Machu Picchu!! The Poor Man’s Adventure Trek.

As you might have already guessed, I enjoy the wilder side of things… and so when it came to visiting Machu Picchu I was on the search to find a more “exotic” route to take. Rather than the much traveled and quite pricey (but phenomenal and classic) Inca Trail, I booked the more economical Inca Jungle Trek. What not everyone knows is that there are actually two trails traveled by the Incas to get to Machu Picchu, well technically one wasn’t traveled by the “Inca” because Incas were actually just the royalty or ruling class. The commonly known trail is the route the royalty took to reach Machu Picchu, but the common people or Quechua people took a route through the Andean jungle. This isn’t a beautifully crafted stone walkway like the images conjured by the mention of the Inca Trail, it’s a winding overgrown footpath through the thick of the jungle. To go on this wild adventure with a tour company, there are usually 3 and 4 day options offered, but to do it as cheap as possible yet still have enough time to explore I chose a 5 day plan that was all walking and buses… rather than enjoying the comfort of taking the train. The first day consisted of a thrilling and slightly terrifying mountain bike ride down from a peak in the Andes into the jungle below, with the option to go whitewater rafting in the valley for an extra $30. The second day was a 6-8 hour hike straight up and over a mountain then ending the day in a natural hot springs. The next morning there was another $30 option to go zip-lining and then take a car to the town of Hydro Electrica, if you don’t go with that option you do save 30 bucks… but you have a 4 hour hike bright and early to get to Hydro Electrica in time to meet up with the zip-lining crew. After having lunch together at Hydro Electrica, everyone does the 3 hour hike along the train tracks to the town located below Machu Picchu, Aguas Calientes (or as it is now being called… Machu Picchu Pueblo). The next morning at 5am pretty much the entire town begins the 2,000-step climb to the top. Once at Machu Picchu, halfway through the day most people doing the jungle trek have to leave and hike the 3 hours back to Hydro Electrica in order to catch their 3pm bus to Cusco, the lucky ones take the train that night. I didn’t want to sacrifice a second of sunshine at the top, and I could barely walk after 4 days of hiking nonstop, so I spent one extra night in Aguas Calientes and slept in before my 3 hour hike to catch my 6 hour bus back to Cusco. I went on this incredible trip my last week in Peru with the last of my funds… and so I opted for the most basic plan, which was mountain biking, hiking, hot springs, and a visit to Machu Picchu!! The company I used was called Aita Peru, the woman running it was amazing and thorough… tailoring the trip to the individual needs of every person (I highly recommend them as I shopped around a lot beforehand and was so happy with my decision). I couldn’t have asked for a more adventurous, inspiring, and motivating end to my journey through Peru.

The bike ride was by far the most adrenaline-junkie part of the trek. We got all geared up and then went barreling down a mountain road for two and a half hours. My heart would feel like it was going to explode every time I was passed by a bus or construction vehicle while making a hairline turn on one of the many switch backs. Starting up at 4,000 m above sea level where I had wished I put another layer on under the odd “biker” jacket we were supplied with, we ended the ride in the valley surrounded by lush jungle and I couldn’t wait to strip down to my tank top. The most amazing part for me (being more of a naturalist than a crazy thrill chaser), was the incredible change in foliage over the 2.5 hour ride… and being able to see the way the plants have adapted to a completely different environment all on the same mountain!

All geared up and getting instructions on how NOT to die...

All geared up and getting instructions on how to NOT die…

The following day we set out on the toughest hike, up and over a mountain. During the hike we stopped at the Monkey House, which was a working coffee plantation where tours can stop for a break and learn about cacao, coffee, and coca. We marched on after that delightful break, over rickety bridges, back and forth along insanely narrow switchbacks, and ended in the hot springs!

Our guide Junior giving us a lesson on jungle crops.

Our guide Junior giving us a lesson on jungle crops.

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Yucca, fresh coffee beans, jungle liquors, cacao beans, and purple corn!

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Beautiful Valley!

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That silver bunch of buildings by my elbow… yeah I came from somewhere near there that morning. BAMF-status!

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My companions for those glorious 5 days.

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You see that red speck in the center of the photo?? That’s a person…

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Rickety Bridges… not for the weak of heart!

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Nothing like a bucket pulley over a raging river.

The third day only two of us opted out of zip-lining in the morning, and so we were each other’s hiking buddies for the first 4 hours of the day. Our guide stayed with the other six and drew us a crude map that looked like something you would follow to get to Narnia… “You go down this ladder, around the mountain, over this bridge… there will be a guard then blink twice say my name and you’ll be there”… ok not quite that weird but pretty close. It’s a shame the other 6 people got to take a car for this section of the trip because that 4 hour hike was truly beautiful! After lunching all together, we finished the day with a 3 hour walk along the train tracks to finally reach the town of Aguas Calientes.

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Gorgeous bridge in the valley surrounded by awe-inspiring mountains.

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Beautiful waterfalls showered the mountainsides.

