Adventures in the jungle

Part 1: Arica - Juliaca

Bored in extremis
I was unemployed long time, it was mid 2007, bored, doing nothing and without one single peso in my pocket. Well, far niente has been part of my nature since long, but too much doing nothing was rusting my spirit, at certain point routine may be so tiresome as to be busy. Then the opportunity appeared: to go to a remote place in the peruvian amazonia for business, no money involved because was only for exploration purposes and meet people but  an interesting chance for some adventure with expenses paid by a good friend, my capitalist partner in case the business succeed. So I was overnigth in the peruvian border of Santa Rosa, with my bag, ready to go to the unknown.

Bad reputation
Two weeks before to depart, I devoted to read by Internet as much as I can on the place,  the almost unknow village of Huepetue, I founded very few information and most of I saw was frigthening, they described the place as inferno on earth, horrid healt conditions, no law enforcement, dangerous people, frequent kidnaps, unnaccesible, etc.

Well, I am not in age to take stupid risks but, what the hell, I was terribly bored, the business oportunity and the adventure was calling me, I will go there! I decided. Furthermore Willy, a peruvian friend who knew -supposedly- the place and will be my guide told me that the place was perfectly safe, healthy, nice, good people, police not needed, fully paved road and hermosas mujeres hot they called "charapitas" (little turtles) which finally convinced to me to go, I had to see by myself at any cost. 

The truth, as I discovered later, was just in the middle, really Willy had never been in this village before, but in nearby areas much more civilized. When we purchased the tickets by bus to Jualiaca he told me that never had made this route before, when I ask him how can he know that it was fully paved, he told me laughing that he had saw it in a video. Since then I started to feel worried but I was into the bus, too late to step back.  

By bus to Juliaca with a preacher
The bus departed fron Tacna at 8 PM, it look pretty cool -at the first sigth- but inside it was a disaster: dirty seats, broked and locked in vertical position, Willy explained to me that those "Marco Polo" buses was build on the chassis of a truck and the adaptation was so good that it look as good as originals, except by the brake system and other detais. He also told me that buses was usually owned by the driver who was also the mechanic, so barely where under maintenance, and they made many trips without sleep to earn more money.  another reason to worry but, hell, we was on the road to Moquegua, nothing to do about that.

Something really funny happened as soon as we start the trip, a shorty young girl, very slim, start to behave as an airline hostess talking us about toilette "only for piss, I insist only for piss" she said, the she start a very long speech with a mix of silly "instructions" probably mimic of airplanes,  suddenly she changed the speech to moralistic, talking about how bad the drugs and alcohol were, the crime agains our own body we commited each time we drink (I remembered that few minutes ago we was drinking some beers with Willy and start to feel guilty) then she turned philosophic talking about how difficult was for the human being to find the happines and she had a friend to introduce us who can solve all our problems, Bingo! at last I understoo, it was an evangelic preaching, and then she engaged in a never end preaching on God and how evil we was, in the middle of her speech she said "you know, those trips by bus are often dangerous and it is probable that  this nigth all we are facing to God our Lord" me and Willy can not stop a loud laughing, which gives her the opportunnity to focus her speech in us, the heretic sinners, attaking with bitter irony during almost one hour. well after the torture to hear all those nonsense she finally reached to the point, her true business, she said that she was student and no job so she was selling some eucaliptus candies for one sol (some US$ 0,50), of course we do not purchase anything but all the rest of the trip -some 11 hours I was worried that she really had some kind of deal with God and I would be in agony in the middle of a big crash.

Then we turned into TV stars
Finally we arrived to a customs control -Tacna is a sort of free zone- and then to Moquegua, a tiny town in the middle of a big and fertile valley who cross the desert, the countriside homes made of clay looks nice, but in town was pretty ugly, specially the parks, public spaces and biuldings who usually are the most ugly in every town I had know in Peru, In Moquegua the bus stopped to pick passemgers and a guy entered filming every one of the passengers with a video camcorder, at first I supposed that peruvians were concious on my celebrity and come to interview me, not so, it was a security control because the road assaults still occurs in the peruvian roads, another reason to worry, as if I had not enough.

From Moquegua the road start to climb to the high plateau, very steppy and full of close bends, it remembered to me the road to Farellones or Lago chungara in Chile. At nigth there are an spectacular view of a little minning town between tho huge mountains, it was as to be into a film from many years ago. After many hours of climbing we reached to the high plateu: el altiplano, it was completly dark but the most dead and desolated place I have ever seen, flat as a huge pool table with nothing alive at seen, just a layer of ice because the extrematly low temperature at nigth. I remembered Vargas Llosa´s novel "Lituma en los Andes" but we was not yet so high, the village of Lituma was almost thousand meters higher at Macusani, it was identical as the place that Vargas Llosa described.

