FURTHUR, said the bus. It was spelt wrong, the letters forming some sort of Americanised bastardisation above the driver’s window, but when you’re out of your head on acid that’s the least of your worries. Ken Kesey and The Merry Pranksters travelled “furthur” in their heads than anywhere else but the ground covered, metaphorical or physical, was unbeknownst to anyone at the time.
My bus didn’t say FURTHUR (and the ground I covered was unbeknownst only to me) but that was what I thought in my head as I journeyed around Peru, from mountains to jungle to desert, my backpack and poncho at my side and Grateful Dead tunes playing through my earbuds.
Upon leaving Cusco, I was full again with the prospect of adventure; Arequipa, Nazca and Lima lay ahead of me and I couldn’t wait to be somewhere new after 6 weeks in Cusco and a foray into the mysteries of the jungle.
Retrospectively, this period of my trip will be defined by nights spent on buses jerking all over the road, far too cold or too hot or too uncomfortable or too excited to sleep properly, and with music and podcasts to see me through the long hours spent travelling between cities. I would always arrive in the early hours of the morning, before the sun had properly settled into his place in the sky and the streets were empty. I would load my backpack and set off to find a coffee, taking in my new surroundings, be it the beauty of Arequipa countryside, the arid, blistering heat of the Nazca desert, or the chaotic bustle and noise of the capital Lima.
I am writing this, as I said, in retrospect, and it comes back to me in flashes and vignettes, like an old-fashioned projector reel in biology class – here we have the gruelling uphill climb of the Colca Canyon, here the man I spoke to for an hour in broken Spanish in the Plaza de Armas, here the ache of my legs in the days following the hike as I traipsed around the city looking for anywhere with vegan food. In Nazca, the sunburn, the pool outside the city, the nausea of the plane ride as I tried to hold my hand steady enough to take photos of the lines careening around below me on a tapestry of sand, the kindness of my hostess, for whom I was the only guest in the hostel, the rooftop terrace a serene place to write and meditate.
Then, Lima. The food (oh god the FOOD), the incredible breakfasts of my hostel, the joy at finding my friend from the jungle was also staying there, the smell of pollution and the relief of air conditioning in art museums and bars where we spent too much money and talked for seemingly hours about our shared love of beer. How effortlessly bohemian everyone looked and the powerful yet unattainable call of the sea. Yoga in the park, coffee each morning in the sunshine.
The flight to Iquitos followed, as did my second venture into the rainforest which has called to me inexplicably since I was a child. Iquitos will be remembered for its smell, its bad food, and its empty words spoken by bad men.
But not to worry, for Padre Cocha follows this.
Where I am now. The happiest I have been during my trip. The happiest I have been in a long time. I stay in the house of a wonderful woman called Clarita, who hangs dream catchers and hammocks in her living room and always has a cup of tea or a wise word ready should you need one. I share this house with Maisie, a fellow traveller who I play cards with and attempt to cook with (we both freely admit we’re pretty useless in a kitchen so its okay). We also volunteer together at a butterfly farm and animal rescue centre called Pilpintuwasi (more on this magical place in my next post). I spend my days coated in monkey piss and getting nipped by macaws. I run tours for English speaking visitors and speak to the animals in Spanish. I have shaved my head (again, a future blog post coming about this) and sacrificed many items of clothing (and a fair amount of skin) to the work I do. I do yoga and meditate most mornings and come home to shower out of a bucket in the humid jungle air and spend the evenings rocking myself in a hammock and reading in a zen-like bliss.