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This is the first time my friend and I came across another hiker during those 4 hours…   can you spot the stranger-danger?? LOL

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Train tracks to Machu Picchu.

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As I was grumbling about the pain in my legs… getting this shot made me remember how good it is to be on foot instead of rushing past in a train.

The next morning at 5am, I pretended that every inch of my body was NOT in pain, and I jumped out of my bed like it was Christmas! I headed to the line and waited my turn at the bottom of Machu Picchu to get my ticket checked. When you look up it seems to be a sheer cliff face, and you can’t possibly imagine how anyone… let alone little asthmatic me… could get to the top. Then I did it! I hiked up those nearly vertical 2,000 steps huffing and puffing, but I made it!!

Waiting in the line at 5:30am to get let across the bridge to begin the hike up.

Waiting in the line at 5:30am to get let across the bridge to begin the hike up.

Hiking up 2,000 steps, and as the sun began to rise... it was so obvious how it was worth every bit of pain in my aching body!

Hiking up 2,000 steps, and as the sun began to rise… it was so obvious how it was worth every bit of pain in my aching body!

Beautiful steps made by the Quechua people for the Incas to reach Machu Picchu.

Beautiful steps made by the Quechua people, during the time of the Inca empire.

Finally up at the top and through the gates Machu Picchu is still clouded by the morning mist.

Finally up at the top and through the gates, Machu Picchu is still clouded by the morning mist.

Amazing doorways that have lasted the test of time.

Amazing doorways that have lasted the test of time.

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Before we went off to explore on our own, we walked around for 2 hours with a guide who explained the history of this incredible site.

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In all its splendor!

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The only building with a rounded wall… believed to be a temple of the sun.

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It is thought that this was an architectural design to keep Machu Picchu from sliding off the top of the mountain, but another theory is that they were used for agriculture… and some say these terraces were for both.

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“Don’t touch the ruins!” Im not touching… I’m thinking!

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Breathtaking!

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Machu Picchu… The Land Of #Selfies

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On top of the WORLD.

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Don’t forget me! The llamas at the Machu Picchu site are actually there to maintain the grass!

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Channeling the essence of the Picchu… actually I was fixing my hair for the pic, but meditating makes it seem like I’m making a much cooler face!

This was one of the most incredible things I have done in my life. I made memories and friends I get to keep forever by going through the amazing tour group Aita Peru, but I still had that time I need when I visit a place to sit and be with just myself. I like to say that when I travel I never “sight-see”… I commune. Machu Picchu proved to be one of those incredible places where as I stand in awe, my soul expands to connect with the land and I am forever changed… elevated and never to be the same.

Happy place! Happy face!

Happy place! Happy face!

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Travel Tip of The Day!

Nothing like waking up to the sunrise from the airport floor! I love to travel and fortunately enough for me I honestly don’t mind red-eye flights or layovers sleeping on airport seats. The way I can travel so cheaply has a lot to do with the dirt cheap flights I find that have the worst layovers possible. Not everyone feels the way I do, and often times for travelers, getting there is by far the hardest part. For all those that fear the airport floor, there are a few things I always bring that make my airport stay a bit more comfortable. When my layovers are short I try to bring nothing more than a small bag, but traveling around the world requires something more substantial. I typically pack one carry on, and the easiest is by far a small backpack. If you are a backpacker then your 10-20 liter daypack will work great. To make my comfy airport bed I bring an eye mask, ear plugs, a small sweater, another sweater I use as a pillow, a lite weight sarong just to cover the seat or floor, and a small blanket (mine is actually an airplane blanket I “collected” a while ago). A book and headphones are critical, and I always bring a change of clothes (thin fabric to save space) and my toothbrush so I can arrive in a new place not feeling like I’m covered in thousands of other people’s germs. One last thing I bring that I don’t think is on most people’s airport list is peppermint oil, rubbing some on your tummy helps with nausea on the plane not to mention it smells a lot better than stale airplane air! Before I head out I often check tripadvisor for the restaurant ratings in the international wing to make my decision of where to eat easier when I’m starving and my legs are wobbly from sitting for 7 hours. If you are ever in the Bogotá airport, Orleans- American Bistro is pretty tasty… but aside from Tabasco there is nothing there that reminds me of New Orleans, that said their chowder is incredible. They also play great movies (on mute), and awesome 90s music videos at a reasonable volume during the day… at night you might mistake it for an empty discoteca. I hope this helps make it a little easier on those that loath the overnight flight, if you really need to save some bucks go for that dirt cheap flight with terrible hours and make the best of it. Happy Traveling!!

