Not just a question of back and right
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; corbanblair.com.au. Send your contribution to: firstname.lastname@example.org.