The Jungle – part 3 (26th Dec 2009)

Having spent a couple of nights in the jungle with my guide and, I was having a great time. The last night topped it off nicely with the presence of Ricardo, another guide who arrived with the English couple. The best thing about travelling, especially on your own, are the colourful people you meet, and this ex-commando in the Peruvian army was certainly that. He took great pleasure in showing us the ‘night club’ in a little jungle village, which was just a small bar with pornography on the walls.

In the evening he told us a story from his days in the army, which may be a load of lies for all I know, but it was entertaining none the less, partly because of how much he enjoyed telling it.

The story of Tula

We were 100 commandos in the Peruvian army. We’d go every week to fight terrorists. Very dangerous, 20 would go, maybe only 15 to 17 come back. Normal army pay is 40 soles per week (about $10), but we got extra because of the danger – 45 soles.

To start with we were all called by number, then one day the commander made us all choose nicknames. Something strong like Puma, or Pirhana, mine was Black Caman. The commander came round, we were all lined up and asked our names. It got to this guy, a big guy who has a big scar with stitches and looks dangerous. You don’t want to mess with him. And he say ‘Tula’. The commander says “What?, that’s a girls name. Choose a different name.” The guy refuses so the commander punches him, but still he doesn’t choose a new name. The commander makes him put his hands behind his back and lifts up his legs so all his weight is on his forehead for 20 seconds, still he doesn’t choose a strong manly name. He makes us all form a tunnel and the man walks through and everyone kicks him. After this, the commander gives up, he’s called Tula.

He would always bullshit and lie about everything. I got really angry because I was in charge of him, I was his platoon leader. Once he said that there was a jaguar in one of our tents. We checked and there was no jaguar. I was angry and said “I don’t mess around, if you bullshit to me one more time, I kill you.”

Now we have to go out in the night, all night in the jungle, and it’s raining but we have no tent, just ponchos. I finish my watch and wake up Tula, “it’s your turn.”
“You’re not going to fall back asleep?”
“No, of course not.”
I wake up in the morning with Tula shouting to me “Ricardo! Ricardo! There’s a snake between my legs!”. I thought this was some bullshit but he kept going. “There’s a snake between my legs, you’ve got to help!”.
I say “I hope you not talk bullshit.”
“No! No! Please!”
“OK, I’ve got a bullet in my gun and I’m going to use it on something.”
“Good! Come please.”
I went and sure enough there was massive snake between his legs. I shot it.

But this guy, he was more than a liar, he had… do you understand mental problems? Do you know what beastiality means?

We nodded uneasily and wondered where this was going…

Near our base, there was a farm, guarded with electric fence and land mines. And the lady who owned a farm, noticed that her animals kept getting killed. Not just killed, but raped, really horrible. Ducks, chickens, all different animals with a hole like someone fucked them. She wanted to kill the guy doing it so she waited with her gun at the night. One night, she saw the guy, she couldn’t see his face but she could she he was a soldier. She wanted to kill him but she can’t because he is in the army.

She went to the general to ask who is fucking her animals. The general got all of us, 100 commandos, in front of the farm lady, and told us about the animals. We knew that Tula would sometimes sneak out at midnight, we thought he was just taking a piss. I looked at Tula, suspicious, he said “that’s disgusting” and shook his head. The general told the farm lady that the army would pay to replace her animals, about $10 for every animal or something. Then she said there were over 20! He couldn’t believe it but still he paid.

The general was very angry now and he got us all together again. Now, every day all 100 commandos had to raise our legs, and put all our weight on our foreheads because no-one owned up. It really hurts so everyone wants to find out who did it.

He gets all the platoon leaders together and asks us who goes out of the barracks after midnight. So now when someone goes to the toilet we wait to see how long he takes. For a couple of weeks there were no more problems, but then the farm lady came back. It was happening again.

One night we see Tula goes out and doesn’t come back. We all go quickly to the farm house in camouflage and wait. We see someone with a balaclava going through the field, he goes slow to avoid the landmines. He gets into the cage to grab a chicken and starts fucking it. We shine a flashlight and he stands to look at us.
“I was just pissing!”
“Get the balaclava off!”
He takes off the balaclava and it’s Tula, with the chicken still attached to his penis.

We went back to the general who was very angry with Tula. But he couldn’t get rid of him, Tula was crazy but he was the best at disarming mines. We need to keep him. He just couldn’t fuck any more animals.

We went on many missions after, and he didn’t stop. One time we saw him fucking a horse, very dangerous. He had to pile up the luggage to stand on so he is high enough. We saw this and for fun someone shot the horse, it kicked back and Tula was hurt. Another time he shouted to me for help “Ricardo!”. I ran over to him and found him with a turtle stuck on his penis. “What the hell?” He said he couldn’t get it off. He put it in and it clamped shut. I mean, a turtle is a prehistoric reptile, it’s not the same, this was really strong. I tried pulling and he screamed. So I got out my knife. He say “don’t use knife” but what else can I do? I try to use the knife and he punches me. I punch him back and he fall unconscious. He just lie on the floor and I pull the turtle. Pop. It comes off and his dick is all shrivelled. It looks disgusting, all patches, like camouflage. He called it his “Little Commando”.

