devi: (fields)
I am in Iquitos on the banks of the Amazon. I was going to come here on a riverboat, taking three to five days, slowly sailing up the squiggly Rio Ucayali till it turned into the Amazon. But I heard in Pucallpa that the river was so low it was taking nearly a week at the moment, and I´d already lost a couple of days in Lima, so today I caught another little local plane. Iquitos is a cool little city full of grand buildings with dark blue tiling, left over from the rubber boom.

After checking into the Hobo Hideout hostel I walked a couple of blocks down to the riverside. The sky was grey, broken by patches of rusty light, the air was shifting around expectantly as though it was about to storm. Thousands of birds were flocking around a bunch of communications masts in the Plaza de Armas. Then I came out on to a high promenade that looks out across a sweep of lush vegetation and wet fields to the broad silver curve of the river, and the forest beyond it. There was a thick steel-grey curtain of rain coming in from miles away, with distant thunder and lightning. And now the whole sky was swirling with birds, all kinds of birds from sparrows to big scruffy buzzards, some flicking through the air just above my head, some so far up they were just tiny flecks.

People were strolling on the promenade or making out or selling sweets. A children´s play was going on in a little amphitheatre. I stood and watched the rain coming closer for a while, then all the birds suddenly vanished and I knew from the smell of the air that I only had seconds before it rained. I ducked into this netcafe and moments later, outside the open door, bringing a smell of hot wet concrete, the sky fell.

a thing for rainforests )

The jungle around Pucallpa was scrubby, just the fringes, not the really old-growth forest with the huge ancient trees. Here, though, or at least 100km or so out of town, it´s the real thing, and I´m going there. In a few days I´m heading down the river on a boat and then hiking into the forest, and if they still have space on that bit of the tour I get to climb high up into the canopy, where a science team have hung a walkway for people to stand and watch birds and animals you can´t see from the ground.

It´ll be a delicious irony if I get eaten by an anaconda or something while I´m out there. But I don´t expect nature to love me back. I´m just glad to be here.
devi: (sunhead)
It´s funny the effect losing my bag has had on me. I´d spent weeks carefully constructing this travel self, prepared for every eventuality. Scoured shops for clothes that would cover me up against the insects and dry quickly if I hand-washed them. Packed universal bath plug, two kinds of adaptor, earplugs, a mini-pharmacy. Hunted for tiny toiletries so I wouldn´t have to haul about big bottles of shampoo etc. The careful packing was proof against all the dire warnings and something I used to reassure all the people who were worried about me. It was a mental security blanket. And then it got lost, and I had the odd experience of having to re-buy everything haphazardly, having a foreign rucksack full of unfamiliar Peruvian products and an odd assortment of clothes, all the best of a bad lot rather than anything I´d have chosen. The security blanket is gone, and... I kind of like it. Only having a small bag is brilliant. I´d packed light but this little bag is even lighter. When I´ve been travelling before, the transitional bits between one place to stay and another have been an ordeal. Haul the big heavy bag to the new place as quickly as you can, dump it, lie and gasp for a bit and then explore. This way you can check out of somewhere in the morning, wander around all day, arrive at the next place in the evening and not even be tired. The line between essential and desirable things to bring has moved.

Then there´s language. I know a bit of phrasebook Spanish. I can book things and ask directions and stuff. Somehow (arrogantly, it seems now) I thought this would get me by. I was picking it up all the time, after all. But obviously it´s not enough to talk to people, to understand them, to express things beyond the sort of "Mrs Lopez works for Rover. She has a good salary" stuff in my Instant Spanish book. I am saying things are very good, with the genders mixed up half the time, and saying thank you a lot. And like I found in China, when a lot of your coping strategies revolve around language it feels pretty naked to be without it. But I´ve discovered something very interesting. If you haven´t got much language you are forced to be open and straightforward. You meet some little village kid who throws a handful of leaves over you to welcome you to her village and instead of trying to think up something sensitive and appropriate to say, you just ask what her name is. If you want to ask for something you just ask for it, just the words you need, without ringing it round with a maze of caveats, circumlocutions and apologies. You just say what you mean.

So I was lying on my mat on the floor of a wooden house deep in the jungle last night, staring up at the dark rafters of the banana-leaf-thatched roof. There was a crack in it where you could see one star. The room was full of zigzags of cricket noise, punctuated by dripping from the trees. And I realised, suddenly, that everyone in this house thought I was Dutch and none of them knew my name.

