Les jeux sont faits!
The things you learn watching movies! In the movie Casablanca the croupier at Rick's Café Americain says "Les jeux sont faits!" (the games are made) when the players have placed their bets and the roulette wheel starts spinning. All they can do now is wait and see what is in store for them.
Now that we all have a viral sword of Damocles hanging above our heads I can't help but wonder: Will there be a next report? Will I see the inside of a plane again? Or will the ashes of my incinerated infected body end up in an anonymous mass grave?
Who knows. Les jeux sont faits! The roulette wheel is spinning and we'll know very soon.
In the meantime, let me share with you one more flight and an unusual destination. If you discover a new place through this report my life won't have been in vain.
Thank goodness I've kept a little backlog of my last-year flights around Peru.
In my last report we flew from Tacna, in the south of the country, to Jorge Chávez International Airport, Lima's very important - and very small! - airport.
This time we'll go on a completely unexpected and crazy one-day adventure to an exotic destination on a new LCC that has been flying domestic routes in Peru since 2017.
All this started decades ago when I was a teenager and my father rented a VHS movie called Fitzcarraldo. I remember keeping the fast-forward button pressed because I thought it was the most boring movie in the universe! (I think different now and I recommend it as a good option for these lockdown days)
But one thing stuck to my adolescent mind: the name Iquitos (ee - KEE - tos), and Fitzcarraldo's obsession to take opera to that distant, isolated place in the middle of the jungle.
Fast-forward again, and a few days after I bought my tickets to Lima I find myself revising my plans for this trip. I'm gonna stay in Lima for several days, so what if…?
And so, I check Viva Air's website, enter Lima > Iquitos…
…and voilà! I can fly to Iquitos early morning and take the flight back to Lima late at night the same day!
So, por qué no?!
Three fares to choose from. The Viva fare will do. You can carry up to 10kg in the cabin!
Even in the basic fare you can choose your seat. I have practically the whole plane for myself!
I'll pay 12.5 Peruvian Soles (3.5 USD) for my seat.
Though some seats are 1.5 PEN (0.4 USD) more expensive…
…and some are 2 PEN (0.6 USD) cheaper.
Then you can choose your additional baggage…
…and other adicionales, including pets, etc.
A nice surprise at the end of the process is how up-to-date their website is. They have a complete list of Chilean regiones, even though the one I live in split from Los Lagos quite recently. I wish some Chilean websites took notice of this! (Don't ask about the 29284 29285. I have no idea what that could be. A secret region, perhaps???)
The whole check-in process can be made in a single, long screen on your cellphone. Very practical!
How can you get to LIM airport without dying in the attempt?
That's a difficult one. There's no secret recipe.
My advice is to pick an early morning flight like this one, fasten your seat belt, close your eyes firmly, leave everything in the hands of the Peruvian taxi driver, and follow all the rituals prescribed by whatever religion you're a follower of.
And good luck.
No, seriously. Lima has the most chaotic, disastrous and unnerving traffic you will ever see in your life. You feel like a little cockroach running in the midst of a horse stampede.
It's a huge city with no transport system other than cars and buses, so you can only guess the size of the (omnipresent) traffic jams. No matter where you're going in Lima, always (ALWAYS) multiply your estimated travelling time by three. Take it from me.
This time we go along Elmer Faucett Av. at "normal" speed because it's 3:30 in the morning. But be careful. You're not out of the woods yet. An old lady who was staying at the same Airbnb as me told us about the frightening experience she had had the day before as she was coming from the airport and a guy on a motorcycle broke the car window, grabbed her handbag, and pulled savagely until the belt tore. Well, that can happen everywhere but I had never met anyone who had lived the experience firsthand. Just be careful and keep your belongings out of sight.
Being here you wouldn't guess that LIM is one of the important hubs in South America. handles more than 30 million passengers a year, much more than SCL, but when you look ate infrastructure… Well, it's not crowded at the moment, but the shortcomings become evident sooner than later.
Ground plan. The upper part is the first (ground) level. It's as small as it looks here.
Let's go to the left first, and the back to the right, towards domestic arrivals.
I didn't print my boarding pass so I take the chance to get it at the counter while the queue is short.