Many hours at high speed trough el altiplano, the driven going sideways by the road and me thinking on what Willy told me about they almost dont sleep, once we was close to crash by front with a truck  -it seems the chauffer was very sleepy- so I decided that better all we had to sleep and trust in God, too bad for me, no way to fall asleep with the fear. After some 10 hours, at dawn we reach Desaguadero, a very desolated town besides lake Titicaca, then we follow by the border of the lake and landscape changed dramatically to green, nice pastures with tiny clay and stone homes besides some very ugly constructed recently. Puno countryside is really nice, with pastures and low hills dont appear to be  altiplano. The city of Puno I saw was very ugly instead, with those horrid and chaotic architecture tipycal of altiplano, who people there likes so much.

Dawn in Puno
Finaly, after some 12 hours long trip we arrived to Puno where we stop briefly to depart one hour later to Juliaca, Puno is located in the border of lago Titicaca with some 250.000 habitantes, some bigger than Arica and it was formerly the meeting point of contraband of any kind from and to Bolivia from the crossing the border of río Desaguadero, both cities looks to me like a town in the far east, specially Juliaca full of bicycle-taxi, motorbyke-taxis, very old trains crossing by the middle of street and crowd of people running everywere, Juliaca is very extended and it has a huge micro business activity. Willy told me that this town developed in the 80s when the contraband in Puno begun to be more controlled, since then Juliaca used to be a tiny town an suddenly start growing in a complete chaos same as Puno did decades ago. I only saw tho antique biuldings: the cathedral and a monastery, the rest was all build with bricks, and ceramics that they call "noble material" to distinguish from wood and stone, which is considered rustic and unnoble. This is the Puno style. In downtown Juliaca I cannot saw any home not devoted to some kind of business.

During the Puno stop at the morning I realized How bad was the bus we was travelling, I have realized before a problem with brakes who cried loud every time the driver used. Tires was in horrible shape with external patches and in some you can saw the irons, Willy just laughed with my worries,  "be clam" he told me "the driver is the owner so if we crash he lose his investment". Then he told me that due the cheap price of ticket (less that US$ 10) drivers almost do no sleep to make many trips, as you may imagine, all those dont relaxed me too much

In Juliaca we go to the breakfast in a tiny restaurant where they told us that the only they had was "estofado" a big dish of meat and rice which they usually take in the morning, not for me, we ask them if they could prepare us a couple of fried eggs with coffe and they look as we where coming from mars, but fiinally agreed, we planned to follow our trip directly to Mazuko (9AM) but the road was closed up 9 PM! then we learned that they was  still constructing the road and in the day they made the dinamyte explosions and they opened by nigth provisionally, well, we had 12 hours to spent in Juliaca and we were far away from home to step back. I found a dirty and noisy place with Internet to rent, and spent most of the day there checking Internet and posting my Blogs´s entry for this day.

Juliaca do not appeared to me a nice place for tourist, close to 4.000 meters above the sea level in a huge flat surface, rather dry compared with Puno, however they told me that there are lot of agriculture and gold mines in the area. Really my impresion of the place was as a big open market with ugly and chaotic architecture and an old train that cosses the streets without any advise or protection. Thousands of motorbyke taxis Puno and Juliaca are -in my view- the mental image that all we have from Peru, despite the fact they are a minority aimaras (people from this area) are called the peruvian jews, extremely poor in appereance but fierdy greed and ambicious, hard workers, they have taking place all over PEru and neigbor countries. In the middle of the road, between Puno and Juliaca in the noneless, there is a big private university (Universidad del Altiplano it seems) and it is a symbol of the fast social mobility of aimaras from those lands, from there will grow the future owners and moguls for Peru and many other countries in Latin America, second generations are the same as ambicious as their parents. Juliaca used to be extremly cold by those season but this day was warm and sunny, kudos for global heating!

As I told you before, we intend depart to Mazuko inmediatly in a bus that -teorethicaly- will bring us to Mazuco in 6 or 7 hours, but the road was just in construction, do not appears in maps and it is the south branch of the Carretera Interoceánica, a titanic project who started during the former rule of Alejandro Toledo in Peru.  Supposing thet the trip would be hard and dangeorus we look fos a bus in good conditions and we foun one who look pretty good with a sign  "salida a Mazuko 5 PM", but all was deceptive, the real bus was another (older of course) and departing after 9 PM, peruvians take with humour those deceivings.

This is pretty typical in Peru, where people love those little scams but -in general terms- they are quite honest. Tired to bring bags from one place to another we left it in  the fake bus and they appeared intact after pass trough many hands, nothing was missed not even my dell pocket pc despite my worries. Perú is opposed to chile in many things, they don´t respect any form and joke about cheating you, they love improvisation and little scams, but in important things the system based in confidence works pretty well, maybe better than here in Chile.

