This is the second part of my trip. You can find all parts in my profile page:
This cool name belongs to a small town located in the high forest (Selva alta). It's a less known and less touristy place, but charming and full of surprises nonetheless.
If you're arriving from Máncora, as I did, you'll have to travel from Máncora to Piura, from Piura to Trujillo and from Trujillo to Moyobamba.
Now, why the heck would anyone want to do that?
Unlike the Amazon area, the low forest (Selva Baja) the climate in the forest is comfortable, and it never gets too hot. The San Martin region, whose capital is Moyobamba, is an endless heaven of mountains forested with green. In the neighborhood there are plenty of lakes and waterfalls, but to see them it's better to come with a group. Some traveling agencies won't always agree to take you alone for the regular price.
The two attractions on the outskirts of town are the orchid farm; where the orchids grow in their natural jungle habitat, unbelievable flowers - in all colors and shapes. One of the family members is a Botanist, and she'll take you on a private tour and provide explanations about all of the flowers. The entrance fee is a few Sols and you can donate more.
The second attraction is the hot springs which are just beyond the road. The water is warm and clean, the Peruvians believe they have healing capabilities. Entrance fee is also a joke here - 5 Sols.
Outside of Moyobamba there are nice waterfalls (cascadas) to which you can reach by private car going out from one of the tourist agencies for 20-30 Sols, even if you're alone. The site was well maintained, and you can jump into the quite high waterfall and swim in the pool. Very refreshing!
The next morning I continued to Tarapoto, a large touristic city, at least for local tourism and very odd looking Gringos, four hours drive away (beautiful and amazing drive!) in transit called here Kombi.
This area is beautiful to die for - dense moister green, tens of shades on each other, high mountains surrounded by clouds, and brown river are winding leisurely.
The people are good, really good, and they are willing to do whatever they can to help. The TukTuk driver who took me from the messy central bus station carried my backpack all the way to the hotel, and when it turned out to be too expensive, he drove me to the next hotel on my list without asking for more money beyond the Sol and a half we agreed upon, then he even waited to see the room was OK. I felt as if he didn't expect anything, as if money didn't matter, but that the conversation, smile and gratitude was enough.
Eventually I stayed at Hostal Tarapoto for 30 Sols. The couple rooms ("metrimonial") were great. Avoid the rooms on the top floor which are old and frowsty without showers or toilets.
In relatively boring Tarapoto I had a lot of time to think and to write. I realized that this area with its green shades made me happy, despite the insects always entering if it's raining and the door is open.
I wasn't in a rush to get to Ecuador because I didn't want Peru to be over.
No country is ever over for you, unless you force it.
From Tarapoto I took another Kombi to Yurimaguas, the town on the shores of the river Huallaga one of the tributaries of the Amazon. From this town you can sail to Iquitos and other places. I also planned on doing that until I met Amadeus and Marry. He's Austrian and she's French, and both had a much deeper knowledge of Peru than I did. Their Spanish was also amazing. Apparently, there's a certain breed of Gringos wandering around between Huaraz and Iquitos, who's main idea of fun is to reach remote places and sleep with the local villagers. Mary wanted to reach the native tribes (indígenas) living in the forests surrounding the river. Indeed she didn't have a clue what she was doing, but she inspired me on going to see a different culture, and have a new adventure.
Boats (Lanchas) leave to Iquitos once every day or two. You don't have to pre-register, but just reach the port, find out which Lancha leaves and when, and board it a few hours before to catch a place and hang your hammock. A Hammock is a must for this journey so if you don't have one, buy at Yurimaguas. 20 Sols and you've got a souvenir for life.
It took my friend and me two nights of sleeping in hammocks on the Lancha until it sailed. During the mornings we would go back to town, buy our supply of food and fruits, and at noon, in the heat of the day, we would embark the boat, and the deck started to fill with more and more hammocks. Peruvian peddlers were wandering between the hammocks selling everything, from blankets to Ceviche in a plastic bag.
Most of the time is was hot, except for the nights, with small episodes of cool breeze. But most of the time, with no exception, it was sticky. The waiting drove us and the rest of the tourists on board mad, but the Peruvians looked as if they weren't in a hurry to get anywhere. As if time isn't important - it wasn't clear whether they accepted reality, or got used to this Shanti. Whether on the other side of the river a family wedding was waiting for them, a day of work, or a sick relative, you couldn't see it on them. They just passed the time.
Looking back I can see how crazy my plan was. And like some other things I've done in the past, I believe I wouldn't have done it again... On second thought, I would. Cause this is me.
