DAYS: 000 | MILES: 000

// MY NAME IS DANIELAnd after years of dreaming I've sold everything I own and set off on the open road. I've made this site as a sort of photo journal of my travels. The map shows where I've been (red), where I've stayed a month or more (yellow), and where I plan to go (white). And so, armed with little more than a backpack, a camera, and a dream, I now take the road less traveled by. So it goes.


LIMA I arrived in Peru via the Bolivian Border, on an overnight bus that took me past the sprawling Lake Titicaca, the supposed birthplace of the Incans, past the Nazca Desert, home to more than 300 geoglyphs etched into the desert sands, massive figures seemingly meant to be seen from the sky. I was on an overnight bus though, so really I saw almost nothing. But Lima was nice. The city sits on cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean and was founded in 1535 by the Spanish. Today, with just slightly more people than New York, it is the third largest city in the Americas behind Sao Paulo and Mexico City.
HUARAZ Leaving Lima, my first stop was Huaraz, high in the Andes Mountains. The town itself is located 10,013 feet (3050m) above sea level, but I stayed at a small hostel which was formerly a mountaineering base camp and sits 12000 feet (3700m) above sea level. To reach the hostel was an hour long drive up rock roads and passing several indigenous Quechua villages on the way. You can see some of the villages, and the drive below. The last four photos are of the hostel itself, which sits at the entrance to a valley leading to Peru's tallest mountains. Here altitude sickness becomes a serious threat--- even the short walk to the toilet becomes strenuous. But what beauty...
TRUJILLO Coming down out of the mountains and back to the coast, I visited the city of Trujillo. As the second oldest Spanish city in Peru, it has a pleasant colonial center, but the real reason to come here is to explore the even older ruins in the deserts surrounding the city. The Moche and Chimu cultures were dominant here until being conquered by the Incans who were themselves later conquered by the Spanish. The city was also an important site in Peru's War of Independence against Spain.
CHAN CHAN At its height, Chan Chan was one of the largest pre-Colombian cities in South America, home to 40-60,000 people. It served as the capital of the Chimor Empire from 900 to 1470 AD, when it was conquered by the Incans and subsequently fell into decline and abandonment.
HUACA DE LA LUNA Only a few miles from Chan Chan is the even older site known as Huaca De La Luna (Temple of the Moon), built by the Moche Civilization, sometime around 100 to 700 AD, several centuries before the Chimu Empire rose to power in the area. The Spaniards looted any ancient cities they found, including Chan Chan, but amazingly, this temple was left undiscovered until modern times, as it had been buried in sand for centuries and simply looked like a part of the nearby mountain. As such, a lot of important discoveries were found here, including the fact that every few generations the Moche would seal up their temples and buid a larger temple over the existing one. Over 600 years the Huaca De La Luna underwent at least six such constructions, meaning that like a nested Russian doll, at least six temples are buried inside one another here, some of which you can see excavated below.
HUANCHACO Before leaving the Peruvian coasts, I stopped in the ocean-side town of Huanchaco, famed for its reed boats called 'caballitos de totora', which archaeologist believe have been in use for more than 3000 years. You can see rows of the boats below.
CAJAMARCA Returning to the highlands of the Andes Mountains, I arrived in Cajamarca, known as 'Kashamarka' in Quechua. Quechua is the modern day descendant of the Incan language and one of Peru's two official languages, spoken by about 20-25% of the country. The town is perhaps most famous for being the site of the final battle between the Spanish and the Incans, when Incan Emperor Atahualpa was captured, tortured until converting to Catholicism, and then immediately executed... but at least his soul would now go to heaven. So there's that.
CHACHAPOYAS Chachapoyas, also in the Andes Mountains at an altitude of 7700 feet (2330m) above sea-level, is small colonial town founded in 1538 by the Spanish. One notable thing about the town: it was from the Chachapoyas natives of this region that Indiana Jones takes the gold idol from in the opening of Raiders of the Lost Ark (though that idol is actually based on an Aztec god... so good work, Hollywood).
KUELAP Not far from Chachapoyas, but down some vertigo inducing, nausea creating, winding roads, is the ancient city of Kuelap, a mountain top fortress discovered by the outside world only in the 1840s. The majority of the city was built between 900 and 1100 AD and sits on a ridge in a cloud forest at the edge of the Amazon. The entrance is via a narrow slit in the stone walls and the houses were all circular stone huts--- you can see a recreation of one of the huts below. The city was built by the Chachapoyan people who were conquered by the Incans just before the arrival of the Spanish. Known as the Machu Pichu of the north, Kuelap receives little tourism given how remote and difficult it is to reach.
TARAPOTO Continuing onward, through some of the most difficult highway roads I've ever seen, crisscrossing mountain sides until half the bus is vomiting, hurdling along cliff edges and around hairpin turns, I reached the city of Tarapoto. The western side of the Andes is arid and rugged. But this side, the side forming the wall that holds the Amazon Rainforest at bay, was wet, tropical, and lush. The jungle was close... and it was calling.