La energìa de Cusco

My arrival in Cusco is off to an amazing cosmic beginning!!! I was bombarded by taxi drivers at the airport giving me fares between 30-15 soles… And I stuck it out like a champ and found colectivo buses which cost me .70 cents! Once I arrived in the center I got a map and asked about cheap hostels, which here in Cusco will run you 20 soles a night. I walked and walked but everything was either full or more than I wanted to pay. I was getting very far from any touristy areas and figured I would have to settle… When a gorgeous man appeared in front of me out of nowhere. He was clearly an artisan carrying a board with handmade trinkets.  “You couldn’t find a hostel”, he says as a statement rather than a question. I’m little weirded-out that he knew exactly what was going through my mind, but I know how the universe works so I smiled and told him I was still searching for something cheaper. He wants to know where I am from and I tell him the Caribbean, The Virgin Islands. To which he responds that he is from Puerto Rico!! I have yet to meet anyone other than sailers who know where my hometown is in the Caribbean, and here is a man that lives on the next island over. I felt so at home suddenly. He tells me that there is a place around the corner where he is staying called “Sol Latina” or Latin Sun, and they have backpacker beds (aka multiple bunk beds in a room) for 8 soles a night. I couldn’t believe what he was telling me, because this is less than any hostel I have come across in the 2 months I have been here in Peru, he gives me directions to the building with green balcony… which is completely unmarked. It looks like a regular home, no sign… nothing, but everything in me knows this is a gift from the universe. The door opens and inside, sure enough there is a busy hostel. Filled with true “travelers”, everyone is from some South or Central American country, the majority are artisans with their crafts traveling as a lifestyle. The air rings of Spanish spoken in so many different accents, it’s beautiful. Everyone is loud and happy, welcoming me warmly… The most beautiful Argentinean women embrace me and kiss me on the cheek. I can not believe this wonderful warm secret found me, the energy in Cusco in strong… filled with warmth and wonder.

Traveling Black

My personal belief is that we are one race, the human race, and we are all so incredibly and beautifully unique that it’s silly to try and group people into categories based on physical attributes. Physical attributes that have begun to meld and blur more and more as love defies all and every social boundary that attempts to tether it. That being said, when I am seen through other’s eyes I am a black female, and I am damn proud of that, but it doesn’t always make traveling easy… especially traveling alone. I want to share just a few things I have experienced being a black traveler, that guidebooks written for the general public are never going to cover.

When foreigners travel to new places sometimes they can face discrimination, having assumptions made about their intentions in that country or being called names like gringo or worse. I personally have not experienced much in terms of these hardships of travel, but I have been called other things that when lost in translation seem horribly derogatory. To make this clear I have to explain a little bit about the Spanish language for those not familiar with it. It is common practice in Spanish to make a word more affectionate by adding “ita/ito” to the end of the word, this is usually used to say something is small or cute. For example gato+ito = gatito for a little kitten, or “que linda es tu pelito” for how cute is your hair, the ending simply emphasizes the cuteness of something. Here in Peru I have experienced tons of catcalling, which having grown up in the Caribbean doesn’t phase me at all, but being referred to as negrita and crespita did throw me for a spin. Those words translated literally to English mean little back one and little curly one, but literal isn’t the way languages work. After discussing it with many friends here in Peru, a few of them saying that their nickname in their family is also negrita because they are the darkest of their siblings, I was able to get a better understanding of these words. In the U.S. there is something we assume when people refer to you by the color of your skin, that they are attaching to those words some discriminatory stereotype… and often times this is correct. Learning more about the Peruvian culture, I came to the beautiful understanding that there are no stereotypes attached to these words, they are said honestly with pure intent. Calling someone negrita or black girl is not a comment on anything other than the beautiful darkness of her skin tone. Once I truly understood the comments as they were meant in this culture, it was such a refreshing moment, realizing that being brown or black or having kinky hair had nothing to do with anything else other than having a beautiful physical attribute. I have since reveled in the fact that my brown skin and curly hair are so celebrated by this community!

Being a foreigner in a new place you also must get used to a certain amount of attention… especially being a black female alone, which just might be the rarest of all traveling types. That being said, I had to get used to a whole new level of attention in the more remote areas of Peru I have visited on this trip, places where they have never seen anyone… not on a TV, not in a book… with hair like mine. This was especially true in the jungle where my presence was met with the stares of every adult and the tiny hands of children in my locs when they thought I wasn’t looking. It was quite the culture shock that swiftly blossomed into a learning experience for all involved!

I can’t say that I am particularly tolerant of anyone putting their hands in my hair. I am not a petting zoo, and I did not grow my locs for 8 years for your entertainment. In the U.S. I have been in plenty situations where someone has, without asking, come up to me and touched my hair (FYI… That’s really not ok) I am not one to be confrontational and so I typically do nothing more than let them know it’s an invasion of personal space to do what they just did. Then there are people who ask to touch my hair… with almost a frightened look in their face, like they are afraid of what might jump out. These people are not interested in my hair for what it is… an extension of my vibrant energy… They want to see if some crap they heard from a friend about locs being dirty or smelly or itchy is true. I could really rant at length about the ignorant things I have dealt with in the U.S. when it comes to my hair, but this is just a little background so you as a reader can understand where I am coming from when I discuss my time in Peru.

