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Urine Aguas

Yurimaguas, Peru

In the morning our overnight bus arrived in Yurimaguas. When I collected my bag from the boot of the bus I noticed that one strap was wet, then Daniel discovered the whole bottom half of his bag was soaking. By the time we found the cheap hostel another traveller had recommended Daniel, we had both become aware of a strong smell of urine hanging around us. Daniel had seen a mattress beside the bags under the bus so we concluded that a staff member must have been sleeping there and relieved himself over our bags during the night. Lovely!

At first the hostel seemed to locked up, but Daniel's persistent knocking and shouting eventually brought a young guy to the door, who agreed to give us a room for only S5 each. The register confirmed that they hadn't been taking in guests for about a month and it seemed that there was some repair work being finished upstairs, where an oldish guy was hammering. The hostel was also an agent for jungle tours and the young guy asked us whether we wanted to go on one, and a guide soon turned up to speak to us. We agreed to a five-day tour at S80 per day plus S20 park fees per day, which was a bit dearer than Daniel had led me to expect, but still much cheaper than Ecuador apparently would have been. It was also a bit more time than I had been planning to spend but the guide insisted that we wouldn't get deep enough into the jungle to see good stuff in anything less than five days. Then, when the guide discovered we had no hammocks, asked us to meet him in an hour at the market to buy one each, telling us it was essential for the boat trip.

We were to leave the following day at midday, rather than catching the first boat at 9am, which I felt would have deprived us of the long sleep we needed after the overnight bus journey. Preparation complete, we went upstairs to sit on the balcony and join the older workman for a few beers. It turned out that the "workman", Carlos, was actually a journalist and news reader, who had recently returned to Yurimaguas from Lima for his father's funeral, and now seemed to be doing a bit of everything there, including working at the local radio station. He was quite a character and he hardly stopped talked for the remainder of the day, constantly jumping up and all over the balcony to act out and illustrate certain important points. I barely understood one quarter of what he said and Daniel, whose Spanish is pretty much fluent, said he probably only got a little over half.

Only a few minutes after we started speaking to him, when he was telling us about his job at the local radio station, he put the radio on, called up the producer and, under half an hour after arriving in town, we were being interviewed on local radio. Carlos introduced himself then told the listeners that he was sitting at this hostel with two foreiners, one from Scotland and one from Switzerland, who were visiting the town as tourists. Then he said something to Daniel I didn't catch and handed the phone to him. Daniel waffled on proficiently for a few minutes and it was my turn. Again I didn't catch what Carlos said, so when he passed the phone to me I just said "umm..." and froze. I couldn't think of anything to say, panicked by the fact I had no idea what he had said to me. Quickly seeing the problem, though, Carlos took over again and said "My friend Michael doesn't speak as much Spanish as Daniel", then prompted Daniel to continue talking, which he did for a bit. When it was time to hang up I managed to get out that it was lovely here, I was sorry I didn't speak much Spanish, and goodbye. All a bit of a failure, really, but he might have prepped us better than arranging an interview without warning within five minutes of sitting down! It was all a bit of a shock, but Carlos seemed satisfied, and continued ranting on about his work until we had to leave and buy hammocks.

There weren't really any other gringos around town: we had perhaps seen only one, so I suppose it was a bit of a story for Carlos to interview us. I was very pleased to get off the beaten path, after having spent most of the time in South America going from large town to major tourist attraction. Huanchaco had been a step in the right direction, but now I had made it to a place than only deserved a few lines in the Lonely Planet. The town wasn't much to look at, but it was nice just to see people going about their normal lives instead of everything appearing to revolve around the tourist, as it had seemed almost since we arrived in Peru. Until Peru, South America hadn't been too bad at all for tourist hassle, but in Peru it had seemed to arrive with a massive improvement in the locals' knowledge of English, apparently in direct proportion to the number of American tourists, as well as the cynicism and eagerness in the locals to rip the tourists off. Having said that, we still got the impression that guide took us to a stall run by his friend and that we paid over the odds, but Daniel managed to save us a bit of money by explaining that we only needed two cords to tie them up. I didn't know anything about hammocks, but Daniel seemed to know what he was talking about.