See the slidehow in Tacna here
See the slideshow in Juliaca here

Part 2: Juliaca-Mazuko

The salary of fear

We finally departed to Mazuko near 9 PM our new bus was worse than the former  but I was acustomming to the peruvian way, the bus was crowded with tons of merchandises of any kind, even some matress in the area you usually use to go to your seat, I was thinking how to escape in case of accident between the mountani of merchandises but then returned to the peruvian way of thinking and just trusted in God let it be, I prepared for a longer trip than planned but I not even suspected how long it was to be.

All people in bus very was glad, joking and talking loud with musica chicha in the radio, peruvians feel depressed in quiet enviroments, they love the noise of any kind. We passed first by Azangaro (they say that this name means "the most men", no idea if that is true) by a good paved road in a plateau with a huge electric station. Then started a chain of electric storm that follow us by manu hours, impressing to see lightings shinning beside the bus windows,.

The road begun to climb again to a second chain of mountains (we was over 4.000 meters there) after pass trough several small minning camp we arrived to the tiny town of San Antón, with just one long street where buses stop to dinning some, several small business with meal, we take mate de coca to prevent the heigth sickness (puna) some sodas and bread to carry, wich was very useful for the rest of the nigth.

Macusani, the village of Lituma en los Andes
After a long and very winding road, the bus ges down to a little plain where is located the village of Macusani, in the top of the world, it seems it is well over 5.000 meters high. I had read the Vargas Llosas´s novel Lituma en los Andes and appeared to me as the same place, was impressing, there are a big camp of the company who is building the road and just there the good road ends. Macusani is also known as world capitol of vicuñas and there are important uranium mines there. As soon as we leave the village the bus crossed a precarious bridge made with pieces of wood over a big cliff, it was the first of a serie of scares from this point, the geography changes suddenly from stony to green and the road turned into a frigthening one lane down, sculptured in a huge wall almost vertical of some thousand meters high, I taked this photo from Internet (we passed by nigth) to show you how bad is the road

The road is sculptured with dinamyte in the edge of the cliff, when I saw by the window I was scared to dead to see the tiny ligths thousand meters above, the brakes loudly noising and the klaxon honking before each bend. The has been many disasters in this road due rolling stones who are very frequent as we can see few hours later.

Trapped all the nigth!
After several hours going down and not far to reach the bottom we where stucked into a long line of trucks, one big stone had fallen and take most of the road down, no way to continue at least in several days. The driver with a group of paseengers was down to check what to do, after one hour aprox, they come back telling that there was nothing to do except wait and see. It was impossible turn back due the narrow of the road, so we had to spend the nigth right there. No radio, no way to comunicate with anybody we was really trapped. We have no water nor food and no idea how long we have to stay there, we give the soda and bread to the child who was in the bus and just tried to sleep and decide the next day what to do. It was the longest nigth of my life, I was worried on another stone falling because there was no way to escape, there was the possibility of an assault also so I cannot sleep all this nigth, just waiting to dawn into the bus.

The next morning the driver was very confused, he said that he can not leave the bus and he decided remain there until the road where rebuild, all we was free to do as we wish. Willy talked with another 4 passengers and we decided continue by foot to the nearby town of Ollaechea, so we started walking with my parka closed due my fear to mosquitoes, and in one hour or less we where in Ollaechea.

Ollaechea, the small paradise
So we was marching, Ollaechea was not so far so we arrived there with no problem. It was to me as to arrive to paradise  if I had go with more money I would happily spend one week there, a nice village with everything because it was the center of workers of the road, thermal springs, beutiful landscapes and waterfalls and even a cybercafe from where I uploaded my pics and posted my Blog´s entry, just in case that something happened in the rest of the trip. There is ecologic concious place (very different with I kew after) where the river San Gaban is full of trouts. 

But we have to move, Mazuko was waiting for us, so Willy started looking for someone to carry us. Just there we found one truck-into-buswho we had saw in Juliaca and we discarded due the driver looks too crazy, well, there was the man under the bus fixing a problem with the rear axe with a big hammer and an iron pole, well it was the only and we had no choice, so he said that in two hours the bus will be fixed, so we taked it. Shortly after leave Ollachea we found another bus with the axe broked (a common problem in those roads) so all passengers switched to our bus. We spent almost one hour discussing the deal with the passengers and finally we departed again.

To Mazuko with a daredevil

I realized we had commited a big mistake, the driver was completly insane with no idea of drive a big vehicle, even the other pasengers, experienced in those trips was terrified, we was bordering the San Gabán river where the cliff was not so deep as before, but some 20 meters was enough to kill us all, 80 to 90 km/h in a one lane road, each time he approached a blind bend he horn the klaxon applying brakes to the bottom, 