Naturally I was looking at the situation of my hair being ogled at and touched through the lens created by personal experience, but none those scenarios were in play here. There was a genuine and honest curiosity of the complete unknown, which is something I love and is one of the main reasons I travel. I quickly became a lot more tolerant of fingers in my hair, reminding them kindly that it isn’t polite to touch someone without asking, but then allowing them to continue their exploration… which usually resulted in them calling their parents over to join them. I also got used to addressing adults who were staring in a way that made me uncomfortable, asking if they liked my hair… which always resulted in a smile and a nod… telling them it is indeed real, that my hair is curly, and no i can’t take it out and make it straight… and inviting them to touch it if they like. No my hair does not bite!

People fear what they don’t know. So know me. Know me in all my glory. Familiarize yourself with my dark brown skin, my full lips and wide grin, my curly brown hair that flows nearly to my waist. See yourself in the kindness of my face, so it’s crystal clear there is nothing to fear.

Three Tomatoes, Two Bags of Rice, and a Can of Tuna 

I recently spent 5 days camping in the Amazon, this is the tale of my culinary journey through the jungle. I was definitely not planning on having a global gourmand story come from my camping trip, if anything I was hoping to lose a few lbs after eating my way through Lima for 2 weeks, but to my surprise it would prove to be the foodie trek of a lifetime!

Disclaimer before I begin… I have so many amazing vegetarian and vegan friends I love and deeply respect, and so I would like to just take a minute to alert anyone who would be offended, that there are photos in this post of fresh uncooked wild game. If seeing this would make you feel uncomfortable, but you would still love to learn all about the delicious fresh foods I enjoyed in the jungle, message me and I will send you the article without those photos.

Onward!

To paint the scene of what I was expecting to be eating on my trip, I have to get a little into the details of the tour I signed up for. This jungle trek was an unusual offer, it was by far the most rugged and pure experience available. Most multiple-day tours of the Amazon in Iquitos take your group of 2-6 people to a lodge with the majority of amenities you would find in any rustic retreat. Obviously there is no wi-fi… But there are beds, and running water, and a bathroom, and maybe even electricity. Yeah the trip I opted for… Not so much. Although I must say I am rather partial to a bed, I knew I wanted a more unadulterated experience in nature. We sat down with the organizer for the trip in his office… aka his mom’s house (who I sat and had some juice with… Turns out she is 96!), and he basically asked my friend and I how much we could spend and how “authentic” we wanted this trip to be. He showed us where most tours go, where all the ones we had looked into had lodges, and explained its just a river lined with lodges and a few villages nearby who keep jungle animals as pets to insure that every tourists who visits gets to “find” and “touch” a wild animal. According to him this area is commonly referred to by the guides as “Gringolandia”. He offered us a 5 day trip that goes to a different river and deeper into the jungle, where we will have the chance to see primary forest and waterfalls. He let us know that it wasn’t going to be comfortable living, and that when it comes to animals he can’t guarantee a thing… because it isn’t someone’s backyard filled with pets. A little rugged trek in the wild was just what the doctor ordered, I was sold! In total there were 4 of us, my friend Trent (who I met on the 5 day river boat), Humberto our naturalist guide, and Manuel our local guide (and medicinal plant specialist) who lives with his family in the jungle close to where we began our adventure.

Along with modern comforts like refrigeration, went the potential to bring with us much in terms of fresh produce. When we met up with our guide we did some last-minute shopping in a small town along the river. For the couple of nights we would be sleeping on the jungle floor, he picked up 3 tomatoes, 2 bags of rice… and a can of tuna. As I thought of the different combinations of those ingredients I decided I wanted nothing to do with any meal that resulted. I was set to turn this trip into a 5 day cleanse… fasting, exercise, the whole 9 yards.

Our first task, after settling in, was to set out our net or “trampa” to catch tomorrow’s lunch.

Seeing as we just set the nets I was dreading that the first meal would surely involve that can of tuna. When we got back to base camp I offered to help in the kitchen, as I stood there chopping a single tomato for our “salad” Manuel came in beaming. He tells us he is giving us a gift for dinner, he will be selling the rest of this “gift” at the market but for us he saved a piece… and then right next to me he slaps down a foot…

… A very scaly foot.

Manuel had caught an alligator in his trampa at home, and by the looks of his foot it was a sizable one. I’m not into eating possibly overfished jungle animals… but it would be really rude not to accept this gift, and I am always preaching about eating local. (I actually don’t eat meat at all unless I am traveling, and I do so then mostly to gain the most out of a cultural exchange… and to make situations like this enjoyable rather than awkward or culturally offensive). The alligator which I thought was called a caimán is locally known as lagarto. The funny part about it all was I  couldn’t for the life of me remember why the name lagarto sounded so familiar, until we sat down to eat it… and then I realized it was what I had for dinner in town the night before we left, and I had been raving about how delicious it was to Trent all day! I was told it was a type of “pescado” at the restaurant, which means fish NOT reptile. Fried up over an open flame in a jungle kitchen, or served gourmet in a complex cream sauce… lagarto is one of the most delicious meats I have ever eaten. 

