We had quite the adventure traveling from our last stop in southern Peru, the beautiful mountainous and colonial city of Arequipa
to the hot and humid jungle of the Amazon in Iquitos; the gateway and access point to the Amazon Rainforest in Peru!
Iquitos is surrounded by the Amazon River on one side and the Amazon Rainforest on all other sides so the only way to reach Iquitos is to either fly there or travel by boat. Therefore, Iquitos is the world’s largest city that can not be reached by any roads. We didn’t have the time to travel by boat up the Amazon River as it takes a week, so we decided to fly.
We had purchased our plane tickets to Iquitos weeks in advance and just had to make sure we arrived in Lima before our flight departed. We had decided to travel from Arequipa to Lima by bus and even though the bus journey is about a 17 hour trip and wouldn’t save us time traveling, we would be saving money as a bus ticket is less expensive than flying. We had the extra time for bus travel scheduled into our itinerary, but what we didn’t have scheduled into our itinerary was a rock slide. It would have been a great trip viewing the entire southern coastal landscape of Southern Peru along the Pan American Highway, but it actually turned out to be a disaster because of the rock slide. The Pan American Highway is the most important highway in Peru, as it connects all major cities in the country’s coastal area from the most northern part of the country to the southern most part, so you can imagine all the traffic that uses this highway that abruptly came to a stand still.
With the rock slide taking out both lanes of traffic, there was nothing we could do except to sit and wait. Since there aren’t many large highways in Peru, we just couldn’t turn around and take another route so we had to wait. And waiting is what we did for another 48 hours. That’s how long it took for the rocks to be cleared from the highway. There isn’t large amounts of heavy equipment to move such huge rocks blocking the highway so it took many hours for the government to transport the excavators, backhoes and bulldozers to the rock slide to start removing the rocks. As hour after hour passed, my travel partner, Joni and I realized, we would miss our flight to Iquitos. As there was nothing we could do, it was a good lesson to remind us about the importance of being flexible when traveling as anything can happen, especially things that you haven’t planned for.
There wasn’t many things for us to do so we got off the bus to stretch our legs and looking behind us, we saw miles of other stranded passengers backed up waiting patiently behind us. There weren’t as many individual cars that you might see in the United States as very few people have their own vehicles, but there were hundreds of busses transporting passengers along with tractor trailer trucks transporting goods along the Pan American Highway. It wasn’t long before local residents begin to appear selling everything from drinks to snack foods. New vendors would pass the bus saying “agua” and the first thing Joni and I would always think of was the commercial with the Aflac duck saying “Aflac”. It made us laugh and helped us pass the time. It wasn’t long before the entrepreneurial spirit was in full force and hundreds of local vendors had descended upon the mass of stranded busses and trucks, offering not only drinks and snacks, but entire meals including empanadas, sandwiches, burgers, beef and chicken shish kebabs and pizza! I was amazed to see such a variety of food in the middle of nowhere. We even saw some local vendors who brought their grill to the side of the road to bring hot cooked meals to all their new customers. Those vendors definitely made some money over the 48 hour ordeal. The bus driver showed the couple of action movie DVDs he had available on the bus which were American movies dubbed in Spanish.
As time continued to pass, we almost lost track of time, but we quickly became aware of how much time we had just been sitting there once we realized we had missed the departure of our flight and we had no way to contact the airport in Lima to figure out how to reschedule our flights to Iquitos. We wondered what the employees at the airport would say to us when we finally arrived. We wondered if they would have ever heard of such an excuse as a rock slide for missing a flight. We played cards and talked with other passengers to pass the time. We even worked on choreographing our contra dance and traditional English dance routine to celebrate our travels in South America. Joni and I were both part of Berea College Country Dancers and had decided to choreograph a couple of different styles of traditional European dances to express our travel experience in both Peru and Bolivia. I believe we finished both of the dances during this leg of our trip as we had the time.
48 hours later after we had originally stopped, the long line of vehicles finally started moving forward. We were so happy that the entire bus load of Peruvians started cheering and we joined right in with them! Once our bus finally made it up to the rock slide, we saw that the machinery was still in use trying to clear the highway, but they had only been able to clear one lane of the road, therefore only one lane of traffic was able to pass. The rock slide was definitely as bad as what other passengers had told us. The rocks had completely broken up the road and as our bus passed over the rock slide, it felt like we were on a very bumpy gravel dirt road as the bus bounced over the broken pavement. Not only was it bumpy, but on one side of the road was a rock face where the rocks had originated at and on the other was a cliff where the rocks had fallen down to. I was glad we were finally able to pass the rock slide and start north on our journey back to Lima!
A 17 hour trip that turned into a 65 hour trip was an adventure to say the least! We arrived at the airport, a full day after our originally scheduled flight and the airport employees helped us to the best of their ability to catch the next flight to Iquitos. They were not surprised by our story of the rock slide as it had been a major news event on national television. We were grateful for their help and to finally be in a place where we could communicate with our families and our Amazon Jungle Lodge to let them know the reason we had not shown up a day earlier. We were tired and smelly and ready for a shower, but we were thankful to have been able to board that flight and still be able to visit Iquitos, knowing that it could have all been canceled. We might have smelled, but we were happy to still have this opportunity to travel to the Amazon Rainforest and it did not disappoint. Flying over the Amazon River and Amazon Rainforest was a once in a lifetime type of event and it was awe inspiring to see just how large it is! Once we landed, it was clear to see we were in a completely different world from where we had been just a few days earlier in Arequipa. Peru is such a diverse country in land, people and language. This bus journey was yet again another one of the incredible Treasures Of Traveling in Peru.
Check out the map below to see where Arequipa is located at!
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