Jungle Love, and Various Other Big F-ups

                                                                                                 April 20th, 2006: Cuzco/Aguas Calientes, Peru

     Do you remember that part in "Indiana Jones and The Last Crusade" where Indy, while tied up with Sean Connery,
    tells the Nazis that they'll never find Marcus Brody, that he's got friends in every town and village from here to the
    Sudan, that he speaks a dozen languages, knows every local custom, and that he will blend in so well that they'll never
    see him again... And then they cut to old Dr. Brody getting off the train in Iskenderun, the only white man in a sea of
    Arabs and Turks, asking in vain whether or not anyone speaks English, or maybe even ancient Greek, sticking out
    more than a $10 hooker on the prowl during the Pope's annual Palm Sunday address at the Vatican?

      Well, just when I thought I was beginning to get past that Marcus Brody phase of my travels, two rather large
    blunders have put me right back in my place, on that train station landing in Iskenderun, so to speak.

      But to bring you up to date, we left the town of Iquitos for our 3 day tour deep into the heart of the Amazon, arriving
    at the speed boat assigned to take us up river at 7:30 in the morning, only to find the man we'd paid the money to the
    day before standing there on the dock waiting for us. If you´ll recall, a few emails back I admitted to having purchased
    some counterfit money at the Peruvian border. Well, let´s just say that I tried to slip one of those fake 100 sol bills into
    the stack of seven I handed him the day before, and at this early hour of the morning, he wasn´t exactly impressed.
    When I asked him what exactly did he mean by ¨one of the bills were fake¨, he handed me back the hundo I'd given
    him the day before, except that it was now torn in half, advising me that you could tell that a bill was fake by snapping
    it, and this one, for very obvious reasons, had not passed the test. Valuable information for the next time we´re getting
    swindled at the border. But he wasn't as mad as he probably should have been, taking us simply for the stupid sucker
    tourists we are, and as we slipped him another hundo, we were merrily on our way.

      When we got to the Amazon lodge 2 hours later, we were immediately bombarded with a cloud of mosquitos, and on
    the 300 meter walk from the boat to the cabin, Sandra was lovingly ambushed by a monkey who had come running
    out of the jungle to jump on her leg. Sandra, thinking that she was being attacked by a band of wild Cebidae and
    completely unaware that this little baby wooley monkey (aka: the cutest thing in the world) was actually a pet at the
    lodge, began screaming frantically, and in her attempt to run away nearly flung poor Pepe back into the terrifying
    jungle, when all the little bastard really wanted was some good old fashioned TLC. He eventually climbed up to her face
    and gave her a hug, assuring her that he meant no harm (with the exception of the two times he peed on her later on),
    and this little guy was pretty much our best friend for the next 3 days. The lodge also had a pet Capybara, which is
    known for being the world's biggest rodent - pretty much a cross between a beaver and a guinea pig, but about the size
    of a golden lab... and this oversized rat, being only 3 months old, loved to sneak up on you and suck your fingers, and
    with the weirdest shaped tongue and two sets of molars hidden somewhere in behind it, was more than just a little

      Once we settled in, our guide took us for a canoe ride out on the Amazon to look for pink dolphins. I had no idea
    that there were dolphins in the Amazon, let alone pink ones, but sure enough, there they were, indigenous to that river
    and coming up for air right along side us. As we worked ourselves silly trying to paddle up river to get back to the
    lodge (I had no idea that the Amazon moved that quickly, but I still have a blister on my thumb to prove it), we sprung
    a comically massive leak, and we would have been laughing our asses off if we weren´t bailing water out of our
    dilapidated vessel in an attempt to avoid swimming with the piranas. That night, we went out looking for tarantulas,
    coming across six of them the size of my fist, and then settled in for a cozy night´s sleep in our super singles draped in
    mosquito nets, sharing the lodge with about a trillion mosquitos and one very large vampire bat (I had no idea that it
    was a vampire bat until the morning we left, which was probably for the best). That night, after finally falling asleep
    (the jungle at night is just a decibel louder than the Madison on a Saturday night in September), I was rudely awoken
    by a misty wetness coming through my mosquito net. Having no idea what it was, I went back to sleep, only to be
    woken an hour later by the same phenomenon, this time remarking a rather strange scent as accompaniment. But I was
    way too tired to do anything about it and eventually went back to sleep. (What was it that George W. said? Fool me
    once, shame on you; fool me twice... we won´t get fooled again?) But the third time was all I could take, finally
    deciding to switch my head to the other end of the bed. It wasn´t until the next morning, when looking atop my
    mosquito net, that I realized all at once (like Ace Ventura with the Finkle/Einhorn enigma) that I had been the recipient
    of not one, not two, but THREE Cleveland Steamers, courtesy of the above mentioned vampire bat! I haven´t puked on
    any of the gut wrenching bus rides we´ve been on thus far, but that little moment of revelation was about as close as
    I´ve come. Needless to say, with the same bat perched above my bed the following night, Sandra and I were sharing
    one of those super singles.

      The next day, our guide and his buddy, this time in a canoe that was leaking only slightly less than the one that
    almost drown us the day before, took Sandra and I out for what was supposed to be a nice 2 hour paddle to a lake
    where we could admire the flora and fauna while fishing for piranas. Now, I don´t want to say that they got us lost in
    the swamps of the jungle, but when the 2 hours there and back turns into 5 hours via a shortcut that never leads us
    anywhere near the supposed lake, and when your guide stops pointing out birds and sloths to you in English, opting
    instead to correspond with his fellow paddler only in Spanish while hacking mercilessly away at the overgrowth in an
    attempt to get us the hell out of there, I think it might be safe to say that we may have veered slightly from our original
    path. And the fact that Sandra came within 12 inches of being bitten by the most poisonous snake in that part of the
    jungle (did I mention that she has a severe phobia of snakes?) kind of took some of the shine off of our leisurely
    afternoon jaunt. But I digress.

