Into the Amazon – Part 1

Hello All!  So it turns out that internet signal in the jungle is really really poor!  (who would’ve thought?  Everybody else I suppose..) As a result I have been unable to update my blog!  Oh no!  However, I have now returned and there is much to write about, hooray!

This post is detailing my journey into the Amazon rainforest, which was an adventure in itself…

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The Flight

My flight was horrendous.  I had a migraine for the whole 47 hours.  My flight from Madrid was delayed by 17 hours due to our plane being broken, the 4* hotel was nice but the old ladies elbowing their way in front of me were not.  What I learnt that day was that Spaniards do not appreciate a nice, decent queue when they see one.

Climbing onto our new plane the next day, I found a stubborn old man who spoke no English in my seat, he refused to move.  In my exhausted, migraine-induced state all I wanted to do was thump him on the head with my cheekily overweight hand luggage and scream at the top of my lungs till he got so scared that he moved.  However, whatever little sense was left in me managed to communicate with the stewardesses, who then gave me a much nicer seat with plenty of leg room next to a lady who spent the flight watching twilight, and occasionally having to deal with my half conscious lump of a body flopping into her personal space every now and then.

I caught up with another lady, Debs, when we finally made it to Lima who was also going to CREES (Conservation, Research and Education towards Environmental Sustainability) as a volunteer for 5 weeks.  It later transpired that it was thanks to her that I woke up in time to catch the plane to Lima.  She phoned my room number from the hotel desk in an attempt for us to meet, I woke up in painful confusion, heard someone talking in Spanish down the phone, immediately gave up trying to understand anything and hung up, looked at the time, realised I hadn’t set my alarm and sprinted down the stairs with my stuff just in time to get the coach back to the airport.  Thankyou Debs.

Day One – Arrival in Cusco

After a mildly comfortable 7 hour wait in Lima airport, we finally got a plane to Cusco, where we were greeted by sun, heat, music and plenty of taxi drivers.  More importantly however, we were greeted by OUR taxi driver.  We piled into the car, and now that my migraine had worn off thanks to painkillers supplied by Debs hours before (thank you Debs)  I was free to enjoy the sights and sounds of this amazing new world that would become my own for the next  few months.

In Cusco

In Cusco

Having only lived within the Commonwealth, and only holidayed in European countries, I knew I would have no idea what to expect when I landed in South America.  And I was right!  It was like nothing I had ever seen before, the people of Cusco (and I hope all of Peru) certainly love their colour!  The women with their dark, thick hair and colourful clothing, the dogs wandering around looking lost, the brightly decorated stalls selling kola and the ladies on the ground selling everything from fruit to necklaces all looked so strange and new to me.  The colourful buildings with the bright logos, the quaint balconies, the random Alpaca’s..  It was so bizarre, so exciting, that when a CREES staff member asked us whether we wanted to go exploring in Cusco today, despite our deliriously tired, jet lagged and altitude sickened states we both immediately answered with a definite yes.

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Meeting the Team

We were taken to the CREES Cusco office, where we met with others who would be joining us on our epic journey into the Amazon.  There was Jose, our guide who would be escorting us, a real inspiration whose passion for nature always showed through in his words and his talent for seeing things that we couldn’t pick out.  I also met Leanne and Rob, the former an avid cross stitcher and nanny who adores wildlife, and the latter a middle-aged Welshman who loves adventure and is the ultimate source of all dad jokes.  Debs, who ended up working in the water purification industry, had chosen to come to the Amazon in order to pursue her deeper passions which lie in nature and geology.  There was also Dan, a 19 year old who, having saved his money working in the Kitchens of an Italian restaurant, had arrived here to pursue his passion for wildlife before venturing into the big wide world of university, studying Wildlife conservation and ecology.  Freia was the only non-British non-Peruvian person in the room, an art graduate from Sydney, she began to question her path into the art world and is here to explore her feelings towards another love; ecology.   Olivia is a History graduate who has visited South America before, so decided to return to Peru now that she has finished her studies.  Another addition to the team was Marcus, in his 20’s he is a talented wildlife cameraman working with CREES to document working life in the Amazon.  Finally, there is me, and I am here because since I can remeber I have decided that the only career path for me is the research and conservation of the Amazon rainforest.  I am here to help me decide for certain whether to go down a practical route of conservation and charity. Or go back into studying and get an environment-related degree, commiting to 3-4 years of being a broke student.

From left to right round the table: Rob, Dan, Myself, Marcus, Debs, Meng (volunteer already at the MLC), Freia, Olivia and Leanne.  Photo taken a month later on an expedition!

