Iquitos, the heart of the Amazon

Dios mio! (oh my god in Spanish!)

The Readders has only gone and made it to the jungle…the actual AMAZON jungle!! This is totally a dream come true and I have utterly loved it. I was in heaven!

I felt like I was David Attenborough or Steve Backshaw haha. I loved getting out and exploring and especially pretending I was filming for my own wildlife doc haha. ‘Readdy for the wild’ or ‘Readdy to bug hunt’ haha.

Iquitos oozed excitement, bugs, wildlife, adventure…the LOT. Even the journey over here was an adventure in itself. Let me explain…

Planes and river boats

So the actual plane trip is only a few hours but because I’m on a backpackers budget, I opted for the ‘long weight’ at the airport (kind of annoying because there’s not much to do at Lima airport apart from eat!). My first flight (Cusco to Lima) took off at 8am and my 2nd flight landed in Iquitos at 8:40pm! I felt shattered when I’d finally arrived at the teenie tiny airport of Iquitos and it wasn’t over yet!

When the doors of the plane finally opened, in uniform fashion, everyone followed each other out one by one. The heat and humidity hit me as soon as I reached the doorway as if to give me confirmation that I was definitely in the jungle. I stood and looked out for a second and smiled thinking ‘Iquitos! I’m here baby!’ Then, as if by magic, my hair began to frizz up like Worzel Gummage once more as if to remind me just how much it hates the humidity haha but I so didn’t care!

I grabbed my luggage and stepped outside looking for my pick up. Oh my god, the taxi guys are really pushy here! They literally get right in your face. Thankfully my contact was there waiting for me and rescued me from my taxi attackers!

“Hi I’m Almaz. We have a long way to the lodge. First we take a mototaxi. By the way, it might rain!” Almaz, (who’s name reminded me of some kind of medicinal oil), a kind faced, short man helped me with my bags and loaded it onto what looked like a half motorbike, half tuktuk haha. I was expecting the rain to come too for I knew it was the start of the rainy season.

I felt like I was in Thailand once more…well, in some kind of familiar unfamiliar! The same crazy road system where everyone just goes for it, similar funny smells, and a ton of stray dogs (uh oh) mooching about and eating out of bins and any other lil scraps they could sniff out.

But everything seemed way poorer here. Homes looked very basic – wooden huts with hardly anything in them (from what I could see through the passing windows). And the doors and roofs were all made from corrugated metal.

I could see children playing football in the alleyways (yes, even at the late hour it was by then hah), women cooking street food, men walking around with their t-shirts rolled up above their bellies trying to keep cool and small bars with broken, flashing neon lights brimming with nightly drinkers.

And street names were actually sprayed onto old rubber tyres haha.  I thought that was pretty cool. Good way of making use out of an old tyre hey.

“Uh oh” I said out loud…”lluvia!” (which means rain). Yep, the rain trickled down as if to give us a warning of what was to come. The trickle then turned into a monsoon ugh. Welcome to the jungle haha.

The mototaxi then swung off the main road and turned down a dark and narrow, very bumpy and very muddy road. We were being thrown all over the place in the little mototaxi, so much so that I actually bumped my head on the surrounding frame! Puddles sounded deep and full and I could feel tiny sprays flicking up and landing on my bottom lip. ‘Ewww. Just don’t lick your lips Helen!’

Yay, a tiny light glimmered in the distance. ‘Finally, this must be the end of this horrendous road!’ I thought. We’d stopped at the edge of a river and I could see our next mode of transport was a long and narrow boat. Thankfully it had some kind of plastic top for a roof which was a nice relief. Almaz and 2 other men helped to load my gear onto the boat and with that, one man pulled a cable to start the engine (in the same fashion you’d fire up an old lawn mower or chainsaw).

A few minutes into the boat journey, I was becomming overwhelmed with the fact that I was actually in Iquitos and here having another adventure. Feeling as bold as Indiana Jones, a horrible thought came over me and my inner chat started waffling at me. ‘Hang on. What the hell Helen?! This is the scene right now…It’s absolutely chucking with rain, it’s pitch black oh and you’re on a boat with 3 strange men going to god knows where!’ Ok, I was becomming a little scared now. How did I end up in this situation? I literally had to put all my trust in these guys right now! I couldn’t exactly jump off if I got into any trouble….er Piranhas, cayman!! Gulp. I just had to sit there, trust and endure the ride.

The boat journey felt like it was taking forever. Especially as we were slowing down at each part of the river that narrowed. Almaz was sitting at the front and every now and then, he’d switch on his beast of a torch which seemed to light up the whole of the river ahead…it was almost like he had the moon inside that contraption hah! I thought it was so we didn’t crash into the side of the river bank but oh no…it was to make sure we weren’t bumping into any cayman or other boats I guess, but I knew I’d rather bump into a fellow boat than a killing machine haha.

Phew, we finally slid up part of the bank and ‘parked’ the boat. The rain was still coming down heavy and had no signs of slowing. “Ok, put these on”. Almaz handed me a pair of huge wellies. “Oh, ok. Thanks”. Whilst I slipped them on, the men were busy wrapping my gear into clear plastic bags so that nothing got wet. The wellies felt huge but I just had a feeling I was going to be grateful for them. “Ok. Are you good to walk in the rain? It will be 20 minutes to the next boat”. Almaz looked at me as if waiting for my consent. ‘Next boat?!’ I thought. Wow, this is some journey! “Of course. It’s part of the adventure right!” I replied. All I could think about was getting into bed so the sooner we got on our way the better.

Woah! It was SO muddy. And yes, I was truly grateful for the use of my baggy wellies. Thankfully, I remembered I had put my headtorch in my coat pocket so I popped that on straight away. (Thank you clever past self haha!) Even though my laptop was wrapped in a clear plastic bag, I’d wrapped it under my coat and hugged it with all my life! I was slipping and sliding all over the place and nearly fell a few times. Each step into the beige coloured mud seemed to ‘suck’ a baggy welly down deep like quick sand but it was thick and strong. It was like there were ‘hands’ under the mudd trying to pull you in so it was quite tiring pulling your foot back out, especially with baggy wellies which almost stayed behind leaving my foot fancy free…oh god, can you imagine if my foot had come clean out and planted a sock straight back down into the mudd eww haha!

I glanced up every now and then from my concentration to see nothing but trees either side of us. My mind started racing again ‘Erm…don’t Jaguars live here? And what happens if we see a venomous snake?’ Even though it was scary, it was exhilarating and I kind of wanted something to happen too! Suddenly we passed a family who must have been walking home. They were all bare footed, squelching and splashing through the puddles as they walked! ‘Wow, jungle folk’ I thought. They must be so used to all this.

We finally reached another river point where our 2nd boat was waiting but this one had no roof. Almaz and another man pulled out 2 silver pots from their backpacks and got busy scooping up rain water from the bottom of the boat. ‘Hey ho’ I thought as I sat down on a wet bench and watched, still hugging my laptop from under my coat. ‘Hang on, tell me that’s just the rain water and not a leaky boat!?’ Shhh Helen! By now you can imagine my socks and smalls were damp and I was incredibly tired. Finally we got moving and all I could think about was being warm, dry oh and that the boat really didn’t have a hole in it that could cause us to sink making us fine meals for cayman and piranhas!

“Here we are Helen” Almaz parked the boat and helped me onto the shore. Almaz and his mate then showed me to my lodge and put my stuff down. There was a huge leak on one side but the bed was dry which was all I cared about right then. “See you in the morning for breakfast”. “Ok, thanks Almaz. Good night”.

Almaz and his pal then left me to it. I immediately pulled out my PJ’s and got ready for bed. It was small lodge and literally all the space was taken up by the huge double bed. There was also a small bathroom and shower in the next room which I was grateful for (as I’ve been used to sharing such amenities with fellow travellers). But it was perfect for me.

I had a quick nose about for bugs to see what kind of cool beasties I’d be sharing with. I spotted 2 massive brown spiders up in the rafters! I was marvelling at them with my headtorch when suddenly, something black swooped out of nowhere and gobbled one of the spiders up! ‘WOAH’ what was that?! I watched for a while to see if it would swoop again and eat the other one. SWOOSH….right in front of me! ‘There it is again’ It was a huge bat! Cool, he can eat all the mozzies haha.

Tiredness washed over me again and reminded me to get to bed. I crawled under my mozzie net and lay there in the darkness for a while happily listening to the heavy rain and the nightly bugs chorus. ‘Ah jungle noises, how I’ve missed you!’ I grinned to myself. I could also hear gentle tones of what sounded like columbian, salsa beats in the distance. I was in my happy place and with that, drifted off.

Jurassic Park

So the first full day I pretty much just chilled. When I woke up, I realised just how close my hut was to the river and what a view! I stepped outside and literally thought I was IN jurassic park! Tall trees, banana trees, trees I don’t even know the name of surrounded me. I could see an array of foreign flowers in pinks, whites, oranges and reds. Chickens were roaming the grounds pecking away at bugs….oh yes bugs…let’s have a look!

‘ this a bullet ant?’ No it couldn’t be. Ants of all varieties were everywhere! Black ants that I knew weren’t Army ants but what were they? They were long, skinny and at least an inch long yielding huge piercing mandibles! Well I certainly didn’t want to get bitten by them! I know some ants can squirt acid so I didn’t want to aggravate any haha. Actually, on the keys to my hut, there was a cool keyring. It looked like a block of amber but it was clear and frozen inside was the biggest, fattest ant I’d ever seen…yes, this HAD to be a bullet ant. I really wanted to see one for real.