The guide/interpreter guy who had set it up for me to come here, the son of the painter (thereby hangs a tale), had gone home, as had the nice English-speaking boy who drove the mototaxi. I had heard the others, all exclusively Spanish-speaking but for a tiny Japanese girl with no English either, saying I was from Holland. It was what they heard no matter how many times I said "Irlanda". And when they´d spoken to me earlier they thought my name was Gloria or Ji-dah or Dray-da, and I´d say it again and they´d look puzzled, then shrug. It was just an impossible collision of consonants. So there I was, in the middle of the forest. I´d lost my stuff, I´d lost my language, and now it was as if I´d even lost my nationality and my name.

And that felt kind of liberating as well, so that I nearly laughed out loud. It was as if all the extraneous nonsense had been stripped off some fundamental thing that was me. But who ´me´ was wasn´t important. I´m Nobody, I thought, so I can be whatever I like.

Unfortunately all I could actually do at that point was go to sleep, but it´s the principle.
devi: (butterfly)
I´d like to tell you properly about the lakeside jungle lodge on stilts, its banana-leaf-thatched buildings linked by narrow wooden walkways like a level of Myst. The jubilation of bursting out into sunshine from the Lima perma-fog, and flying over the Andes and then down over endless forest patched with cloud shadows and threaded with twisty red-brown rivers like question marks. Hummingbirds and butterflies and sliced papaya and talking parrots and hurtling round Pucallpa on rattly, noisy little mototaxis, and this dusty little internet cubby full of rough wooden sculptures of animals and staticky pop radio (everyone round here seems to listen to a station called, I think, ´Romantica´, where every song sounds like it´s from the slushy lovesong pirate radio of my childhood). There´s mad explody mythological art to tell about (I heart Pablo Amaringo) and lucky meetings and exciting stuff afoot. And this feeling of `yes, I´ve arrived, this is it´ which requires a big digression about rainforests and my childhood imaginary world. But I can´t capture anything properly right now because it is TOO HOT TO LIVE (Lima was chilly and somehow damp and arid at the same time; getting off the plane at tiny Pucallpa airport, it was as if the sun was punching me in the bare shoulders).

Also I itch like holy hell after being devoured by mosquitoes last night. It´s murder on my concentration. The `Off!´ bug spray I bought to replace my proper Jungle Formula stuff, gone with my bag, is some sort of cruel joke. It burned when I put it on, but the evil little beggars just sniggered at it and went on biting merrily. Perhaps it is actually human repellent.

Graah. I go find anaesthetic cream. Perhaps I come back later.
devi: (railway)
Hasty post: I´m about to get on a little local plane to Pucallpa, on the far side of the Andes in the beginnings of the rainforest. I´ll be staying in a jungle lodge on an oxbow lake of an Amazon tributary, on stilts over the water. From there it´s a riverboat to Iquitos, which you can´t get to by road, which is awesome. I thought I´d be all YAY YAY YAY SMELL YOU LATER LIMA but actually it´s grown on me a lot in the last day or so. I found my travel legs, I got out of the horrible Manhattan Inn and into the glorious faded-colonial-glamour Gran Hotel Bolivar in the centre of town, which only cost a couple of dollars more. I went to the brutal concrete pile of Museo de la Nacion, which was stuffed with fascinating folk art and the kind of place you can only find in a city. They still haven´t found my bag, but they say they´ll send it on to the next place I´m staying because it´s the airline´s fault, and at this stage I don´t care. I´ve bought a little backpack and a few essential bits and I am out of here.

(Clothes shopping in a supermarket in Lima was a weird experience. Everything was either polyester with shoulder pads, ruffled up-to-the-chin librarian prim, or tiny and made of spandex. So I am wearing a man´s T-shirt which I cut down with a scissors. Get this: on top of a design of tribal suns and bird shapes, it says "Forgive me for my mistakes, I´m still a kid learning the responsibility of being adult." I think this is hilarious.)

Anyway, must fly.

unreal city

Aug. 5th, 2008 08:59 am
devi: (junction night)
I am in Lima. My rucksack isn´t. When I got to the baggage reclaim, late at night local time after being in transit for 27 hours, I was so seeing-stars, sledgehammered-on-the-head tired that I wasn´t even annoyed when my bag failed to appear. I just shrugged and grinned weakly, filled in a load of forms and piloted myself to bed as best I could. Now, though, I´m getting a bit irritated. They said it´d be here last night, it´s now nine in the morning, and I want OUT OF HERE DAMNIT.

Lima-related blather )

Oh, Matt Brooker´s photos from the comics exhibition are here.

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