Life for Me is a Riverboat Fantasy April 10th, 2006: Iquitos, Peru I wish I could say, having traveled for 3 days along the Amazon River, that I knew precisely what the great bard David Wilcox was talking about when he waxed poetic about sitting around with a rock and roll band and a reefer in his hand, just watching that wheel go round; but alas, as has been the case with most of the South American transportation thus far, it was pretty much that wonderful vision´s exact opposite. Let me bring you up to date. First of all, a few details that, in my haste to try to add photos in my previous email, I inadvertently forgot to mention. Back in that great Peruvian surfing town of Mancora, we met an American expatriate who was, I shit you not, identical to the dead guy from ¨Weekend at Bernie´s¨. It was absolutely classic hanging out with this guy at the bar and the beach (where we watched a fiery moon set into the ocean, only the second time in my life I´ve ever seen a moon set - the first being up at Round Lake with a raucously intoxicated Tommy Richards), complete with moustache, sunglasses and all, knowing full well that he was the world´s biggest drug dealer, not only because he looked like Bernie Lomax and managed to have the most exotic looking Peruvian girl on his arm (wearing the world´s skimpiest bikini), and not only because she was she completely cracked out on coke the entire weekend, but mostly because when I asked Bernie what he did for a living, he came back with ¨I´m kind of retired...¨ And living in Peru. Hmmm. But he was a total buzz (at this point in the trip, speaking fluent English makes you a total buzz in my mind), and we didn´t end up getting shot in his presence, so no harm done. Another highlight of Mancora was the taxi ride to the hot spring mud bath place. The taxis here are all motorcycle rickshaw hybrids, and we had to do some serious off-roading to get to the bubbling, sulfuric goodness. As we were cruising up some dried up river bed, the mototaxi got totally stuck in the sand, so Sandra and I had to get out and push this thing along the dried up river for about 200 yards, while your man just sat there and gave´er the gas. Too funny. We ended up having to get out and push 4 more times, and then on the way back, the piece of shit rickshaw ended up getting a flat tire. Only in Peru do you have the fortune of paying for that kind of service. So we finally got out of Mancora after spending a ridiculous night at this totally bumpin´ little surf bar called ¨Iguanas¨, where we danced all night to the 12 Latin songs that get played over and over again in this part of the world, finally beginning to understand what Brian Wilson meant when he penned that eye-sweat inducing query: ¨Do you love me, do you Surfer Girl?¨ Single guys, take note. Anyway, after a 6 hour bus ride to Chiclayo, we scored a hotel room with a TV and watched the robbed-by-the- academy comic masterpiece, ¨Club Dread¨ (¨Don´t you mean, Pinacoloda-burg?¨), before waking up to discover that we would have to later that day endure a 24 hour bus ride. Now, I´m not sure if anyone has ever taken a 24 hour bus ride in South America, but let´s just say it wasn´t exactly the Breakaway Tours jaunt down I-75 to Daytona. There were literally entire families moving to our final destination (a small river port town called Yurimaguas), and each and every one of their worldly possessions were strapped to the roof of this bad boy, with the exception of their dog, which was comfortably stored directly beneath our seats with the spare tire at the back of the bus, where it (understandably) barked for the majority of the ride, finally stopping all at once, convincing everyone on board that it had breathed its last. Anyway, the bus left at a little past 4 pm on Monday, and stopped around 8 for a bathroom break... Did I forget to mention that the bus didn´t have a bathroom? That´s right, 24 hours on a bus sans pisser. Completely insane. But they were showing some soft core Latin porn on the TV (something about a priest and his parishioner - fun for the whole family), which some guy took it upon himself to turn off, along with all of the lights, sometime after midnight, leaving the rest of us with nothing but our throbbing bladders to contemplate in the dark. Relief was mercifully granted when we broke an axle sometime after 3 am on one of the bathtub sized potholes along the dirt road we were cruising (at the leisurely clip of about 20 km/hour), and it wasn´t until we climbed back aboard that I was able to fall asleep. We eventually got into Tarapoto around noon, which is where we got off the bus and climbed into a little white minivan, all 20 of us, including the dog, which was miraculously still breathing at that point. We had to stop twice in the minivan - once to allow for the removal from the road of the trees they had clearcut (rainforest preservation at its finest); and once to allow for the roadworkers (they were doing a great deal of road work on a dirt road, prompting me to wonder why they just didn´t pave the fucking thing) to clear a path through the dirt. This second delay lasted approximately 45 minutes, and having been sitting for the previous 26 hours, and with the rainforest heat stifling that tiny van and all 20 of us inside, and with the fucking dog stepping on my feet, I was just about ready to blow a gasket. But we finally pulled into Yurimaguas sometime after 6:30 pm, having watched the sun set twice on the same trip (a distance of maybe 500 kms), having not eaten but banana chips for more than a day, and pretty much wanting to kill myself. So to reward ourselves for this endurance, we jumped aboard a cargo boat the next day, slung up our hammocks, and awaited our arrival at our jungle oasis. We were in the ¨first class¨section of the cargo boat, which meant that we were on the top floor of the open air vessel; a floor that was allegedly less crowded than the second floor. Also, the food was supposed to be better. Anyway, the boat was supposed to depart at 3pm, but it took them longer than expected to load the plantains, cows, and pigs (screaming