It was pissing down with rain when I rocked up to Tingo María just as it was getting light. Fail. After checking into Hostal Roosevelt, drying off and having a wee nap I located the tourist information centre and put my limited Spanish to work trying to find out where all the cool stuff was; the caves and the waterfalls of the nearby parque nacional. I ended up with some glossy photos of places I want to see but can’t on account of the fact I have no idea where they are or how to get there because all the text was in Spanish and the map was so crap that the paper it was printed on would have had a more useful existence as bog roll. Fail. I checked out the transport companies to see what time buses left to Huaraz where I was rudely reminded that just because there’s a short road joining two towns together it doesn’t mean that it’s served by public transport. If I wanted to go to Huaraz I’d have to go back to Lima first. Fail.
I headed back to my room and sat on the bed feeling a stab of loneliness. I’d considered the pros and cons of coming here instead of heading straight to Huaraz and to be honest I couldn’t remember what clinched the deal for Tingo María. The fact it was in the jungle and would therefore be hot? The rave reviews it had gotten from guidebooks and people I’d met? Or, and this was the more likely one, my sheer bloody mindedness that I could get off the Gringo Trail and survive. That I could go my own way, explore the places less explored, do the things people rarely do. This is where I learnt a lesson and had old knowledge reinforced; The Gringo Trail exists for a reason. That’s where all the cool stuff is, where the fun is to be had, where a lone traveller can meet like minded people and share their experiences. I’d sort of already known this but I’d never really had it properly proven. And something I’d always known but had the point brutally hammered home tonight is that it’s not what you do, it’s who you do it with. With the right company, be it old friends, a new mate or a partner, even a place with nothing can become memorable for all the right reasons. Getting off the Gringo Trail is not advisable on your lonesome.
Emotionally I’d not been in the right place for a little while. Nothing too major, just the usual day to day demons you battle when you suffer from a shit brain. This night I was fed up of fighting them but then this was the kick I needed to get back on track, a night of self contemplation. After a take away feed and a bottle of Peruvian wine (Argentina and Chile certainly don’t have to start shitting themselves any time soon) and a less than healthy dose of self pity I decided that while I waited for a bus to get the hell out of here I’d make the most of the day tomorrow. At least I would if the weather cleared up so I could actually see the mountains and waterfalls and not just the water falling out of the bloody sky.
The following morning I was slowly dragged into consciousness. I lay curled up with my eyes closed as I willed myself to get my carcass out of bed, check out of the hotel and do something with my day apart from pick mould out of my belly button and scratch my arse. As I opened my eyes my stomach lurched and I let out a shocked yelp as I scrambled away from the person lying next to me in a tangle of sheets and confusion.
So I’m slowly coming to terms with the fact that I’m not a pretty sight to wake up to and I’m sorry but what the fuck is a full length, horizontal mirror doing next to the bed in a single room in a hotel that doesn’t charge by the hour? A mild heart attack isn’t the best start to a day but at least the weather had cleared up a bit in Tingo María and I could at least make an effort to find something cool to have a look at.
I wandered up to the bus companies and booked myself in for a ride to Lima that evening, not that I was planning on staying there but that was the transport hub, the place I needed to be it seemed in order to get anywhere else in the country. You can tell where a lot of their income comes from here; there’s a coca growing area not too far from the town but it’s obviously off limits until the narcotraffikers decide to supplement their income with guided tours and a gift shop. Before scientists learnt to extract cocaine from the humble leaf, coca has been used in the daily lives of Peruvians for centuries, since pre-Inca times. It’s used to make tea infusions, as a sacrifice to Pachamama, Mother Earth, and if you look around you’ll notice that many people look like they’re sucking a golf ball. That’s actually a ball of coca leaves which they chew in order to give them energy, suppress their appetite and reduce the need for water. There are people selling bags of it everywhere and it smells sooo good.
I also found a monkey tied to a fruit cart. I didn’t like this. Not the fruit cart, I have no problem with carts or indeed fruit, I just don’t know why people feel the need to tie monkeys to them. I did have a video of the monkey but it’s been lost or corrupted. I was probably meant to pay to photograph the monkey but I’d rather delete the pictures than financially encourage the kind of misery this poor bugger is going through. Fortunately if anyone saw me taking photos they weren’t about to fuck with the angry looking stapled lady, if I had more balls or indeed if I could run faster I’d have freed it even though I’d probably have gotten bitten contracted rabies for my troubles but fuck, man, it makes my blood boil when I see things like this.
For some reason it’s always easier to find something to do when I’m not sulking. I figured that if I couldn’t understand what the nice folks at tourist information were trying to tell me I’d simply see what was closest to the town on the world’s worst map, get in a three wheeled mototaxi and employ the age old tourist technique of Pointing. Using this tried and tested method, I ended up at Cueva de la Lechuzas which translates of Cave of the Owls even though it has fuck all to do with owls. There’s some oilbirds, parrots and something that sounds like a strangled gremlin but as far as I’m aware there’s a distinct lack of owls. Trade descriptions act! It killed a bit of time anyway. I hung out in the park for a while and enjoyed the sunshine before heading back to town and the bus that would take me back onto the Gringo Trail which I promised never to forsake in favour of pointlessly trying to prove my independence to no one but myself for the remainder of the trip.
Tingo María, Peru
Stayed at: Hotel Roosevelt