The geography of the jungle is very strange, it is a sort of huge hole from the altiplano at 5.800 meters high go down almost vertically to zero with a couple of echelons at some 2.000 meters (Ollachea) to some 1.000 meters (Mazuko), finally at Puerto Maldonado is close to 0. The more you go down, the more closed, unhealty and agressive is the landscape. Ollachea is like a paradise because is located at "ceja de selva" (in the border) so forest is not so deep, plants and animals have not to compete so fiercy and are less dangerous. When you approach to zero (near the brazilian border)  forest is so deep that nobody can walk trough except  in some clears near the rivers, it is full of predators, dangerous creatures and poisonous plants and only some indians can go a little into "el monte" as they call it. The most dangerous creatures are not snakes (the second most poinsonous in the world lives there but is very shy and almost inofensive) but mosquitoes which transmit zillion of diseases, and you can not figth against them, if they like your body there is no reppelent in the world able to defend you. Fortunatly my blood may be bitter because I was no bited at all in all the journey, despite there was clouds around.  Another danger are monkeys and bats many of them with hydrophobia use to attak people.. Besides malaria is endemic and as common as get a cold, nobady worries about that. Anyway, all those pleasant news was told me by the other passengers -peruvians are very sociable- adding more fear to the dammed trip.

The district of San Gaban in Puno is one of the richest of Peru, almost any river bring gold sand and nuggets, there are the biggest oil reserves of Peru, a big hydroelectrical plant and -as if all those was not enough- is one of the best places to grow coca plants just before Tingo María in the north amazonia. Every home has a cabin besides where coca leaves are dried and pre procecced, the road is steppy but because it is into the forest it is not apparent, except by the smell of burning brakes of the bus. We stopped to lunch  in a tiny place besides the road and I was friend with everybody, it was a novelty see one Chilean by those places and they make jokes on my fear to mosquitoes, well before to lunch I start thinking on hepatitis but I was hungry so, to hell, I eated the toamto with lettuce salad and the aguadito de pollo (chicken soup) with no problem, the hunger is stronger than fear.

After many inconveniences, some civilization, at last

After hours and hours of trip troug an endless forest, we reached to a place full of caution signs, it was an extremely steppy part of the road and this time even the daredevil take it very cautiously with brake pressed at bottom durin so long time that I feeled that broke at any moment, nobody happened however, then we entered to the Reserva Nacional Ecologica Tambopata, by the border of river Irimbari, in the middle of the road there was a very humble home, isolated, the driver stopped and go down, it was his home! he was chatting with his wife and playing with the kids, finally he remembered us and started again, but first with a bucket with water he cooled the brakes. A couple of hours in the most monotone landscape, trees everywere, and finally we arrived to Mazuko, the civilization, or sort of. We arrived by nigth and take a room at Hostal Valle Sagrado. For first time in 3 days I have a place where to sleep, I spent the last 3 days with zero sleep and was exausted. The humble room appeared a place to me, because it had the luxury of a bed  a common toilette pretty clean, at last I was happy. My first action was take a shower and then to a cybercafe to write my Blog entry, first thing first.

See slideshow from Juliaca to Mazuko here
Part 3: Mazuko and Huaypetue

The village with just one street
There are a point on the road just in the border of the peruvian departamentos of Puno and Madre de Dios, there are 3 bridges there over the Inimbari river, one is where we arrived, from Puno and Juliaca, the other where we follow brings to Mazuko and the third goes to a village called Quincemil (fifteen thousand), who is the route to climb to Cusco.

Mazuko has one long main street, some 10 to 15 blocks , 6 of them are paved and the rest are not, it is full of commerce with255 business: gas stations, hostels, restaurants, bars, food stores, mechanics, plastic items,  spare parts, photocopies, communications, tire repairment, transportation, hardware stores (lots of), pharmacies, etc. This place supplies to the illegal gold minning, so as workers of the Interoceanica road who is under constrution (where we arrive). There are 35 cars, 18 ligth trucks and 50 motorbykes registred, motorbykes are the most popular transport system and are widely used as taxis.

Nigth of deluge

We reached and booked at hostal Valle Sagrado, it seems the bigger on town with a cybercafe in the first floor. As soon as I enter to the bed I fall asleep but in middle of the nigth an horrible noise wake me up. It was as to be in the war with the ligthings and explosions of the heaviest rain I have ever seen, it was amazing, rain falls as from a firefigther hose, I go out to the balcony (all ligths was cutted at midnigth) and was stand seeing the big show, it was amazing, hot and rain together, not enen in Miami has seen such heavy rain. Then I entered again to my room, dried myself and falled in one of the best sleep of my life despite the noisy storm.  

Mazuko is a viilage invaded by the forest as I saw the next day. just besides every home start the jungle and I can not explain myself hoy the town  is not flooded after those super heavy rains, the day after it was completly dry, perhaps due the hot. In the morning an incredible noise wake me up, nothing, absolutly nothing is so noisy as Mazuko with trucks honking just for fun people talking loudly, electric generators noise everywere and the municipality hd installed a comunitary radio with music at full volume since 7:30 am to 24:00, people, perhaps unadvertidly, talk almost crying, it is noisyland. There are a police station, and I just saw two policemen, it must be one of the best jobs in the world because they have nothing to do, people fix their problems by their own, no police is needed.. Mazuko is a pretty rustic place but I saw no one poor person, no one single begger as abound in every big peruvian city, people looks poor but well feed and with modern mortorbykes or Toyotas Hylux zero miles, there are no luxuries but money is abundant there..

