We arrived in Puerto Maldonado breathless and worn thin from a week in Cusco. The heavy jungle air clung immediately to my clothes, and I gasped in relief at the return to sea level. We had started our journey through Peru several weeks earlier in Lima, observed the People’s March for Climate Justice, and then boarded a bus for a 21-hour trek through the mountains into Cusco. The bus from Lima to Cusco snakes pleasantly through the coastal desert communities along the Pacific Ocean south of Lima, before climbing a chilling eastbound single lane road into the Andes. On that ride, I learned the hard way never to eat the serving of hamon no matter how hungry I am, and that 10 hours of ascent in a lumbering vehicle is killer on the sinuses. I spent most of the week in Cusco laid up with food poisoning and an ear infection.
For our continued journey through Peru, we opted out of the bus between Cusco and Puerto Maldonado. We had heard that it often takes several days to traverse the jungle, and it was rainy season in the Tambopata. During our time there, we did actually see the arrival of the bus from Cusco, which had departed a day earlier than our plane, and it looked like it had been through at least one adventure in recent days. It was the right decision to fly.
We stayed at a local hostel, and I had picked up enough Spanish to have a full conversation with the owner’s five-year-old daughter about her age, and why my partner and I weren’t speaking Spanish to each other over breakfast. On day two, we booked a single-day entry into the jungle through a local agency, a complete package of tour, zip-line, canopy walk, and a short reach of the Rio Madre de Dios on a kayak. On our short walk to the ferry dock from the agency located near the Plaza de Armas, it began to pour rain. Although we were wearing those very attractive, shapeless, trash-bag-like ponchos, we decided to break beneath a canopy and wait for the rain to slow.
What is the allure of travel? Is it the abandon of all responsibility, where everyone is a stranger and we are unknown faces? Is it the novelty of experience, to wait out the pouring rain and revel in the thrill of it because it’s foreign rain in a foreign land, removed from the tediousness of a struggle against bad weather on a work day, dragging through the same routine? Maybe it’s the feeling of being lost, the question of the self and the identity apart from a list of daily actions to perform, associations to keep, relationships to maintain, cultural norms to follow, and expectation after endless expectation about who “you” are and what “you” do.
Travel is grounded in the feeling of freedom: freedom from daily life, from the history of personality, and all the dramas that surround it; freedom from the burden of accumulated belongings, when everything that is needed is stuffed into a 30lb pack and dragged through the streets of Prague, Bogota, Honolulu, the trail through the redwoods, and the unpaved muddy path leading to the dock along the Rio Madre de Dios. It is a respite to be only waiting, and for a short time life is as simple as the next questionable bus, the stumbling communication, the piercing hunger, the treasure hunt for an ATM, and the tangle of the Tambopata Jungle during the rainy season.