Not just a ques­tion of back and right

The Weekend Australian - Travel - - Travel & Indulgence - JOHN AH­ERN

I HATE back­track­ing. The mere 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 learn the hard way that I will do any­thing to avoid it.

We are crammed on a bus crawl­ing high into the Ecuado­rian An­des en route to Colom­bia. My ami­gos are ig­nor­ing my on­go­ing rant about back­track­ing as I trawl through guide­books, scrawl­ing notes and join­ing dots on maps. ‘‘There must be an­other way back to Lima,’’ I in­sist. Hours later I present my cir­cu­lar plan.

‘‘You must be kid­ding,’’ they spit at me. ‘‘It’s mad­ness!’’

Then, as though on cue, the bus slides on the nar­row road and sus­pends us mo­men­tar­ily over the moun­tain’s edge. From the rear win­dow we stare thou­sands of feet down at an ele­phants’ grave­yard of bus skele­tons.

Ter­ri­fied, they scream at me, ‘‘OK, OK, we’ll do any­thing. No back­track­ing!’’

My plan is ac­ti­vated. On the first leg, as we travel through jun­gle to­wards Bogota, a bul­let hole-rid­dled body blocks the road. Our bus lurches to a halt and ban­dits charge on, stick­ing guns in our faces, tak­ing our cig­a­rettes and un­der­wear, and leav­ing us gasp­ing.

Dou­bly de­ter­mined not to back­track, days later we creep at dawn into Bogota air­port to meet a man named Car­los. He pushes us up into the hold of an old war­plane. ‘‘Shh! You are stow­aways,’’ he hisses. The plane takes off as we cling to onion sacks to avoid fall­ing into the tail. We later agree never to fly cargo again.

Af­ter days re­cov­er­ing in a jun­gle vil­lage, we em­bark on a river jour­ney to Iquitos. The boat is a leaky box that threat­ens to sink but the cap­tain re­as­sures us by promis­ing free food.

We later dis­cover this is pi­ranha and mon­key.

Our Ama­zon cruise is slow, de­layed nightly as our cap­i­tano trades con­tra­band in whispers over the boat’s side. ‘‘You grin­gos are good cover,’’ he smiles while bran­dish­ing a knife, ‘‘but you tell no­body!’’ We never will.

We even­tu­ally fly back to Lima. We’ve been robbed at gun­point, tra­versed ter­ri­fy­ing roads, seen ex­e­cuted bod­ies, eaten mon­key, stowed away and fronted a smuggling op­er­a­tion. But we have not back­tracked. RANT OR RAVE Send your 400-word con­tri­bu­tion to our Fol­low the Reader col­umn. Pub­lished colum­nists will re­ceive a Cor­ban & Blair Duet travel jour­nal in pink/red and Duet travel wal­let in blue/red (pic­tured; to­tal value $84). The Duet range is made from gen­uine split leather and fea­tures con­trast­ing leather de­tail with a metal but­ton en­clo­sure. More: (02) 9560 0122; cor­ban­ Send your con­tri­bu­tion to: travel@theaus­

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