The Machete

So let me tell you about the machete.  You may have forgotten, but on my last day i Iquitos, Keely bought a machete and I offered to bring it back to Canada so she wouldn’t have to carry it across South America for another 4 months.

I was a bit worried.  Like, at our last dinner together I made everyone come up with a story as to why I had it.  Of course, they all thought my story was too complicated and that I should tell a modified version of the truth — I had been in the Amazon on holiday and bought it as a souvenir.  All true, except it was my friend’s and she had bought it as a present for her dad.

Anyways, I’m freaking out.  I declared it at the airport in Iquitos to Lima, and again at the airport in Lima.  When we were handed the customs forms before arriving in Toronto I had to check the ‘I’m bringing a weapon into the country’ box, which I’d never done before.

Usually I call my parents when I get off the plane so they can leave my house to pick me up.  I only live about 15 minutes from the airport, so that’s usually sufficient warning.  But this time I called, and had to say I had no idea how long customs would take.  I was expecting to have to sit down and talk to someone, or at the very least go up to a booth.

Instead I was put in the fast track lane, and arrive dat a customs guard just standing in the middle of the hallway (not in any of the customs booths).  He looked at my declaration, and asked what kind of weapon I brought.  I said machete, and started on my story and he just told me to go ahead.  Not believing this is real, I actually asked him to confirm I didn’t need to talk to anyone else.  With a seemingly careless wave, he motioned for me to continue to baggage pickup.  And so I left the customs area. Who was I to argue?

That was not what I was expecting in the slightest!  I called my parents to pick me up, got my bags, and lined up to leave the baggage claim and truly enter Canada.

There were two customs guards barely glancing at the stamped declaration forms.  I handed mine over, waited a few seconds, and then started to move forward.  The two guys had been chatting the whole time, and it wasn’t until I was about 5 steps away from them that they realized my card was different from the rest.  One guy called for me to come back, so I did (reluctantly), and they asked what weapon I brought.  Did I bring a gun?  Nope.  I brought a machete.  A what?  One guy had no idea what I was referring to, so the other guy had to explain that it was a large knife. Why’d I bring a machete here?  Well, you see, I spent a week in the Amazon and brought this back as a souvenir. (Preparing my story was key.  If I hadn’t prepared I would have been flustered, and that would have been a bad scene).  But I also was just amused with these guys, as they should have caught me sooner than they did.

Anyways, they looked at each other, shrugged, then told me to go on through.  And so that’s how I brought a machete into Canada.  It stayed in our guest room for the remaining 4 months of Keely’s trip, and then was thoughtfully gifted to her dad.  He shows it to me overtime I visit.

We couldn’t find a sheath in Peru (apparently they don’t use those there), but her dad was able to get a custom built one, so it didn’t have to stay wrapped in an orange towel forever.

It looks pretty great now.  But I still have to pinch myself sometimes, when I remember that I went to the Amazon and brought a machete home.

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Lima

I departed Iquitos and the gang early this morning to catch my flight to Lima.  They’d be flying to Lima tomorrow, but since my flight home left at midnight, I needed to spend half a day in Lima to make it on time.

I had a great view of the Amazon during the flight – I missed it while napping on my way in.

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One of the best decisions I made was to get a hostel.  I paid for a bed, even though I wasn’t going to stay overnight, so I wouldn’t have to carry my stuff all day, and would have a place to relax.  Seriously, well worth the few dollars it cost.

Unsurprisingly, I spent my day shopping.  They have a gorgeous three-story outdoor mall and I loved it immensely. But I also went to the local markets to find handcrafted gifts.  In fact, I bought so much stuff that I was forced to get a huge duffel bag to fit all my goods in.  But it was mostly packed with handmade alpaca blankets for friends and family so I didn’t feel too bad about the amount of stuff I purchased.

The mall is actually located on a cliff, and when it’s not too windy you can parasail of it.  I was done with being adventurous, but it was fun to see people basically flying off the cliff.

And that was it! I packed all my new stuff, went to the airport, and slept on a plane for 9 hours. And then I was home, and ready to relive my adventures from a safe distance.

Iquitos

We fit a lot into my last day together in Iquitos.  We head to the floating marketplace first, though it technically is only floating in the rainy season.  In fact, you see the houses on the  water? They’re made to float, so they are still livable in the rainy season.