YURIMAGUAS From Tarapoto the road ends, quite literally, a little further on in Yurimaguas. This is as far as one can travel into the Peruvian Amazon by land. From here the only transport is by river boat, a trip of hundreds to thousands of miles, for one could travel across the entire continent if they so wished. That was the adventure I had come for. Now I just had to wait for the ship to depart. My sister joined me and below you can see the river hostel we stayed while we waited. It was built on small stilts over the Huallaga River, the running water visible through the gaps in the floor boards. The adventure had officially begun.
THE HUALLAGA RIVER In Yurimaguas we bought tickets for passage aboard the 'Bruno', a large passenger and cargo ship that would make the days long journey down the Rio Huallaga, eventually connecting with the Maranon River which is itself a tributary of the Amazon River (the photos below are from both the Huallaga and the Maranon Rivers). The boat had two classes, one with cabin rooms and the other was simply hammocks on an open deck. We opted for the cabin, mainly to secure our belongings but we spent most of our time on the deck. There were a handful of other foreigners on the ship, making the same trip into the Amazon jungle as we. Time was spent each day chatting and making friends, reading books, watching the thatch roofed indigenous river towns pass by, occasionally stopping in some of them to pick up more goods and passengers. Day by day we journeyed ever deeper into the heart of the jungle.
THE AMAZON RAINFOREST The boat journey eventually brought us to the city of Iquitos, the largest Peruvian city in the Amazon, and indeed the largest city on the planet not accessible to the outside world by road. But more on that later. From here I was able to make a few excursions deeper into the jungle. One such excursion was a five day stay at a river lodge on a small tributary river of the Amazon. The lodge was rustic, simple, beautiful and peaceful. You can see photos below. Much of the jungle was unfortunately flooded, so our tours were done every day almost entirely by canoe. The flooding, which the villagers told us was previously a once in a lifetime event, had been occurring every year for the last seven years. Rising temperatures and record heat was causing too much ice to melt off the Andes Mountains hundreds of miles away, which fed the Amazon. Now entire villages were under water each year. The UN was housing climate refugees in hill top tent cities and many of the indigenous peoples were being forced to leave their ancestral homes.
MONKEY ISLAND I made another excursion to an island in the Amazon which is a reservation for rescued monkeys (some rescued as pets and others from markets being sold as food). Several hundred rescued monkeys live on the island, most deep in the wooded parts, away from people, but some were raised as pets and prefer the company of humans. As our boat approached, monkeys quite literally fell from the trees to give everyone hugs (or score free boat rides around the island, I'm not sure which).
THE AMAZON RIVER The city of Iquitos sits at the confluence of three rivers. The first, the Rio Napo, comes from Ecuador to the north. The second, the Rio Maranon which we had just traveled, comes from Yurimaguas to the west. And the third and largest is the Amazon River which flows east, to Colombia, Brazil, and ultimately all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. The photos below are from the journey from Iquitos, Peru to Leticia, Colombia on the Amazon River herself. There were no cabins on this boat, only hammocks, and cargo included live animals, all of which you can see below. The women with the long head scarves are the Isrealitas, a syncretic religious group (a breakaway of Seventh Day Adventist) who believe God has named the Amazon the new Chosen Land, that in the End Times only the jungle will be saved, and that the Incans were not pagans but were the original prophets of God, which the traitorous Catholic Church attempted to suppress through conquest.
IQUITOS Iquitos, home to half a million people --- and as I already mentioned, the largest city on earth with no road connections to the outside world. One either flies here or one travels days by cargo and passenger ship to arrive. I chose the latter. I actually arrived in Iquitos twice, each time by a different river (long story). Like everywhere else in the Amazon, Iquitos was partially flooded when we arrived. Werner Herzog's movie Fitzcarraldo was based on real life events that happened here. The last thing to note below is the massive Belen floating market, unlike any market I've ever seen (and that includes some crazy markets in Asia). Here monkeys and sloths were being illegally sold as pets for just a few dollars. Rodents, turtles, and bug larvae were being chopped up, cooked, boiled, fried, and eaten. Monkeys and cayman alligators (all legally protected animals) were being flayed and barbecued right in the open. Witch doctors and shamans were selling San Pedro Cactus and Ayahuasca from their stalls, along with potions that did who knows what. I did try one of the larvae. When in Rome, I suppose.
THE NAPO RIVER The Rio Napo holds a rather special place on my travels. And not only because it is the river where I lost my camera, laptop, passport, and two months worth of photos when my bag fell off the boat. But it was also my first foray into the Amazon, my induction into the rainforest. All the river travels you saw above were from my second excursion to Iquitos, after I had already been forced to leave the first time for Lima in order to apply for a new passport (and replace my camera). And all I can say is, those other rivers were beautiful. But none were as remote, as enchanting, as difficult, as rewarding, as punishing, as magical, or as consquential as this river. This journey took a week, sleeping on hammocks stuffed on top of hammocks on a small cargo boat that only makes the journey once every twenty days. Food conists of little more than boiled rice, boiled banana, and a piece of boiled meat for every meal. Breakfast, lunch, and dinner. But this ship stops in every village along the way; buying pigs, cows, and bananas to be sold in Iquitos. Villagers take the journey to sell what they can at the city market (including a baby monkey in a box, which you can see below). The sunsets are divine. The insects are as large as cats and rare river dolphins occasionally guide the way. It's a once in a lifetime journey, of that there is no doubt. We even stopped to have a beer in a village dance club in the middle of the Amazon rainforest. So there's that.