The other ants that freely roamed were leaf cutter ants. It was fun watching them marching in their production lines and carrying pieces of leaves or parts of flowers they’d cut off. I could easily point out the soldier ants and strewth they were big too and again, definitely didn’t want to be bitten by one of those either.

Over breakfast of black coffee and banana pancakes, I asked Almaz if the keyring was indeed that of a bullet ant. “Ahh ci ci. They are everywhere here”. “Wow! I really want to see one!” Almaz laughed and said he’d been bitten by one before and hoped to never ever experience that again haha. You know the bite from a single bullet ant delivers 24hrs of pain right and there’s nothing you can do about it! You may develop a fever too and some people need to go to hospital so I knew I had to be careful out there. I was in the jungle after all!

Almaz gave me a list of all the jungle tours available and immediately I signed up for them all. I knew I would want to do and see the lot! Once in a lifetime chance hey.

My first trip was arranged for the very next morning, an amazon jungle trek and oh boy I couldn’t wait!

Late afternoon, the rains started again and it continued to pour down for the rest of the day, ALL night oh and right up until the very next morning in fact. Typical.

Now Iquitos has a high risk of malaria and although my hut came with a mozzie net, I was taking no chances! I’d brought my own mozzie net that I shelled out £50 on so thought I may as well make use of it. Again, being resourceful, I had to do a bit of a blue peter job on it but successfully hung my net up INSIDE the other mozzie net. Standing back and admiring my work, I knew I was going to sleep easy! 😉

In the evening, I was back in my hut and listening to the wonderful jungle chorus once more. On the bathroom door I spotted a cool green frog with pale green eyes! “Ah hey lil dude” I welcomed my unannounced guest as I knew he’d eat the mozzies which actually, I hadn’t seen many of. Maybe because of the rains or the fact that my jungle friend was gobbling them all haha.

Eventually laying inside my net within a net (haha!), I tried to sleep but I felt like a kid on christmas eve! I wished the night away so I could get up and go on my jungle trek! I could not wait.

Amazon jungle trek

Ugh, so it rained ALL night and was still raining when I stepped out for breakfast. I wondered if my trek might be cancelled but alas no, ‘Yessss’ I thought. There was no way I’d let this rain get in the way. Almaz suggested I wear the wellies incase the rain caused any flooding.

Heading out with Almaz and his pal Walter, we set off. Dios mio, the rain was heavy and just like my trek to the lodge that first night, the ground had become a mass of sliding beige mud and huge puddles that looked like mini ponds but I didn’t care a hoot! It was quite fun splashing through the puddles in my wellies actually, it’s funny how wellies give you that sense of joy.

I was thinking the rain would put the mozzies off but actually no! The mozzies were really bad especially in areas where there was more water. Thankfully I had my deet with me so I slapped a load of that on and shared it with the guys who were also suffering. Still, the mozzies bit my butt through my trews, yeouch!

Trudging along, I couldn’t stop looking around. Again, it was like being in jurassic park. Everything was green! There was SO much green, I loved it. “Wait, can you hear that? Monkies!” Almaz stopped and looked upwards. “Oh cute!” I screeched. I could see a pack of tiny little black monkies swinging admist the trees and playing. They scarpered once they’d spotted us gorping at them. ‘Wow’ I was so happy to have seen them.

“So Helen, today we want to show you the Lupuna Tree. It is the biggest tree, you’ll ever see”. Almaz promised it was a sight worthy of trekking in the rain for. I was curious to see it! My mind shot back to pretending I was filming a nature doc ‘Readdy to hunt for the infamous Lupuna tree’ hehe.

“Hey Almaz…don’t you have wild Jaguar roaming free here?” I curiously but nerously asked. “Yes, we do”. “What?! And do you carry a gun incase we see one and are attacked?” “Nope” “So…what do you do?” I was kinda scared at this point haha! With that, Almaz looked at me and moved his arms about as though he was doing kung fu! “What!!” I kinda laughed but wasn’t too sure if he was being serious haha. “It’s ok, we have machetes for emergency”. “Ok ok”. Wow, we really ARE in the jungle here.

Walking along, I loved hearing Almaz and Walter cutting new or overgrown paths with their machetes. I really felt as though I was following the footsteps of David Attenborough looking for a new patch of forest to film.

Moving on, Almaz pointed out medicinal trees and plants of the jungle. It was so interesting to see what people out here would use if they had a cut or a bite or rash etc. It’s amazing to think that everything I walked past, had some kind of use, some kind of importance to the local people. Nothing goes to waste.

“Oh no!” Almaz stopped in his tracks and glared at Walter. Looking ahead, I could see our route was completely flooded. “But we have wellies Almaz!” I cheekily responded. “Yes, but it might be deep”. With that Almaz took his wellies and socks off, rolled up his trews and slowly stepped in to ‘test’ the water. Oh boy, it was deep! The water was well over his knees. Almaz came back over to me and ushered me to get on his back. “Um, ok!” Hang on, I’m much taller than these guys and yet they still had to piggy back my arse over the floods haha! They should consider making wellies in height size ya know hah.

Piggy back 3Well, he was a gent and carried me over the flood all the way to the shallowest part. Walter was laughing and taking photos which no doubt ended up on his facebook page haha. We trudged on and came to another flooded part of the jungle. Again, Almaz was a gent and carried me through the deepest parts.

After hours of treking, we’d finally reached our stop point, yep, at the breath taking ‘Lupuna Tree’. “WOW!! It’s ginormous” It really was a spectacular sight to see and was definitely worth it. The trunk can reach 33 feet across if that helps to give you an idea!

“This tree is home to much wildlife” Almaz pointed at the roots. These roots were so large that I could literally step inside them. Hey and guess what? I just happened to have my head torch in my pocket so I thought I’d have an explore. I shone my torch inside the roots and woah, I could see all sorts! It was fascinating. I saw lizards, tree frogs and also a bundle of bats hanging upside down chilling out! I also spotted a giant forest floor millipede crawling in for cover. It really highlighted just how much this tree was needed and I loved seeing how much this tree is depended on by nature. I couldn’t help but ponder at just how much life this tree supported the further up I looked. My day was well and truly made.

By the time we walked back, the floods seemed to have almost disappeared! Almaz looked pleased that he didn’t have to carry me again haha. We passed a few homes in San Pedro and Almaz ran into one of the nearby shops to pick something up. Waiting for him, I went off to take a few pics. Some sweet kiddies came out and were just staring at me! One of the kids smiled at me and then went and got his pet parrots just to show me. That was so cute.

Phew, back at the lodge, we rested for a few hours before Walter took me out on a canoe ride. “Helen, we go fishing for piranha’s” Walter then ushered me to the boat and we sailed out. “Piranha!! WOW” I was so excited to see one.

Walter plonked the boat in the middle of the river and handed me a long wooden rod with a wiggly worm on the end of it. I copied him! Walter spoke less english than Almaz but we didn’t need to speak whilst fishing hey. It reminded me of when my dad took me out when I was a lil kid. And guess what…sadly no piranhas were caught but I did catch quite a few catfish!

The sun started to go down and we both sat and watched a beautiful sunset and called it a day. We rowed back to the lodge and gave Almaz our catch of the day so he could cook us up our tea. Yep, we ate the fish we caught! Talk about fresh.

“Helen, tomorrow we go Iquitos city” Almaz seemed very well organised. “Ok cool”. “Then we go to Belen market. Belen market is a dangerous place and tourists must have a guide there”. “Oh really. But it’s ok because you’ll be there right?” I’d heard Iquitos was quite a busy town and one in which you had to have your wits about you but I wasn’t worried. Almaz explained that he’d arranged for me to meet a guide at the market, someone he knew and trusted so I felt like I was in good hands.

After our fish dinner, I went off to bed and looked forward to seeing what the city of Iquitos would be like.

The City of Iquitos

Yay, it wasn’t raining! And oh my goodness it was a scorcher of a day. I felt super sick though but wasn’t going to let that stop me. I knew it was my anti malarials anyways, I’d forgotten just how sick they can make you feel.

Almaz and I scooted off straight after breakfast. We took the boat out (which was the only way to get out of San Pedro) and then took a ride on a local bus heading towards Iquitos.

I was looking forward to seeing some civilisation! I wondered what the town would be like, the people, what was I going to see? I was a little worried as to what I was going to be exposed to on the market stalls. I remembered Thailands market had all sorts from crazy food (including bugs) to live animals that you could buy as pets including squirrels and monkies. I had my strong stomach on that day (well, apart from feeling sicky hah!).

I loved peering out the side of the bus! People on the bus were too busy staring at me but I didn’t care, I was too caught up in seeing all I could from out the window. I tell you what though, one thing hands down…I am taller than most people here. I couldn’t even fit my legs into the seating area haha, I had to sit sideways, so funny.

 My word, these people out here are so opportunistic! Each time the bus would stop at traffic lights, street entertainers would come out of nowhere and do something like juggling, card tricks or dance in front of the traffic. They’d then walk through the maze of motortaxis with an upturned hat trying to collect tips haha, brilliant.

But if it wasn’t street entertainers trying to get your dosh, you’d have street food sellers jump on board and try get you to buy a corn dog, pineapple juice or icecreams etc. Amazing! Street food was everywhere. It was mainly snake fruit, oranges or pineapples.

Oh and there were so many little side shops selling gasoline, hay or beer. All your needs in one place right?!

