I have flown more miles and walked more steps to get to a destination than I did to get to the Amazon jungle, but I have never made a journey quite like this one! Three plane rides, a bus ride, and a boat ride later, we made it to the village of 9 de Octubre.
The trip began around 2:30pm on Friday, February 21, at the New Orleans International Airport. Four of the twelve team members traveled earlier in the week, so the eight of us traveling together were dropped off at the airport with suitcases and smiles. The energy I felt that day was pure excitement, full of anticipation of all the unknown.
While in the New Orleans airport, we got so comfortable visiting with each other before the flight that we almost missed the call to board our plane. Thankfully, we made it, and a couple of hours later, we landed in Miami for a long layover.
In Miami we made our final phone calls, ate one last “American” meal, and ended the evening by putting away electronics and visiting with one another. That time together with my teammates would become one of the (many) highlights of the week.
We departed from Miami around midnight (Eastern time), and landed in Lima, Peru, around 7:00am (Central time). Fortunately I slept most of the flight, so I felt somewhat refreshed that morning.We stood in line for immigration and customs for about an hour, then headed to the food court to grab breakfast.
The food court in the Lima airport was – surprise, surprise – full of American fast food chains: Papa John’s, KFC, McDonald’s, Starbucks, and more. With little to no idea of what was typical of Peruvian food, I picked the most Peruvian-looking place and got in line. Sangucheria La Lucha did not disappoint, and neither did the people I met in line. One woman in line graciously entertained my questions on Peruvian cuisine and gave me a quick run-down of the menu.
I was thankful for my Spanish-speaking abilities, but also surprised to see so many words with which I was unfamiliar. One thing I did not anticipate was the large vocabulary of food, drinks, and plants (edible and non-edible) that was entirely new to me. When I thought about how connected food is to region and location, I recognized that it made perfect sense that a menu would still look foreign to this Mexican-taught Spanish-speaker.
Figuring I couldn’t go wrong with standard breakfast ingredients, I picked a delicious egg, ham, and cheese sandwich with fresh and frozen mango juice to go with it. I was right; my first meal in Peru was delicious!
From Lima, we flew to Iquitos, the largest city only accessible by air and water. We were met by Sam, one half of the American couple who was hosting us. From there we took a van to a local hotel where we spent the night.
A few things I want to say about Iquitos – Because the only road out of Iquitos ends in the small town of Nauta, about 60 miles away, cars and other automobiles are few and far between. The majority of public transportation is done using motobikes, a modified motorcycle with a trailer in the back that can fit two people comfortably (and three uncomfortably, though many motobikes we saw had a lot more than three passengers!).
That said, A single bungee cord is NOT sufficient to secure luggage for eight travelers! About halfway to the hotel, I looked back to see a suitcase roll off the top of the luggage rack and into a street full of motobikes. We were all concerned, but no one as much as Taylor, the owner of the flying suitcase. Fortunately the motobike drivers behind us showed their kindness by collecting the suitcase from the road and then pulling over to hand it back to us.
Although the city of Iquitos is tucked away in the jungle and not accessible by road, it is much like many other cities I have seen. In Iquitos you can find good food, beautiful spaces, and kind people. We saw a little bit of the city while out and about, and we experienced great customer service from everyone from the hotel employees to the street vendors.
After a good night’s rest and one last hot shower, we left Sunday morning to make the rest of the trip. The bus ride was comfortable and uneventful, and the boat ride was beautiful. That was the leg of the journey about which I was most worried, but it was also the part I enjoyed the most.
The ride gave me a chance to soak in what life on the river looks like – small villages built on river banks, children waving from the river bank to the passengers passing by, and no one in a hurry to go or be anywhere.
The boat we traveled in was made of solid wood – many of the tribes of the Amazon jungle work with lumber – and covered with a roof made of woven palm leaves.
A few of the pastors and their families met us in Nauta and joined us on the boat. Rodrigo, a 12-year-old young man with a quick smile and gentle spirit, sat across from me in the boat, carefully watching for flies and mosquitos. Any time a bug landed on my legs, he was quick to kill it. I told him that he was my hero, and I was gifted with the most beautiful ear-to-ear grin in return.
The trip home went much the same, except I was a little more exhausted and a little more knowledgeable on the way back. Again, coming home, the boat ride and bus ride were the most enjoyable parts of our trip. We experienced a lot of near-disasters and stress on the flights home, including two of our team members almost getting left behind in Iquitos due to an overbooked flight, all twelve of us almost getting stranded in Lima due to the longest TSA line I have ever stood in, and then walking the entire length of the Miami airport just to get luggage checked that should have already been checked all the way through.
When we finally landed in New Orleans, all I could think of was “but God.” So many of these situations could have been much worse, but God intervened, and we landed in New Orleans around 11:00am on Saturday, February 29.
Find out more about the village in my next post, “Peru: The Place,” which goes live on Monday!