From left to right round the table: Rob, Dan, Myself, Marcus, Debs, Meng (volunteer already at the MLC), Freia, Olivia and Leanne. Photo taken a month later on an expedition!

Tour of Cusco

After a brief introduction to each other and CREES (through which I struggled to stay awake for-honestly I fell asleep for some of it, a great first impression!) we went for a wander round Cusco in search of Lunch.  I could not have looked like more of a tourist if I’d tried, it was almost painful.  I had become everything I had once hated: Linen-clad, Rayban wearing, camera touting tourist.  It was so worth it though, I am so excited by cultures outside of my own, and my camera needed to frantically document this strange and wonderful place, with average results (that you are now viewing).  It honestly felt like I had landed on another planet, in a very awesome way.  A quote from my journal describes how ‘I felt as though I had dived straight through a picture in National Geographic Magazine’, and I remember I did overwhelmingly feel that way, I kept imagining the stills I’d seen of Peru and finding it so bizarre to see the exact same sights just in real time!  I was also pleasantly surprised to see the large number of people in traditional dress, both old and young.  I had presumed for a while that it was mainly for show put on for the tourists, but no!  This is just their life.

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We walked through the streets of Cusco, and arrived at the Plaza de Armas.  The square was beautiful; trees, benches and young women and men selling their home made art.

Church of la Compañía de Jesus

Church of la Compañía de Jesus

Lunch in Cusco

We arrived at Jose’s chosen restaurant for a nice set menu lunch, I was ravenous and would’ve gladly eaten any old crap put in front of me, even plane food!  The fact that the food tasted amazing was a huge added bonus.  We began with an empanada; a half moon of pastry filled with cheese, which was delicious.  The next course was a kind of Minestrone soup.  I have always been suspicious of soup, I don’t understand the textures, it’s a drink but a food too it doesn’t. Make. Sense.  But this soup was extremely tasty, and as a result I am now very open-minded about trying other soups.  Thanks Peru!  The final course was fried, flat chicken, oily chips and vegetables.  Jose told us to expect this type of dish a lot whilst in Peru, he was not wrong. He also told us to expect big meals for lunch as well as dinner, which I am thrilled to let you know has also turned out to be very true.  It felt good to have such a fabulous meal, as disappointingly my first meal EVER in South America, let alone Peru, was a fast-food sad-looking chicken sandwich in Lima airport, courtesy of my airline apologising for the delay.  It was very nearly a Big Mac.

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I was feeling a lot better and more alert now that I had food in my belly, and it was off to the market to see what treats awaited us there…

Lots of them!

The Market

The market was bustling with life, there were ceramics being sold of pots, elephants and happy little people statues. There was an aisle for meat, an aisle for vegetables, an aisle for bread… it was literally the most organised place I’ve ever been to in Peru.  The huge amount and variety of colour in the market was incredible.  The ladies dressed so brightly they almost camouflaged with their handmade hats, bags and jewellery.  There was a whole aisle of the market dedicated to potatoes (or Papa in Spanish.  I’m learning!) which I thought was pretty great.  We walked down the meat aisle which was a lot of fun for the squeamish, with meat carcasses strung up in lines and blankets wrapping up various parts of animals including pigs trotters, it was an interestingly authentic experience.  There was plenty of interesting and exotic fruit available, a lot of which I’d never seen before.  It always amazes me when I go abroad the amount of fruit I miss out on in England.  Tesco’s need to pull themselves together because we are missing out for sure!  There were also aisles full of blenders for freshly made fruit juices, the aromas here were tantalising, especially as the ladies were wafting the beautifully juicy smells towards us with their laminated menus, it was tempting but we couldn’t stop there was far too much to see and do!  There were towers of uncovered fish eggs for sale next to fizzy drinks, a beautiful nod towards the old style shops and their mashup of products that I would soon come to know and love.

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As it was coming up to Easter, there were also HUGE meringues and cakes for sale which we were told by Jose were only sold at this time of year.  There was an abundance of colourful flowers, well suited to such colourful people!  So suited in fact that I almost trod on one elderly lady who was hunched up amongst them asleep on the floor!  That could’ve been awful.  There were vegetables and seeds, dried herbs and leaves it was hectic and beautiful and alive!  I’d never been to a market like this one and I can’t wait to experience it again.  In my journal I wrote ‘Coming out of there again was like going from the raging river to the ocean’ and however romanticised (and by romanticised I mean lame) that sounds, I remember it being exactly how it felt!

San Pedro Market - Taken by Karl Norling

San Pedro Market – Taken by Karl Norling

After the market it was time for me and Debs to evacuate the vicinity and go to sleep.  I later found out that the others went to a CHOCOLATE FACTORY, and unless they are lying in order to bully me, I am very, very jealous.