Friday, July 11, 2008

You call this a vacation? Part 1: Welcome to the Jungle!

I got to SFO at 12:10AM for the 1:45 flight to Lima via El Salvador on TACA (unrelated side note, the TACA and LAN planes were all on time, clean, spacious, and served edible food, including killer Aroz con Pollo. Why can't US airlines match that?) to Lima via El Salvador. Most of Lima is a dump and I smelled the sweet coal fire smog for the first time since my last visit to the GDR 20 years ago.

Nice hotel in Miraflores, a really nice and affluent part of Lima. and we immediately went for food and Pisco Sours with the tour guide to get over the shock that we'd be getting up at around 5:30 for the next few days. The next morning we flew to Puerto Maldonado in the Peruvian Amazon, went on a bumpy 45 minute ride on a dirt road to the boat launch, and a 4 hour motorized canoe ride past gold mining rafts,
cargo boats,
and interesting bathroomsinto the deepest Amazon outback. I'm always surprised how not tall most of the jungle actually is: most trees are around 40-60 feets and the real giants are hard to find.

If parts of Lima were poor, Puerto Maldonado was dirt poor and going up the river, the standard of living rapidly went down to pure subsistence farming level. No roads, no markets, and many people cannot even afford the prices to get their products to market on the river canoes. Everyone was very friendly, though, and it's somewhat disconcerting that the same people burned down the governor's building and attacked police with bows and arrows barely a week later. On the plus side, there was also hardly any trash, since even an empty bottle is valuable.

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