Monkey on the Shoulder

May 30

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Smartly, we packed in the evening while we had light, courtesy the generators. When we got up it was still dark and packing wold have been difficult. We had quick breakfast and headed to the river dock. The weather was foggy, drizzly, and unusually cold. Protected by rain pants and jackets, we went downstream towards Manu Boca. It was quite a chilling experience - the speed of the boat on top of the speed of the river, plus the adverse weather made us wish for a quick arrival at the airstrip. We couldn't see many animals anyway due to fog, and it seemed that this early morning there clearly less animals out than when we went upstream days earlier.

Once at the airstrip we waited in the local restaurant. There we met a British couple who just arrived on a plane from Cusco, and who would be going with Alvaro to the Manu Lodge. Very much to our amusement, there were two small monkeys right by the restaurant, and they didn't mind to be fed. So for a few brief moments, we all had a monkey on our shoulders.

Our concerns the plane may be delayed due to rain in Manu were fortunately unfounded. With only 40 minute delay the plane landed - a different one: two engines instead of one, but smaller - eight passenger capacity instead of twelve. We didn't care much about such details. We waved goodbye to Alvaro and the folks in the rather spartan "air traffic control room", powered by two car batteries, and got onto the plane which was already almost full with other passengers from a previous stop. Clearly not to FAA standards was the usage of seat belts - Essan, sitting at the end of a bench seat, was left without one, and so she was holding on to me (and vice versa) during take-off which would have pushed her off the bench. The flight was shorter (30 min) and very blind - we were in the clouds the entire time, the pilots flying by instruments only.

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After the landing in Cusco we immediately noticed the absence of water in the air. We could feel our shirts drying right there on our bodies, which was a remarkable and very welcome feeling. Quite a few people uttered the desire for a long, hot shower. Which we didn't have long to wait for: we were brought directly to our hotel, and Essan went straight for the shower, regardless of not having any clean clothes. Meanwhile, I went to deal with the hotel people to get the bag with clothes out of storage.

After the shower and a quick nap we went to have lunch at the main square. It's not really hard to find a restaurant; what's harder is fending off all the people who are aggressively trying to sell you something, ranging from paintings to earrings to trips or - well, restaurants. Randomly we picked one with a view and were immediately dragged inside by the waiter who had an expression on his face as if he just won a major feud with his neighbor. The food was very good and as always plentiful. From the balcony we could see the traffic chaos, the many police in riot control outfits, and not much later the protesters. The teachers were protesting again, but very quietly so: all had their mouths taped close and were wearing signs along the lines of "the president is a pig" and "we want a democracy". Unbeknown to us, during our stay in the rainforest the president returned from his party tour in Argentina and declared the state of emergency due to all the protests of the past weeks. I guess that explains the high numbers and "armor" of the police.

Back to the hotel Essan went to sleep, while I did some cleaning. Soon we were interrupted by the hotel staff who this time brought a complimentary bottle of red wine (which we returned) and a plate of small cookies / desserts, accompanied by a handwritten card "Mr. and Mrs. Jirman, welcome back" signed by the general manager. Actual signature - I did the smudge test. Not much later we heard a loud knocking on the door, and saw Lane with a hotel escort. Lane "just so happened to be in the neighborhood and wanted to check out this luxurious hotel, we sure don't mind" and darted across the room to the balcony. Pleased with it, and recognizing that Essan was asleep, she was gone in less than 60 seconds, leaving me quite puzzled. Only minutes later there was another knocking on the door, this time by Kenbol, a young hotel security guy. We locked our passports in the hotel safe before going to Manu, and since I didn't want to take the safe key to the jungle I left it with hotel security - with Kenbol. Problem was that this was Kenbol's first day on the job and he didn't follow due procedure, and now he was in deep trouble. He was profusely apologizing for I didn't know what, asking a dozen times whether everything was ok, that he now needs to write a report about it and that he's in deep trouble. Turns out that he can not simply accept my key; I can give it to him only in an envelope. This was of course not known to either of us at that time. So I left positive feedback for him on the feedback form, let's hope it will help.

For dinner we were invited to the Manu travel agency's own restaurant. As we learned later we were taken by the Taxi driver by one Sol, or $0.30, or 50% of the fare. Oh well, could have been worse. Lane arrived at the restaurant 20 minutes late but made up for all the delay with increased intensity of discussion and story telling. The food was as always good and plentiful, and around 9pm we wrapped things up and went back to the hotel, having to get up in the early morning well before sunrise. Once back at the hotel we found our room once again improved by the staff, having redone our bed, cleaned up the floor (which we left behind with clothing scattered all around), fresh towels, and most importantly cute white slippers next to the bed. Used to Motel 6 or a tent as our main accommodations, this was really a nice touch.

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