I asked him why he did it, why fuck animals? He said he liked the feel of it, it was better than masturbating. And I know it’s horrible but a lot of soldiers violate the women so I suppose it’s better to do it to animals.

You won’t believe this but I talked to him again this year, and now he’s married.

Thanks Ricardo for the craziest story I heard during my trip.

The Jungle – part 2 (Xmas 2009)

I set off into the Amazon jungle partly for it’s mythic ulure, but mainly to have a fun Christmas with a bunch of adventurous travellers. I checked out the well known but pricey expedition organizer Explorama, but they didn’t have a group for me to join. I could have gone alone with them, but that would have been even more expensive. I checked out a couple more places and it was the same story – no sign of a group to tag along with. I went back to my hostel, the Hobo Hideout, where only two other guests were staying. It looked as though this Christmas would be lonelier than expected.

I joined the two other guests, both elderly Americans, and the owner of the hostel, Jimmy, for a beer. Jimmy had a slightly crazy, wide eyed stare. He lived for hunting and that’s what brought him from North America to the Amazon. He no longer entered the jungle for the novelty, he wanted to catch the biggest fishes and alligators. The hostel walls were covered with stuffed carcasses and skeletons of animals he’d caught.

Knowing that he also ran an expeditions agency, I told him of my plan. He said that he was keen to go back into the jungle and that he could take me. He showed me pictures from previous expeditions. Him holding a massive fish. “I don’t about what those other guys do, this is what I’m about!” He was a bit self absorbed and loved showing off his catches. He said to go with him would take at least 6 days. I hadn’t planned to spend that long and wasn’t sure about the hunting but since I didn’t have a better option I agreed. Later I googled Jimmy and found a story claiming he threatened to kill some native Peruvians (link). Yikes.

That evening I met another traveller who worked in London and, like me, couldn’t find anyone to go into the jungle with so had booked a solo trip with another agency. Too bad we didn’t meet the previous day.

The day of the trip arrived and I found Jimmy, wandering round the Hobo Hideout in only his shorts. He was angry and shouted about the boats not running today to where we’d planned. They wouldn’t run till after Christmas. I was angry because I could have found another expedition had I known. I didn’t want to hang around till after Christmas as I wanted to get back to Lima to celebrate the New Year. I set about town and found another agency. I would leave the following day to a different tributary of the Amazon. Just me and one guide.

I met Victor, my guide, the following morning. In his early 20s, he grew up in the Amazon in Brazil.

On the first boat journey my stomach was hurting badly. By the second journey I was hunched over in severe pain. Victor spotted a sloth in the top of a tree and stopped the boat. He climbed up the tree to lure it down. Although I wanted to see the sloth, I wanted more to get to the lodge and nurse my stomach in private. Here’s me straining to look happy:

The lodge was a basic wooden structure raised on stilts, there we met a young man who was our cook and helper.

I finally got to lie down. While I rested Victor and the cook needed to pop out to pick up a flashlight and some other supplies.

I stayed in bed until the sun went down. Thankfully my stomach pain went away and didn’t return for the rest of my time there. I got a slight thrill from being totally alone as the dusk light faded to blackness, replaced by the incessant high pitched vibrations of crickets, and other more alien noises. I walked around using my keyring light and imagined that Victor had been killed by pumas or something else, and thought about jungle based horror film scenarios.

The next day, we paddled up the river and went on a walk through the trees and bushes. Victor showed me some poisonous termites, and white termites which you can rub on yourself as mosquito repellent. A poison plant, and corresponding antidote plant. A poisonous tarantula. A bunch of plants and herbs which can be used to cure ailments. When I say ailments, I mean a bad stomach – it seems that anything non-poisonous can be used to cure a bad stomach, which usually gets better on its own anyway.

After this we went fishing, using a little wooden rod and bits of chicken skin to use as bait. I was pleasantly surprised to catch 2 pirhanas and a sardine, despite all containing only slightly more meat than the bait used to catch them. We cooked them and had them for dinner with pasta and tomato sauce, very nice. This was Christmas day.

When it got dark, we wandered round, getting bitten by mosquitoes and looking for the nocturnal animals. We found a scorpion and a bullfrog. Victor asked whether I wanted to eat the bullfrog tomorrow. I said no, since it’s an endangered animal. He replied “Thank you my friend. That’s the right answer!”.

With our flashlights, we paddled out. Well, not me, I just sat uselessly trying to coax an image from my camera in the darkness while Victor and our helper rowed through the mess of trees and bushes, hacking through them with a machete so the boat could pass.

We got to a calm clearing of still water, where hundreds of fireflies darted about the reeds and water lilies and where camen, or alligators, were lurking.

The first camen they caught was a couple of feet long. I held it clasping the jaw really tightly between my finger and thumb like I was told. When they put it back in the water it just sank. I thought it was dead but Victor assured me it wasn’t, and also that next time I shouldn’t hold the jaw quite so tightly. Man, it looked like I killed an endangered animal after all. (The next day we came back to them same spot and found the first camen floating, dead. I was happy to hear that apparently it wasn’t my fault but the fault of our helper, who caught it by spearing it in the belly instead of the tail.)