Many weird things as the mixed truck with gasoline and passengersl taking the same frigthening road I just take to arrive Mazuko, however locals told me that accident was considered "rare", well in such dangerous place I guess that rare means once a month or so.

I am no brave at all
At first sigth Mazuko intimidated to me a lot, no policemans  -in Arica you see them everywhere- made me nervous,  I was told in Tacna that many people siply dissapeared from this place, they go and never come back, I realized that I was notorious in town because every one knows each other, no tourist nor alien. But my destination was even more remote and worst reputed place, even MORE remote? I said to myself, no thanks, enough scary for this trip!, so I talked with Willy, my Peruvian friend who was sligthy less scared thab me, and I nominated him as my ambassador "you go there on my behalf, I will wait for you here" I told him  Willy tried hard to convince me but I was unamovable same as my cowardness: I will stay in Mazuco, end of the trip for me.

As soon as Willy taker the byke-taxi to Puerto Mazuko, I taked him this photo,  to keep some memory of my friend in case we don´t meet again, then I spent the rest of the morning at Restaurant Las Delicias for some juice with cookies. Then I go to a cyber cafe who was my second home for those days. Near 3 PM Willy was back in town covered with mosquito bytes, he told me that it was a good idea for me to stay in Mazuko because it was worse as he imagined, the local friend (a cousin of him) it was deep in the mines collecting some money so we had to wait 3 days for their coming back. So we decided to wait in town. Slowly I became accustomed to the place, the extreme noise and some people begun to say "hola" to me wich gave me some confidence, the place looks pacific and every one seems devoted to their own business. After 3 days Willy returned to Huaypetue (our final destination) and,  the dark appeared and my friend not, furthermore some 30 militia soldiers from a political party (Ollanta Humala) which furiously hate chileans arrived to hostal, with camo garments to sell their newspaper and make political meetings in the square. I begun to fear some problem with Willy and decided to organize my escape route for the next day to Puerto Maldonado, but late in the nigth Willy finally appeared with good news: he has finally found our contact. We celebrated drinking some beers in the main square, only few meters of the anti chilean speeches. Two liters of beer vanished all my worries. 

Everything was going nice, except for another big scary: I started to pee a dark brown liquid, I feared the sanitary conditions more that anything else, I met people who has died after trip to amazonia just due a mosquito byte, so I rushed to Internet where I readed that it was sympthom of hepatic damage. But it was false alarm, only some colored dress of the pollo con arroz I lunched the day before, some extra liters of beer an everything was fine again. Finally I met our contact in Huaype, a very nice guy which talked to me on business situation and opportunities. He prepared us an agenda and taked us to the first gold work I had seen in my life, in a place where few people knows and I got my fist tiny gold nugget from water, finally he convinced to me that I HAD  to go to Huaypetue, I feeled much safer and enthusiastic with the sight of gold so I agreed to go to the feared place.

Hygway to Huaypetue
So we paid the hostel, and with our bags take a taxi to the near Puerto Mazuko, at border of river Inimbari, this was the original place where a japanese called Jorge Mazuko established and founded the village many years ago, then we too a canoa with a mighty Evinrude motor to cross the river, they pass everything with canoa: ligth trucks, huge trucks, graders, everything,precariously balancing with two of those tiny boats. People told me that for the huge graders are partially disassembled in one side and then assembled back in the other, those mechanics are magicians considering the lack of machinery in the middle of nowhere. At the other side of the river, many ligth truck-taxi Hilux 4x4 take at least 11 people full of bags and after one and half hour trip across rivers and wordt roads we arrived to Huaypetue, a huge hole in middle of the jungle, looks like the earth after a nuclear war

Huaype is located in the border of a big  dry river called Huaype, which in rainy season floods and dissapear the entire town, anyway people is very happy when this happen because despite the destruction the river brings more gold, so all constrution are extremely precary, the town is build to dissapear, no tapwater, no sanitary installations and toilette discharges directly to the side streets, it is the nigthmare of any urbanist, improvised homes with no order, the electric system is chaotic as everything else because anyone make his own, spring water also floods in middle of streets everywhere you see and toilette waste also I guess, creating big lagoons. the village is full of business, side by side, transport, cybercafes, mechanics, spare parts, hardware shops, communications and even a service of small airplanes to Cusco one of the most dangerous in the world probably, because the fly blind against the vertical wal of 5.000+ meters high, just aided with compass and radio instructions..