The menu for the following day would consist of what we could find in our trampa… which I was praying wouldn’t be an anaconda. The good news when we pulled out the net was that we would be getting to try piraña… the bad news was there wasn’t much of a variety of other things, thanks to the pirañas. It looked like our net had become a piraña “all you can eat” buffet! The few that did manage to survive were bokchico, lisa, and a few pirañas.

On the way back to our base camp, another critter almost ended up on the menu. As we floated downstream Humberto spotted something in a tree… an oso peresoso (a sloth)!! Of course it took me like 10 minutes to find it, and by then we were so close I could just about touch the tree he was hanging out on. Manuel insisted on pulling it off, which did not make Mr. Sloth a happy camper. It was only until I started taking photos that i learned the true reason we got it down from the tree. “Mmmm, vamos a comer” says Manuel… “Ummm I don’t think so” says I. No way I was eating a sloth, “ok, princessita” Miguel said as he grudgingly put him back. I don’t think the sloth was very happy about posing for pictures (I could tell by the growling), but it was that or the grill so I think he got the good end of that deal.

Side note: All those adorable photos you see of people with “jungle” sloths on their hips hugging them close… Pets! If I had turned this guy around so his arms could reach me I am most certain I would have some pretty awesome scars to show for it.

Lunch was delicious fresh-caught fried fish with tomato salad, plantains… and of course bread with another kind of bread because carbs are always served with more carbs in Peru.

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After lunch we set off for the deep jungle, and a wilder side of the menu. After a 2 hour or so walk into the jungle we stopped to make camp and began our hunt for supper. First on our list was piwaillo, it is the fruit of a palm tree and comes red, white, or yellow. Manuel fashioned a hook-shaped stick to another stick with some vines and we all took cover as he plucked the fruit down from a lethal height. To be honest I’m not sure if these are fruits, veggies, or something else entirely but they were pretty tasty. We boiled them up and pealed the skins, which revealed a fibrous starchy inside. The taste was nutty with a slightly bitter aftertaste… which totally could have just been the bug spray on my fingers… Let’s hope otherwise. This is commonly called jungle bread,  I said before Peruvians need their carbs typically two a meal but we had to compromise being in the jungle and all.

Next for some churo and chonta! Churo is a commonly eaten jungle snail… Yes I ate a giant jungle snail! I actually ate quite a few of those yummy things, and Humberto made an awesome necklace out of the evidence. We waded through the muddy flooded areas near a stream to find the churo, which were the exact same color as dirty wet leaves and thus quite impossible to find. Humberto’s strategy was to stomp and smack his machete around until he heard something like the crunch of a shell, which I didn’t like very much… despite the fact they would all be dinner soon. The churo was reminiscent of conch with a less sweet ocean flavor and a more murky mud-puddle taste… to be honest it was pretty delicious, basically jungle escargot! We also hacked up a fallen wacrapona tree to look for suri, a grub worm that makes its home in the wood causing the center of the tree to be soft and sweet-smelling. Although the center of this tree is soft, the outer ring is some of the hardest wood in the jungle, we used it to carve traditional spears later that day. “Unfortunately” we only found one tiny suri, which Trent was brave enough to eat. Suri and churo are both served grilled on sticks in the surrounding jungle towns and even in the big jungle city of Iquitos.



We also got some chonta for our meal, or as you most likely know it… heart of palm. It was nothing like I expected, practically tastes like it’s of no relation to the final product pickled in a jar that I am accustomed to. It had the most delicate flavor and a delightful texture, soft and slightly sweet. Humberto peeled it thin like a pasta and… unfortunately cooked it with the damn can of tuna! It actually didn’t turn out too bad considering it was canned tuna. Overall I have to say my dining experience was quite nice… and the meal was well-rounded, aside for all the bugs doing nose-dives into my food… more protein right?

From there we trekked onward to the next site about 3 hours away… in a torrential downpour.

Yes I am wearing a hot pink poncho… and I love it, I can still be girlie and kick-butt hiking in the jungle! My nickname became princessita… Not because I acted like a princess, but because I could get down and dirty in the Amazon and still look like one 😉

Most of our other meals were composed of fresh fruit. One of my favorites was granadilla, an orange fruit resembling a maracuya (passion fruit) in structure, a shell outside with small seeds surrounded by jelly inside. It has a much milder taste as opposed to the sour bite of a passion fruit, that is until you crunch down on the seeds… each one erupts into a sharp citric explosion on your tongue.


Also there was mame, a red fruit with an odd shape but the tree blossoms the most incredible neon-pink flowers. The fruit was the texture of an overripe pear with a gently sweet watered-down taste, reminiscent of a fruit from my childhood in the Caribbean. I am pretty certain it is the same fruit we commonly call cashew on the island of St. Croix.

Another favorite of mine was chari chuelo a little yellow ball bursting with flavor, honestly if I could get these at my local grocery store I would never buy candy again. The perfect balance of sweet and tart, these reminded me of sucking on a jolly rancher… without that toxic unknown element taste.