Hey and get this. Remember I said how peoples homes looked pretty poor being made out of wood with corrugated steel doors and roofs? Well, the nicest buildings here are….BANKS! Of course! Beautiful, strong buildings made purely of glass. Funny how it goes.

“Helen, first up, I want to show you a Manatee breeding centre”. “Ok great!” I don’t think I’d ever seen a manatee before. So we pulled up at the Manatee centre and had a good look round. The staff explained how manatees are endgangered and a lot of them end up killed because local people are afraid of them when the truth is, they are the most friendly, harmless creatures out there!

I met a whole bunch of tourists walking round too which was nice. Some folk were from America and actually, I met an english couple from Amersham of all places hah.

They had other cutie animals there too that had been rescued incluing baby otters, snakes, caymen, turtles and monkies. It was sad to see but I also knew they’d be released at some point. I made a healthy donation and then headed out to meet Almaz who was waiting out the front. Time to see Iquitos!

Woah, the nearer the city we got, the more bedlam it became. Hey and one thing I noticed…there are no cars in Iquitos, well, the odd few but it’s mainly mototaxi’s. “Almaz…how come there are no cars?” I asked. “Yes, it’s policy here to only have motortaxis”. How strange. I liked that though. I guess it also meant there is more opportunity for folk to have jobs too because they could always become a motortaxi driver hey!

The motortaxi stopped close to the market where I met Carlos who was waiting for us. Almaz introduced us and then took off in the motortaxi. ‘Um, ok’ I thought to myself. It took me a while to warm to Carlos and he could sense I was wary of him! “It’s ok. I am well known around these parts. I am a local guide. I will look after you”.

Carlos was pretty good actually. He took me around and made sure I was ok the whole way round the market. Carlos explained that if I wasn’t with him, I could have been robbed! ‘What the actual!!’ “Yes, if you have your camera out and I wasn’t here, you probably would have it taken from you by now!” ‘Omg!’ I clung onto my camera even tighter after he said that! The funny thing was, an Irishman cycled past and shouted back over his shoulder “They’ll steal your camera missy. Don’t even trust the guy you’re with!” “Bloody ell!” I turned and looked at Carlos who actually looked really embarrassed. I think the Irish dude didn’t realise he was my guide (perhaps!). But all was fine and nothing happened!

Carlos took me round the higher and lower parts of the market which both had different stock, some local produce from Iquitos itself and some imported from other parts of Peru. Some stalls had items items on them that I had been preparing myself to see…the things that would shock! And it was still very shocking. I saw cayman meat for sale. There was a whole cayman laid out on a stall minus it’s head! I guess someone already bought that part!

Other stalls displayed hacked up turtles, sea turtles apparently. Unbelievable! It was utterly heart breaking, especially as I had been at the other end, doing the very work that was helping to protect these beautiful creatures (and the one thing I was lucky enough to avoid seeing on the beaches) and here they were, all in pieces on the stalls right in front of me. Another stall was busy selling the turtles eggs! An old man was seated enjoying some kind of turtle egg meal. I really wanted to wollop him over the head with something and tell him to wake up. I pointed it out to Carlos and said how sad it was but he didn’t understand. It’s their way of life here I guess but they badly need educating!

Oh boy, the stalls were offering all kinds of weird and wacky things. You could easily buy yourself some Anaconda skin or how bout some Anaconda blood? No? Ok how about an Anaconda’s head? All to do with black magic apparently. Some weird voodoo shit going on there which I didn’t indulge in learning more about! Oh and there was also a large stall covered in unravelled pigs intestines! ‘Hmm, I’ll have a pound of your finest please!’ Ughhh, some people eat the weirdest things.

I could also see rows of fish, fresh or salted of all varieties laid out for all to see…including the flies, oh and the vultures! There were vultures everywhere! There must have been a vulture sitting on the top of each and every market stall cover, peering down just waiting for their chance to swoop down and grab itself a tasty piece of stinky fish! And you can imagine the smell on a very hot and sticky day.

The other gross thing I saw where huge, live whichetty grubs wriggling around in bowls on the floor. Yep, I said live! You could order yourself a bowl of witchetty grub soup or how about a tasty whichetty grub kebab? It was like something out of ‘I’m a celebrity, get me out of here’ except I should be saying ‘I’m a traveller, get me out of here!’ haha.

The nicer stalls were the fruit stalls. Rows and rows of plantain bananas (which look exactly like bananas except they are HUGE). Plantains need to be cooked to be enjoyed. There were so many fruits I could not name which is another fav thing of mine when you travel…to see things with fresh eyes, the things you’ve never seen before :)

Then we hit the medicine stalls and my word, it all looked like a bunch of twigs and stalks to me but there were plants, parts of trees, sap and flowers that treated almost any type of ailment you could think of! “People come from far and wide for these medicines” Carlos was trying to educate me with what everything did and what was used for what but I couldn’t keep up. Cancer cures, hair loss treatments, impotence miracle workers…you name it, they had something for it.

It was fascinating all the same. I also saw the infamous ayausacha vine that a lot of tourists come out here to drink. It’s a spiritual plant that’s said to heal your physical body as well as your spiritual self. It’s also a strong natural psychedelic that also contains DMT which is a hallucinogenic which gives you visions. I know a lot about it because so many people do it here and usually (not all the time) when I meet a new traveller I get the “Have you done aya yet?” Haha.

So after the market tour, Carlos walked me around the town. It certainly was a mix of ‘poor meets slightly modern’. I think the tourist trade helps them a lot however, it was low season when I went and I could barely see any tourists! So of course, I was being stared at from every corner but you soon get used to it.

Some of the side streets looked like proper shanty towns. Stray dogs wondered each alley, litter was scattered about and the roads, well, they were non existent, more like muddy puddled pot holes. But I actually liked that. I love seeing exactly how the world is, no fronts, what you see is what you get. It’s a great reminder of just how privileged some of us folk back home really are.

After the city tour, I was reunited with Almaz and he took me for lunch. A nice big portion of catfish with rice all washed down with a Peruvian beer (Cervaza).

On a full tummy, I started to slip into my usual after dinner food coma whilst sitting on the bus (and boat) back to the lodge. I pretty much went to bed when I got back too, for I knew the next day was going to be another fun but long one :)

National Geographic explorer

Strewth, it felt even hotter today so I made sure to slap on a load of factor 50 suncream for my lily whites haha.

I rushed up to brekkie so I could scoff my morning pancakes as quickly as I could so that we could hurry up and get out exploring! I was uber excited because I knew today I’d be meeting some native amazon tribes! How lucky!

First up, we took the boat to visit to Pilpintuwasi Animal orphanage and Butterfly Centre. It was rather amusing actually because (without sounding like a big head), I could almost identify every butterfly that fluttered on past. Amoungst a few other tourists, I was shown around by a guide (a volunteer from America), who gave us facts and interesting insights into the life and life cycle of butterflies. I didn’t let on that I had also been a guide in a nature and butterfly garden hehe. I tell you what though, I felt I knew more than him hehe!

We were then introduced to the other residents of the centre. Sloths, monkies, birds, Ocelots and a majestically gorgeous Jaguar. The animals had either been mistreated or abandoned or even kept as pets! It was hard to see but it was also easier knowing the animals were no longer in pain or being harmed etc.

After, Almaz took me on a boat ride along the Nanay River so we could try and spot some pink dolphins but sadly, no joy. Oh well, what’s meant to be is meant to be. I was just still so overwhelmed and so happy to be in the amazon itself. Always being grateful.

We continued on our boat journey. Next stop – TRIBES!

The boat slowed as we approached the home of the tribes. In the distance, I could see a huge hill and O.M.G, standing on the top of this hill, I could see a man wearing all manner of beads and feathers…oh and to his side, he was was clutching onto what looked like a huge spear! My eyes widened and jaw dropped a little as I wondered if that was the chief waiting to either blow dart us or greet us haha!

The boat came to a natural holt next to a floating platform. Almaz being the gent, would hop out first and then help me out…not that I needed it of course. I looked up to see a steep set of rickety, wooden planks embedded into the side of this muddy hill. Oh but the tribe dude had disappeared! Maybe he went off to put us a brew on haha.

We walked through some of the jungle soon reaching the tribes village. I could see straw hut buildings that seemed to be arranged in a circular fashion. Right in the centre was a huge straw building which looked like this could have been the community hall of the tribes perhaps? This was the building we were headed for.

WOW! Inside I was greeted by men, women and children wearing beautiful feathered and beaded clothing. Yes they seemed half naked but all their vitals were covered haha. The men were all proudly wearing some kind of trophy necklace. Teeth or claws were drapsed around their necks as if to announce a status of some kind. And actually, the men were wearing skirts of some sort. I guess you’d call it a loin cloth, you know, the kind that tarzan wears haha.

I felt utterly excited, but also rather stunned and overwhelmed to be in their company! What an experience. I literally felt as though I was there recording for a National Geographic documentary (I wish) hah.

All of a sudden, I was ushered to take a seat. Plonking my butt down on a wooden bench, they all began dancing for me. Wow! I quickly got the GoPro out so I could film some of their traditional tribal dance but I was soon pulled up to dance with the women. It felt amazing and what a chance of a lifetime to be there in that moment sharing space with ACTUAL tribes!

After we danced, I got the opportunity to mingle with them all. Conversing wasn’t easy though as they spoke Spanish of course which I’m still completely rubbish at haha. But between Almaz and I, we managed to piece a chat together.