      On our last day in the jungle, we went to see a Shaman who wasn´t exactly around, but got a good idea of what
    Ayawaska is all about (combining two poisonous plants, boiling it three times, and then making a drink out of the
    extract - it is supposed to give you hallucinogenic visions. Go figure), and ended up buying a bottle of it at the
    disgusting, cholera infested market back in Iquitos. As of this writing, we have yet to indulge. After getting back into
    Iquitos on the Wednesday, our clothes reeked of the most disgusting sweat, mosquito repellent, and general ripeness of
    the jungle, so we obviously took them to the laundramat, as is the custom, before buying our plane ticket to Lima for
    the next day. Well, apparently the Thursday before Easter is a pretty big holiday in South America, because when we
    stopped by the laundramat to get our clothes the next day... you guessed it: closed until Monday. You´ve gotta be
    fuckin kidding me. We had every kid on the block banging on the doors with us (they don´t need to be asked twice to
    cause noise and destruction), hoping that the people living above might be able to let us in, but alas, our flight was due
    to leave in an hour and a half, and the proprietors were clearly off celebrating that traditional Thursday before Easter
    celebration, leaving us with no choice but to abandon all of our wears. Big F-up #1. We´ve since had to buy cheap
    tourist clothes in order to get by, and the two of us now look like a cross between Jules and Vincent Vega on their way
    to the volleyball game, and that guy who wears the T-shirt of the band up on stage. Please, come take my money, and
    don´t forget my camera. If anyone knows anyone going to Iquitos any time soon, I have a ticket that will score them
    some pretty solid $60 cargo pants and $12 pairs of hiking socks, all freshly washed, pressed and paid for, courtesy of
    yours truly.

      To drown our sorrows and stupidity, we landed in Lima and went out to immediately get pissed. We ended up at this
    hilarious Karaoke bar, where Sandra blew everyone away with her version of ¨If It Makes You Happy¨, and I stole a
    page out of Ronnie´s book by playing the roll of the Yankee tourist and bringing down the house with a raucous
    version of ol´Blue Eyes ¨New York, New York¨. So affecting was my version, in fact, that a group of young Peruvians
    invited us over to their table where one of the guys subsequently offered me, in his broken English, the services of his
    girlfriend for the night, ¨if my price was right¨. I´m not even making this shit up. Sandra, having no real idea what was
    going down, was loving every second of these guys, letting them fill and refill her glass, and when they offered to pay
    our bill and join them back at their place, it was all I could do to grab her by the arm and get the hell out of there so we
    could be hassled on the way home by guys asking our name and where we´re from in a ridiculously lame attempt to
    hustle money, and eventually be chased home by juggling eight year olds who wanted us to give them money because
    they made sound effects while their balls (tennis) were in the air.

      The next day was Good Friday, which meant that everything in the city was closed, and we were essentially the only
    ones on the streets, which ended up being a good thing considering I took money out of an ATM with my credit card
    and thoughtfully left it sitting in the machine as I walked away, not even realizing that I might inadvertently be making
    charitable donations to each and every one of the city´s nine million inhabitants should the card fall into the wrong
    hands. Big F-up #2. I didn´t even notice my card missing until the next day, and the sick feeling of an $8,000 credit
    card bill, along with the premature termination of this little adventure hit me in the gut, but when I phoned Mastercard
    immediately, they said that nothing further had been spent, thereby saving Sandra a great deal of time on suicide watch.

      We picked up Sandra´s sister and her boyfriend (a Newf, great guy) at the airport that night, pushed the diesel cab
    with shot alternator in order to jump start it by popping the clutch at a red light, a la 89 VW Golf, and eventually found
    ourselves in Huacacina, a tiny resort oasis in the middle of the Peruvian desert. And I don´t mean desert like in Texas
    or New Mexico with cactuses and roadhouses: I´m talking serious, Middle East style desert, with nothing but massive
    sand dunes with absolutely nothing growing on them for as far as the eye can see. Unbelievable to be in a place like
    that. We took a dune buggy ride out into this wasteland for the sunset, and interspersed that with some ridiculous sand
    boarding (like snow boarding, except down 1000 foot sand dunes - one of the coolest things I´ve ever done). Definitely
    one of the most breathtaking places we´ve been, and that´s saying something.

      The next day, we stopped for a few hours to take in the Nazca lines, and then climbed aboard one of those famous
    buses for a 15 hour ride, where we were forced to sit in the back next to the festering bathroom that was emitting the
    kind of stench that could seriously change a person, climbing to over 4300 meters high in the Andes in the dead of the
    freezing night with myself wearing nothing but shorts and sandals, being woken up sometime around 3 by an
    unidentified animal pecking away at my exposed and chattering shins (after freaking out for a moment, I realized that it
    was only someone´s pet parrot, escaped from their carry on bag and taking out his dissatisfaction with the bus´s air
    quality on my legs - par for the course), the caliber of this transportation resulting in Sandra being violently ill, count
    them, 10 times over the course of the ride. A good time was had by all.

      But we eventually got to Cuzco, and everyone by now is in relatively decent health, meaning that at some point in
    time, we will be making our way to Machu Picchu. Hope everyone is well, and that my family all have a great time
    celebrating the love of the future Mr. and Mrs. Money Shot. And I can´t believe the Leafs fired Pat Quinn. What is the
    world coming to? Talk to you all soon,

Travelling Man