In the past 36 hours, I used almost every form of transportation possible in Peru. Short of riding a train, I traveled down from the Casa Girasoles Kusi home nearby Yungay/Huaraz, to Lima and then up to Iquitos to the Casa Girasoles Puerto Alegria home – all in 36 hours.
The long day started Saturday morning in Kusi. My Scottish team, which was a school group from Kyle Academy in Ayr, Scotland, spent Saturday morning making hundreds of adobe bricks and preparing to depart Kusi later that day. Midday, they broke from working to participate in the traditional Pachamanca meal that ends each week with work teams. Pachamanca is a delicious meal that is cooked in the ground. The fire starts at 4am the morning of the meal and food prepared and wrapped in banana leaves are dropped into the pit to cook on the hot coals for 1 hour. The pachamanca is traditionally followed by the Peruvian vs. American/Scottish soccer game, where Peru always wins.
Around 5pm, we boarded two combis (which are Peruvian minivan taxis) to head down to Yungay, to meet our bus fletado (private bus, like a Greyhound), which would drive through the night and take us directly to the Lima airport for us to meet our 4am flight to Iquitos. Typically the trip between Yungay and Lima takes 8 or 9 hours, depending on how many stops you make and how fast the driver takes on the winding mountainous roads.
Miraculously, it only took 7 hours for us to descend from the Andes into Callao and the Lima airport. This meant we arrived at the airport at a prompt midnight, four hours before our flight was supposed to depart! Thankfully there was no line at the LAN counters and we were able to check our belongings without much hassle. By 12:30 we headed upstairs to the restaurants and stores. All that was left to do was wait for our 4:35am flight.
We proceeded downstairs to the domestic departure waiting room, where we were told that there was bad weather (which means extreme rain) in Iquitos and the flight would be delayed 1 hour. After 20 minutes, the flight was delayed yet again for another hour. Surprisingly the team of students was unusually upbeat and having a grand time talking back and forth, watching One Tree Hill (apparently it’s quite popular among some of them), and playing mind/card tricks with their teachers.
We finally made it out of Lima around 6:30 in the morning, two hours after our original flying time. You would think that after this ordeal we would have easy travels the rest of the way to Puerto Alegria.
Once we arrived in Iquitos, we met an English couple that would accompany us during the day in Iquitos and few days at the Casa Girasoles home in Puerto Alegria. Our first stop in Iquitos was to drive 1.5 hours to the port of Nauta, where we would meet up with a Scottish medical work team that was heading out on the Amazon Hope 2 for ten days. One of SU’s six ministries is a medical mission, which takes place primarily at a clinic in Belen (the slum neighborhood of Iquitos), and on two boats the organization owns, the Amazon Hope 1 and Amazon Hope 2.
Before we even reached Nauta, the bus that we were traveling on managed to overheat – from a mixture of the long distance, extreme heat in Iquitos, many hills we climbed, and old machinery – causing us to switch buses and join the medical team that was traveling ahead of us. Finally, we made it to Nauta.
The boat, which has capacity for the 10 medical volunteers, a staff of Peruvian doctors, and ship crew, departed Nauta and took us on a 45-minute journey down the river. The scenery was beautiful, and seemed very exciting to travel down one of the Amazon tributaries for ten days.
After Nauta, we returned to Iquitos (in a bus that didn’t overheat) to have lunch at the traditional Ari’s Burgers – one of the only gringo (a name for a white person, non-Peruvian) friendly restaurants in Iquitos. By this time we were all exhausted, hungry, and hot from the hot and humid weather. A cold water and frozen lemonade were desperately needed.
Following Ari’s we re-boarded the bus to take us to the port where we would meet the boat owned by Puerto Alegria. From this port, we made the 45-minute journey down the River Itaya to the Casa Girasoles home in Puerto Alegria.
36 hours with 1 plane, 5 buses, 2 boats and we finally made it.