The tribes told me told me how much they love their lifestyle and how the jungle provides them with all they need. They have an abundance of food and materials. They even told me how much they love to eat piranhas, cayman and Paiche. Oh and also the leaf cutter ants! ‘Omg, so it’s true, they really do eat the soldier leaf cutter ants in the amazon’ My inner chat reminded me that’s exactly what I was telling tourists at the Butterfly place in Costa Rica and here I was, meeting some of the tribes of the amazon that actually DO eat them, wow!

I didn’t want to leave, I loved being around them, it was so special. We even all sat together and went through the photos on my camera. They were pointing and laughing at a lot of them haha. It felt incredible to share a moment like that with them, to sit there and not even need the language. To just enjoy their company felt like a blessing to me.

The time with them flew. Before I left, I was sure to buy a bunch of handmade bracelets and keyrings from them before Almaz ushered me back to the boat.

Ugh, I wanted to spend more time with them. They were the most warm and loving people you could ever meet. They had no qwarms, no expectations and certainly no judgements. What a refreshing and seemingly ‘untouched’ community they were. It was wonderful to gain a glimspe into what I’d class as the ‘real world’, a real world away from TV, commercials, designer labels, cars, exterior expectations and anything else material and false.

I am so grateful for this experience. It’s certainly one that I will never, ever, EVER forget.

I rode in the boat in complete silence. I was trying to comprehend what just happened! I think I smiled all the way to our next stop…lunch!

At the end of the day, Almaz and I caught a boat taxi back to the lodge. That was quite commical as we were joined by half a dozen locals. Little Amazonian kids were pretty much staring at me all the way back haha. Oh boy, and one of the women had a live chicken with her and it clearly wasn’t going to be a pet the way she was handling it, poor thing.

Finally, we reached the lodge. Later that evening, I took myself off to bed and lay there still feeling exhilirated over the days events. Just wow, wow, wow!

Thank you world! What a beautiful place you are.

Amazing Amazon

Phew, another scorcher of a morning. I felt so lucky because the weather report showed storms and heavy rain everyday but here I am, getting a nice lil tan on heh 😉

Today Almaz and I took a motortaxi to Nanay where we caught a boat to Barrio Florido. Almaz wanted me to see caymans and piranhas, oh yeh!

I can’t remember the name of the place we visited now but we went basically went to a huge park of somekind. Inside, they had cayman, piranhas, turtles and these HUGE amazon fish called Paiche. We were allowed to feed them all too which was awesome. Dropping lil chunks of meat into the piranhas was cool! The water suddenly became alive with hungry, thrashing piranhas. You could only get the occasional glimpse of their scaly red bodies as they popped up for a brief moment to snatch a meal. I certainly didn’t wanna fall in haha.

And the paiche, oh my god, they can reach up to 7 feet long! Again, we fed them too. They’d all come to the surface waiting for you to drop the food into their wide gaping mouths. Scary looking things they are. I was betting that if I fell in, they’d be sure to take an arm off! Their jaws seemed that strong.

Leaving the cayman farm, we took a motortaxi to a ‘look out’ so we could climb up and see the expanse of the amazon from above. And wow, what an incredible view. Now I truly felt I was looking at a still from a travel mag like ‘Lonely planet’. I stood and glared out for a while and again, that overwhelming sense of ‘You did it Hels! You’ve made it to the Amazon itself’.

Almaz then took me to see another animal rescue centre. To be honest, I do find these places hard to visit. I know these centres are doing all the good they can, but I can’t help getting upset learning about the poor histories of these wonderful creatures. It actually makes me sick to the stomach that people out there can mistreat and cause harm to such beautiful beings.

I felt quite emotional at this place (again, can’t remember the name of the centre oops). Some of the monkies rushed over to greet me and one of them actually reached through the wire fence of her enclosure and placed her hand in mine!! I just couldn’t believe it. And how human she felt. I welled up because I felt utter sadness but also a certain sense of joy too at the fact that she was reaching out to me and we were connecting.

Afterwards, a member of staff took me through to meet their rescued 2 toed sloths. As soon as I stepped into their enclosure, a sloth was pulled off his tree and placed in my arms! I was shocked actually because I didn’t think we could touch them, especially as they’d been rescued, that’s probably the last thing this poor lil sloth wanted to do was to hug me hah. But immediately, the lil sloth wrapped his arms around me as if I was his tree post hahah. I fell in love there and then. What a beautiful moment. I did feel ever so guilty though because I had heard stories of sloths being taken from their habitats to live in enclosures to be used just for tourist selfies. For something that was beautiful, I couldn’t help feeling that I should have been admiring from afar? But the little fella seemed ok. Eventually, he must have realised that I wasn’t his tree afterall and he started looking around. I guided him back to his tree and helped him to climb back onto it. Oh my word, it took him forever the cutie hahah.

Again, I saw Ocelots and Jaguars that had been saved from an awful ordeal and then brought here to become rehabilated enough to be released back into the wild. I left hoping that all the animals I saw wouldn’t have to wait long.

Time to chill

Well. My last day in the Amazon! I did not want to leave AT all. The jungle is definitely where my soul is at it’s happiest, right in the heart of nature itself.

I didn’t do a great deal apart from pack this day. Almaz did come over to my hut and asked if I wanted to go out in the dug out canoe….’Errrr yesssss, course I do!’ I thought haha. “Hell yeh Almaz. But do you think it will rain today?” The sky did look grey and the day seemed to have a fresher feel which was almost a relief. “Maybe later, but now is ok”. “Ok great”.

I walked over to Almaz where I could see him getting the canoe ready. He was busy scooping water out from the bottom of the canoe with his metal bowl! And by the way, this thing looked TINY! It was super small and narrow, I was actually wondering how I’d fit in this thing. So now, I was thinking ‘Hang on, I’m probably as tall as this thing is long AND there’s a hole in it. Do ALL his boats and canoes have holes in them?!’ Hahaha. How commical. It got even funnier though because Almaz was going to captain it. God, I was hoping to go off exploring on my own. I’d spent the whole week in this guys shadow and he still insisted on ‘escorting’ me around. He clearly hadn’t worked out that I had a free spirited and adventurous nature but then again, I was grateful for the fact that he was just looking after me. I guess, if the leaky boat did sink, he’d be in trouble for my drowning haha.

So anyways, we BOTH managed to get into this tiny toy like canoe and gently paddled away from the lodge. I daren’t budge because every lil move was felt by the canoe and it would gently rock, gulp! I was just a lil nervous for falling in and being gobbled by piranhas or have my arm bitten off by a 7 foot paiche hahaha. Then guess what….we’d travelled quite a distance from the lodge and it started raining and by raining, it was another monsoon arghhhh! Almaz had to empty the canoe extra quick haha, all I could hear behind me were the desperate sounds of his metal bowl clanking on the wood each time he scooped. I burst out laughing with pure joy that I was in this situation….I was in the jungle after all, my dream place and I was just SO happy to be there.

Later in the afternoon, it came for me to make my way back to Iquitos airport where this beautiful jungle adventure began. I felt so sad saying goodbye to Almaz at the airport purely because I wasn’t going to be staying in Iquitos anymore :(

“Oh wait, Helen, before you go…” Almaz then reached into his pocket and pulled out the keys to my hut, you know, the one with the bullet ant. I watched as he unhooked the keyring. “Here you go. I want you to have this”. Awwww wow! I felt really touched by that actually. He’d clearly gotten a feel for my love of bugs and insects if not my independance haha. Bless him. “Thank you Almaz, for everything!” And with that, we parted ways.

Wow, what an adventure this has been. Iquitos, you have been amazing! A true wonder to have experienced. I am SO grateful and feeling so blessed to have seen another crazy beautiful part of this wonderful world.

Hmm so what next? Manu jungle…I hear you calling ma name baby 😉

Stay in my backpack to find out 😀 Much love x

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Healing in the House

Well hey there my lovelies! Thought it was about time I updated you all with my antics.

First of all, since my last blog, can you believe, I’ve spent over a month or so here in Cusco and in Healing House! It’s been fab. It’s pretty much been like living in a hippy commune here haha, it’s been magical. What’s made it so special is that everyone can really truly be themselves here without any judgement or prejudice.

And hey, I know I’m talking in past tense here but that’s because the ‘call’,  the ‘itch’ has started stirring in me again and has given me the ‘C’mon, let’s get out of here’ type of nudge. So I can’t ignore it…it’s time to move on!

I can tell you though, I have made so many like-minded friends and it’s been so wonderful all going out for dinner together – sometimes up to 10 of us!

And everyone here has amazing gifts to offer such as reiki, massage, music therapy, arts and crafts. There is an array of skills here and I have just loved living in it all, the atmosphere, the energy, vibe and the experience. I’m so blessed and lucky to have met the most amazing life long friends…but hey, for some of us, it’s not over as a few of us are checking out together and headed for the mountains…

Trip to Pisac

So just to backtrack….

A few of my new friends and I decided to all take a girls trip to Pisac. We spent a few nights in the Sacred Valley and also spent time visiting a meditation retreat which was amazing!

It’s only a 45-50 minute bus ride away too so it’s very easy to get to, you just jump on the ‘Colectivo’ bus. for 4 soles (about £1!) You know you’re in the right area for the bus too because you can hear Peruvians shouting “Pisac Miss, you want Pisac?” And if you didn’t hear them, you’ll soon see them all waving their little tatty ‘Pisac’ signs in your face haha.