To my surprise we stumbled across a random pineapple… I couldn’t believe pineapples were growing wild in the rainforest, but then I saw another and another. 

What the hell, I began to feel like I was in The Truman Show… we had been told we were deep in the jungle but maybe in reality there were condos around the corner filled with locals having a laugh at our “jungle expedition”. I questioned Humberto, he laughed at my suspicions and assured me we were at least 3 hours from any other people… that would be a really creepy statement if it weren’t the answer I was looking for. He explained that farmers hike 2-3 hours into the jungle to make small plantations, otherwise their crops would all be eaten by their neighbors. I thought to myself, that going that far just to hide your crops seemed a little excessive… that was until we turned the corner an came across a small patch of sugarcane, Humberto must have been reading my mind because as I stood there mouth-watering he handed me a freshly cut piece. Then I realized why it was all the way out here, if I was going to plant a field of candy sticks I’d prob have to hide them from my neighbors too. While I stood there sugar juice dripping all over my face, I heard Manuel scream from some distant bushes something about guaba. My heart skipped a beat hoping he was referring to the delicious “guava” I grew up eating in the Caribbean… and then he walked out with an oversized green bean 😦 Despite my initial disappointment, this guaba quickly became my new favorite jungle fruit! To get inside you simple wring the pod as you would wet clothes and vuala! Inside are giant purple beans that are all beginning to sprout, each bean is surrounded by a fluffy white coat of deliciousness! These white clouds of awesome are just thick enough to make you feel like you are actually eating something substantial, but airy enough to be reminiscent of cotton candy… so juicy and sweet I couldn’t get enough! Due to my horrible self-discipline, between all the guaba and sugarcane I ended up eating, I spent the rest of the walk feeling as if I had been drugged with amphetamines.

On the final day, as we said a few sad goodbyes, we loaded our packs with mounds of fresh jungle fruit for the boat ride. Never in my wildest dreams would I have suspected all the tantalizing flavors awaiting my taste buds in the jungle. This was a culinary experience unlike any market could provide, it was a deliciously wild ride in La Selva… that I can’t wait to taste again.

The Day the Jungle Tried to Keep Me

So anyone following my blog for a while will know I wrote a post several years ago when I was working in Bali, Indonesia titled “Typical Me”. It was a dramatic saga of how I arrived late for my flight to Australia… a day late, and then I nearly missed it the second go around. I guess I never learn, but this time I had some jungle juju on my side.

Last Saturday was the day I set off to leave the jungle, I bought a flight out of Iquitos to Tarapoto two days prior and from there I would head by bus to the northern coast of Peru. A part of me really didn’t want to leave… and apparently the jungle didn’t want me to go either. I started the day in a way my mother would be proud of, packing very neatly my two packs, and organizing everything I needed for my flight. I even checked in for my flight before I had breakfast. As I was all packed and ready to go I figured I could do one last outing, there was something I really wanted to see before I left. I made plans with a fellow traveler in my room to go to the Mariposaria, the butterfly garden, that doubles as an animal rescue center where they have a rescued jaguar!! My flight was at 4pm, and I was checked in, so I figured I’d leave the hostel at 2:40 and I would be fine, I was told the drive to the airport was 10 minutes. I headed out for the butterfly garden around noon, giving me about 2 hours and I thought I was playing it safe. My friend and I jumped in a mototaxi and headed to the port where there are boats to the garden were located. I figured 15 minutes for the taxi ride then 20 for the boat. I’m golden on time… I foolishly thought to myself, and then the fun began.

I opted for the more economical colectivo boat rather than a private one, and so we sat in the port until they had gathered enough passengers. Shortly after the little motor boat left the port the 10 of us passengers began to realize something was not quite right. Odd sounds were coming from the motor, and the guy steering us had a far from confident look on his face. Several times the motor stopped completely and the capitan fiddled with a few things to start us going at a snail’s pace… until a few minutes later, then it would fail again. Finally after about 3 other colectivos whizzed by us, we started to get a little antsy. Several locals began to grumble, and soon we succeeded in flagging down a passing boat to rescue us from having to paddle the whole way there. That 20 minute boat ride became something more like a 40 minute affair. Finally in the town we had to endure a brutal 15 minute walk in the heat to find the place.

Seeing as my flight was in less than 2 hours, and the tour of the center was 45 minutes, the guide took pity on me and did all the animals first. The animals could not be visited without a guide, mostly due to the less than comforting quality of the fence between you and a full-grown jaguar… Understandable. Only the butterflies could be visited unattended. I was thoroughly enjoying myself (I will do another post with photos of these incredible animals!), and around 2:30 after seeing all the animals my friend looked over at me and said “I really think you ought to go”…. At least one of us was being responsible. I said my goodbyes and swiftly left the park. The first set of boats I came to were the private boats that go directly to the park not the ones a 15 minute walk away at the town port… Of course they wouldn’t take me because I hadn’t come in a private boat. I had to get to the port and fast, now in a slight state of panic, that 15 min walk turn into a very goofy jog only broken by minutes of panting due to the intense heat. When I got to the port there were no passengers, which would mean I would have to wait for 9 more random people to join me… Not happening. I pleaded with a driver saying I had a plane to catch, he took pity on me and offered me a 15 soles private ride. Even in my state of panic I know a scam when I see one, I talked him down to 10 and we were off. I took that time, which seemed to last forever, to say goodbye to the river and the jungle.

