Floating Thoughts: the Boat Trip to Iquitos
Lying in my hammock, I look at two kids swinging in theirs. He’s just a toddler and is wearing a funny overall; his older sister’s long black pony tails are moving following the rhythm of the song she’s singing. They’re playing and laughing: they’re full of life.
External spectator to their young lives, I go back focusing on mine. On how wonderful this feeling of freedom is, of being able to go wherever I want.
It reminds me of the promise I made you, my friend, the day after your life was ended forever. In a letter I then gave to your mom, I promised I would live and travel for you as well.
A few months later, I took the decision of leaving everything behind and choosing a life of traveling.
Most call me brave, many call me mad. Someone says I’m running away. But if I have to choose between living as if I was going to live forever, or living as if I was going to die tomorrow, I’ll definitely choose the latter. So here I am, in this white and blue cargo boat on the way back to Yurimaguas.
The Eduardo VIII read: Salida a Iquitos hoy, 5.30 PM. It was a Sunday; the lancha left on Tuesday at 9 AM.
If there is one quality I have always lacked of, is patience. Peru, though, is being a great teacher, strict and unforgiving: I’m so getting used to waiting that I’m not even annoyed anymore.
After saying goodbye to our friends, Dave and I got ready for the three day journey to Iquitos. It took us only two days (plus the extra overnight) to reach the jungle metropolis, during which we navigated the waters of the Huallaga, Marañón and Amazon rivers passing through isolated villages surrounded by thick jungle.
Scattered around the two floors of the boat, two hundred people are making time swinging in their colorful hammocks.
The only distractions during the long and monotonous river journey was the triple ring of the kitchen bell announcing breakfast (6 AM), lunch (11ish) and dinner (4.30 PM). When reaching the end of the long queue of people armed with tupperwares and spoons, we were rewarded with a portion of watered-down porridge, rice with chicken and pasta or chicken soup, according to the meal, served by two pretty transsexuals.
The heat of the Amazon made me leave the comfort of my hammock and always look for a fresher spot on the deck or the upper floor, where I’d soon be surrounded by a bunch of children looking at me and my books with curiosity.
The hours went by, sitting on the rooftop watching the sky turn red and then black with hundreds of shining stars. At night, the brown waves made by the boat looked like sand in a desert when enlightened by the captain’s torch.
Reaching Iquitos, it felt like a whole chapter was over. We departed from the group of school teachers from Chachapoyas that supplied me with fruit all over the journey, and the two little brothers, Julio (9) and Antonio (7) with whom I spent hours playing guessing games and exploring my map of Peru.
A mototaxi took us from the port to Hobo Hideout, which we soon left to explore the city. We moved slowly in the suffocating heat and cooled with a delicious helado de aguaje (or two).
Walking alongside the malecón through the beautiful mansions of the rubber barons decorated with azulejos imported by Portugal, we reached the shantytown of Belén.
Visiting this neighborhood and its market was, together with the boat trip, the main reason for me to come this far.
Hundreds of huts built on raft rise with the river during the rainy season, while they sit on the river bed during the low water months.
We walked like acrobats on the unstable wooden bars, fascinated by this colorful but poor neighborhood. Later that night, we met with the other gringos from the boat for dinner and beers.
Dave left early at 4 AM to catch his rápido to Leticia, Colombia. I met the German girls early and set off to explore the Belén market, searching for the caiman meat I was so looking forward to try.
Wandering among stalls selling turtles, armadillos and suri, I finally got to taste one of the best meats I have ever had. Next in my to-eat list are still turtle, monkey and snake.
We rented a peque peque to take us around the river to exploring the floating part of the market. Everyone told us not to adventure there, talking about river pirates assaulting tourists. Begrudgingly, I decided it was not worth risking getting my camera stolen, and we limited our visit to the flooded part of the neighborhood.
Not long after, I noticed the cover of a newspaper reading: Tourists assaulted by pirates. It had happened the day before.
After moving my backpack to a cheaper hostel with Maria from Greece, the two of us walked the 4 km to the port to check on the next boats back to Yurimaguas.
We found another shantytown next to Puerto Masusa, where the water had not yet risen and rubbish was stored under more huts built on rafts. Volleyball nets where stretching from one side to the other of the road, and kids of all ages were playing.
The Eduardo X was ready to go. Wiser after my experience with the Eduardo VIII, I decided not to risk waiting three more days. I hurried back to the hostel, got my money back, took my still packed backpack and drove back to the port.
I spent most of my time reading my book and planning for my next weeks of traveling. Once more I was surrounded by children at all times, and the trip went smooth while chatting with locals always curious about my stories.
TRAVEL TIPS AND COSTS:
- Accommodation in Yurimaguas: El Yacuruna (loved it): 20 S with breakfast in dorm or double room
- Food options in Yurimaguas:
- Mercado central, open in the morning
- Mercado El Vado, from 4 PM
- Restaurante Gourmet
- Street vendor one cuadra from the Plaza de Armas
- Boat trip Yurimaguas – Iquitos: 100 S including 3 meals. Bring your own hammock, tupperware, spoon, fruits and water. Watch your valuables when the boat stops at the little villages and locals come on-board selling food and drinks.
- Accommodation Iquitos:
- Hobo Hideout, 25 S per person in dorm or double room, very nice and clean, azulejo-covered shared bathroom
- Carrousel, 10 S per person in a four-people dorm behind a tour operator, a budget choice.
- Food options in Iquitos:
- Belén market, (fav.) caiman meat served with yuca 5 S
- Central market, menus from 4 S
- La Casa de Miguelito for typical jungle food: I was looking for turtle soup and was suggested this place, but I had no time to try it.