To make a long story short, in Yurimaguas we met a veteran Peruvian tour guide with excellent English, and asked him for a recommendation for a less than ordinary trip. For Mary he gave advise on how to behave with the "natives" she'll meet - don't expect them to be friendly; nevertheless, bring a bag of rice. As for me, he gave me the name of a village and a good friend of his there, who knew the jungle and could guide me.
After almost two days of sailing, I woke up accidentally at 6 am right when the Lancha was getting further from some village on the river. When I asked the crew where we were they said Nucuray. I told them it's my stop and I asked to disembark there in advance, they didn't believe that this was actually what I wanted. But for the Gringa you stop the whole Lancha, and bring the Gringa to the shore with small rowboat - anything to keep her happy.
I shuffled on the muddy river bank with my backpack, and hammock hanging off of it, my trek shoes are hanging from my shoulders and I'm still dizzy of sleep. When I asked a group of youngsters laying under a straw house with no walls where Juanito was they didn't know who I was talking about. A lady from next door also approached me, trying to help. She asked in which part of Nucuray this person should live. I didn't have a clue - the Peruvian tour guide told me that Nucuray was a village populated by 100 people. The lady said that Nucuray is the entire river, from here to the forest deep, and this is only it's entrance.
This was too much for me in the morning. The Seniora invited me to put all of my stuff at her place. It was a structure built of wood and straw, very close to the river bank and surrounded with mud. A narrow wooden log served as an improvised bridge across the mud, to a less muddy place where you can walk without sinking. Under the house floor pigs and chickens were running inside the mud.
Later when we wandered in the village, I realized that the house I stayed at was the poorest house in Nucuray. We went in the grocery store to buy some supplies for breakfast. I paid for the eggs and oil and we ate them with rice and onion - me, her, and her two little kids - Douglas and Shirley. It was tasty, regardless the fact I was starved.
Nelly (short for Anna-Liza) not only cleans and cooks. She also cuts branches with a huge Machete, carrying them home to burn fire under the pots. She and her husband sail once in a while to Iquitos to sell their spare fishes, and this is where their little money comes from.
It seems to me that in Peru there are three types of villages - village for tourists, villages for researchers, and poor villages. Nucuray is a poor village and living here is hard as it all revolves around money, and everyone has so little of it. In natives villages when there's no money at all and all comes directly from the the nature, it has to be easier - you can't aspire beyond what you've got, because it's the best you could get, and usually all you need.
The last day ended as the sun set, right when we got back from a boat tour on a neighbor village. We drank cornstarch porridge and milk powder, and when the fire died in the small lamp, we went to sleep - they had wooden bunks covered with a mosquito net, and I had my hammock outside. We lined it with plastic bag so that the flees on it wouldn't bug me, but it didn't help. In the middle of the night I opened my eyes and saw Nelly with her white shirt and messy hair. She offered me to come inside and sleep with her 13 year old eldest daughter, Rosseta. At first I felt embarrassed, but the hours I slept with her under the mosquito net, not a single mosquito buzzed in my ear.
In the morning we went to a nearby village where Nelly's parents lived. Her father talked to me while fixing his fish net. They gave me ripe bananas (platano maduro), and after that a lot of green tasteless bananas I already tasted in Peru, and it was a dream.
We got back to Nucuray and decided to take a shower in the river. Then one of the boats traveling to Iquitos passes by. I never had taken a shower with such a big crowd, and my swimming suit didn't remember when it had created such an excitement.
This day also reached its sunset. It caught when I was sitting in the village, talking to a curious 17 years old boy. He dreamed of leaving the village to Iquitos and learning to be a mechanic. If only they would have known, my father's dream for the day he could finally move to a small village, and just sit and catch fish all day long! They've been living his dream from the day they were born.
That night I suffered from countless mosquito bites, even beneath my borrowed mosquito net.
I could have continued with the boat to Lagonas and Pacaya-Samiria National Reserve which is supposed to be the jungle at its best, but I didn't feel like it. Although, you sleep here from dusk till dawn, the Selva Baja is exhausting - the heat, the humidity, and the insects. People think that nature is the biggest gift to the villagers here, but they're wrong - the biggest gift is their children. The children that go deep into the woods with Machetes, sharpening branches and throwing them at the Mango tree tops attempting to get some fruit. They eat the ripe and scarce but also the hard green. The kids know which fruits you are allowed to eat, how you eat them, and which one's are poisonous. The kids who run bare foot and bare arms and legs while I'm going with long sleeves, hat, sub blocker and mosquito repellent, still they get less bites than me. Kids, whose nutrition there isn't fresh vegetables, milk, meat or chicken, and drink the brown water of the river without purifying pills , are still healthy as little oxen. I even purified the tap water at the hostels before, but here I learned to drink straight from the river.