We stayed in the best hostel called, la Negrita, very basic, like a jail, but perfectly clean and the only place with septic toilette, a big luxury in town.. We spent all day visiting posible customersand knowing the place and installations. At nigth we purchased two bottles of pisco and remail drinking and chatting long after than the diesel generated ligths was turned off. But we want also some action so we moved to one of the many sex bars of the place called  Venus  -pretty god- and we drinked several estra beers at international price. The next day, more work, more visits, and the we said  goodbye to my new friends with a huge hangover, then back to Mazuko. Suddenly start raining and with rain the roads close, so we rushed with a ligth lunch just canned sardines with cookies and we taked a shared taxi to Puerto Maldonado, short as we departed the road was closed for this day. I feel relieved, at last my worries was left behind, but, on the contrary sense, the worst it was still to came.

Slideshow de Mazuko aquí
Slideshow de Huaypetue aquí

Part 4: Puerto Maldonado

Un tramo muy peligroso
Después de pasar tantos sustos seguidos, pensé que ya era momento de darnos algunos lujos ya que pronto estaríamos de vuelta en la civilización. Nuestra alternativa para el regreso era tomar directamente en Mazuko un bus-camión para el Cusco, pero la experiencia del viaje en bus-camión entre Ollaechea y  Mazuko me había dejado muy asustado y pensé que hacer un viaje de 16 horas en un vehículo tan inseguro y con choferes an locos sería tentar demasiado a la buena suerte. Además tendría que subir por una pared vertical nueamente desde la selva hasta los 5.000 metros por el otro brazo de la Interoceánica que también está en construcción, y aunque me dijeron que estaba más avanzada que el tramo Juliaca-Mazuko no me hacía maldita gracia viajar de nuevo por el borde del barranco.

La decisión equivocada
Mi decisión entonces fue ir a Puerto Maldonado y allí tomaríamos un vuelo para Cusco, no más viajes largos y arriesgados por el momento, después en Cusco ya veríamos. Entre Mazuko y Maldonado hay un poco más de 200 kilómetros pero me dijeron que el camino tomaba entre 5 a 6 horas, las alternativas eran ir en bus-camión o en auto colectivo, yo opté por esto último por considerarlo más seguro, grave error como vería más tarde.

Después de almorzar una lata de atún con galletas tomamos el colectivo apurados porque pronto se cerraría el camino y no se podría pasar hasta la mañana siguiente, en el station iba el chofer, Willy, yo, un tipo jóven, otro más viejo y una señora campesina que se fue en el espacio de la maletera, al más puro estilo peruano. Nos fuimos a toda velocidad saltando por un camino que está en construcción pero se veía bastante inofensivo. En el poblado de Santa Rosa se bajó la señora de la maletera y seguimos dando tumbos por un par de horas, hasta que un sonido horrible de la rueda trasera nos obligó a parar en medio del camino. Se había roto un rodamiento de masa y no había como seguir, nos quedamos botados en medio de la selva y hasta el chofer se preocupó porque el camino ya estaba cerrado y las posibilidades que pasara alguien eran mínimas. Todos estaban bastante inquietos porque decían que en la noche es una nube de mosquitos y murcielagos que se meten por todos lados, no ra nada alentador el panorama y ni hablar de salir caminando en esas condiciones.

Botados en la selva, nos confunden con asaltantes
Y allí estábamos botados y bastante asustados cuando vemos venir un bus-camión ¡salvados! pensé y lo hicimos parar pero solo disminuyó la velocidad y luego salió escapando. La explicación era simple, en ese tramo se hace el porte de grandes cantidades de oro por mano en los buses, así es que los asaltos son muy comunes, los pasajeros del bus deben haber obligado al chofer a seguir de largo pensando que éramos asaltantes. Ardiendo de rabia nos quedamos cada vez más desanimados hasta que vimos acercarse un gran camióm Volvo , Willy me dice "yo me voy a poner adelante y cuando baje la velocidad te subes como sea" con los bolsos en la mano así lo hicimos y me subí sobre la marcha, después se subió Willy y el más joven, mientras que el chofer y el viejo se quedaron botados en el camino. El chofer al vernos arriba aceptó llevarnos hasta un lugar llamado "Laberinto" donde a veces hay colectivos que llevan a Perto Maldonado. Llegados allá, después de mucho buscar y regatear encontramos quien nos llevara a Maldonado, luego de tantas aventuras ya éramos amigos del joven compañero de viaje que resultó ser el anterior Alcalde de Mazuko, Manuel Castañeda, así es que nos fuimos muy amigos hasta que llegamos finalmente a la civilización

Por fin en Puerto Maldonado
Puerto Maldonado es una ciudad con todas las de la ley, similar a Arica un lugar no muy turístico pero lindo en medio de la selva, donde se juntan los dos grandes afluentes del Amazonas: el Tambopata y el Madre de Dios. Nos acomodamos en un buen hotel con la última plata que me quedaba, cerca del Obelisco, un mirador muy freak que se le ocurrió a algún político loco, y mandé urgente a pedir refuerzos, habíamos llevado US$ 400 que ya se me habían evaporado entre tanto viaje y hotel así es que pedí 400 más que Marcelo nos mandó sin demora, el problema era cobrarlos. Nos tomó un día completo de sustos porque el banco resultó ser terriblemente burocrático, al final Willy arregló todos los problemas y pudimos cobrar la plata con lo que respiramos mucho más tranquilos.

