I've been hanging out in small Amerindian villages with no electricity in Guyana the last few days. Don't even ask how I'm able to write this now because I don't know. Everything is going well and I should be able to update this blog within a few weeks.
November 7, 2006
It was pouring rain when I got up this morning. Craig and I had to walk to the Brazilian consulate to attempt to get visas, so I threw on my waterproof pants to stay dry. Craig didn't like my sense of fashion and tried to talk me out of it, but I insisted that as long as I had them, I might as well use them. He wore a pair of shorts in stark contrast.
When we got to the consulate, Craig wasn't even allowed inside because he was wearing shorts. It hits 40 C (104 F) nearly every day here, yet you're not allowed to enter the building without pants. If I had worn my shorts, we would've been turned back immediately.
The first thing I noticed when I walked inside was that nobody spoke anything but Portuguese. I would think that since it's an official government building, somebody there would know English, or at least Spanish, considering that the building is located in a Spanish speaking country, but that wasn't the case. Instead, I had to wave my hands all around to communicate.
I learned a lot of bad news from my pantomiming. In my numerous attempts to get the visa from Buenos Aires earlier this year, I learned that it would cost $100, and I could only pay in US dollars. A few days ago, I withdrew $100 from an ATM exactly for that purpose. However, today I learned that I would need 300,000 Colombian pesos, which is worth $136, and no other currency would suffice. So nobody in the consulate speaks the language of the country they're in, yet they don't use any form of currency other than the one from the country they're in. Besides that, the price went up dramatically since last time I checked. I've never heard of anyone having to pay $136 just to enter a country as a tourist and spend their money there. I was also informed that my visa would only be good for one year, whereas previously I was told that it would be good for five. On top of that, I learned that my photos that I got specifically for purchasing visas, which are official passport and visa size, weren't big enough for the Brazilians. The only good news was that if I got everything in order, I'd get a visa today or tomorrow. I left the consulate with a lot of work to do.
I must point out that the only reason the Brazilian government is being such a pain in the ass is that the US government does the same thing to Brazilian citizens. For them it's even worse, though. They have to pay money just to apply for a visa, and they might not even get it. They also get the pleasure of being fingerprinted when they enter the country. I still think the US government should have to pay for my visa, but of course that will never happen.
Back in town, we found an instant photo place and got our pictures taken. Then we went to a money changer, where I tried to change my US dollars into Colombian pesos to pay for the visa. The guy wouldn't even take half my money, though, because the bills had a few marks on them. I got them from a bank's ATM only a few days ago, and now they were worthless! I ended up having to borrow some money from Craig to get enough pesos. After we had our money, we picked up our photos, Craig threw on some pants, and we went back to the consulate.
This time around, they actually accepted our applications. A few hours later, we had our visas!
We wanted to be ready to go tomorrow, so we went over to the airport and got stamped out of Colombia. Next we took a bus into Brazil. The border is completely open in this area, so the city never really ends, and the only way you know you've entered a new country is that you start seeing green and yellow everywhere. We found the immigration station in Tabatinga and got stamped into Brazil. Next, we found the port, went to the boat, and took a look around. It's more expensive than the Peruvian boat, but also a lot nicer. With confirmation that the ship will leave tomorrow afternoon, we were all set to head to Manaus in hammocks.
November 6, 2006
For our last moments in Peru, Craig, Charlie, and I had breakfast at a restaurant across from our hotel. The owner had a pet macaw, apparently as a ploy to attract more customers. After the macaw finished its yucca, the owner talked me into getting it to fly onto my shoulder for a photo. That seemed like a great idea, but as soon as it landed on me, it started biting my hair and clawing my skin, which was quite painful. Craig was waiting with the camera for the macaw to pose for a shot like you see in pirate movies, but instead of looking forward, it decided that a human ear would make a much better breakfast than a piece of yucca. The searing pain went right through me as its beak latched on and wouldn't let go. Still screaming in pain, I ran over to the owner and got him to take his pet back. When I reached up to feel my ear, I thought part of it would be missing, Mike Tyson-style, but luckily it was all there and was only sore for a few hours afterward. The owner was laughing so hard, I'm pretty sure he trained the bird to bite all tourists as a sick form of entertainment.
After breakfast we took a boat to Leticia, Colombia on the other side of the river. It's a nice little place with lots of motorcycles, but not nearly as loud as a lot of the other cities I've been to lately. On the other side of the city is Tabatinga, Brazil, which is where we need to go to get on a boat to Manaus, Brazil, which leaves in two days. The problem is that Craig and I both need visas to enter Brazil. I tried for a week to get one from Buenos Aires, but to no avail because of their strict rules regarding tickets into and out of the country. Today's problem is that it's a holiday of some sort, so the Brazilian Consulate is closed. We'll have to try tomorrow.
This afternoon we took a ride out to the airport in Leticia where the immigration office is to get an entry stamp on our passports. I don't know if the Brazilian officials will care whether I'm officially in Colombia, but I'd rather not risk it. If I don't have a visa in two days to catch the boat, the next boat doesn't leave for five days, and I don't want to sit here that long.
We also ran into an Italian guy who Craig met in Iquitos. Assuming all goes well with the visas, I think he'll be on the same boat as us, so there will be at least four tourists to make the journey through the Brazilian Amazon.