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Next up was the Belen Market, that we had checked out on our first day, because my dear friend Keely wanted to buy a machete like Josais.  And I had offered to bring it home with me.

After recruiting a stall owner to help us find a good one (machete) and towels to wrap it in so it didn’t rip through my bag, it was high time for a rest.  We changed it up this time though, and chilled in a cafe on the main strip (with internet!) instead of heading back to the hostel.

And then Keely and I had a little adventure of our own.  There’s a manatee rehabilitation centre in Iquitos, and we thought we’d check it out. And there were more than manatees!  There were turtles, eels, monkeys and even an otter that was being rehabilitated.  It was an perfect end to our adventure together.

 

The Amazon, Day 4

Today was our final day in the Amazon!  Our time here both flew by and lasted a lifetime.

We started our day with a boat ride, hike, and a climb.  There’s a village near this area of the jungle that receives grants to care for the upkeep of this area.  One of the things they do is take care of a watch tower that provides a birds up view of this patch of jungle/swamp.  I won’t discuss the tarantulas hanging out just about the ladder you have to climb to get up there.  During our hike we can across more creatures, including a whole log full of fire ants.

There were fun moments too.  Josais found a water tree, in which there is actually fresh water inside the branches. We found a giant tree to get the classic group photo, and then had to balance on a small branch to cross a stream.  I think Keely accurately describes our reactions with her face.  Surprisingly, I did not fall in (as I, and everyone else, expected me to).

We went through the small village on our way back to camp.  It was a bit weird to be walking on cement in the jungle, but it was a lot easier, so there were no complaints from me.

We had a couple hours to relax, and then we were on our way back.  But Josais surprised us with one last stop about half way to town. I’m not quite sure what it was — a mix of rehabilitation centre and zoo? — but they had a pool full of piranhas that you could feed, and a whole pond full of giant caiman.  If these guys wanted to kill you, you’d be dead in an second.

And then suddenly we were back in Iquitos. I had one more day with the gang here, and then I was flying back to Lime and then home.

 

The Amazon, Day 3

Day 3 in the Amazon started with an early morning hike, in which Josias taught us about the various plant life in the jungle.  He also gathered all the materials he would need to create a backpack.  We were going to be moving to another part of the jungle today, and so he would be using this backpack to carry all our supplies.

As a crafter, you can be assured that I was very interested in this process. He used to put his kid in one of these when they went on walks. They are sturdy little bags.

From here we took off to the jungle. Our camp right now was surrounded by jungle but wasn’t actually in it. The hut closest in the pic is the hammock hut, and then the ones in the back are our cabins. You’re surrounded by jungle, but you don’t feel like you are in the jungle.

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You feel safe.  Like I was walking around in flip flops.

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But for one night, we were going to actually sleep in the jungle.  And so off we went to our new site.

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Yep, this is where I was going to sleep.  Literally in the middle of the jungle, with only mesh mosquito netting keeping us away from … well everything else.

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We dropped our bags off, made some dinner, had a small rest and then got ready for a night hike.  Or, well, swamp exploration.  We jumped in a small boat, and explored a swamp in the pitch black in the middle of the Amazon.

Captured on September 23,  2015, in AMAZON, PERU. Photo: Andrew Gosine

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About 10 minutes into our boat ride, Josias jumps out and tells us to wait.  What does he come back with? A baby caiman (think small alligator).  What does he want us to do?  Hold it.

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I’d say the rest of the ride/walk back to the camp was uneventful, but c’mon, I was in the Amazon.  Here’s a few of the critters we saw on the way back.

After what was deemed an appropriate amount of time exploring (I would have been happy with no exploring time during the night), we came back and got our individual mosquito nets up.  Again, I purposefully put myself in the middle of the group.

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You’d think after a long day you’d be exhausted.  That could be true, but doesn’t mean you’re going to sleep well when all you hear are various croaks and chirps around you.

What a day.

 

The Amazon, Day 2

On our second day in the Amazon, we woke up at the crack of dawn in order to see pink and grey dolphins and watch the sun rise.  It was worth the early wake up.