I'll forever remember little Shirley with her smiles, naughty Douglas, and Rosseta who knows how to use the Machete, climb completely smooth tree trunks, and also attends school. She asked me to write her something in English, so she'll practice her reading. Her parents Nelly and Diego I'll remember for sharing everything with me- from the little food they had to their daughter's bed. To them it was obvious, but when I gave them something, they treated it like a huge gift.
The moment I decided to leave, Nelly took me to the phone in the village, where we called to the boat company and asked when the next Lancha is passing by. We had a couple of hours.
For my last lunch they bought two eggs, just for me. I told them it's too much and shared them between the kids. The boat was late by hours, and I told Nelly how time has no value here. She told me they run to the neighbor to know what time it is so they can send the kids to school. She loved my watch so I gave it to her. We took some pictures and laughed like crazy from nonsense.
For me, the Nucuray experience was more valuable than any trek or organized tour in the jungle. Here, on the semi-cultivated river banks, I remembered how to smile. I learned to live with little, and to bite my tongue when it was hot and itchy. I learned that giving should be an instinct, and this is what it was for those people.
My Lancha arrived at noon, after a light delay of seven hours. I embarked it with several pigs fighting for their souls, because they knew why they were being brought on to the ship.
I took a shower and for dinner I ate chicken soup with noodles, and a tasteless banana. On this boat I got a place on the comfortable third floor, and ate some cookies I bought at the Nucuray's grocery store everything seemed optimistic.
If I can give you a single bit of advice on this Selva (tropical area) is that when you're offered with food, don't ever refuse - because if you're not hungry currently, you will be soon. Same for mosquito nets.
Field Notes: New definitions of biological verity - you look at your hand and see 10 different types of insect bites.
The first time I didn't like it, but now it's like going back to your childhood neighborhood, bargaining with the driver with all the info about the distances, happy seeing the good familiar hostel's worker, knowing where to eat, and in which internet cape you can charge your MP3.
I tried to do some inquiries through the local research center on how to meet native tribes, but waiting for their answer was taking too long. Instead I drove to a resort called Blue Lagoon (Laguna Azul)
It's located near a town called Sauce. So from Moyobamba you'll have to take a Kombi (transit, remember?) to Tarapoto and then ask in the central but station where you can find the Taxis going to Sauce.
So why the Blue Lagoon? Because there's a lake, and when the sky is blue, it's also blue.
The hostel I slept in was called Lago Linda, and it was like a small resort village on the lake. The rooms were convenient, good food and nice family. The owner tied my hammock on a pagoda from which you can jump to the water, and there's nothing like swimming in water below a rainbow.
The Senior and Senorita took me on a trip to see a waterfall, which is located on military grounds. At first we were stalled - they wanted to see my passport and escort us, but later they let us go after we promised we knew the way. One of the boys, Jenkin, worked at the hostel exactly for these tours, and he had knowledge about Peru on the level of an experienced tour guide although he was only 20 years old.
The young people in Peru are great, boys and girls. Curious, friendly, and much sharper than the grown ups. I wondered what my company meant for them - will it soon be forgotten, or be remembered because I'm a Gringa.
For the experience back then, it didn't change a thing.
After this weekend I went back to Moyobamba, and decided that this is it. From there I would continue to a new place. I spent the evening with Peruvian young man whom I met during my frequent travels in the line Moyobamba-Tarapoto (if two is a lot, then three is too much), and he took me to a local rock band show in a place where the nightlife scene is a country club which was also a nightclub. When they put dance music on we danced, although people around us just drank and talked. He asked a lot about my homeland, and we were connected with other people, he told us the same stories a million times.
Frankly, thanks to people's curiosity here, my Spanish has become very fluent. But when this guy started talking nonsense like "we're a couple now", "stay", "I'm coming to your country" I didn't know what to say to him.
Sometimes it's not enough knowing a word in Spanish to explain yourself. Sometimes it's better not to explain, but to just leave. And this is what I did the next day, with great determination.
Who ever chooses to cross into Ecuador through the forest (which is more adventurous than Piura or Tumbes located on the beach) needs to strive north as fat as they can.
The most northern city you can reach from Moyobamba by a direct bus is Jaén. You have to do it there, and it's not so safe, so take a Kombi directly to San Ignacio, which is almost on the border. Between these cities the amazing mountain landscape changes into open rice fields. There's plenty of green, a nice breeze, nice people and familiar voices calling out all of the local food names like parrots in the Amazon. The road traffic jams and roadwork is good for business - it can take hours until a certain part of the road is open. By then everyone eats gelatinas, Juanes, corn with ham in many different versions, and anything you can catch. Those with a strong stomach, should enjoy it.
Field Note: In Peru, a note of 100 Sol buys less than a coin of 1 Sol. Do you think anyone got change from 100 here?
Bon appetite. See you in Ecuador!