November 5, 2006
I woke up around midnight in the middle of a rainstorm. I had been sleeping on the floor with my sleeping bag and mattress, so I got soaked fairly quickly. The ceiling was waterproof, but there were no walls, only loosely hanging tarps, and the wind got so bad that the rain blew right in. We pulled over to the side of the river, but the storm was still powerful enough to soak everything. I scrambled to put my gear under my waterproof cover, then I climbed into my hammock, the only thing that didn't get wet, and waited for the storm to blow over. Apparently it rains frequently and heavily on the Amazon, but the storms pass quickly, which was indeed the case this time around.
We arrived at a town with a military post at 2:00 AM, but we couldn't leave until the entire boat was searched for drugs, and the officials refused to start searching until dawn. Finally they meticulously checked every single piece of cargo for several hours. When they finally got to where our backpacks were sitting, they saw that we were tourists and didn't bother searching us. We didn't get moving again until 9:00 AM.
It was another hot day where we took in our surroundings in the Amazon. We stopped at a lot more towns and constantly picked up and dropped off cargo. In the middle of the day, the engine cut out. We were out of gas. Luckily we had spare fuel tanks on board, and we were soon on our way again.
We got to Santa Rosa late in the afternoon. It's the easternmost point in Peru, and is joined by the border town of Leticia in Colombia and Tabatinga in Brazil. Santa Rosa is just a little settlement with a few hundred people, but tonight there was a party for all three border towns, so it was livelier than normal. Tomorrow we will head across the river to the Colombian side and finally obtain the coveted Brazilian visa.
November 4, 2006
The entire day was spent going down the Amazon today in one of the many slow boats that go up and down the river. I spent most of my time in a hammock watching the jungle go by. At this point, the river is at least a mile wide and moves with very little current. It will only get bigger as tributaries continue joining with the main river.
The Amazon is much more populated than the tributaries I went down in Bolivia. It seems like there are constantly a few houses in view. Most of them have thatched roofs and are on stilts to prevent flooding. Almost none of the houses have electricity. However, everyone seems to have a canoe.
We stopped frequently at small towns and one bigger city called Pevas to load and unload cargo. At times it seemed like we were just constantly crossing the river. Every few hours there were a few new faces amongst the hammocks on the boat.
It was a very hot day, probably over 100 degrees Fahrenheit, but we did get some relief from a rainstorm late in the afternoon. The heat was so intense for most of the day that all we could do was lay in our hammocks, read, sleep, and play a few games of chess. This is definitely not the type of trip you can comfortably do on a short holiday. Charlie is only in South America for a month, and he's been running around the boat wondering when we'll get there all day.
The photo album for this entry is here.
November 3, 2006
I spent last night on a bus heading to Lima. I paid extra for the luxury bus this time, and was rewarded with a good night's sleep.
My flight to Iquitos was set to leave at 4:00 this afternoon, so there would be no sight seeing in Lima. Actually, that's how I prefer it. I saw enough of Lima when I started my trip. I grabbed a cab to the airport and waited a few hours for my flight time to approach.
Normally I don't fly much within my trips, but I didn't have much of a choice this time. With 400,000 inhabitants, Iquitos is the largest city in the world with no road access. It also is an important port on the Amazon River.
The small airport didn't have any hangers, so we had to walk directly to the runway from the airplane. As soon as I walked off the plane, I could feel a wave of heat and humidity hit me. I caught a three-wheeled motorcycle taxi into town, all the while listening to and smelling the thousands of identical taxis all around me. The abundance of motorcycles and lack of cars seems to be the norm for all jungle towns in South America.
I met up with Craig, my travel companion from Bolivia and Paraguay, at his guesthouse. Since I last saw him, he has spent most of his time in Peru, including riding a balsa raft down the Rio Urubamba, surfing in the north, and taking a dugout canoe through a remote national park.
We didn't have much time to spare because the boat was to leave the port at 9:00 for Leticia, on the border of Peru, Brazil, and Colombia. On board the Manuel, I met Charlie, a Polish-Canadian-American who had been staying at Craig's guesthouse. I set up my newly-purchased hammock amoungst about a dozen others on the third floor of the ship and made myself at home. The ship left late, but that was no worry. This is the slow boat, and its relaxed pace reflects life itself in the Amazon.
October 30-November 2, 2006
Craig and I discussed traveling down the Amazon together, and this was the week that it would happen. To get started, I'd have to get to Iquitos, Peru, the largest city in the world with no road access. On my way there, I stopped in Mancora, an old friend from three months ago. It's a nice little town that's the perfect place to relax for a few days to break up a long trip. Nothing too exciting has happened lately, just a lot of buses. However, once I get into Iquitos, the epic adventure of traveling down one of the greatest rivers in the world will begin.
The photo album for this entry is here.
October 27, 2006
Today I went to the Mvseo Bahía de Caráquez, a large place that stands out against the rest of the city with its modern architecture. I joined a group of Ecuadorians who were being shown around by a very knowledgeable guide. There were lots of ancient artifacts, mainly carved out of stone, but also bigger exhibits like a full-scale balsa raft used for ocean fishing. Later, we saw a modern art gallery, and at the end of the tour, we went the roof to get a view of the city.
The road outside the museum was under construction, and little pieces of asphalt were stacked up in the median, which created a maze for traffic to try to navigate. The city has a lot of bicycle taxis, which cuts down on the noise and air pollution, and about two dozen yachts in its port, so its an attractive place to try and get over an illness. I feel better already.
The photo album for this entry is here.