Monday, 4 May 2020

#20: Remembering travels around Peru

At the moment, travel of any sort, but particularly international travel, is a distant prospect at best. My daughter, aged 10, dreams of travelling the world - visiting the countries currently only available digitally during this worldwide lockdown. I very much hope she will be able to fulfil her dreams. Travel brings you randomly into contact with people, enables personal exploration of places and immerses you in cultures in a way that digital isn’t able to replace so attractively. There seems to me, no replacement for being there. At the weekend Suzi and I had a ‘dream’ camping trip in our back garden, imagining distant lands. Memories emerged of a very different time, a time nearly 20 years ago, when I was travelling around Peru. I share an excerpt here in case you, like me, are in need of some armchair inspiration for what your next journey may be, if and when the universe allows us to travel once more. By boat to Iquitos is an account of a river journey I made through the jungles of Peru in 2001. 
Peruvian river boats at Iquitos
Vanessa at Iquitos
By boat to Iquitos

Tim and Agnes help me mount Vanessa. And it is more of a mount rather than a boarding as the metal cargo boat is still strewn with timber and rice waiting to be squeezed into the seemingly full cargo hold below. Timek and Agniewska are names that are too much of a mouthful for me and so they have become Tim and Agnes, which they seem happy with. It is interesting how people invariably want to shorten names. My brother is called Christian and the shortening of his name led to me being christened with the un-shortenable name of Neil. Tim and Agnes have managed to keep a space near to them but a Peruvian man asleep in his hammock separates me from them. Tim helps me bondage my beautiful rainbow hammock to the pipework and it turns out that the market stall man was right and had not ripped me off. I sit for the first time in my hammock sweating from the bustle and frantic rush to get here on time. Vanessa looks like she has had a hard life as her metal panels are covered with scratches and dents. She is stretched to bursting point with people all tying their hammocks to her pipework and finding space for their belongings where there seems to be none. Locals are selling virtually everything in huge buckets containing anything from toothpaste to watermelon. I buy a bowl and spoon as directed by the trader and add it to my food bag.

“Do you want to tie your backpack to ours?” Agnes asks. I look at their matching blue backpacks that are secured under chain and padlock to one of the uprights of the boat.

“I think it would be a good idea, it could easily get stolen,” says Tim.

“OK thanks,” and I tie the cords of my backpack to theirs, which would make removing it difficult. A wise precaution but not something I would have worried about straight away.

“We have found Peru to be quite a bad place for us,” starts Tim.


“Yes, we arrived at Lima airport and this man claiming to be undercover police asks us to go with him as there is much drugs and fake money in Peru.”

“Did you go with him?”

“Of course, in Poland when we were growing up if undercover police asked you to do anything you did it. So we went with him and he stole all our cash and left us halfway down the road from the airport.”

“Oh my God, what a nightmare.”

“Yes, it was not a nice introduction to Peru,” smiles Tim with a sense of humour about the whole event.

“Then we were in a restaurant and Tim put his camera down and turned for a few seconds and when he turned back it had been stolen.”

“They must have been watching you.”

“Yes I think so,” nods Agnes regretfully.

“The camera was very expensive and I had saved money for many months and had bought it from America,” says Tim still smiling.

“You have been very unlucky,” I say trying to console their losses.

“But Agniewska still has her camera so we are ok.” I look at her camera and it too looks expensive and an ideal stealable item. I am left feeling partly sorry for the Polish couple but cannot help thinking that they were asking for trouble flashing such expensive cameras about. It appears they have learnt a hard lesson.

“We are pretty full eh,” I say changing the subject.

“Yes, the captain says we leave at six,” says Tim.


“Yes, they are still loading the boat with cargo.”

“So I guess we relax and put our feet up for a bit,” I say laying back and swinging in my hammock. It feels great to swing, I have seen it done many times in films on TV but to swing in my own hammock aboard my riverboat to Iquitos feels great. We are squeezed in the length of the boat shoulder to shoulder and the motto seems to be: I swing you swing. So we all swing.

If you would like to read more about this two-month journey in Peru, you can read the rest of this chapter on My Medium blog or the whole book ‘From Dementia to Adventure’ which is available on the Books store on Google Play.

Happy armchair travelling - where will your next journey be?