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There must be another way to Lima!


I hate backtracking! The merest thought of returning the way I have come makes me sweat and twitch. It offers no new adventure and promises no surprises. My South American travel companions Mick and Darren learnt the hard way that I would do anything to avoid it.

Bus on the AndesWe were crammed on a bus crawling high into the Ecuador Andes en route to Colombia. My amigos were ignoring my ongoing backtrack rant as I trawled through guide books, scrawling notes and joining dots on maps. ‘There must be another way back to Lima!’ I insisted. Hours later I presented my unconventional circular plan.

‘You’re kidding,’ they spat. ‘It’s madness!’

‘It’ll be fun,’ I argued but they were immoveable. Then as though on cue, the old bus slid on the narrow road and suspended us momentarily out over the mountain edge. From the rear window we stared thousands of feet down at an elephant’s graveyard of bus skeletons and accompanying white crosses.

Terrified they screamed ‘OK, OK, We’ll do anything. No backtracking!’

My brilliant plan was activated. On the first leg, as we travelled through the Colombian jungle, a bullet-hole ridden body blocked the road. Our bus lurched to a halt and bandana-clad bandits charged on, sticking guns in our faces, taking our cigarettes and underwear, but leaving us gasping.

Doubly determined not to backtrack, we crept at dawn into Bogota airport days later to meet our contact Carlos. He pushed us up into the hold of an old war plane via a rope ladder, hissing ‘Ssshh! …you are stowaways’. The pilot then fired the props, glugged scotch from a bottle and the plane took off as we three amigos clung to onion sacks to avoid falling into the tail. We later agreed never to fly cargo again.

After days recovering by guzzling hard liquor in the jungle village of Leticia, we embarked on a four day Amazon river journey to Iquitos. The boat was uninspiring; a leaky box that threatened to sink, overloaded as it was by hundreds of people encamped in oversized hammocks. But the captain reassured us. ‘Free food,’ he promised. We later discovered the complimentary cuisine was piranha and monkey.

boat ont he AmazonOur Amazon ‘cruise’ was slow, delayed nightly as El Capitano traded contraband in whispers over the boat’s side. ‘You gringos……very good cover’ he would smile while brandishing a machete-sized knife, ‘but tell nobody!’ We never did.

We eventually flew back to Lima. We’d been robbed at gunpoint, lost our underwear, traversed terrifying roads, seen executed bodies, eaten monkey, stowed away on a plane with a drunk pilot and fronted a smuggling operation. But we didn’t backtrack. I would do anything to avoid that!

Photos courtesy of Shutterstock. Since writing this John has also written a book, ‘On The Road .. with kids‘ which is well worth a read. Buy it here.

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