I’m Basically Tarzan, Part I
Israelis tend to do two things when they travel:
1) Israelis move in big groups.
Like wayyyyyy outdoing the Moshava 5 person minimum Shabbos walk requirement; we’re talking 10+. As such, they spend a ton of time arguing with one another about what they’re going to do that day because, for example, everyone wants to go on a trek but Dror doesn’t like trekkim. NU AZ MA NAASEH??
2) Israelis stick to the Israeli route.
There are places Israelis travel to in Peru and places they don’t. Why? Kacha, they just don’t. The trail for Israelis has already been demarcated and is based almost solely on what has worked well for other Israelis: go here, stay here, do this, and your trip will be walla chaval al ha’zman. And following a sabratized-route-that-worked apparently works well, because if you were to ask most Israelis how their South America trip was on a scale of 1 to walla chaval al ha’zman they’d say it was “walla chaval al ha’zman,” all day errday.
But since my legal name is Mark and/or because I grew up in New Jersey, and/or/but mainly since I’m very much feeling the other meaning of chaval al ha’zman right now- i.e. that all this time is being wasted here with these Israelis always deciding what to do- I can also choose to temporarily stray from the tribe and hit up non Israeli-approved places while I travel. So in Abrahamic fashion I set out to the land the post-army children of Israel do not know. Yes, amigos, we’re talking the Peruvian Amazon and we’re talking about me trekking it, alone.
Run a quick google map search for Iquitos, Peru and you will find that it is conveniently located next to zero connecting highways. To get there you have to fly or a take a multiple week boat ride where your chances of not getting seasick are the same as walking out of the national insurance office in Israel bursting with hope for a bright Zionist future with a giant smile on your face.
Since I have the same complexion as a Morrocan chulent, I can pass as a native of Spanish speaking countries. And Arab ones. Like don’t travel with me unless you want to join the you’ve-been-randomly-selected-to-be-searched party. But even with my strategically-picked neutral outfit (a black t-shirt, beige baseball hat, dark blue jeans. Very neutral, I know.) my big blue knapsack and high school Spanish make it pretty much impossible to give off the impression that I’m a local even in the big cities, let alone in the Amazonian jungle. That and the fact that I’m wayyyyyyyyyy too excited when I experience how people get around in this town.
This is a Peruvian moto-taxi and it’s essentially one of those New York City bicycle taxis on steroids. This vehicle, that got apparently got accepted to South American Pimp My Ride, is the quickest, most popular and convenient way to travel on land in these parts. Wanna know how I’m a tourist? Show me someone else waving at people in other taxis, snapping photos with their iPhone, and whooohooooo-ing their head off at 11 PM as we zoom by, besides me.
The hostel is located by the city’s malecón, which is Spanish for waterfront promenade and Tourist for sketchy area where shady stuff goes down at night near the water. I learn this quickly as the hostel receptionist ushers me in and rams bolts into the door.
“Two of our guests have been mugged in the last two days- don’t hang out outside late at night.”
You always hear of these horror stories when people travel to foreign countries. Sometimes it’s just bad luck but the truth is it’s usually people being careless and not taking the right precautions to make sure they don’t get into bad situations. I made a promise to myself before this trip to come back with my stuff and dignity intact. So unless my cell phone gets jacked by a monkey, that’s what’s going to happen.
I get down to business right away about booking a tour to the jungle ASAP.
Meir: I’m not looking for a typical tourist experience. I want the real deal. Bushwhacking, swinging on vines, fishing for piranhas, that kinda stuff. Basically, I want to be Peruvian Tarzan.
Receptionist: I think I have just the guide for you.
One quick phone call and in walks an ox of a man, his bone crushing handshake underscoring a face that seems as if it was carved out of a midday sun.
Pablo: So I’m told you want to truly experience the Amazon jungle?
Meir: Ya, who’s coming with us?
Pablo: As of now just you and me.
Ok I’m not gonna lie- the prospect of venturing deep into the jungle with a guy who looks like he could decide at any time to crush my bones and feed them to a baboon is pretty unsettling. But since I’m on a tight time frame and the main hostel tour comes back Friday night this is my only chance. I came all this way… am I really about to deny myself at the doorstep?
Not a chance.
Meir: I’m in. Let’s do this.
Pablo: Great, we head out in two days at sunrise.
You know that saying you only live once? It was made for this exact moment. This is going to be insane.