as they were dragged aboard, unwillingly, by their ears and tails - a sight and sound that prompted Sandra to declare that she will never eat another mammal again), so we eventually took off around 6pm. Now, maybe it´s just me, but if the ticket for your passage includes all meals, is it wrong to assume that a ship leaving at 3pm should include dinner that night? Apparently so, because the 8 white people aboard went hungry that night, but by this point in the trip, we had grown accustomed to going long stretches without sustenance. With nothing better to do, we were in our hammocks well before midnight, and I actually slept pretty well, until the person behind me decided to vomit all over the floor in the middle of the night, the splashing sound of their dinner (they knew to bring their own) on the metal floor rudely awakening me from my sweet slumber. Just a sociological note here: as far as I can tell, people in South America don´t really have a problem puking wherever they are. In my experience, no matter how drunk or sick, I can always make it to a bathroom, or barring that, a more acceptable place, such as a garbage can or over the side of the boat. But on this trip, the people just puke wherever they are. So it ends up on the floor beneath my hammock, and in the aisle of the bus, half on some stranger´s lap, or in the back of the pickup truck you happen to be riding in. Just a totally strange phenomenon. Anyway, this puking on the floor continued for about 5 minutes, after which sleep was pretty much out of the question. Which wasn´t as big a deal as I thought it would be, because the next day, laying around in my hammock all day, we were pretty much brought back to some kind of a womb experience, never having to get up, having our meals cooked for us, reading, feeling the Amazon breeze, watching the river scenery pass by, and sleeping right where we were, whenever we got the urge. A great way to spend the day. The only downside was the fact that on the upcoming weekend, there was a major Peruvian election going on, which meant that, just like in Biblical times, everyone had to go back to the town they were born in. Now, as you can well sympathize, if you were born in a town that you could only get to by a 3 day boat ride, the first thing you´d probably do is get the hell out of there... which is what most people did... which meant that they had to get back to their hometown to vote (you get fined for note exercising your democratic right here - not necessarily a bad idea)... which meant that we were picking up mass quantities of people along the way as they tried to flag us down in their motorized canoes, throwing their stuff in with the animals and climbing through open windows even as the boat refused to slow down for them, already being 150 people over capacity. A crazy scene. Anyway, by the time the sun was setting, you couldn´t even move on our ¨first class¨ floor, and we decided that sleep would be impossible. What else to do but drink all 3 bottles of hard liquor between the 8 of us (one English dude named Pete was a dead ringer for Ivan Ostric - I took an immediate affection towards him): a near lethal combination of a $4 bottle of rum, a $4 bottle of pisco (Peruvian grape brandy), and a $3 bottle of cognac, to be washed down with only a litre of Coke. After a game of 10,000 (dice) and 3-man, we had managed to kill it all, and slept soundly until the babies began crying and wetting their hammocks, and someone´s pet parrot began squawking so shrillingly that it was the closest I have ever come to committing a hate crime against an animal. So in case you were ever wondering why you´ve never met anyone who has been to Iquitos, Peru - the biggest city in the world that can´t be reached by road - the reason is that it is the queen bitch of places to get to. We left Monday afternoon, and arrived Friday morning, and not a great deal of that time spent in transit was what most of the western world would refer to as ¨comfortable¨. One more interesting little anecdote. After the gruelling trek to get here, and after having polished 3 bottles of the most vile, warm hard liquor known to man, the only thing we wanted was an ice cold beer. As we walked into ¨The Yellow Rose of Texas¨ (a great Texas steakhouse and bar owned by a former Longhorns baseball player on the run from the IRS, where all of the Amazonian waitresses dress in ¨hookem horns¨ cheerleader outfits - it´s like the Hooters of the Jungle), we sat down at a great big table and ordered a big ol´ round of Texas sized beers... only to learn that in Peru, it is illegal to sell alcohol within 48 hours of an election, and seeing how the election was this Sunday, we were plumb out of luck until Sunday at 6pm... Utter heartbreak. And adding insult to injury was the fact that we´d reluctantly drank every last drop of the hard stuff the night before, simply to see if we could do it. Idiots. But not to worry, because we eventually found a liquor store with the door open a touch, knocked, convinced the owner to sell us a bottle, and had it handed to us in a plastic bag out the side door. And then we found the ¨Sangs of Peru¨, ordering a round of beers at a run down Chinese restaurant, and then ordering 12 more to go (followed by 12 more that they delivered to the hostel before they closed up shop at midnight). Needless to say, mirth and merriment ensued. Anyway, this place is completely nuts, and in the market you can buy a pet monkey, a pet sloth, or baby alligators. I hardly think the World Wildlife Foundation would approve. We´re going further into the jungle tomorrow for the next 3 days to look at monkeys, fish for piranas, wrestle with alligators, avoid anacondas, and do our best to not contract malaria. Should be a blast. Also, we just found out that Sandra´s sister and her new man (who happens not to be Damen) are flying into Lima Friday to hang for a week, so that should crank it up a notch. Hope everyone is well. If I don´t have your address and you want a post card, just email me and I´ll see what I can do (Lisa, that includes you). Talk to you later, Marlow and Kurtz.