After some breakfast we got back on the boat and went piranha fishing … and swimming! We only stayed in the water for the amount of time it took to take the picture, but we literally went fishing for piranha then went swimming in the same water. Josais said there were only small piranhas here so we’d be fine.  (Also, didn’t think I’d ever say this, but piranha is pretty delicious).

From piranha fishing we went hiking.  The great thing about Josais is that he is so comfortable in the jungle.  Some guides only stick to the path, but he grew up in the jungle, so was willing to take us further in order to see more. Actually, that’s both a good thing and a bad thing, for someone not quite comfortable outside.

This hike was really cool. He weaved us all headbands from palm trees, let us swing from a vine, and showed us the best way to make as much noise as possible.  You’ll see a really big tree below; that’s called a telephone tree.  If you hit the bottom of the tree with a large stick it produces an echo that will carry through the jungle to the neighbouring villages.  This worked like morse codes, and was how they announced events such as weddings and funerals.

It was awesome.

And Andrew lovingly stayed up to get a picture of the camp at night, so we didn’t have to. It really was spectacular place.

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The Amazon, Day 1

Before we get any further, let me just note that most of the photos in the Amazon were not taken by me. If it’s of a multi-legged creature, I can tell you with absolute certainty that I did not take it.  But Keely, Marilyn & Andrew kindly shared their photos with me, so you can get a clear guide of what life in the jungle really is like.

Okay, back to my adventure.

Today we went to the Amazon. Our guide Josais is the best jungle guide ever, seriously. He took us out for breakfast, and then back to the Belen market to buy ingredients for ceviche. Then we got in a cab, drove to another market, walked to the water and jumped in a boat. The perfect adventurous start.

And a short boat ride later and we were there.  We arrived during the low season so there were wooden planks we had to climb to get from the boat to the camp.  In high season, the boat can go all the way.  You will see a tree below, half white half brown —  in high season, the water goes all the way up to the white on the tree.

As we got settled Josais made us some ceviche, and we figured out the daily routine.  We had an hour for breakfast, then some kind of activity, and we’d be back at camp for lunch.  It was too hot out to do anything right after lunch, so we’d have a few hours to hang out (literally, there’s a room full of hammocks), and then we’d go back out for some adventure in the afternoon.

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After the heat broke, we went to a place that will be hard to top: Monkey Island!  This is a rehabilitation centre for monkeys and other animals, and was just really amazing to be.  I’ve discovered I don’t really like monkeys crawling all over me (was anyone really surprised?) but it was fun to see them interacting with each other.

Josiah told us how his mom used to work in a nursery in his village (he grew up in the jungle), and they had a spider monkey who would make sure all the cradles were gently rocking at all times.

Oh, and I also held a sloth.

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All the views from Monkey Island were phenomenal.  Animals + views = lets spend every day here. It was pretty hard to convince Keely and Marilyn to depart; the monkeys loved them!

On our way back to camp, we did some fishing, and then had a few hours at camp before preparing for a night hike.

I will save you from having to experience that hike.  Tarantulas, toads, mosquitos and lots of other multi-legged creatures appeared.  I was very good at making sure I was never at the back of the line.

 

Iquitos

Then I decided to do something a little bit crazy. My dear friend Keely decided to go on a 6-month journey through South America with her friend Marilyn.  And I decided to join them in the Amazon.  For anyone who knows me, I dislike being outside, hate any kind of insect and spider, so I was planning to be really uncomfortable for my week in Peri.

The thing is though, I’ve wanted to go to the Amazon since I was a little kid and read City of Beasts by Isabel Allende. And if I wasn’t going to go when I had friends going, then I’d never go.

I flew overnight to Lima, met the group at the airport (Keely, Marilyn, and Marilyn’s friend Andrew who was going to join them for the 4 remaining months) and then we flew to the town of Iquitos together.

Iquitos is a cool place.  It’s the world’s largest city that cannot be reached by road.  You can only reach it by plane or by water. After we got settled at the hostel, one of their guides offered to take us to a breakfast place.  And then we ended up at the towns biggest market, the Belen market.  You can buy literally anything here, but it’s also pickpocket heaven.

We also found a few parades to see.  Apparently they have parades most days here.

And then we were back at the hostel, preparing for 4 days in the Amazon. I really never thought I’d ever utter those words.