As we docked I basically tossed the soles at him and ran! It was now about 3:05, and my flight departs (not boards… Takes off the ground) at 4:05 exactly. I have to navigate my way down a narrow walkway through a flooded barrio made of wooden boards nailed together. They are barely floating above the water, and to either side is the filthy river water where all the houses that are partially flooded dump their waste… All of their waste. Sprinting on a wet wooden plank… Not the most intelligent thing I’ve ever done. Of course I slip, both feet out from under me and I am soaking wet. No other choice but to shake it off, I giggle just to keep from crying and continue. I get to the road and hop in the nearest mototaxi… Still soaking wet. It’s the youngest driver I’ve ever seen, but I am hopeful that means he drives fast…. Wrongo! It seems like every time I get in a taxi here, I just entered a NASCAR race, but when I actually need to be driven like that I get in with the most rule-abiding driver in all of Peru. I explain my urgency several times, each time growing more frantic, he nods as if he understands but continues with his overly cautious driving. When we finally arrive at my hostel to get my bags I have only about 25 minutes until my flight leaves.

I figure if it only takes 10 minutes to get there, maybe they will still let me on the flight. I want to change drivers but there isn’t another taxi in slight so I have to settle. When I ask him how fast he can get me to the airport he says… 30 minutes! I am doing my very best to stay calm. I run into the hostel for my bags, luckily I have already paid I’m just grabbing things out of storage. A friends sees me and her eyes grow wide, “you are pretty late” she states the very obvious. Then I start considering not even going because I see no way possible to get there on time if I have 25 minutes and it takes 30. She tells me to grab my bags and go, “at least try.. Otherwise you will burst into tears” she says. Knowing that she is absolutely right I grab my big bag and jump in with the slowest driver in Peru. I tell him he needs to go faster than before, and get me there in 15 minutes. He seems to be more inclined to speed now, and soon I realize why he had been taking his time earlier. There was a bang from under the bike, I am begging in my head that we don’t stop… But we do. The chain has come off the wheel and he fixes it rather quickly, but about 2 minutes later it’s off again. I think he realizes I’m either going to switch taxis without giving him any money… Or I’m going to steal his taxi and drive myself, so he doesn’t stop. He just instructs me to put all my weight on the side with the wheel that is dangerously close to falling off… At this point I get out my jungle seed pod I was giving in the market for good luck “buena suerte”. I am clutching it close and just praying I make it alive, I could care less about the flight now.

I get to the airport at exactly 3:48, and no one is at the desk. I stand there shouting for someone to help me, and as I do several onlookers come over to tell me the flight is closed… None of whom actually worked at the airport. Finally an attendant comes out to tell me sorry you needed to be here two hours ago. Suddenly my ability to speak Spanish is amazing, and I remember the word for checked in… “Soy checkeable, soy checkeable!” She takes my passport and says she will see what she can do. When she comes out with a printed ticket I begin to relax, but it doesn’t last for long. She tells me they can’t take my pack and that I have to take it through security with me.

I arrive at security with my small airplane-ready backpack, and my giant 50lb traveling pack which is essentially my house… laden with liquids and Goddess knows what else. They put both on the belt and from the security belt I can see the line for my plane, at least they are still boarding. I turn back around to see the 4 security people at the screen pointing and mumbling. Oh no. “Cuchillo, donde esta el cuchillo”, they are demanding to know where my knife is. As the boarding line winds down to only a few people I am panicking and so nervous I can’t even remember if I have a knife. Then I remember my Swiss Army knife, but I think it’s packed in a bag with my liquids… and if they see those will they take them all away?? I also happen to have a giant bottle of jungle booze… Totally not allowed. They begin tearing my bag apart, and finally I grab the Swiss Army knife and hand it over. They put the bag through and angrily say to me… There is another one. Oh my goodness, I’m ready to scream, everything is out of my pack thrown on the floor and table. They are pointing at a pocket that supposedly has the mystery knife, and all I can do is yell “Its only my undies!”… in English because my Spanish brain is totally broken. I honestly have no idea what they are talking about, and now everyone has boarded the plane. “I need to go” I shout, and proceed to reiterate that I honestly don’t have another knife, one man looks at me and asks me if I’m a liar! I’m going to peruvian prison for sure. I am almost ready to give up, and then one officer pulls a small purple pouch out of a pocket up against the inside of my pack… “Yes!” I scream, way too excited for someone who has been telling the police they have no knife, and the police just found it….