A corner with some vending machines and… get the cool, get the cool shoeshine<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]! I never saw that in an airport before.
Awww… Sapolio! This is an instant flashback to my childhood! Sapolio is a very old brand of cleaning products. It was so popular in Chile, that I was quite surprised to read that it originated in the US. The Chilean Klenzo (another brand of cleaning products) was its representative in Chile. Eventually Sapolio went belly up in the US and was bought by a Peruvian company, which also bought Klenzo. I'm pretty sure I saw Sapolio insect killer in the supermarket the other day! Sapolio was best know in Chile for its polisher, which looked like white sand. I can almost see my mother rubbing the black stains off her pots and pans with Sapolio. Even today, when somebody behaves in a way that's impolite, vulgar, lacking class, we call that person "traficante de Sapolio" (Sapolio trafficker). Now that's a cheap trafficker!!
I don't have much time, so let's take the escalator right away,
As I climb, I can read this on the wall. It tells about Jorge Chávez, a Peruvian pilot, and says that he flew above… the Alps?! I thought this must be an error. It should have been "Andes." But I found on the Internet that Jorge Chávez was the first one to cross the Alps by air in a competition in 1910, indeed! Mish!* He crossed through the Simplon Pass. (Gasp! Hence the name of the Simplon Orient Express in Agatha Christie's novel, I guess!) But after he had crossed the Alps successfully, his plane crashed upon landing. He was taken to hospital, conscious. He was declared winner of the competition, received lots of telegrams congratulating him, even the president of the Aero Club of Italy visited him, he gave an interview… and died. According to Wikipedia, he was buried in Paris… and Lima! Hm. That was a really bad accident. You can say that he's resting in p…ieces! I wonder what body part gave the interview…
Upstairs you emerge at the shops area. Let's follow this guy with the blue bag towards the left…
…past the food court…
…and the omnipresent BrittShop…
…until you see that queue on the right.
The line doesn't move very fast because there's a thorough examination of your papers prior to the scanners.
Airside. It's not a long walk along this hallway.
Great timing. Boarding starts a 4:35.
In a minute…
…I make it to this concourse.
Let's look around. The Viva Air and Peruvian Airlines staff wear their distinctive uniforms.
Great. We start boarding on time.
Our Colombian friend is waiting out there.
The cabin looks much like a standard LCC cabin, and when I take my seat…
…ugh!! I never saw uglier seatbacks before! What will I call this look? "Industrial"? But wait a minute! Don't judge a book by the cover… or a seat by the seatback.
Look at this! Lots of legroom!
And there's more. I have more free space sideways, too! I can sit a mis anchas.
The tiniest tray table I've ever seen. Also serves as a trash collector. Ew. None of that is mine.
Contents of the seat pocket.
…and (what's left of) the in-flight magazine. Viva Air Peru was developed by Irelandia, the same founders of Ryanair or Viva Colombia. I guess that's why this A320 is registered in Colombia.
The cabin is not very full today. However, the flights connecting Lima and Iquitos are very important. The only way to get to Iquitos is by air, or after a days-long boat ride along the rivers of Amazonia. The FA addresses the passengers over the PA with a surprising message: "If, for any reason, you are having second thoughts about taking this flight, talk to the crew right now because we are about to depart."
There's a lot of movement in the seat in front of me. Ah! The reason is called Johann. His mother is having a little trouble keeping him quiet.
Still dark outside. We should have left by now, but at 5:22 the captain (also called Johann!) comes over the PA and tells us that the doors are still open because IQT airport is reporting that operation conditions are under the minimum. So they dim the lights. Good thing, because Johann falls asleep… for one minute, at least.
At 5:43 my seat neighbor goes to the restroom. I think I'll do the same. The captain announces that conditions at IQT have not improved.
At 6:04 they close the doors at last!
The FA give te safety speech in Spanish and English and we taxi to the runway. This was a most welcome delay. I'll be able to enjoy the landscape from the beginning.
And up we go, into the low clouds that always cover the city this time of year.
And when we are above the clouds…
…the Inca god Inti greets us from the east.
Its rays and the morning fog give a nice touch to the landscape underneath.