Lo primero que hice fue tomar una larga ducha porque llevaba varios días sin ducharme así es que debo haber apestado a la distancia, luego de tirarle los corridos a la señorita de la recepción (que estaba más o menos) nos fuimos con Willy y Daniel, su sobrino a comer una parrillada al centro. Mala decisión, llegamos al típico lugar turístico en la plaza de armas, malo y caro, pero que diablos, había que gastarse los últimos soles que nos quedaban ya que al día siguiente íbamos a retirar los refuerzos. Después al hotel donde tuve por primera vez en semanas una buena cama a mi disposición, puse la cabeza en la almohada y caí como si me hubiesen pegado un palo, profundamente dormido. Sobre los jugos y las frutas nada que decir: maravillosas, a la vuelta del hotel hay un restaurant vegetariano donde por unos US$ 3 dan un desayuno consistente en un gran guiso, una ensalada de frutas no menos espectacular y dos vasos de leche de soya, extraordinario.

Al día siguiente estuvimos tratando de retirar la plata lo que nos llevó todo el día hasta que Willy finalmente lo consiguió, ya éramos solventes de nuevo. Yo me dediqué a hacer un poco de turismo y  pasé metido en un cybercafé que había a pocas cuadras del hotel. Mientras exista un cyber a mano hacer tiempo no es ningún problema. Allí estuve actualizando el blog, revisando el correo, subiendo fotos.y haciendo todas esas cosas nerd de los que no tenemos vida.

Me estaba gustando Puerto Maldonado, me hubiera quedado allá un año o dos de haber podido, es un pueblo de tamaño medio similar a Arica con gente muy simpática y mujeres muy bonitas. A las chicas de la selva les dicen charapas, pero eso tambiés es una especie de insulto porque charapa es el nombre de una tortuga selvática, en fin, Maldonado me gustó bastante y había harto para recrear la vista. En la selva el nombre Tomás es bastante popular parece porque lo escuchaba muy seguido. La gente es bastante amable y todos se tratan de "amigo", a diferencia de la zona de Puno donde la gente es mucho más parca y hermètica en la selva parecen mucho más extrovertidos.

Resulta que Willy era local en Puerto Maldonado porque alli tiene su negocio de las castañas de la selva (brazil nuts), tiene familia y pasa buena parte del año por esos lados. Así es que para el día siguiente organizamos una pequeña fiesta con su sobrino Daniel -que llegó bien acompañado- con su primo que está en el negocio de las maderas de la selva, con Vidal, que es dirigente de una comunidad de recolectores de castañas y maneja el negocio en Maldonado y con otros amigos que fueron llegando en el momento. Willy lució sus habilidades de cocinero preparando un costillar de cerdo y un pollo al cilindro (se hace en un ahumador y queda espectacular), con harta yuca de la selva, abundantes cervezas y un licor hecho con raíces, cortezas y pisco muy bueno y tonificante. Esa noche terminé boracho como cuba y para que les cuento el resto, fue una de las mejores etapas del viaje.

Al día siguiente con la caña viva, nos fuimos al aeropuerto en una moto-triciclo y tomamos finalmente un antiguo avión de Aerocondor que nos llevó en media hora al Cusco, miraba desde arriba la selva por donde había andado y el camino serpenteante e interminable que me evité pasar  por tierra y me reía solo. En poco más de media hora estábamos aterrizando en el Cusco, la Ciudad Imperial, el centro del Tawantisullo.
Slideshow de Mazuko a Maldonado aquí
Slideshow de Puerto Maldonado aquí

Parte 5: Cusco, Tacna y Arica!

Desde el aire se tiene una idea muy diferente  de la geografía de un lugar que cuando la hacemos por tierra, la transición entre la selva baja de Puerto Maldonado, el enorme muro vertical que sube en solo dos o tres escalones hasta el altiplano, desde el nivel del mar a más de 5.000 metros de altura, por aire se pasan en unos pocos minutos, aunque por tierra son más de doce horas de camino. Abajo hay caminos de tierra infernales, serpenteantes que trepan por el borde de la cordillera, es la rama norte de la Carretera Interoceánica que no conocí porque la rama sur desde Juliaca, me dejó lo suficientemente espantado como para tomar el avión. Dicen que desde Maldonado a Cusco es un tramo más lindo y menos peligroso, pero ya tenía bastante de eso. En todo caso para volver por tierra desde Maldonado, habría tenido que devolverme a Mazuko y seguir por un pueblo llamado Quincemil, desde allí empezar a subir, no habían buses normales y solo se puede hacer en bus-camión, basta de eso para mi, mejor el Aero Condor.