Just an FYI, if you take the Colectivo bus, be prepared to be chucked about from left to right in your seat! If there is a seat belt…DO IT UP haha! They drive like maniacs. Luckily the drivers know the bends really well but they don’t half chuck the buses round them corners, oh my word! I felt quite sick but thankfully I had a window seat and a slight breeze on my cheeks. But best not have a big breakfast ok!!

Pisac is so different. It really does feel like a sacred place. There are nothing but fields, mountains, locals walking their cows…oh and a huge market in the centre of town! Yep, bartering skills have well and truly been dusted off once again 😉

Pisac is almost like the more chilled out, scenic version of Cusco! It’s a small town full of funky hippy shops, baggy aladdin pants, vegan restaurants, crystal shops and cafes. There are also adverts everywhere calling for people to join them on ayusacha or san pedro retreats – these are plant medicines that people drink out here and they have been doing so for thousands of years.

I loved seeing busy locals loading up their wooden trolleys full of fresh home made bread or cups of black corn juice and carting them around the cobbled streets and alleyways. It almost felt like a scene out of Oliver Twist…Cue the song….’Who will buy my fresh tasty bread…who will buy my black corn drinks?’ I felt so stuck in the dark ages but that’s just the way I liked it and exactly how I wanted it to be here.walk your cow

One night, we went for a walk round town when suddenly I heard Summer scream “Hey…ya’ll come and take a look at this…”  I looked around and saw Summer looking towards the ground. She was beaming her head torch on a small, brown scorpion!! Of course, I came running over! “Wow! Ah that is a female Bark Scorpion. They aren’t venomous to us but can still sting!” Shining my torch on the 8 legged beauty, we watched as she scuttled off over the small, grey stones and into the grass. “Well thank god you’re hear to tell us that things not gonna kill us!”  Hahah.

That’s the one thing I really miss here. BUGS. We are too high up for any kind of bugs! The only critters I have seen (so far) are large ants with golden, honey coloured butts and black bumble bees! Yep, their bumble bees here are black!

Oh and we also witnessed some kind of mountain fire too! The locals told us that people go up the mountains and set fire to all the thorns to clear paths and make the mountains more fertile again but Local in Pisacapparently this is illegal. We all stood and watched for a while as a small path fire rapidly spread and engulfed one whole side of the mountain! We were now looking upon a huge, angry orange blaze! Flames were reaching up so high as though almost trying to lick the clouds! Our cheeks were almost reflecting a glowing a warm golden, yellow…it was THAT bad! “Can you imagine the people that started that? They are probably panicking so much right now!” I couldn’t help let my imagination run…’You were only supposed to set fire to this one bush you idiot!’ ‘Sorry boss! I got carried away’…I was just glad we weren’t up there trekking at the time!

“Shit!” I gasped. “It looks as though it’s going to spread right down into the valley. Um…do you think they have a fire service out here?!” “Of course not!” Ariana chuckled. “How are they gonna get a fire truck up the side of that?” HAH! But fortunately it didn’t spread any further downward.

The next morning we could see smouldering smoke rising up into the sky and burnt, crispy pathways. It was clear the fire had been burning the whole night through.

The meditation was good too. It was mainly a break to get away from the hustle and bustle of Cusco itself. The hosts of the meditation were lovely! A warm, motherly Australian lady called Sue held space for us with her husband Paul. Paul was originally from Leicester in the UK, what a small world! He was such a hippy too! Paul had long white hair pulled back into a pony tail and he sounded exactly like Neil from the Young Ones (google moment if you’re not sure haha) Actually, at one point during our meditation, I swear his face morphed into the BFG (Roald Dahl’s animated Big Friendly Giant) haha. Spitting image! hehehe.

After a few nights exploring Pisac, it was time to hold on to our stomachs as we headed back for Cusco on the dodgy Colectivo bus…

Hollistic Mystic

So someone in the house recommended me to a hollistic doctor here just to try out a natural therapy. Realising I’m here for new experiences, I followed my curiosity one afternoon dragging my dear friend Summer with me for company hehe.

Oh my word it was quite a trek! We basically walked and walked until the trail of ‘tourists’ gradually disappeared until we were the only blonde, white westerners around! Well, you know me by now, that’s what I absolutely love haha. I always live by the motto ‘Live like a local NOT a tourist’.

Finally, after piecing together what crappy Spanish we had between us to ask for directions, we found the place. It looked shut but after realising you had to buzz to get in we waited patiently. A middle aged man came to the door and let us in and instantly assumed we knew Spanish haha. Thankfully this doc dude came out and spoke perfect English…he is from Holland so all was good :)

Summer decided she wanted to go back but I went ahead and had a consultation. I seem to get skin breakouts when I travel so I asked if he could do anything about that? “Ahhh yes…there is never illness, just unbalance. I can make you balanced again”. Yen, an older, white haired guy who is uber nice and friendly and one of those doctors you’d want as your family go to.  “Ok, sign me up!” I was eager to see what medicine he had in mind but he had other ideas other than medicine…

“Ok. Take off your shoes and follow me, I will take you to the treatment room”….Um….treatment room? What did he have planned?! Oh god. I followed Yen through to a room full of what looked like massage tables that had been propped upright. “Ok, so we do a vacuum therapy here where we only work on the meridians of the body. It’s like acupuncture but without the needles. So we place these suction cups on your feet and your hands. It will take around 2 hours”. Yen ushered me to one of the tables next to a Hollistic mysticsleeping Peruvian lady. “Ok, thanks!” I must admit, I was curious but dubious this was going to do anything but what the hell, all about trying new weird and wacky things hey!

It was the weirdest feeling! These cups felt strange but you kind of got used to the feeling after a while. Yen would come over every now and then and move the cups to a different part of the hands or feet. At one point, he would look at the colour of your skin after the cups had been removed and he’d give you information about what you should and shouldn’t eat! “Don’t eat animals with 4 legs, don’t drink cows milk, don’t eat raw carrots, don’t eat raw tomatoes and stay away from too much sugar!” Wow, how does he know all this. Well, so far, I have become vegan anyways. It seems to be the way of life here…well…in some parts of Peru but actually, my digestive system seemed to be getting better living off veggies and quinoa everyday :)

Hollistic“I recommend you come back 3 times per week to get your energy balanced”. ‘What? Is he having a laugh?’ I thought!! That’s a lot of commitment, especially as he tends to go over the 2 hour mark. So, I did it for a few weeks but I must admit, I did notice a great deal of improvement in my circulation haha. But gradually, I had to stop going. My 2 hours were turning into 3 hour sessions and it was taking up too much of my time. I am glad I tried it, I can tick that one off the list anyhows hehe. So I guess you could call me a ‘balanced vegan’ now 😀

Reiki with Gandistein

So, do you remember Gandistein who I mentioned in my last blog? He’s the Reiki dude that looked like a mixture between Gandalph from Lord of the Rings and Einstein haha. Well, as he is a Reiki guru, I decided to go along and see what he was all about and if he could balance me in an hour instead of 3!Gandistein

I popped along to his apartment and we sat for a while chatting and drinking coca tea. Eventually, Gandistein put some music on and we started my reiki session.

“I can tell you’ve had some pain in your heart, emotional pain, maybe…7 to 10 years ago. But I can tell you are healed from this now but you still remember. You are very balanced and you made a pact with yourself 50 years ago to come to Peru”. I opened my eyes and saw Gandistein had his eyes closed. ‘Wow’ I thought. How interesting. He was spot on about the emotional pain which those of you who are close to me will know is correct but how would he know that?

“You like music? You need to let your hair down now”. Gandistein looked at me as though that was an instruction haha! “Um, yeh of course, music is in my blood”. “Then come, enjoy the music tonight with Summer too”. Gandy was taking us ladies out that night haha!

I left feeling energised and almost bounced down the road like Tigger from Winnie the pooh hah. I couldn’t wait to tell my pals at the house of my experience!

Freaky Clown show

So as promised, Gandistein picked Summer and I up and we went to go and listen to some ‘music’ hahah…little did we know….

We arrived at the bar which was pretty empty. Immediately we sat at the table at the front of the stage thinking we’d gotten ourselves the perfect spot. We soon realised, these tables were left empty for a reason!

I ordered a Pisco sour as this was a local drink and of course I wanted to go ‘loco’. This drink basically tastes like brandy with a dollop of raw egg white on top…yuck! I only had 2 and was feeling pretty wasted haha (I blame the altitude haha). Well, it sure helped for what was about to come.

A full on circus show is what happened next!! Juggling clowns and shit magic tricks hahah. Gandistein was sitting in the middle of us and he seemed to be loving this strange, freaky clown show whilst Summer and I kept exchanging looks of ‘What the f**k is going on’ and ‘where is the music’ hahah…it was actually pretty hilarious! I could not stop laughing and even though I wasn’t enjoying the show, I was enjoying the experience, the weirdness of it all and the fact we were just in another country witnessing another cultures entertainment hehe.

And oh my goodness…one clown came out and juggled 3 clubs and badly I might add. Sitting at the front was a mistake because the clown dropped one of the clubs which fell right into Summers lap! He apologised and then went back stage only to come back on yielding…..KNIVES!! Well….you can imagine, Summer and I were crapping ourselves hahaha. We watched between our fingers in cowering positions waiting for his act to finish! Phewie!

Clown showAnd for the finale….A clown came on holding what looked like a whoopee cushion. A poor girl was pulled up out of the audience. Her job was to help him squeeze his sweaty head into this giant whoopee cushion…well, down and over his nose stopping just above his top lip.