We are now flying above the vast expansions of the Andes. You understand so many things when you fly. Whenever I heard "Andes", I used to think of high, menacing, inhospitable mountains, the way they are in my country. But the Andes here look much more welcoming and "habitable", a refuge from the heat of the jungle in the east and the dryness of the desert along the coast in the west. No wonder so many cultures flourished here before the Spaniards arrived.
This is beautiful!
As we continue our flight to the north-east, the FAs hand out copies of the menu. I think it's a good idea not to keep them in the seatback pockets. They're not the usual booklet, but a single piece of cardboard folded in a particular way. Any collector of aviation paraphernalia would be tempted to keep a copy.
Hm! I think I know what's in the menu for today! I'm not a vegetarian, but this one looks good.
And… OMG! They have the die cast model for this plane! I'll leave it for the trip back.
Time for Cecilio to come out of his shell.
Look at this! Doesn't it look fresh? And it's really tasty.
Even tastier with my chicha morada! Oh, how I love chicha morada (purple chicha). Its made of corn, as you see on the label. Legend has it, it used to be made by old Inca women who CHEW on corn grains and spat them into some kind of containers where the enzymes in their saliva would trigger the fermentation process. Yes. Revolting! I'm sure things have changed since those pre-Columbian times. (Let's pray)
The rest of the flight passes quietly. Johann is sleeping soundly after a good deal of jumping and bouncing on his seat.
I wonder if that snow-covered peak is the Nevado Huaguruncho. One thing is sure: the low clouds on the left show that we are approaching the Amazon jungle.
The clouds are weird here, long and winding…
…and they concentrate in certain areas.
Ah! It's the rivers! The rivers are covered in fog in the cool early morning!
Welcome to the Peruvian Amazon! A green sea criss-crossed by wide, meandering rivers that flow from the Andes through the heart of South America.
Towns down there are incredibly isolated. Just like Iquitos, the only way to get there is by plane or in days- (or weeks-) long boat rides. The town of Requena, for example, on the shore of river Tapiche, very close to the point where it meets a bigger river: the Ucayali.
That's probably one of the boats connecting Iquitos and Requena. And, most probably, most of its passengers are tourists.
We follow the course of river Ucayali…
…and a second river comes into sight. They get closer and closer to each other, until…
…here!!! This is the point! Welcome to the place where the renowned, mythical, mighty river Amazon is born!! Over there, on the left, where rivers Marañón and Ucayali meet. I must be dreaming!
We are already descending, ad I can see that Peru has preserved its jungle much better than Brazil or even Argentina. Look at the lush green sea down there!!
I see some huts over there. They are most probably tourist facilities, which are abundant in this area.
We descend over the suburb of Ninarumi…
…these huts that I don't know what they're used for…
…the suburb of Quistococha…
…the swimming pool and soccer field of Iguana lodge…
…and we are there.
Taking a good photo is particularly difficult during reverse thrust, isn't it?
And there it is. IQT
A nice, modern airport in the middle of the jungle.
Some views during our triumphal procession.
…and the welcoming committee.
You see? We're like pop stars. Hello, fans!
Can someone explain HOW on earth they can wear those thick parkas?! They say "23°C". It feels like 30!! Ugh! Tropical weather definitely doesn't suit me well. Why do I do these things??
How do you like IQT? I think it's a good looking airport.
A visit to this tourist information office inside the arrivals area, where a friendly lady gives me a map and all the information necessary to make the best out of this one-day trip, and then to the restroom to put some lighter clothes on and bathe in a good dose of insect repellent.
The lady at the information desk suggested I take a motokar, which is cheaper than a taxi. So this would be the end of the flight report. Let's go find our motokar. How exciting! I've never taken a ride in one of those. We don't have them in Chile.
And here we go!!! HAHAHAHAHAH It's like being in an amusement park!! Wooo hooo!!!! HAAHAHAHHAAHHAA
My driver today is Manuel. (Or was it Luis? Who cares) Following the advice of the friendly lady at the tourist information office, I ask him to take me to the CREA Rescue Center. I already have my admittance ticket, bought from TripAdvisor.
This is the entrance to the rescue center. Manuel offers to wait for me, because I will go downtown from here. I'm a bot scared at first, that he will charge me too much for waiting, but all prices in Peru are extremely low. Manuel charges me 10 Soles from the airport to the rescue center, and 12 from the rescue center to the city, which is barely 7 USD! And if you pay a little extra, it means a lot for them, even if it's very little for you.