Back at the hostel, Carlos continued ranting on and jumping about. He asked us if we had heard of ayahuasca and asked if we wanted to try it. The Lonely Planet mentions that there is a lot of ayahuasca tourism further down river at Iquitos, where, it tells you, a tourist can expect to pay at least $60 for one session of spiritual guidance and healing with an experienced shaman, but warns that the rituals are taken very seriously by the locals, so "gawkers and sceptics are not welcome". I said that it sounded interesting but I wasn't sure, because the guide book emphasised the importance of finding a shaman you can trust, if you want to experience the ritual. Carlos then told us that we would have to be very careful, and not to trust any of these shamans, because they are crooks. As soon as we left to get the hammocks, he continued, a shaman, living several miles away, had turned up at the door of the hostel and proposed that he and Carlos invite us to take part in the ayahuasca ritual then, when we are "dreaming" they should rob us and split the proceeds. It seemed Carlos had turned him down and he told us that, instead, if we wanted to experience ayahuasca, he could get us a big bottle of it for S50 for us to try it on our own, instead of paying a shaman much more money for only a little cup, probably only getting robbed in reward. This did not seem in keeping with the sincere and spiritual ritual it is supposed to be about, so we declined, however I was now also quite scared at the idea of the ritual.

Carlos continued ranting for the remainder of the day, much of what he said being quite philosophical and all about morality, much of which he had been writing over the last few days. He kept disappearing into his room to bring out quite poetically written notes and show us the very recent dates at the tops of the pages, frequently implying that there was something fated in our arriving during this period. It seemed quite clear that he was totally manic and I guessed the fevered note-taking had been in the middle of the night when his hyperactivity prevented him from sleeping. If he was a manic-depressive, I certainly wouldn't want to see him at his depressive pole if it is anything like as extreme as the manic one. He admitted to being hyper-active, but did not mention bipolar disorder. Later he insisted that, as his new friends, we should give him something to remember us by, and asked me if he could cut a piece of hair. Although I thought it a bit weird, I said OK, and held a little end of a dreadlock out for him. Instead he took it from me and cut a much larger chunk than I expected. In return, he gave me a t-shirt from his radio station, La RibereƱa, and insisted I wear it while we both accompany him out for chicken at his favourite karaoke bar. The chicken was good, but the karaoke place was awful and completely empty apart from us. which didn't stop Carlos from belting out several songs.

The next morning the guide told us that the boat was delayed until 1pm, so we hung around a bit longer at the hostel, where the young guy at reception asked us if we were going to do the ayahuasca ritual, pointing out a painting on the wall which he said was inspired by it. Remembering Carlos's warnings, I said no. When the guide arrived to take us to the boat, he also asked us if we wanted to, and said that the tour company owner, Manuel, would be able to recommend a good shaman when we arrived in Lagunas. Ayahuasca seems to be everywhere in the jungle!

When we left the hostel, a group of children standing outside all shouted together Hola, Gringos and waved at us. The boat was already packed when we got there, but the guide found us a small space and tied up our hammocks for us. It wasn't exactly comfortable and I was virtually on top of the guy next to me, while the hammock on the other side of Daniel seemed to have loads of space, making me wonder why the guides put both our hammocks in the same place. It was only later I realised that it was because of Daniel's cost-cutting exercise of only buying two cords: he already had one long piece of cord, which was used to tie one end of each hammock up, meaning they had to be together. I'm not sure squashing in like that was worth the one Sol each he saved us!

The boat didn't leave until about 4pm, though we did see some dolphins playing in the port before we left. Just before we set off, Daniel jumped back ashore to buy us six beers, leaving me to prevent the crew from unroping the boat from the harbour until he returned. After we set off, a sheet of paper was handed around, for us to write our names, identity document number, and "reason for travel". When Daniel handed it to me, I saw that he had written terorismo as his reason for travel, rather than the more conventional tourismo, which the young guy next to me said was not something you joke about in Peru, because in that area they still have problems with the Sendero Luminoso Sure enough, when we handed the sheet back to the crew member in charge, he was not amused. He told Daniel that it was very serious, that it goes to the captain, and that we would have to write that sheet out again, destroying the original. Nobody seems to have a sense of humour about terrorism anymore.

Our smugness in the face of the other tourists' jealousy, when collecting our nice cold beers from the galley fridge, soon evaporated when a bell went and everyone else on the boat without exception brought out plates and started to queue at the kitchen. How could the guide have neglected to tell us about this? He ensured we had hammocks, but forgot about our dinner! Even all of the other tourists had plates; it was only the two of us who were without. After everyone else had been served we went up and asked what to do. Luckily they did actually have a couple of plates, so we were able to eat our included meal after all.

We sat at the only table on our deck, drank our beers, and played some cards with a young Argentinian guy, two older Spanish women he was travelling with, and a couple of locals. After a bit I got tired trying, mostly unsuccessfully, to follow everyone's Spanish and went to the front of the boat to watch the scenery, and a man, with a plank of wood, hitting the cows which filled the lower deck every time one of them got a bit agitated at the tiny space they had to stand in. I met an Israeli couple, whose Spanish was even worse than mine, and spoke English with them until it was time for bed. It wasn't the most comfortable night's sleep, but I did get a little bit of rest.

permalink written by  The Happy Couple on December 5, 2009 from Yurimaguas, Peru
from the travel blog: Michael's Lonely post-Honeymoon
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