I’m Basically Tarzan, Part II
Stroll around your hostel on a given morning and you’ll find people consulting guide books and fellow backpackers for itinerary ideas. But venture outside and you’ll often find that the best travel advice comes from chatting up the locals. Getting an insider’s scoop opens your eyes to people and places you never could have imagined. And speaking of, I just so happen to be staying in a room with a group of Peruvian bros who invite me to tour a remote neighboring village with one of their aunts who grew up there. Excelente.
The rendezvous point with tía Maria (that’s ‘Aunt Maria’ in Spanish for those of you with gefilte fish heritage) is the entrance to Iquitos’ main port and the morning bustle is in full swing as we walk through the main market to get there: sea creatures that could have starred in a Goosebumps series squirm on display, bunches upon bunches of bananas pile on top of each other, shoeless teenagers throw wooden crates aside like used candy wrappers, butchers shuffle past with piles of slippery raw meat, men bellow deals at the top of their lungs, people box each other out for a place in line- b’kitzur it’s Machane Yehuda.
Tía Maria tells us to watch our pockets and navigates us through the balagan down to the dock where boats are shuttling passengers into the murky water beyond. There’s an unspoken rule around these parts: if it has a motor it drives. And that rule could not be more true right… about…….now.
Up to the dock creaks a green mass of metal and wood, its motor BOB OB OB OB OB OB OB OB OB OB OB -ing as it churns the Amazon tide.
We fling ourselves into the first seats we find. Good thing there are seat belts and windows… NAAAAAAAAT.
“This boat is called a rápido! Hang on, it moves quick!” Hollers tía Maria over the sputtering engine.
But then we’re off and we are straight up zooming- over flotsam, through traffic, against the current, all as Amazonian dolphins grace the waves alongside us. They don’t call this boat a rápido for nothing, because before we know it we’re sliding up onto a muddy river bank and disembarking onto the village’s entrance dock jam-packed with the next set of passengers eager to set sail.
Tía Maria guides us to the village’s main thoroughfare and with each step I feel like I’m going further back in time. It’s like the past forced itself upon the present: satellite dishes adorn decrepit tin roofs, restaurants season pig carcasses in metal buckets on the floor inside, sewage water slicks through ducts in the street.
But the biggest surprise comes as one of the bros hands me a newspaper… In English.
WAIT A MINUTE.
In nowhere AF, Peru, they have a current newspaper, in ENGLISH?
Tía Maria to the rescue: The Iquitos Times is written and published by this English guy named Mike Collis who moved here from the UK to start his own tourist agency and build the first golf course in the Amazon. Who knew?
Tía. Freaking. Maria.
Witnessing tía Maria sketch a living blueprint of her hometown is an incredible experience. Each house tells a story, each path leads to a memory, it’s as if she knows every rock by name. Ask me if I can name more than fifteen people on my block in Teaneck. Spoiler alert: I can’t.
After spending all morning hitting up all the island’s hot spots we take a minute to deliberate about what we’re doing the remainder of the afternoon.
Peruvian Bro (Carlos): There’s apparently a butterfly sanctuary we could check out?
Peruvian Bro (Alejandro): Let’s head back to the hostel and drink Pisco Sours till we pass out.
No, amigos, I have a much better idea… I had heard about it from a local shop owner and couldn’t believe my ears. Now I realize this is my only chance…
The words practically burst out of my lungs:
AmerIsraeli Bro Meir: “MONKEYS!!!!”
Silence. Blank stares. Perplexed eyebrows. Looks like this American gringo had a little too much mate de coca last night…
Peruvian Bro (Juan): Um, what?
AmerIsraeli Bro Meir: Monkeys! Let’s go to the place with the Monkeys!
Peruvian Bro (Alejandro): Monkeys?? What place with the Monkeys?!?
Tía Maria: Ahhh La Isla de Los Monos! Great idea! You guys are in for a real treat.
Have you ever had a sudden urge at the zoo to just high-tail it over the glass and kick it with the monkeys in their exhibit? Well now you can, because La Isla De Los Monos—“The Island of the Monkeys”— is exactly that: a refuge for monkeys of all sorts to roam free, chill hard, and climb all over momentarily terrified humans and steal their phones, and/or hats, and/or glasses and/or anything else they can get their hands and tails on. It’s amazing. MONKEYS. EVERYWHERE. DOING WHATEVER THEY WANT WHENEVER THEY WANT. I’M MOVING HERE IF ISRAEL RAISES THE PRICE OF COTTAGE CHEESE AGAIN.
The coolest part about interacting with these monkeys (besides dying of laughter as we watch Alejandro attempt to become buddies with the alpha male who is having none of that and proceeds to chase Alejandro up a tree) is witnessing how freakishly similar they are to humans. It’s mind blowing to experience it up close: they eat like us, they take your hand like us, they even Thug Life like us:
After a good hour of monkeying around we say goodbye to the monos and their super friendly American trainer who’s in charge of the Island, rápido it back to the main port, bid tía Maria adiós and make our way back to our hostel where the bros tumble exhaustedly into their beds.
But for me this is no time for sleep because tomorrow’s the big day- the day I head down river, past the refuges and into the wild. I better pack light. There’s no telling how many unsupervised monkeys I might find myself running away from.