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.