Friday, July 6, 2018

Adventures in the Amazon: Motokar Madness!

I flew 3, 265 miles to Iquitos, Peru, and all I have to show for it is a case of diarrhea! I kid, I kid (not really). Just joking (no, I'm not).
My wife and I all touristy in a motokar death-trap!

But I survived! Barely.

Day one of our journey to Peru actually took a day-and-a-half, all of it travel. Three flights, three airports, three rounds of security and customs and trauma. Anyone who knows me knows I'm a sucktacular traveler: "Are we there yet?" "I'm bored." "Can't we just be there?" "He's looking at me funny!" (My poor suffering wife.)

At 6', 2", weighing in at 225 pounds, flight engineers clearly didn't have me in mind when they created their flying cracker-boxes. Our overnight flight to Lima was a contortionist's nightmare. At midnight, the flight attendants fed us dinner, then hurriedly shut out the lights, their intention to have us sleep for eight hours so they wouldn't have to deal with us. Sure, uh-huh, right. It's like trying to sleep in a bookcase.

When we finally landed at the Lima, Peru airport, I desperately found myself wishing I'd paid attention to my two years of high school and two years of college Spanish. Honestly, the local people in the airport put me to shame, most of them able to speak passable English. And here I am--ugly American--stomping around, adding "O's" onto the end of English words. ("Luggage-o?")

The Peruvian people were very helpful, even if all of them had different advice. Out of pure luck, we finally realized we had to reclaim our luggage and check it again. Total fish-out-of-water moment.

But once we hit the Iquitos airport, I was a whale-out-of-water, a (not so) Great White. The departure area was pretty much the size of a living room, hotter than asphalt on a Summer day, a crowded, sweaty hub of humanity.
Okay, about Iquitos... Hardly the touristy, exotic getaway locale I expected (man, I really should've done some research), Iquitos is over-populated, full of political corruption (citizens are forced to vote by law and bribed to swing a vote for the equivalence of twenty bucks), trash-strewn, crime-ridden, humid, terrifying, and absolutely exhilarating and thrilling in a roller-coaster, pants-wetting kinda way. Like an island, Iquitos is only reachable by boat or airplane.
History lesson! Years ago, Iquitos's citizens came out of the jungle and adapted civilization as they knew it (learned from TV) in their new city. Literally hundreds of tin shanties can be seen right next door to the few wealthy residents. Up to four families share the small, ramshackle dwellings. 
Yet even the worst tin shacks--holes and all--have direct TV dishes mounted on the roofs. Things exploded about six years ago when the former jungle dwellers discovered the internet and smart phones. Welcome to civilization.
The amazing Armando, motokar driver extraordinaire!
Unfortunately, as an adjunct to "civilization," unemployment (the rubber industry--Iquitos' past major source of jobs and income--dried up, leaving people jobless) prospered.

Unless you're a motokar driver.

We've all been in white-knuckled cab rides before. Now imagine that multiplied by 200,000 unleashed motokars.

What's a motokar, I hear you asking? Why, it's a three-wheeled motorcycle of sorts. Unprotected, the driver sits in front while the terrified passengers are sardined into a tiny cabin behind him. Different designs adorn the tarp (Spiderman, Scooby-Doo, appropriate flames of Hell), the driver's number posted on back.

It's the primary vehicle of choice (cars are a rarity) and a new source of income, drivers eking out enough soles for a day's worth of beans and rice.

And driving laws? Heh, don't be silly. Someone told us, "In Iquitos, there are no rules, no lanes, no lines, and no laws." (Check out the video below--supplied by fellow adventurer and friend Liz--if you don't believe me.)
On our trip from the airport to the hotel, I thought we were going to die (and here I figured the jungle would get me). Two-laned streets turned into five and six, hundreds of motokars jockeying for front position like a vicious roller-derby. Near misses were common, no sweat to the crazed, undoubtedly caffeine-infused drivers. From the left, hundreds more swarmed. On the right, a small dirt road unleashed another couple hundred. They fused together like a massive swarm of bees, all of them chasing the honey at the end of their furious flight.  They swerved, cut others off, bounced back and forth like pinballs. The song, "Ride of the Valkyries" played out in my head as I held on for dear, sweet life.

Miraculously, we arrived at the hotel unscathed. There we met the gracious organizer of our trip, our "Jungle Momma" and her husband. 
Then we slept.

The next morning, cocky and sure of myself, I proclaimed, "Hey, nothing to it! I survived my first day. Got this by the cajones! What could possibly go wrong?"

As it turns out, kismet's got it out for me badly.

For a different kinda trip, come on down to Missouri and visit the Dandy Drop Inn, a bed and breakfast with an absolutely killer reputation. Be sure to pick up the "Dread and Breakfast" brochure by clicking here!

1 comment: