Ok, we went to Columbia - although the city that we stayed in, Leticia, was one of the friendliest and safest places we've been to. Images of us running around with our pretty little heads down avoiding stray bullets were completely unfounded, almost as likely as a llama wearing an Elvis wig strutting past the window....actually that just happened, as we now happen to be in Cusco, Peru.
After arriving in Tabatinga last Saturday we headed straight for Letitia. Tabatinga airport is hilariously small; the only form of entertainment for those awaiting a rare flight seems to be a dog licking himself. We crossed the border with William, hoping that if there was any danger at all he might prove useful as a human shield. Military bases did occupy either side, but the soldiers were more likely to be seen pressing flowers or discussing cuddling techniques rather than shooting any one. Leticia is a unique city and does have a touch of the wild west about it, but a wild west that has decided it doesn`t really want to be too wild any more and has settled for half a shandy and a scrap outside Gala Bingo on a Saturday night. Any civil conflict left the area two decades ago and the people seem ultimately relaxed and peaceful; a nice environment to chill for a few days. William, on the other hand, headed back into the jungle and the last we saw of him he was leaving the hotel muttering something about stick insect porn.
- Woke up early (2am) for an early start to go and buy our boat tickets for Peru. Jumped in a cab to Tabatinga port (Brazil) only to find out we couldn't buy them there.
- Hopped onto motorbike taxis to Tabatinga airport to enquire about flights and get our passports stamped. All we could find was a dog licking himself and a few soldiers milling around in PE kit.
- Flagged down a VW van for Leticia port (Columbia) in an attempt to get boat tickets again. Bumped into Jorge (of the Jungle), a local tour guide who we had met a day earlier who reminded us that we were slightly breaking the law by not having our passports stamped for Columbian entry.
- Rather than shooting us, Jorge helped us by taking us on a trio of moto-taxis to Leticia airport (lucky really, as William wasn't around to cower behind). Would also like to point out that we were both wearing helmets, which made us look like we were on the way to a Nazi themed fancy dress party.
- Arrived at Leticia airport only to discover that they would only give us our stamps if we had Brazilian exit stamps. Go and treat yourself to a cup of tea at this point.
- Moto'd it back to our hotel to pick up our Brazilian immigration papers and dashed back to Tabatinga (Brazil...keep up at the back) to the Federal Police station to get our exit stamps. Might as well grab a biscuit as well.
- Crossed the border again to Leticia airport to get our Columbian entry and exit stamps; meaning that we officially spent only 3 minutes and 17 seconds in Columbia...perhaps the customs official was distracted by our helmet hair?
- Over beers with Jorge we arranged our speedboat journey to Iquitos (Peru): An 11 hour journey that would leave from Santa Rosa at 3.30am. Luckily we remembered our Peru entry stamps at the dock.
After an overnight stay in Iquitos - a bustling city characterised by thousands of motorised rickshaws buzzing around - we were on our way again with an evening flight to Lima. A long wait in Lima airport was rewarded with spectacular views of the mountains, the sunrise illuminating their snowy peaks on the early morning flight to Cusco. Curiously, a guy was waiting to pick us up at the airport holding a sign reading `Victoria Barnes` alongside another chap with a placard saying simply 'Jesus'. We thought it sensible to go with the one with Victoria's name on.
The last few days have been spent resting in our hostel, getting used to the difficult altitude and the bizarre weather, which ranges from scorching in the middle of the day to freezing in the evening and early morning. Victoria is frustrated by the problem of wearing a skirt one minute and a jumper and scarf the next...but I've promised t wear trousers instead. Cusco itself is very touristy, condensed into narrow cobbled streets and stairways flanked by awkward whitewashed buildings. Yesterday morning we sat eating `scrambly` eggs in a cafe overlooking the Haukaypata main square as a huge parade took place below involving every soldier, police officer, bin-man and school child in the city. As the Peruvian national anthem drifted up to us we contemplated booking an afternoon of horseriding and our impending visit to Machu Picchu, which Victoria swore she saw as we flew into Cusco - apparently there aren`t any escalators to the top.
Don`t take living near sea-level for granted...unless your house is flooded, in which case living on a hill would`ve been a better bet.
Love you all,
Victoria and Tom xxx