Our boat driver kills the engine with a single click. It is silent. A moment later, our guide turns off the enormous torch he has been using to search for caymans. It is dark. Except: It is not silent. It is not dark. As we float down the Tambopata River on our first night in the Peruvian Amazon, the jungle screeches and squawks around us, it hums and ticks, buzzes and howls. Above us, the milky streak of stars we are taught about as children but so rarely see glistens and shimmers, casting a delicate light across an inky sky. Sitting in a boat, smothered by all of this, I realise that the Amazon is the kind of place that makes you miss people.
Over the course of the three days and two nights I spend in the Amazon, I think perhaps everyone I know and love passes through my thoughts. The people in my life that would love the colour and variety of birds whose names I have never spoken before, motmots and hoatzins, as well as the familiar ones, macaws and toucans, whose natural abundance amazes. I think of the people that would laugh at me as I hesitate and flounder in knee-deep mud, desperately trying not to let my clumsy tendancies take hold. I can no longer say that I have never undertaken a 12-kilometre hike through a steaming jungle in gumboots. I don’t recommend it.
I think of the people who would stand by my side in silence as we listen to the sheer magic of howler monkeys, whose cries sound like wind running through the widest tunnel and carry across the widest distances. The people who would smile as we look up and realise that these same creatures are gazing down at us, curious and unnervingly familiar, as primates so often are. I miss the people who would love the heat and humidity. And those who would hate it. I miss the people with whom I have watched breathtaking sunsets and humbling starscapes. I miss the people who know me well enough to know what a place like this would mean to me.
These feelings are part and parcel of a small emotional hiccup that Peru has brought with it. I visited the Inca ruins of Machu Picchu last week and was welcomed by clear skies and a perfect sunrise – a blessing in the rainy season. The ruins were spectacular, living up to the hype, deserving of the whopping entrance fee, and worth the logistical effort it took to get there. But as I settled onto the train at the end of my day there, tired and wet from the afternoon downpour, I felt my first spasm in ten months of ‘It’s-time-to-go-back-to-South-Africa.’
Machu Picchu was followed by my time in the Amazon, which in turn was followed by a few days in the beautiful city of Arequipa, and finally by a three-day hike in the Cañon del Colca, where condors soared and I marvelled at a rainbow around the sun. And suddenly my feelings lifted. South Africa is mere weeks away, Peru is here now. And I am here now, and in excellent company too.
For the past two weeks, I have been travelling with a friend I met very early on in my travels, on a scorching day in La Serena in Chile, where we lazed about, updating our respective blogs, indulging in some much-needed grooming, repacking our filthy backpacks, and bonding. We met again in Tupiza in southern Bolivia, but only for a few days, and found each other in Cusco with the intention of exploring Peru together – which we have done flawlessly. Hester is Dutch, strong of character, wise of heart and full of fun. Her company and kindness have brought me back to the present and I look forward to our remaining week as travelling companions.
I remember how lucky I am.