The “port” at Ibochote
waiting for the boat
our Robinson Crusoe hideout
drying out on our porch
This year was my fourth year at the fiesta of Choquekillca; a week-long festival in Ollantaytambo to celebrate Pentecost, and I decided to run to the jungle instead. The festival is one of few occasions that causes general life to grind to a halt, hence perfect timing to break out of my bubble and see the world. It turns out there’s a whole other jungly world less than a days travel from our beautiful Andean Inca town, and this is the story of how we got there:
Noisy Ampay nightbus – Ollantaytambo to Quillabamba (home of coffee and cacao) – 5 hours
Brief 3.00am respite in Quillabamba bus station – 15 minutes, including 5 long minutes contemplating bedding down with sacks of oranges like everyone else, 8 minutes contorting myself without touching any surfaces into a public bathroom the size of a shoe cupboard and 2 minutes listening to fellow passengers grumble about how awful the night bus was
Moto taxi through eerily abandoned market to bus station number two – 5 mins
Haggling with bus company man in order not to be ripped off for our tickets – 5 mins
Installing ouselves into the next vehicle on our journey while thinking this can’t be right – 35 mins
Bone-shaking mini-van without headrests – Quillabamba to Ibochote (the end of the rough road) – 7 HOURS, arriving 11am
NB Ibochote is also home to Peru’s most unpredictable boat timetable, Chuck Norris’ biggest fan and the oldest and most stale corn snacks in the whole world.
Waiting for the next boat to travel through Pongo de Mainique, a supposedly impressive river canyon traversed by rapids downriver, while eating said stale corn snacks – 24 hours
Loading onto the boat and getting comfortable amid 1000’s of bottles of Inca Cola, toilet paper, dogs and chickens, wondering why everyone preferred to sit in the hot sun rather than under the shade near the motor – 30mins
River boat – Ibochote to Timpia (indigenous Machiguenga community the other side of the Pongo) – 5 and a ½ hours, including one and a ½ hours of waiting for the boat driver to stop drinking beer, a brief 2 seconds in which we realised why everyone preferred to sit in the sun rather than under the shade by the motor, (followed by 3 hours and 32 minutes sitting in resigntation as we received the brunt of the in-coming waves that frequently washed over the side of the now-very-low-in-the-water boat), 5 mins fielding a brewing dog fight, 20 mins gawping at the canyon and the driver’s drunken ability to steer us through the rapids without crashing into the immense walls of rock surrounding us, and a full 5 and half hours smiling to ourselves that here we were in the jungle – and yes those are banana plants and coconut palms, and yes those are parrots flying overhead, and yes we’re completely soaked, but we’re NOT COLD because we’re in the jungle and not the Andes!
And that’s the story of how we got there. “There” being Timpia, a small, tidy, missionized Machiguenga community with an airstrip going right through it, located at the intersection of the Bajo (Lower) Urubamba and headwaters from Manu. In Timpia we were lucky enough to find Senora Delia to cook us food, Senora Dolores, who sold us jungle artesania ( I restrained from the monkey-tooth necklace) and Sub-Jefe (Vice Boss) of the community Tomas Andres, who kindly let us set up our tent inside an empty wooden building on stilts and said he hoped the rats wouldn’t bother us. We never got to thank Tomas, but he was evidently a busy person as we listened to him throughout the day narrate Timpia’s life and goings-ons through a loadspeaker that carried his voice far above the steaming jungly forest.
As for the story of how we got home…near dehydration and heat delirium as we waited Robinson Crusoe-style on the beach for the boat that never came; a tarantula; cockroach-ridden hostal rooms; and the main event of the boat-ride home – which was so breath-takingly beautiful I shan’t even deign to try and describe it here.