Thursday, August 16, 2012

Peru/Brazil/Argentina Day 12: A big earthquake, then to the Amazon

May 14, 2012
Peru Day 12: A big earthquake, then to the Amazon

I had my alarm set for 6:00 this morning... but... had a bit of an unexpected "natural alarm clock" instead... about an hour earlier than we were going to get up, at 5:00am, the silar stone walls of our hostel started shaking... EARTHQUAKE!!!!!!!!

My initial thought was it was a 3.something or 4.something at worst, but it was shaking fairly hard and for longer than usual. It turns out it was a 6.2 earthquake (biggest one I've been in), centered in Northern Chile. It was first reported as a 5.9 near Tacna, Peru.

Now, we were not exactly in a Bay Area-style building, built for earthquake safety on rollers or something like that, we were in a hostel made out of silar stone, with very tall ceilings (i.e., long way for large stone pieces to fall?!) Jeez. Anyway, I had actually just read yesterday that Arequipa is very used to having quakes as a city, and these silar homes actually are built to handle earthquakes quite well. That said, after the shaking woke Kev and I up and had been going for 10+ seconds, we lept out of bed and crouched beside/under the beds. It shook for 30 sec or so, it was quite a long one.

I got some practice for the first time of "first on the scene" action via Twitter, this seems to be one of the ideal uses of that technology. I posted about the quake and there didn't seem to be much else about it. Confirmation came later by USGS about 30 min later. I posted a bit and got a few responses, there was literally no chance I was gonna go back to sleep after that. Even though the quake was over 400km away, we still felt it since it was such a big one.

My tweets from that morning

We got up at 6 (as originally planned!) and the taxi to the airport was fast. The driver was great, and he talked about the earthquake (a "tremblor"). We also saw El Misti mountain, and he told us it's 5000 or 6000 m at the peak, and you can drive up to 3000 and walk the rest. There were lots of strong winds which cleared the mist/fog, making it quite clear.

Leaving El Misti behind, we head to Iquitos
The airport was fine, just a quick checkin, and we got some expensive but good coffee. We needed that after the overly exciting morning. We first headed to Lima, stopping there at the airport and saying bye to Christy and hello to Alicia. We got to the Lima airport and wandered around the food court for a bit, looking for lunch. I went to Subway for a sandwich and got the "Sub del dia" (I was calling it "Sub del dio" by mistake!). I got a "Lago" (aka "Turkey") sub!!! Haha. I had to ask the guy for a plastic knife to cut the Guanabana fruit I had brought from Arequipa, and it took SO long to describe that. He eventually pulled out a big metal bread knife and I had to do some more hand actions. Finally someone realized what I was saying and translated for me. Whew.

I sliced up the guanabana to eat with my "Lago" sub and it was good. It was pretty weird though, kinda like a guava, but not as flavoursome, same texture though. That was fun. We then flew to Iquitos, and the Amazon river eventually came into view as we got close, like a snake meandering along the surface.

The usual in-flight snack from LAN, Ritz crackers, some chocolate wafers and a chocolatey truffle thing
Plane-sized candy
Toucan gummis on the way to the Amazon. Also, weird localized Lay's chips
Arriving in the Rainforesty glory of Iquitos
We got off the plane and MAN!! Was it HOT on arrival!!!!!!! Whew!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Maybe 32 C at least, and super humid. Crazy.

Everyone else piled into a cab and Alicia and I drew the short straws to take one of these weird and crazy Mototaxi things into town. It was kindof like those Tuktuks you see on any Thailand travel documentary. It was pretty crazy, no seat belts (of course not!) and not even any real sides or roof or front to these things. The smell of gas was somewhat apparent, and the "trunk" was a small bouncy platform on the rear of the motorbike trailer that would definitely bounce your luggage away onto the street upon hitting one of the many available potholes or bumps in the road. Yet, this was awesome.

