We drive from Tingo Maria to Tocache. It rains every day, and with each drop my mood sinks. With every passing cloud, I wish to be back at the Pan American highway, where it was at least dry. There is not much beauty to my eyes, only trees, green lushness, rivers and never very far to have my sight wander. In the jungle uninterrupted views do not exist.
I feel a bit ashamed towards Geo, who now finally likes where he is, that I am not enthusiastic. In fact, for the very first time he finds it truly beautiful. I reply with a lukewarm ‘hmm, yes’ to his ‘how beautiful it is here!’ We have now changed perspectives and I realize that I, like Geo, do not want to be where I would not want to live.
On one of our rainy camp spots, I need to seek shelter in Geo’s cheap Chinese tent, while he takes a shower in the rain, almost dancing around from happiness.
I dislike the humidity, the wetness, the smell of marshy dogs and camping among very big insects. Everything is either wet, damp or severely wrapped in endless layers of plastic to keep it dry. The mosquitoes drive their poison into us, like hundreds of tiny injections, their juices keep itching, almost weeks after. I find out that the locals suffer these tiny mosquitoes the size of fruitflies as well, but none of them have liquid oozing out of their bites…
While the rain stopped pouring down, Geo and I try to dry our stuff on the only flat surface we found. A place that Geo called ‘the best camp spot ever so far’, and where now a family appears. I’d found this spot and was surprised to see such level ground unused. It turns out it will be used, as Victor tells us, the father of the family who’d appeared in their own mototaxi. This is his plot, the fruit trees and pineapples surrounding are his and we are most welcome to stay. He points at my tent and says it is most unsuitable for the jungle. I agree.
Victor’s wife tells me the red beads I was collecting are coming from a tree, and her ancestors made necklaces from it. I instantly realize I miss contact with the locals, especially the tribes deep in the forest. But we have decided to keep things rather easy and stay on the only main road plying the selva jungle.
In my opinion, we are far from the real impenetrable jungle. We are just in a surrounding with many trees, on a very good asphalted road. It may be abundant lushness, unable to walk through unless one uses a machete. Yet a road with trucks is not very Junglebook-alike.
We go to Chontayacu, a hamlet opposite the river and the main road 5N. Victor told us this road is impossible to use in rainy season, that it is closed off by water. For us, such advice is a good reason to try. The road is atmospherically unpaved, embedded by green abundance. We are now in the middle of coffee, cacao and banana plantations, though coca plantations gain the best profit. We want to pass on greetings of an acquaintance of Geo to the people in this place, and so we have a reason to visit a small Peruvian village.
The drive is fantastic adventurous and we end up in an empty church. Literally a blessing since more rain falls from the heavens. Big Agnes tent and Cindy just don’t like rain. In this village, as with the Altiplano, most young people want to leave the hard agricultural work and low income, instead flock to Lima. The ever growing city, to bundle up in offices and have a slice of the good, comfortable living.
In this village it is not all fine and dandy either. The cacao trees have all got infested and the whole harvest was a failure.
After hours on roads with river pebbles, passing deep waters, tracks with loose sand, shaky bridges and a ferry transition, we reach tarmac. I was not often so happy to see asphalt since this motorbike ride. The thing is, I get very tired of sitting. It increasingly disappoints me, sitting on the back, sitting when we have lunch, sitting when we have dinner and sitting when we drink something. Sitting starts to hurt in every position, on every surface. I was never the type to sit.
Admittedly though, this was the most atmospheric off-road ride in the jungle.
Though, the best thing is yet to come. I am first surprised when Geo turns the motorbike in the middle of the smooth asphalted road. He says: ‘Get your camera out’, but all I see is a slow whirling cloth on tarmac. I take my camera out very reluctantly, most hesitantly. When we get closer I am elated!
See his smile!
And that stubborn growth of hair, the cowlick, above his eyebrow! Seeing this animal moving is an unspoken wish come true.
To really look at him is overwhelming. At once the boredom of where we are vanishes (I feel ashamed to say so). This sloth seems to be of the opinion that the grass is greener on the other side, and so he passes over. The road is infrequently used and not one car passed when he made the crossing.
Sometimes sloths are captured to be kept as a pet. It is one of the big not to grasp habits of another country that bothers me. Stupidity even. More things bother us, probably because we are tired, like the shrieking voices of women running group-wise towards you, trying to sell delicious juicy ready-to-eat fruit. It irritates us how people present things, like the man in a restaurant answer: ‘Yes, we have fried trout’, when I ask him whether he has breakfast. ‘Ah, well, I would like something lighter in the morning, like bread. Fish is a bit too heavy for me right now,’ is my answer. The man then says: ‘It is not fish, it is a trout’. Or the loud playing music on the trash-hauler truck moving through the streets, sometimes in the very early morning. Only to announce himself, and people are coming out of their houses to deliver the trash. It’s a great system but not kind to the European ears. Our irritation shows us that we are truly tired.
Tocache is pleasant. Humid. Wet. Many people. Noisy. Yet atmospheric. Just as Tingo Maria was hip. Peruvians here are such a mixture that we see all sorts of faces from all parts of the world, yet everyone is Peruvian. People here are warm, welcoming and greeting. Mister Lang, whose granddad fled the Mao regime, shows Geo all his cellphone photos: his daughter in bikini and his grandson’s first birthday party flooded with blue balloons. Geo also has to talk to Mister Lang’s sister in California via Skype. I am glad that I have a husband who does the talking; when I was single I had to do all this sort of stuff and it’s not always easy to be interested in other people’s family ties.
Tocache has the slogan ‘Amistad, Amor & Trabajo’ and that is to be felt. Literally, when you count every finger pressed on the horn of the many Wanxin mototaxis. Maybe they all greet us ‘Welcome to Tocache’, because we truly feel well received! People are surprised to see us, and their friendliness surprises us in return.
Our hostel is a bit lousy, but cheap. When it rains, the floor has some water pools. But finally we have a window as big as the front facade, and light feels luxurious.
Now, let’s move in a bowline to the border with Ecuador. We did all we had to do: receiving cat love, laundry, beard trimming, delicious food (Peruvian rice is the best there is), good nights sleep without mosquitoes and meeting of lovely people. Now, let’s get into the humid, mosquito infested, uproar of some more of what Peru has to offer.
For all those kind replies on Facebook motorbike-groups about my saddle pain, I was only able to get one solution out in the jungle of Peru. And it was a big relief! Thank you all : )
December 2019. Tingo Maria, Chontayacu, Tocache.