked bag (it arrived!), go through customs and then here’s the weird part … I had to exit the terminal and then re-enter as if I had no connecting flight. Big problem here. I only had 40 minutes between the time I picked up my bag and boarding and the lines in the Lima domestic departure area were massive. (If you have ever been to Lima, you know that the check in area is a real shit show.). Anyway, I found a very helpful LATAM agent who took me to the front of the line, got me and my bag checked in. Then I had to go through security all over again. Although the lines were massive, the lines moved pretty quickly and I got to the boarding area. Only problem, for some reason the gate changed between the time I checked in 30 minutes before and the time I arrived at the gate. I literally had to run to the new boarding area and arrived just as my plane was boarding.
One on the very tightly packed plane (my knees were knocking up against the seat in front of me), I ended up sitting with very nice couple from Lima who were taking their entire family to the Amazon Rainforest Lodge (sons, daughters, husbands, wives and grandkids). “Maria” is a painter and as it turns out, had travelled all over the world. Needless to say Maria and I chatted for the entire 1 hour and 25 minute flight.
Once we landed, we deplaned on the tarmac and that is when the oppressive Amazon heat and humidity hit me full force. Yikes. It was brutal! The open air terminal offered no respite either, and once I found my bag and driver I was hoping for an A/C car. No luck. Nevertheless, the driver who would take me to Casa Morey Hotel rolled all with windows down and that helped with the sweltering heat. That is until I realized I might choke to death on the drive. Mototaxis (motorcycles with a carriage for transporting peeps) that would never pass an emissions inspection weaved in and out of traffic and of course the perennial motorcycles with an entire family on board (no helmets) cut in front of our car at almost every traffic light. The fumes from the traffic were brutal. I can’t imagine the amount of green house gas emissions I breathed in on that trip.
Iquitos, as I quickly learned (and quite frankly had already been warned about) is not a place where you want to spend a lot of time. Lots of skinny dogs running (and humping) all over the place. Horns honking, dug up roads, pot holes galore, men trying to sell me tours to the Amazon, and oh yeah … did I mention the heat and humidity? Yowza.
Anyway, I arrived at Casa Morey after about a 20 minute drive. Casa Morey is a colonial mansion built in1913 that has been converted into a small boutique hotel. I was quickly checked in and once in my room, I pulled out the clothing and stuff I was going to need for my 6 days in the Amazon, took a nap, found some food and then took another nap.
When I woke up from my second nap, I got ready to go to this cool little restaurant in the middle of the River Maranon (a tributary of the Amazon) to watch the sun set. Unfortunately, a thundershower and reservation “confusion” nixed those plans.
Now this restaurant, al Frio e al Fuego (“Cold and Hot”) is built on stilts, has a swimming pool, bar and two story restaurant. In order to get there, you take a little boat (with armed guard – seriously) to the restaurant. The reviews on TripAdvisor were good, so I made a reservation for 5 p.m. and set off about 4:45.
I grabbed a mototaxi for the 5 minute drive to the dock, but by then it had started to rain. The hysterical part of the trip (beside the bone jarring pot holes), was the fact that half way through ride, the driver stopped and put a sheet of plastic across the front of the motorbike to act as a windshield. No idea how he could see, but he got me there safely.
Once at the entry to the dock, I climbed down a flight of stairs, got on a boat that was just arriving and reached the restaurant in about 10 minutes. Now the bad part. Once there, the restaurant insisted I did not have a reservation. (Apparently, the written email reservation I handed to them wasn’t sufficient….). Unfortunately, no one spoke English and my Spanish sucks so I never understood why they would not seat me. They kept motioning to the bar, but I kept pointing to my reservation upstairs (with the view). After 20 minutes, I gave up and caught the next boat back. I didn’t run into a single tourist at the restaurant and got the distinct impression they simply did not want me there. Complete waste of an hour.
So after the Cold and Hot debacle, I ended up going back to my hotel and found a little café down the street, ate and called it a day. I was exhausted and had to be up early since the folks at the Tahuayo Lodge were picking me up at 11:00 to take me on a 4 ½ boat trip up the Amazon River to the lodge which sits in the Pacaya-Samaria region of the upper Amazon. Yay!! Sloths and monkeys (ugh bugs and snakes) here I come!