I tell them I forgot I had packed my dive knife, and urgently asked them to take it and let me go to my flight. At this point the pilot is literally shutting the door and turning on the plane, and I can hear angry Spanish followed by my full name on every walkie-talkie near me… And over the intercom. All 4 of us begin shoving everything into my pack, four people stuffing the pack that took me an hour to organize this morning… We got everything inside in maybe 20 seconds. One of the security staff threw it over his head and instructed me to run. We get outside and he runs for the back of the plane and points for me to head for the door, which is shut. I’m sprinting full speed for the stairs up to the plane hoping the door opens or I will be having my second collision for the day pretty soon. Magically the door opens and I run up the stairs into the welcoming cool airplane air. I find my seat, sit down on my soaking wet barrio-water pants, and I kiss my little jungle seed pod! As the plane starts driving down the runway, all that I have just gone through hits me… and I am suddenly laughing uncontrollably. I am starting to believe sometimes things happen just so that you have an outrageous story to tell.

Your Hometown Or Not, This Earth Is Ours To Share

Typically I love Earth Day, it’s the day when everyone’s attention is on something I try to call attention to daily… well almost everyone. Spending Earth Day in Peru, it was really hard for me to be in a celebratory mood and trying to raise awareness left me feeling like a one-woman circus. I had no internet and so I tried to promote awareness locally rather than cyber-ly, but talking about environmentalism only brought about stares of pure confusion. While traveling to the small animal sanctuary on the beach where I am currently residing, I looked out of the colectivo window at trees covered in plastic garbage that had been blown there and caught on the branches. I wondered how there could be so much trash when no one lives on this road. I soon found the answer to that question, as the woman two seats in from of me rolled down her window and proceeded to throw a cup and a candy wrapper out. When I questioned her about this action, she told me she was finished with it and thus it needed to go outside. I tried to explain that now it was going to stay there forever, or even worse it will go into the ocean, she just looked at me with utter confusion and turned around putting an end to our conversation. I finally gave up and just conducted my own personal beach cleanup with the biggest plastic bag I could find. 

 

Unfortunately this left me feeling even more depressed, as I looked out at the expanse of beachfront covered in trash and the tiny area I could clean 3 plastic bottles washed up near my feet from the ocean. I sat down in front of the beautiful sunset alone, and I cried. 

 

I have been wanting to post about this aspect of my journey, but I guess part of me has been avoiding raining on my own parade. I have been having such a blast and Peru is such a beautiful place, but it is also one of the most polluted places I have ever been in terms of litter. I prefer to adventure off the beaten path, but here in Peru that means witnessing blatant and complete disregard for the state of our planet. Like most things as alarmingly horrible as this, I personally chalk it up to a lack of education. Not only is there no infrastructure put in place to handle the amount of waste people in Peru are producing, they actually have no idea what a negative impact they are having on their own environment… not to mention the ocean which we all have to share (I take personal offense when its wellbeing is threatened). Whenever I have voiced my concerns or opinions on the matter, 9 times out of 10 they’re met with confusion or surprise. I have tried to talk with as many people as will listen about the effects of putting plastic on the side of the road, in the ocean, or in the rivers most people show honest interest wich leaves me hopeful.

The first time I noticed how bad the pollution is here, was when I traveled south of Lima by bus to Chincha. Looking out of the bus both sides of the road looked as if I were driving through the middle of a landfill. When I finally caught a glimpse of the beach it was shocking. Bright blue plastic bags floated along the surface by the dozen, the sand was buried beneath piles of toothbrushes and plastic toys, and looking ahead you just see even more litter flying out from the cars driving past.

 

The hardest for me to stomach by far was what I witnessed in the Amazon jungle. A place I thought to be so pristine, is actually horribly polluted. All along the sides of the river there are all sorts of plastic materials, bags, utensils, toiletries, industrial materials, fishing nets. The worst thing I witnessed was on about day 4 of my boat trip into the Amazon. Two men came upstairs and proceeded to grab the the barrel of garbage we had all been using to put our trash in, and they dumped it right over the side. All of our trash from 4 days right into the river. I was outraged! My trash was in there too, I didn’t sign up to litter in the damn Amazon, I wanted my trash back! I ran over screaming in Spanish “why, why, why would you put the trash in the water”, one men blatantly ignored my rant, the younger of the two looked at me alarmed and told me “señorita, because it was full I must throw it over”. “What? Do you always do that, does every boat do that?!?” I demanding to know, “of course” he replied. I went back to my hammock, I felt as if I was in shock. My fellow passengers seemed concerned by my emotional outburst, but confused as to its reason. I sat and explain what could happen to the animals in that water, how it could change the way everything works together to provide them with the life they know, I tried my hardest to explain how doing this puts the river and thus their sources of food and livelihood in danger. When I arrived to the city of Iquitos, things were in even worse shape. Every boat I got on and every taxi I took, I talked about how sad the trash in the river makes me and pointed out the few beautiful murals in the city discussing protecting the river. I tried my hardest to make a difference but many voices ring louder than one, share this post and support education about conservation. When you visit a new place, don’t just be a tourist, get involved and speak out about things that matter to you. Your homeland or not, this Earth is ours to share.