En el aeropuerto de Maldonado empezaron a aparecer cientos de turistas en buses disfrazados de safaris con el típico par de guías, uno gringo y otro peruano con cara de greenpeace y pelo hasta la mitad de la espalda. Ninguno de esos turistas se veía por Puerto Maldonado, ellos eran llevados del aeropuerto directamente a lodges en la Reserva Nacional del Manu, a una versión sanitizada de la selva sin mosquitos, infecciones ni animales peligrosos , me imagino que hsta a los yacarés les limaban los dientes porque los gringos se veían inmaculados en sus trajes de safari, sin calor, sin quemaduras de sol y  ni una sola picada de mosquito.

Después de algo más de media hora sobrevolamos el Cusco que desde arriba me pareció un lugar chiquito y campestre, abajo mi impresión cambiaría drásticamente. En el aeropuerto me asombró ver un gran y viejo helicóptero Sirkosky con un cartel de vuelos hacia Macchu Picchu, nunca he confiado en los helicópteros y menos iría en ese armatoste a las ruinas, ni muerto. La cosa es que Cusco es la cuidad natal de mi amigo Willy así es que de cierta manera estábamos como en casa, tomamos un taxi, algo lejos del aeropuerto para evitar que nos asaltaran con la tarifa y le pedimos que nos llevara al mejor sitio criollo para almorzar, así es como llegamos a La Chomba, una mescla de restaurant y chichería muy buena con clientela repartida por igual entre  locales y turistas. Yo pedí un choclo con queso, plato muy bueno en Perú por la calidad jugosa de los choclos y un pecho asado con arroz y papas. Lacarne del pecho del animal no es blanda pero compensan la dureza con abundancia, la porción es enorme. No aguanté la tentación de tomarme una chicha de frutilla a pesar de las historias esas de que se escupe la chicha y el riesgo inminente de una lipiria, pero como ya estaba peruanizado no me pasó absolutamente nada.

Después de almuerzo nos fuimos de turismo, a recorrer la antigua casa donde Willy nació y pasó su niñez, ahora convertida en un centro de oficinas, la plaza y algunas calles adyacentes con las ruinas incas, el imponete palacio de los tribunales, la catedral y una linda placita ubicada en altura no lejos de la plaza de armas, increíblemente mi amigo el puneño, selvático Willy se apunó y tuvimos que sentarnos a descansar un rato mientras se recuperaba, pobre Willy, tantos años en la costa ya lo han maleado, yo en cambio, como buen llamo ariqueño andaba fresco como una lechuga. No había bus de vuelta hasta las 21 hrs. así es que nos dedicamos a dar vueltas y finalmente nos fuimos al terminal, saludamos al Señor de los Terremotos y nos embarcamos de vuelta para Juliaca, Arequipa y Tacna en un bus Flores.

EL viaje fue completo de noche, en Juliaca se nos reventó un neumático y tuvimos que esperar como una hora a la 1 AM, con un frio de diablos hasta que lo cambiaron, seguimos viajando toda la noche, menos mal que no se veía nada porque esa bajada también es peligrosa -de hecho hace poco se desbarrancó un bus donde murieron varios chilenos por ese camino- llegamos como a las 10 AM a Arequipa, entrando por un lado bien feo de la ciudad que no conocía. Allí hicimos un transbordo de bus para Tacna y después de unas 5 o 6 horas estábamos en Tacna Heroica, donde tuve la primera noticia de la enfermedad de mi amigo Marcelo, que era nuestro socio capitalista en toda esta aventura, almorzamos, hicimos algunas diligencias y me embarqué solo para Arica en un colectivo dejando a Willy en Tacna. Volví finalmente a mi tierra, a mi cama, mi almohada y principalmente a mi baño que son las posesiones que más añoro cada vez que viajo.

Lleno de negocios y de entusiasmo no me imaginaba que -como me pasa casi siempre- todo se iría pronto al agua, la salud de mi amigo se empeoró rápidamente y me tuve que poner a ayudar en su negocio mientras contestaba con evasivas a todo lo que me iban pidiendo desde el Perú, todo fué de mal en peor:  la presión por el trabajo y la enfermedad de mi amigo me botaron la mitad de los pocos pelos que me quedaban, me vino la peor bronquitis en muchos años, alergia nerviosa y un humor de diablos, finalmente mi amigo Marcelo murió y todos nuestros sueños de El Dorado se desvanecieron junto con la compañía de uno de mis más buenos amigos. Todo mal, una vez más, pero lo que no nos mata nos hace fuertes así es que borrón y cuenta nueva, quedé listo para mi siguiente aventura en el reino de la burocracia.

Slideshow de Cusco, Tacna y Arica

haz clic aquí para ver la ruta del viaje


Ver Arica-Huaypetue-Arica en un mapa más grande