Welcome to this week’s Postcard From – the feature where I chat to some lucky explorer about their recent travels.
This week’s Postcard is from Hannah, the blogger behind That Adventurer – a travel blog that inspires people to go off the beaten track and take on new challenges. She’s recently returned from three months exploring South America where she lived with cowboys in Uruguay, trekked to Machu Picchu, learnt to tango, cooked Peruvian cuisine and travelled down the Amazon on a cargo boat for four days. Recently moved to North Norfolk, Hannah is soon headed down to the bright lights of the city to start life in London. Follow adventures in various varieties on her blog www.thatadventurer.co.uk, or on Twitter @adventurehan and Facebook.com/thatadventurer.
Hi Hannah! Tell us about your trip to El Chino…
Towards the end of three months in South America I headed back to Peru, only this time I was headed north not south. From Mancora in very northern Peru I took three buses, four moto taxis and a collective to Yurimaguas in the Amazon basin. From here it was another four days chugging along the Amazon river onboard a cargo ships to Iquitos. Iquitos is pretty famous for being the only city in the world inaccessible by road. I didn’t stop here though. I wanted to go further into the Amazon so, after a shower and a night’s sleep in a bed, not a hammock, I took a 2 hours “speed” boat journey and another two hour trip on a motorised dug-out canoe and finally arrived in El Chino.
El Chino is a small village in the Amazon. There’s about 200 people living there, everyone knows everyone and are extremely friendly. The village is located at the top of some steep steps from the river and has a market place, a school and several houses, oh and of course there’s a football pitch! It wouldn’t be South America without one!
I was in the Amazon in March and it was so humid – how was the weather for you?
I stayed in El Chino in the middle of July earlier this year. Given that we stayed in a rainforest it’s fairly typical to expect rain. The weather went from being extremely hot and humid, completely wiping you out and making you just want to sleep, to being torrential rain and thunderstorms, back to humid in the blink of an eye. The rain was more than welcome when it arrived though!
I’m guessing you weren’t staying in a five star hotel?
I stayed with one of the families in the village. They have a fairly large house with several bedrooms maintained for travellers. The bed had a mosquito net – perfect given I’m a magnet for them – there were showers, hammocks to relax in and even a television (although electricity is only on for an hour or two in the evening). The family we stayed with cooked us three meals a day and breakfast was usually watched over by a stunning green macaw or monkeys scrambling over tree tops. Staying with a family in the middle of the Amazon definitely felt more adventurous than opting for the posh looking resort just along the river!
Sounds like a much more interesting experience! So what did you get up to in the rainforest?
Upon arrival we were treated to lunch then embarked on a hike through the jungle. Our guides had machetes and chopped down any vines in our path. I learnt loads about different jungle plants and medicines that can be found in the area. Towards the end we watched as monkeys lept between branches above our heads. The next day we took a fishing trip. After about an hour of chugging along in the canoe we arrived at our spot.
I’m not really one for fishing and think it’s too much waiting for nothing – our experience in the Pantanals was pretty boring and no one in the group caught anything – BUT fishing in the Amazon is completely different. Within seconds piranhas were nibbling at the bait and if you didn’t feel a tug within 10 seconds you just knew they’d nibbled all the meat without being caught! Few scary/funny moments too when I pulled up a piranha with so much force it almost hit my boyfriend in the face! In the afternoon we rowed ourselves down some small sections of the river and looked up to spot animals moving above us.
What was your highlight?
It’s hard to pick just one! I never knew fishing could be so exciting, although I’m sure it’ll be hard to beat fishing in the Amazon. We also got taken to a spot to see some electric eels. They were absolutely massive – you wouldn’t want to come across one of those on your own!
I had pretty good food in Iquitos – what was the food like in El Chino?
Traditional Peruvian meals in the Amazon basin consist of rice, plantain and some sort of meat. Our first dinner was delicious we had freshly made fish bites along with the rice and plantains that tasted so good! The day we went fishing we also got to eat our catch for our evening meal you can’t get much fresher than that!
Were there any funny moments on your trip?
On our return journey back to Iquitos at 4am we were sat in the motorised canoe watching the lighting brighten up the dark sky. Fish were splashing right and left of the canoe as we made our path along the river. I was just drifting off to sleep when I felt a huge whack to my ear. This was followed by a banging noise on the bottom of the boat. A fish had accidentally jumped into the boat, hit me on the ear and then fallen underneath the planks of wood for our feet!
Do you have any tips or advice for anyone headed to this part of Peru?
Give yourselves longer than we did to explore the deeper parts of the Amazon. We only had three days and given that travel takes up half a day that was cut even shorter!
Also don’t take it as given that the mosquito repellent with high deet in will actually work. Whilst it worked great for my boyfriend it seemed to result in me getting more bitten that usual. I found citronella scented sprays worked best for me!
Did you learn any of the local language from the Amazonian people?
I learnt lots of names of the different fish we were catching, but unfortunately they’ve escaped me now!
And finally, my new favourite question, can you recommend us a good book to read from your trip?
Whilst not to do with Peru or the Amazon I did read Marching Powder by Rusty Young whilst travelling South America. I highly recommend this book to anyone, especially those of you visiting Bolivia. It tells the story of a British prisoner in Bolivia’s unusual prison. Why unusual? Because inmates have to buy their sell and buy food, items to live off.
NB – all images are owned by Hannah