To music, he blew so hard out of his nose until the cushion gradually blew up like a balloon! What a weird act haha…he was trying to get it to balloon out to the biggest, roundest ball he could. Very odd but kinda funny at the same time (thank goodness for happy hour at the bar hehe).

Finally, after a gruelling hour and a half of this oddly funny and peculiar show, the music came on, hooray!

The band were sooo worth the wait! It was pure Andean Spirit music 😀 The room was filled with bongos, drums, flutes and Andean voices, they were just amazing! The crowd were loving them and they got everyone up on their feet dancing the night away.

In fact, seeing this band became my new favourite Sunday night haunt (but I timed it well enough to catch the start but miss the freaky clown show hah!)

Chilling with new friends

So you know what? I really haven’t been doing much else apart from hanging out with fab new friends, seeing great bands, eating quality fresh food at cheap restaurants, mediating and sharing funny stories, going to house parties, costume parties, recharging my batteries, attending sound healing sessions, bartering at the local markets and trying to avoid buying more colourful Peruvian jumpers haha.

Yep, it’s time to move on. I feel I have been getting stale here. My need for exploration has called long enough. So Saturday 14th October I will be checking out and heading back for Pisac for a week and then….I will be going it along and flying out to Iquitos to get my jungle hit! I can NOT wait! But don’t worry, I will be back in Cusco in a few weeks to tick of Machu Picchu and also the Rainbow Mountains!

But for now, this is what I am looking for…a true Amazonian jungle experience. I will be staying in my own lodge and going on a few tours too. AND I will be visiting tribes, oh…my…god! I think I will take some sweets or toys with me for the children as I know they love gifts plus it’s only polite as I’ll be in their village hey!

So I promise to update you once I’m back from my ‘Readders’ jungle journey with lots of pics of bugs, more bugs, probably a few more bugs again oh and some tribes hehe.

Until then my lovely jubblies,

Hels Bels xx

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Review of Peru

Hey, so I’ve only been in Peru for a week but I already feel inspired to write!

After 6 hours of air time, (3hrs to Colombia and 3 to Peru) I landed at Cusco airport late Sunday morning, 3rd September. Coming in to land at Cusco was breath taking! Even from my aisle seat I could see a blanket of jaggerdy mountains below. My imagination started chattering away in its usual fashion, ‘Cor, imagine if the plane got too low to them mountains? They’d slice this jet open like a tin can’….Shhh Helen!!

Cusco’s a very small airport, it almost reminded me of the airport at the Red Centre in Australia (Alice Springs). I think Cusco’s airport has recently opened up to cater for more international flights whereas it used to be just for domestic (hence the small size).

I headed straight for the security check in and the immigration so I could hurry up and gather my invisible man who also seems to have put on a few pounds hah – my invisible man seems to weigh more than when I left the UK! Strange, as I’m rapidly using up the heavier items, oh well, all good for the muscles!

“Have you been to Peru before?” The immigration officer was thumbing through my passport and my landing card, his eyes throwing me a stern but brief glance every now and then. “Nope, never, first time” I excitedly responded. “And how long you stay?” “Oh 3mths” I replied. “3 months!!” The Officer almost stopped what he was doing and gave me a more intense and a ‘you have my full attention’ kinda look. I could almost hear myself swallow at this point thinking there’d be an issue? “3 months” The officer repeated as though he’d misheard me! “Yep!” “And you can afford it?” I was afraid the officer was now going to ask me to produce my bank statement to prove it (which of course I bloody forgot to print and bring with me didn’t I hah!). “Yep, I sure can. Been saving for this trip specially” I shone back my biggest and best smile as if to quickly cover up any doubt that seemed to be accumulating. “Hmm. Ok. I will give you 150 days. Bring this slip back when you leave the country”. I was quickly trying to work out if that was indeed enough time to cover me until December! ‘150 days!’ I thought to myself, the cheeky so and so…Brits get 180 days! Oh well, I was just happy to have finally arrived to the place I’ve been drawn to for so long.

The exit doors of the airport seemed to open in slow motion like something out of a movie and as I glanced up and outwards (also in slow motion), I was blown away by the sight of the stunning mountains. The sunlight beamed down and lit up their peaks with glorious golden orange hues making them all stand out even more like someone ‘up there’ had been at them with some kind of highlighter pen hah! They are everywhere, surrounding and almost ‘hugging’ the snoozing city slap bang in the middle of it. Just wow! My wonder was soon interrupted by….”Hello lady”, “Excuse me miss”, “Cab senorita?” and then hoards of people waving their tatty cards with hand-written names on them. None of them had my name on, so I waited a little when….”Helen?” I looked round to see a fair haired guy wearing spectacles, a beanie hat, a beige leather jacket, ripped jeans and trainers. I walked over and recognised it was Zamir, my Airbnb host (how I recognised him from a thumbnail sized photo on the Airbnb site I don’t know haha!). “Hey! Nice to meet you!” I held out my hand and shook Zamirs hand. “Let me take your backpack” Zamir immediately ushered to carry mr invisible. “I’ll warn you, it’s heavy haha” I laughed out loud but let him carry on. Zamir and I then got a cab back to his apartment.

We chatted for a bit in the cab ride and did the ‘getting to know you’ bit. Zamir is only young, he’s a 28 yr old Russian native who came travelling to Peru 4 yrs ago. Zamir fell in love with the country and also his lovely wife Lays who is of course a Peruvian so hence he never left.

My eyes couldn’t stop looking out the cab window so I just let my mouth get on with chatting to Zamir while I took in the views haha. I could see small, tanned and leathery skinned Peruvian women sitting on steps by the roadside. They were wearing what I can only imagine is their traditional attire and they looked to be selling knitwear of all kinds, jumpers, scarves, hats and gloves, toy alpacas and colourfully stitched handbags. Cars were everywhere too, it seems that’s one consistent commodity no matter where you go? And I could see street food carts being wheeled from one place to the next, oh and dogs….dogs were everywhere. “Are the street dogs dangerous out here?” I asked, hoping Zamir would give me the answer I was looking for. “Oh yes, they are fine. Very happy dogs here”. “PHEWIE”. That made me feel so much better, I didn’t want a flash back of Thailand haha!

Zamirs placeTheir apartment was perfect. I had my own room WITH telly!! OMG and MOVIE channels in both Spanish and English (sad what you miss sometimes), oh and yet another amazing view out the window. You just can’t hide from the mountains here, they are everywhere, watching your every move haha.

Zamir and Lays were the perfect hosts to me. They made me a yummy avocado salad when I arrived and then let me sleep for a few hours because by then the altitude had started kicking in. It’s weird, I felt fine straight off the jet but a few hours in and I felt so dizzy, I couldn’t wait for a lye down. I actually heard later on that Cusco has 40% LESS oxygen in the air! That’s a pretty alarming stat.

After a few hours kip, Lays and Zamir walked me around the main square, they showed me what buses to catch (and also which ones to avoid), and Zamir even showed me where to buy good, cheap food oh and REALLY cheap cakes from a church in town. I bought a round coconut biscuit with jam in the middle for 23 pence!! We also had dinner and lunches out together so I was taking visual notes as to where to remember to go.

As for the weather (incase you were wondering)! It is nice and warm in the day, not too hot but just right. But the evenings are SO cold! Temperatures really plummet at night so my backpack will be full of jumpers for the journey home me thinks haha.

Main Square, Cusco

The main square is amazing. My senses have come alive again! They’ve been dusted off and reborn almost like an old book that’s been rested too long on its shelf but its now got a brand new cover! GOD I’ve missed travelling. Everything’s all brand new again and it feels amazing to be seeing things for the first time once more. And oh boy, the colours…Peruvians love their colour! It’s as though the city has been drenched by a rainbow! Art work, embroidery, and clothing…

Keep calm AlpacaAlpaca clothing is BIG news out here but you can get ripped off. If you want real alpaca, you have to make sure the label says ‘baby alpaca’ and oh my word, it’s SO soft and warm to the touch.

The streets here are very up and down, very narrow and cobbled. You find yourself battling to keep on your little bit of path without being nudged off by a tourist. It’s amazing how cars get by too…the roads are like…well, think one-car-width country lanes like the ones in Cornwall, England haha. And there are people everywhere, locals and tourists but you know what, I kinda like this hustle and bustle. I can sometimes feel like I’m the only one standing there when I’m taking in all the wonderful sights and smells. That’s the beauty of being a traveller too, no one knows you or your story, you can be whoever you want to be!

I love the intricate maze of alley ways that seem to lead to another opening of shops and stalls, and passing a local playing his wooden flute for spare change (which I now know is called a Quena), and seeing the masses of chocolate and coffee shops to hearing cars constantly beeping each other to move out the way or the “Excuse me miss, massage miss?” or “Hola Senorita, you like paintings?” With that, a man will walk over to you and open a ‘briefcase’ full of brightly coloured paintings to try entice you to buy.