Out of the airport in a Mototaxi
The Mototaxi lasted a grand total of 2 min outside of the airport when it broke down. We pulled off to the side of the road to a shop, I presumed it was the driver's buddy... and it totally wasn't. It was a random Mototaxi fix-it shop on the side of the road?!!!! It was super crazy, so hot outside and I had no idea what was going on due to my lackluster Spanish. Thankfully, Alicia was gloriously well prepared and had a full-on conversation with the driver. Apparently the Mototaxi had broken down before he arrived at the airport but he didn't want to be "late to pick us up"? So he came anyway with a partially flat tire, and then fixed it once he had already picked us up. Interesting. Anyway, it was pretty funny and unusual to be stuck there for 20 min as these random roadside dudes fixed the busted tire. Once it was finally fixed and I got to stop worrying about us getting kidnapped, we headed off. Actually, I wasn't worried at all, the driver was pretty awesome and even though I had no Spanish he was nice and tried to speak a little more slowly for me. Haha. Alicia smoothed it over by speaking in full-on fluent Spanish which rocked, and she explained how he was saying we shouldn't worry about being in Iquitos, that it "is very safe" and that the Mototaxis break down all the time and that's why there are so many roadside repair shops.

Not 5 min out, it broke down (a common occurrence)
Me and Alicia, holding on tight. These Mototaxis drive like crazy!
Zoom Zoom
The Mototaxis owned the road. We hardly saw any cars there and literally a 6-lane highway of Mototaxis. It was fun and crazy. But we arrived safe and mostly together, and ready for a huge beer. We got to Camiri Floating Hostel and it was a great place to chill out on arrival. The hostel is literally floating on the Amazon and it was very unusual and interesting to be there. As it turned out, the workers were adding a new section onto the hostel and our bed section had floated away earlier that morning! The guys were diligently at work fixing it and reconnecting electricity. Somehow there were flush toilets and running clean water and.. WiFi??! Magic. I have no idea how they were pulling all of that off, whilst floating on the Amazon. Pretty impressive. Marcel, the owner, was an interesting fellow with years of history in Iquitos. "We're always working!" he said, proud about his place and his hard working staff.

Floating Hostel
This cat was awesome
We got the requisite cold beer and chilled out on the raft-y deck for a bit in the cool breeze, which helped cool us down from all the humidity. We got settled and dropped off our stuff in our being-actively-reconnected-to-electricity room, and headed off into the Iquitos downtown to investigate.

We wandered, saw a cool Rubber Baron house (one of the places we were gonna stay in), and ended up at a Pizza place called Maggy's for dinner. I think this was the same place as in Cusco that we wanted to try but was closed. It was super awesome. We got Pizza Fruitas (again), and it was fantastic. Even more amazing was the Jugo Camu-Camu!!!! This juice of the "Camu Camu" fruit was truly epic - SO good. Like a cherry/pink lemonade/watermelon combo. This fruit friggin' rocks, and I was so psyched to try all these weird kinds of Amazonian fruits that you can never find anywhere else.

Camu Camu juice, completely amazing
Wandering the downtown Iquitos plaza at night
Floating hostel at night
We wandered a little more after dinner to the Plaza de Armas, and watched local families hanging out and kids dancing to some music that was blaring out of a boombox somewhere. We stopped and got a huge water cause we were all still sweating buckets, even in the evening. Back we went to the hostel. Everyone else was exhausted, but I sat out on my own for just a little bit to soak in the atmosphere and try not to get too many mosquito bites. Then to sleep after a quick repack for our adventure into the Amazon tomorrow.

Note to anyone going to this area of Peru: the bug net is NECESSARY!!!!!!!!!!! This was an extra $20 or so at REI that we spent before leaving, and man was it worth it. There were any number of gross creepy-crawlies in the hostel, spiders and other bugs and stuff, and the bug net was an epic shielf against them, and mosquitos, and any other gross stuff trying to come and possibly bite you, or at least land on you. After a bunch of fiddling to get the bug net correctly setup (you shouldn't be directly touching the edges of it), it worked super well and also gave me confidence to sleep soundly in just my boxers. It was so darn hot there was no way I could wear real pyjamas or anything, but I didn't want any mosquito bites, so this thing was epic. Poor Jess didn't get her bug net really sorted out properly, so she slept with a jacket on her instead, hoping not to get any run-ins with the general wildlife in the rooms.

Oy. What an adventure. And into the Amazon we go...

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