I am told that one of the tour guides is absent today, and the other guide is busy with a group of school children who have just arrived. I can wait until they finish their tour…
…or I can join them! Of course I join them. They are much fun and are thrilled to meet someone from abroad. I become friends with my colleagues Maritza and Laura, their teachers. Here the guide is explaining how ants (the size of your thumb) build their nests.
These are some of the animals we'll see. I'm eager to see a manatí.
I follow the group. The kids ask lots of questions to the guide… and to me! They get very excited when they learn that I can speak English. Can you believe that they have no English lessons at school? The government funding is limited. So they keep asking How do you say this? How do you say that?
I love cats, but this ocelot seems to regard me more as potential dinner rather than a potential carer.
These baby caimans are so cute, but I still feel like dinner.
Curiously, ferocious as they seem, this paiche, the largest fish in the Amazon, swims carelessly among them.
And lots of little turtles!
That one is looking at the camera!
And finally, the pièce de résistance: a manatí!! (mah - nah - TEE)
Most of the animals in this center have been rescued from traffickers. Manatís are endangered because people hunt them for food. We were told that many of the manatís brought to this center must recover from terrible machete wounds.
They are easy to hunt because they're friendly and curious.
After this nice experience, Manuel is waiting outside to take me downtown. The ride is an adventure of its own kind, with the road full of motokars competing! It's really exciting! The only problem is that you breath a lot of exhaust smoke. And watch out for pot holes! These things have no suspension!
A law and order representative standing next to the colorful local transportation. The trip from downtown Iquitos to the airport in one of those takes about one hour, and costs one or two Soles! (0.5 USD at most)
Why on earth would anyone found a city in this God forsaken corner of the Amazon jungle? Well, it was founded by Jesuits, but it lived a golden age during the rubber boom (1880-1914), which attracted many European immigrants and generated enormous wealth. Rubber was made from the milky latex extracted from the rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis)
The movie I mentioned at the beginning, Fitzcarraldo, is based on the life of Brian Sweeney Fitzgerald, an Irishman who entered the rubber business and, as an opera lover, dreams of building an opera house in Iquitos.
That's why you'll find many examples of Iquitos glorious past around the city. This is the main square and the local church.
There's a scene in the movie<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span]<span style="padding: 0; margin: 0; margin-left: 5px;">[/span] in which Fitzcarraldo climbs to the church tower and yells This church stays closed until I build my opera house! Of course, the police escorted him down immediately.
La Casa de Fierro (the Iron House) was built in Belgium and exhibited in the 1889 Exposition Universelle in Paris, where it was bought by a Bolivian rubber baron and brought to Iquitos.
It's said that the house was designed by Gustave Eiffel, but there is no evidence to that.
Many old stately houses in Iquitos are decorated with beautiful tiles with elaborate designs…
…or this one.
If there was a prize to the most beautiful tiles, I think it would go to the former Palace Hotel, which now hosts the local branch of the Army.
This little sign on its facade reads This building is national heritage.
I didn't see the inside, but the outside is very impressive.
You can see more examples of local architecture here.
The building faces a promenade…
…called Malecón Tarapacá (Tarapacá Esplanade)…
…with a view of the point wher rivers Itaya and Amazonas meet.
The next stop in this visit to Iquitos is Pilpintuhuasi (Quechua for House of Butterflies). I have to take a boat and cross river Nanai. After another motokar ride I get to the Bellavista Nanai pier. Not attractive at all! This is a sample of the great lack of infrastructure and disarray you can find in Peru at times.
After balancing along a wooden board laid across the mud, I climb onto the small boat.
This is the view as we leave. Yes, this is a really distant and isolated place. Isolated, and a bit desolated, perhaps.
See you on the way back!
* Mish is Chilean slang for "Who would have thought it!". It comes from mire (look)
Peru needs a new, bigger international airport. Period.
Viva Air Peru
Horrible but comfortable cabin. Surprising legroom for an extra 0.5 USD! Great menu! Delicious sandwiches!
Modern airport in the middle of the jungle. Arrivals is OK. We'll see the rest of it in the next report.