The second camen they caught was slightly bigger. I held it, but clasping the jaw slightly looser this time. It slipped out onto the boat. Victor and I frantically kicked down at it. At this point I didn’t really care that it was an endangered animal, in fact I was actively endangering it. We kept kicking and trapped it between our boots so Victor could pick it up. Thankfully it was fine and he offered it to me again but I’d done enough terrorising so we let it go.

That night we slept away from the lodge in hammocks and mosquito nets.

On Boxing Day we swam with dolphins, or more accurately, swam in murky water in the vicinity of dolphins. Victor was shocked by the state of my back. He took a picture and showed it to me.

Although itchy, it didn’t feel half as bad as it looked. I imagine it was mosquitoes biting through my t-shirt.

An English couple from Bromley turned up at the lodge. They keep pet snakes, give talks to kids about snakes, dream of owning a snake shop, and were in the jungle looking for snakes. Basically, they like snakes. They’d been on three or four expeditions previously and hadn’t yet seen one in the wild so were really hoping to here. I told them I’d seen one that morning, it was cool but I’m sure they would have got more of a kick out of it. Happily they found a similar one that day.

We ate together and all had a beer afterwards which was when the snake couple’s guide, Ricardo, told his story. It started with “do you all know what bestiality means?”

…to be continued

Into the jungle – part 1 (22nd Dec 2009)

I head to Iquitos for Christmas, a town deep in the Amazon jungle, accessible only by boat or plane. Since time is running out I chose the plane.

With hot, dense green jungle, this is a world away from the Andean part of Peru. Cars are scarce here so most use tuk-tuks instead, which they call motocars. It almost feels like I’m in Thailand.

A short boat ride up the Amazon is the Butterfly Farm, where I meet an amusing monkey.

Next, I head out for a 4 day expedition into the jungle proper.

The Nazca Lines (18th Dec)

Straight from an overnight bus journey (just after vowing never to take one again), I arrive at Nazca, a small town in the desert region of Peru. The reason there’s a town, and the reason I’m there, are the big old drawings on the ground.

A 40 min ride in the smallest plane I’ve ever been in. To start with it was cool, if a bit scary.

The lines were a bit underwhelming at first. I’m thinking “What? What am looking at here? It just looks like sand.”

The pilot keeps banking left and right at extreme angles and taking his hands off the controls to point out the window. “We see the condor drawing, just fly the damn plane!”

OK, that is pretty cool.

To make the lines they just removed the dark pebbles covering the ground.

By the end of the flight I was on the verge of being sick, and after landing needed 15 minutes to compose myself. I met someone who did this flight and in a nasty chain reaction, all but one of the passengers got sick.

The world's most dangerous road (10th Dec 2009)

So, just days after my scary bus accident I’m off biking down the road judged by the Inter-American Development Bank to be the most dangerous in the world.

It’s the old road from La Paz to Coroico in Bolivia and is more of a dirt and gravel track, at points clinging narrowly to the mountain, barely wide enough for a single minibus.

At the top we were greeted by dense fog, wet and hands freezing before we’d even started. On the good side the bikes were great, with chunky tires and suspension like I’d never seen. The suspension had so much travel that pedaling while standing up made you bounce up and down. Also, they were pretty heavy. Perfect downhill bikes.

The first section was straightforward, on tarmac and not yet part of the ‘death road’. But somehow one of the guides managed to hit a truck and fall in this section, and needed to be taken to the hospital.

The next section was the start of the death road, with gravel and stones instead of tarmac. It was scary at first, but the suspension and tyres meant that you could get shunted left or right by a stone and the bike would keep it’s balance.

As we got further down the climate got warmer, visibility improved slightly, and I got comfortable with riding on gravel. We past many scary drops off the cliff edge, rode under a few waterfalls, and through a few streams. It was very cool.

We drove back up the road and I took a few pics.

Lake Titicaca (6th – 7th December)

At over 3800m the worlds highest big lake, or the biggest high-altitude lake, or something like that. Basically it’s big and it’s high.

We set off on a boat to Uros, the floating islands of lake Titicaca. They were originally made by people wanting to live in safety away from the warring tribes on the mainland. Some of their descendants are now making a living selling trinkets to tourists. Interestingly there was not a single man on the island, apparently they all work on the mainland, often living far away.

Afterwards we sailed for three hours to Isla Amanti. I stayed here with a local family for the night. Our hosts were a mum, her father, and her daughter. The husband lives in Lima.

Before dinner we climbed to the top to see the sunset. We were obliged to buy a hat each so that our hosts would recognise us after (yeah right).

In the evening we went dancing to some traditional music. The locals performed some typical dance routines, the best being one in which the guys pretended to get more and more drunk and started stumbling round, with the girls helping them home. All the girls had to wear colourful dresses and I had to wear a colourful poncho. This was fun.