We were up early, yet again. We quickly dressed and walked down to the boat by 5AM. It was dark, and clouds had engulfed the jungle and the river. However, we were finally heading home (only a day and a half to go).
We started down the river in the cold, misty morning. About half an hour from the lodge, the engine broke down. As one boatman took apart the engine trying to see what was wrong, the other pulled out an oar to adjust our coarse floating downriver through the branches and rocks that littered the river (luckily we weren’t trying to do this in dry season). After about 20 minutes of trying different things, the motor finally sputtered into operation. Thankfully, we had left early. We all sat there drowsy and quiet in the morning mist as the motor chugged in the background.
After about 10 minutes of powering down the river, Sheri gave out a high pitched scream. She jumped up and rushed to the aft of the boat. A large spider had started climbing over the railing next to the seat in front of her; the long legs were creeping over the edge. Leon quickly jumped up and swatted it with his shoe, finally getting it to fall into the river. Afterwards, he said it was a BrazilianWandering Spider (very poisonous); Sheri thought she saw something coming across the water while the motor was being fixed. We were all awake now :)
At 7AM we finally made it to the mouth of the Heath River (where it merged with Rio Madre De Dios). We forced the boat up a small stream, and one of the boatmen jumped off and tied it off to some shrubs. He took the paperwork up to a Peruvian border station at Puerto Paldo, since we were now permanently in Peru (as opposed to balancing on the Peruvian/Bolivian border as the Heath River is defined). We went ahead and had our pre-packed breakfast (pancakes, fruit, hard-boiled eggs). After waiting for 10 minutes, the paperwork was resolved, and we were ready to go. However, the motor wouldn’t start again. It was another 10 minutes of tinkering with the motor and priming in more gasoline, before the motor finally churned to life. We backed out into the river and were on our way upriver on the Rio Madre De Dios back to Puerto Maldonado.
The clouds cleared a little, but the river was mainly empty of other watercraft. We made our way back to Puerto Maldonado without incident. It was about 80 miles over five hours. The boatman wedged our boat amongst all of the other boats. We disembarked and gave a tip to the boatmen who seemed suprised about getting anything. We hopped into a Inka Natura tourist van and went back to their business compound. We used the restroom, washed up, and collected our remaining bags. Back in the tourist van, and off to the airport we went. It was amazing seeing all of the motorcycles in Puerto Maldonado–the main mode of transportation. Men, women, kids were all traveling around on motorcycles; it was amazing to see. After about ten minutes, we made it to airport. We quickly checked in, said goodbye to Leon and tipped him, and went to the waiting area for our plane.
We waited for an hour at the airport and finally our LAN flight was available. We boarded and were off, rising above the jungle. The LAN flight was wonderful as always–good leg room although all they give you for snacks is hard candy (no other food, no drinks). We landed in Cusco, and we were back again. We wondered around the airport looking for some lunch while waiting for our next flight to Lima. After two hours, we boarded our flight to Lima.
We landed in Lima at 4 in the afternoon. It was warm, and we had already been traveling for 12 hours. We cleaned up and changed our clothes in the restroom at the airport, and then we checked our bags into baggage storage. We went searching for a taxi. The guidebook said that taxi prices were VERY flexible in Lima, and that it was a requirement to haggle. The 40 sol fair went to 30 and finally to 25. However, the driver who was assigned to us was hoping for a better fare, and after sitting in the taxi for 2 minutes and not going, we got out and made our way back through the lines of taxis. A taxi passing asked if we needed a ride, and we said yes and negotiated for 20 sol to the Plaza de Armas. We got in and off we went.
Our taxi driver wanted to practice his English, and he attempted to describe the sites in the sprawling city of Lima. All of sudden he pulls into a gas station and tells us to get out. We noticed that his hatchback area had a big tank, and we ultimately learned that it was a propane powered car. The majority of cars in Lima seemed to be propane-powered (unlike the rest of taxis we had seen in Peru which were standard gasoline). He refilled his propane, and then he continued on to Plaza de Armas. Lima looked like an interesting city, with many interesting plazas and architecture–one square was completely surrounded by blue buildings… it was stunning. Definitely the rush hour traffic in the Peruvian capital was worst we had seen. As we got closer to the Plaza de Armas the roads were under construction and traffic was being re-routed. Finally, we just told him to let us out, and we would walk the rest of the way to the plaza. The plaza had an impressive fountain in the center, and it was ringed by old architecture. The sun was setting, and numerous people were snapping photos of the reddish sky.
After walking through the pedestrian shopping area, we found another taxi and headed to Miraflores for dinner. It was another circuitous journey across the city in heavy traffic as we closed in on the touristy Miraflores district. The Parque Central was bustling with people, a lot of them snacking on the multitude of food carts sprinkled through the park. We wondered around and found the restaurant which didn’t open until 7:30 (and might never open; at 6:30PM, the antique shutters and doors closed to the world). We decided to wait and see if it would ever open, so we found a cafe nearby where Sheri had a pisco sour and Larry had a mate de coca (as usual). As we waited, we noticed that people were lining up outside the restaurant; we finished our drinks and joined them.
At 7:30, Astrid y Gastón opened. The restaurant is run by Gastón Acurio, a celebrity chef that Sheri had heard of who also had opened a restaurant in San Francisco that she wanted to try. We were going to have dinner in the bar since we didn’t have reservations, however, the hostess gave us the option to sit at a table as long as we were done by 9:30. So… we took her up on the offer. We were seated, and watched as the numerous waiters watched us and waited on our needs. They brought some wonderful breads which we rapidly ate after not having a real meal all day. Sheri had a suckling pig rib and chicken entree that was good; Larry had seared tuna with sweet potatoes three ways which was wonderful. For dessert, we had a lemon tart and classic bonuelos. We finished, paid and went in search of a taxi. Our driver took us past the coastline on the way back to the airport which had a lot less traffic, and the sea air was a nice change. Ultimately, we decided we wished we had spent a day or two in Lima (to hell with the crime warnings), and enjoyed the restaurants, atmosphere, and beaches to be found there.
We got back to the airport, collected our bags from storage, checked-in to our flight, and went through security. We did some final purchases, trying to get rid of the last of our Peruvian money. We were going to buy water for the plane, but the merchant warned us that Delta would confiscate our bottled water, even though we were in a secure zone… damn them! So… we finally made our way to the flight (where they did search our bags for liquids), boarded our plane for our midnight departure back to the US. By noon tomorrow we would finally land in San Francisco–our vacation was over, however, we were both ready to be home.