I see local Peruvian women carrying huge amounts on their backs too. Short women with short legs wearing gorgeous, brightly coloured embroided cloths that seem to swoop around the whole top half of their bodies and tie at the front. They appear to carry everything in these wraps from rice, corn, fruit oh and even their babies! Yep, a little round face would pop out as if like a baby kangaroo checking out the world outside of its pouch! I’ve also noticed these women aren’t afraid to breast feed wherever they are too, not that it bothers me but it kinda highlights to me just how different views, opinions and ways of life are out there in the world…

And the smells! It’s a mix of car fumes to old drains to sweet sickly smells (probably all the chocolate they’re making haha) to grilled food aromas. Oh and urine! I guess you get that everywhere. But what is odd, I sometimes see men peeing in the streets but in broad daylight and they don’t care if you see them! Cusco so far to me, has this wonderful balance of old, traditional city meets new, slightly more upmarket touristy town (in parts). I like that the people have tried to preserve the city the way the Inca’s would have left it but they’ve modernised enough to meet the needs of the blooming tourist trade if that all makes sense.

The churches and buildings look almost gothic like too and they stand with such a strength and power to them. Some walls and buildings still have the original rocks used by the Incas all them years ago (hence my old vs new quote above) :)

Eat one before you meet one

“What do you fancy for dinner tonight?” Zamir asked me what type of food I wanted to try one night. “Something local” I curiously replied. “Ok, how about alpaca?” “Alpaca?!! Omg, they eat them here?” I had no idea but curiousity got the better of me. “Sure, why not”. So off we went.

Zamir took me to a nice place in town that was obviously very popular as there were tourists waiting outside for tables. Once inside, we got ordering. I had a coca and mint tea (helps with altitude sickness) and then this alpaca with veg and mash. I have to say it’s very tasty meat. It’s almost like a small beef steak, a bit chewy and slightly salty.

“So it’s better that you eat one now before you meet one because they are very cute!” Zamir then scoffed a piece of chicken into his mouth and stared at me as if waiting for a response. “I can take you to see one tomorrow if you like?”. “Yeh sure. I have a feeling it’ll put me off eating them again hah!” We paid our bill and then headed back.

The next day came and I had a banging headache (altitude not alcohol before you ask haha!). I popped some paracetamols and we then headed out to meet the alpaca’s! Eeek, I was so excited.

We walked through the main square, up an alley way and then veered off through a stony doorway reaching a large, open squared patch of green. In the centre were a small herd of alpacas! I could see white, fluffy curly haired ones with thick wool on them to golden, beige ones with more finer, flatter looking hair. “Hola miss. Come, come. Take pictures. Have besos with alpaca” A middle-aged woman ushered me over. As I approached her, she pulled me over and took my hand and stuffed it with some kind of long grass. “Feed, feed”. “She said it’s ok for you to feed them and I can take your photos” Zamir was fluent in Spanish and immediately offered to take my coat and started taking photos for me. I totally agreed with Zamir…they are so cute and I don’t think I want to eat one again hah! A woolly alpaca jumper will do me just fine.

I had a few more photos with these cute, woolly mammals and even got an alpaca kiss on the cheek :)

Healing House

When it was time to move on, Zamir was kind enough to take the cab with me to my next place (Healing House in San Blas) so he could help carry mr invisible for me (We’d passed Healing House on one of our walks and there were sooo many steps up to it haha) What a lovely, lovely couple! I feel I’ve had a good start here in Cusco. Zamir and Lays have given me a good grounding so I’m very grateful to them both for all their hospitality.

Approaching the doors to Healing House, Zamir helped me inside and then dropped my invisible man at the reception for me. “Well, thanks so much for looking after me. You guys have been amazing!” I shook Zamirs hand and forced a tip into his hand which of course he was reluctant to take but I felt he should. “Hey, keep in touch. If you need anything, just message us”. What a sweetheart! I then turned to check into the start of my next project!

“Welcome to Healing House. I’m Katherine”. Katherine is lovely. She must only be a little younger than me and is from Tunbridge Wells, UK so it was refreshing to hear a fellow Brit. “So what brings you here to Healing House?” She asked. “I’m going to be helping the poorer communities here with whatever they need help with”. “Oh lovely. And you’re here a while too I see?” Katherine was then tapping away at the receptions computer and scrolling through menus as if to verify what she’d just said. “Yep, 3 months!” I replied. “Oh wow! We need more long term people like you here. Ok, let’s get you settled in”. With that Katherine showed me around and then helped me up to my room.

This place looks fab! A brightly coloured place with all sorts of positive affirmations all over the place. The one outside my room says “Don’t dream your life, live your dreams!” I love that. Here they offer holistic therapies such as Reiki, yoga, massage, sound therapy, acupuncture and also meditation classes! I will definitely be trying the meditation as I still suck at that! There is a communal kitchen, a small library full of all sorts of reading, a studio and also a ‘silence’ room where you can meditate quietly whenever you like. One program they offer here is free holistic therapies to the poorer community here so that’s one thing I am signing up for…to offer Reiki 😉

So I’m sharing with 2 other girlies whom so far, I am yet to bond with. It’s been a few days now and they don’t seem to want to talk to me for whatever reason. I think they have both been here a while now and probably bonded with each other so I understand it’s hard when a new person comes in but the longer it goes on for, the more I am kind of thinking ‘where’s the effort?’ If it was the other way around, I’d hate for someone to feel left out or alone but hey, I’m a big girl and we’re all on our own personal journeys here so there! What will be will be I guess.


My word it’s so cold at night in the room! I have been taking 2 showers a day just to warm myself up! I tell you what though, I have made one friend here so far…and I met him on the roof!

Whenever I take a shower, I will open the windows to de-steam the room and one morning I pulled open the old style wooden windows to see a beige, tanned and white mottled fluffy kitty! I think we both kinda jumped at the sight of each other haha. But there he was, just sitting on the tiles of the roof, staring at me with his green curious eyes. “Hola!” I guessed he only understands spanish haha but my attempts to lure him over failed and he then gracefully trotted off over the tiles and onto the next roof until I could no longer see him. Maybe he’ll be back tomorrow?

Day 2 and he DID! Kitty came back! In fact, he’s been visiting me everyday now and each time he gets a little more confident. He’s either a little pervy kitty or he’s looking for a friend like me awww. I can tell he wants to sniff my extended finger that I offer him through the window each time too haha. I think I will name him ‘Roofus’ :)


Lonesome explorer

So to avoid my roomies (which probably doesn’t really help the situation), I have been off out and exploring on my own everyday, all day! I sure do love being on my own sometimes, it’s a wonderfully satisfying feeling to know you can do something alone, to fulfil all your curiousities without the need of another, to rely on oneself, it’s quite riveting actually.

And guess what I found? Markets…3 of them! Yep, I ventured round all the various stalls of fruit and veg, homeware, knitware and meat stalls..yeuch! The meat stalls stink and you’re constantly wafting the flies from your face. Oh boy, a pig…a WHOLE pig, testes included!! Jeez some people just eat anything and everything! Or you could buy just the pigs head, tongue included! Even the chickens come as the whole package…head and feet included, wow! It sure is an eye opener.

Hey, what’s that? I headed over to a veg stall and saw various things from lettace to avocados to corn and wait…purple corn ha! I’ve heard purple corn is a big thing here and there it was in the basket. A purple cob of corn. Amazing.

I bought myself some tomatoes, avocados and a lettace for a little over a few quid! I didn’t feel I needed to barter for it as it was so dam cheap. I did however, barter for a couple of jumpers! I needed some more for the early mornings and also for my room in the evenings. First stall, I bartered for a black jumper with a hood. I got the market seller down from 60 soles to 40 soles (£9.50). Next stall, I bartered for a red jumper. I got this lady down from 35 to 30 (£7 odd quid), she drove a hard bargin and wouldn’t go any lower but I was happy with the jumper so shook on it.

I still had no map and no wifi on my phone (unless I nipped into a cafe) but I actually liked it that way. I got so lost one day and at one point was almost thinking ‘What the hell am I doing walking around without a map you idiot Hels!’ But, I actually loved it. I found it has been the best way to become familiar with the roads and streets so I can build up my own google maps in my head haha. I have literally walked miles each day just pottering about and soaking up as much of the atmosphere as I can.

Oh and I found a chocolate museum too! Free entry plus you get to try all sorts of local choccy, yummy. My favourite choccy bar here is called ‘Milky’ and dare I say it, I think it’s better than Dairy Milk! Think I will have to smuggle a few bars back hehe.

One afternoon, I found my wondering feet were starting to ache and my belly rumbling. ‘Right, food time!’ I didn’t want to go to a place where all the other tourists ended up, I wanted to eat like a local so hunted out the ‘quieter’ alley ways! I wanted to be the only westener in the place and oh boy, I sure did find it lol. I walked into a ‘shabby’ looking restaurant that didn’t even have a name above the door, well, the fact is, most places don’t have a name above the door here (well, some places do but not all). It was a ‘set menu’ place, brill! I’d been in one with Zamir and Lays and they’re great. All the locals know about them and they can get quite packed. You get a lot of food for so little money too! I enjoyed a large bowl of corn soup followed by chicken with rice and veg and a coca tea all for £1.66!! That was even cheaper than the place I was in with my Zamir and Lays actually…with them, I’d had quinoa soup, fish, chips and rice and a small pot of jelly…oh and a sprite all for £1.90! Stewth! Defo would NOT get that in the UK hah.

Friday afternoon, I decided to sit in the square here in San Blas. There was a mini market going on with locals selling their hand-made goods and wares and then suddenly a band started to play so I took a seat on one of the benches for a while and took in the musical vibes. I do love listening to music in other countries. I got goosebumps just sitting there thinking how lucky I am to be hearing and seeing this band playing it’s alluring mix of latin, spanish and mexican ambience all played with acoustic guitars, wooden flutes and panpipes, wow. After the band, I was lucky enough to see a group of locals showing off their traditional Peruvian dance moves which was FAB. Again, it was great to see some of their own traditions and past times being played out before me.


So I am rubbish at meditation! When I try it, all I hear, are my internal cogs churning and my brain chatting complete utter nonsense at me trying to distract me. I noticed they do meditation classes here at Healing House so I thought I’d go along and give it a try. All I had to do was show up 5 minutes before the class.

“Am I late?” I heard a girl ask the Receptionist. “No, not at all. Just walk on through and Vento will come and greet you”. I had already signed in and was waiting to be called into the ‘silence room’. “Hey! Are you doing the meditation too?” I asked the tall, skinny girl who was now approaching me. “Yeh! I sure am. I’m Emma, nice to meet you”. Emma must only be in her mid 20s and I could tell she was from Australia. Before she shook my hand, she tucked a dark curly lock of her hair behind her left ear. “Ah cool. Nice to meet you. I think it’s just you and me for now”. My eyes then ushered hers around the garden as if to prove we were the only ones attending.

After a short get to know session, Vento walked in. “Hola. How are we? So you would like to learn about meditation?” I looked up to see an older guy with deep expression lines around his eyes and forehead, thinning white hair and a whiskered goatie look. ‘Omg’ I thought to myself…’He is a hybrid of Gandalph from Lord of the Rings and Einstein! Hahah’ I did have a chuckle in my own head but he is defo the spit of them both hah. I’m sure he said he is a mix of Columbia and Chille so he had a rather interesting accent. I shall call him Gandistein.

“So for tonight, I will teach you what meditation is and what we use it for. We’ll then have a practice guided session”. Vento ushered us to all sit down crossed legged on the mat so we could begin.

It was quite interesting to hear where meditation came from and how you can meditate sitting down or even while you’re walking down the street! It actually releases endorphins in our brains so it’s no wonder that it can clear your mind and make you feel good. Our practice session was good too. I did find it hard all the way through though and it was only 20 minutes of actual meditation! I guess you have to start small and then build up to longer sessions. Emma seemed to be doing great which was kinda annoying haha. What did make me laugh, was the annoying eye twitch that I had suddenly developed..concentrating too hard maybe? I couldn’t stop wondering if Gandistein could see it so that was putting me off hah!

“Excellent session tonight ladies. You are both beautiful souls. Shall we meet again tomorrow or Sunday?” Gandistein arranged another session with us both for the morning and with that, we all parted ways.

Saturday morning I popped downstairs at 10am for meditation part 2. The doors to the meditation room were closed so thinking I was late, I bust in through the doors only to find that I’d totally interupted a reiki session, oops! Bit embarrasing haha. Gandistein didn’t look too impressed either but he told me to come back at 11am instead. So I sat in the kitchen and made myself a coca and mint tea.

In walked a larger than life lady with glasses and long dark wavy hair. She was hardly wearing anything so I could pretty much see everything but I loved that she didn’t care. “Hello there. New blood I see. Welcome, welcome. I’m Sheeva Diva”. “Ah nice to meet you, I’m Helen”. With that, we clicked and chatted for a while in the kitchen. Sheeva Diva was oozing with confidence and didn’t care a hoot what people thought of her and I admired her for that.

After a while, I sat outside to get some sun as it was freezing in the kitchen…that’s where I met Georgie. Georgie, an English girl from London (who also seems to have dark curly hair) started chatting to me and again, we clicked too. She was just on her way off on some trip out but we chatted about the things we’d done and wanted to do here. “Hey, have you been to the Rainbow mountains?” She asked. “No but that’s on my list for sure” I replied. I knew what was coming…”Oh, well, we can go together if you like. Here’s my number, we’ll chat when I’m back from my trip”. Exchanging numbers, my spirits were lifted realising that I was finally making friends and plans were starting to form. With that, Georgie grabbed her backpack and left. “See you in a few days” She shouted through the door before it slammed shut. Then on cue, Gandistein’s door opened and he beckoned me in.

Our next meditation session was much of the same. We all sat on the mats and started our meditation session. Gandistein did a guided meditation for us and then at the end of the session, we all started talking about reiki which was cool. Emma then booked herself in for a reiki session with Gandistein and I headed off for my first meeting with the Managers of Healing House to discuss my intentional stay.

Intentional stay

The meeting was down the road in a cafe that Healing House also own. I could smell the insense before I’d even got to the shop so I knew I was in the right place haha. I walked in and saw all sorts of ‘magical’ bits n bobs from crystals to tibetan bowels, oils and insense to books about reiki and spirit guides etc etc.

“Hi! Are you here for the intentional stay meeting?” I looked over my shoulder to see a tall, pretty slim girl with long blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. I noticed how amazingly clear her skin was too, she was almost glowing! “Yeh, I am, hi! I’m Helen”. “I’m Jamie, nice to meet you”. Again, I instantly clicked with Jamie, she had a nice persona about her and it almost felt like I’d known her before. We have a lot in common too and are both into reiki and have also travelled alone a fair bit so it was great exchanging all sorts of stories.

In then came Keith and Arianna, a couple of best friends from California, both Yogi’s (Yoga folk). They were here to practice their yoga skills and also see if they could offer some kind of coaching sessions to the people here.

Finally, we were called to our meeting. Mike and Julia, the centres organisers introduced themselves and then began exploring what we were all doing here and want we wanted to gain ourselves during our stay.

Jamie and I pretty much both offered the same service – to offer reiki to the poorer communities that really need it. And get this, I have also offered my writing services! I think I will be helping with the websites blog and keeping it up to date so I’ll be excited to get started with that. Jamie is also really into plant medicine and crystals so she is looking into a few more avenues too. Mike and Julia are thinking of teaming Jamie and I up…Jamie can talk about plant med and I can write about it :)

After our meeting, Jamie and I hung about town and I showed her a few of the sites that I had already seen (she’d only flown in the night before). At the end of the day, we swopped numbers and decided that we’d like to plan a few hikes and trips together such as visiting the sacred valley, a very important place in Cusco. I can’t wait!

BrunchActually the next day, the house put on a Sunday Brunch for 10 soles so Jamie and I said we’d go along. I am so glad we went too because we ended up getting chatting to a really nice bunch of people; Blake and his girlfriend, Britney and Guy. We were sitting out on the lawn chatting from 11:30am and actually ended up going for a drink AND dinner together! I don’t think I got home until 9pm but it was sooo nice to be around like-minded, down to earth people that didn’t judge you either…you were accepted for….well, being just you! We’re all going to get together again and perhaps do some walks/trips together too.

I am so happy right now! Feeling very warm and fuzzy aww. The house is a special place. The people you meet all seem to be ‘familiar’, it’s the funniest feeling. I guess we are all drawn here for our own reasons and I love that.

What a wonderful day Sunday was…and a beautiful connection with 5 beautifully ‘familiar’ strangers! :)

From Frags to Riches

So flashback time….*Back to Costa Rica baby!

I have been missing Anna a lot from the bug place but we’ve regularly been keeping in touch and I’m glad to report all is well in Anna land :) But ashamedly, I don’t think I ever mentioned Fraggle the dog?? A silver/blue curly haired pup that was named after the dog from Jim Henson’s ‘Fraggle Rock’. And he really is the spitting image of the dog in the opening scenes too (the one in the lighthouse at the beginning!).

Fraggle used to be a street dog in Costa Rica but the short story is, one intern ‘adopted’ him and vowed to take him home with her back to the UK but…it never happened. Fraggle ended up becoming the Butterfly Gardens dog and always went home with the owners for his bed and board haha bless.

Fraggle’s a very young dog, he must only be around 2 years old. He’ll definitely need some training too but I know Anna will do a great job. One of his favourite things to do at the Gardens was to chase passing speeding motorbikes! “Fraggle! Fraggle! Get back here!” We’d all shout. It certainly made our hearts skip a beat as he’d get super close to the tyres…we thought he’d never make it to the grand age of 3!

When Anna and Fraggle first laid eyes on each other, it was love at first sight! They were almost joined at the hip. I used to laugh because Anna would let Fraggle sleep IN her bed with her awww, they became best budds.

Anna and Fraggle at home in Canada

Anna and Fraggle in Canada

The Managers used to joke “Fraggle will much prefer it in Canada B.C you know!” because they could all see how close Anna and Fraggles bond was. But we all thought they were joking until they brought it up again and again. So, Anna decided to seriously look into it and in the end, with her families backing (and the support of the staff), she made the decision to go for it! Yay, so Fraggle will be a ‘Frags to Riches’ story hah! (thanks for that title Anna). I was SO excited for both Anna and Fraggle!

There was a lot of complications with getting his jabs up to date, documents written up, Fraggle’s own plane ticket had to be bought and also a cage to put him in for the flight. Phew! A lot of phone calls and visits to officials were made and at one point, it nearly didn’t follow through but eventually, it all came together and the plan to transport Fraggle overseas was a go go! :)

I am now VERY happy to report, that Anna and Fraggle are now indeed in Canada B.C, safe and sound! I am over the moon for them both and I know Fraggle will have a very fulfilling and happy life with Anna and her family.

So scooting back to the present….All I can say for now, is that things here in Peru are just getting started.  I’ve already attended a sound healing session with Jamie plus, we are organising trips together (also with Guy, Blake and his lovely girlfriend (whose name I won’t forget next time hehe). Oh AND, my roomies are now talking to me too so it’s ALL coming together and it feels great!

So watch this space, keep following and I will catch up with you all very soon my lovelies.

Much love xx

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