Published: February 1st 2012February 1st 2012
Once Carlos had heard that we were planning a trip to Iquitos, he immediately told us the best way to get there. Forget all the other things we may have heard – his was easily the best route to follow. He hadn’t actually done it himself, but a friend he sent that way had enjoyed it. Faced with such overwhelming evidence like that, what option did we have.
The plan, as far as your correspondent could work out, was to get to Tarapoto by coach, then take a collective (a little bus) to Yurimaguas followed by a boat to Iquitos. What could be simpler ? Well, we started by asking Carlos which bus to take to Tarapoto. He wasn’t too sure about this and mentioned something about having to get off at a roundabout outside a town and wave down another bus. For some strange reason, W and I decided not to do this, and booked transport to get us to Chiclayo, taking 7 hours. From there we had to get a bus to Tarapoto which thankfully was an overnight bus as it took close to 15 hours. You need to keep track of these times as there will be
Tarapoto is a charming down on the banks of a river that I never managed to get round to learning the name off. Your correspondent spent a delightful few days here, sauntering around the plaza, eating fresh Tilipia fish and playing dominoes in a local bar with W in the middle of a huge electrical storm. I describe it only as a huge storm, as there will be mention of a massive one later.
Our next stage of the journey would take us to Yurimaguas. Our guide books and the interweb had informed us that there were many collectivos (explained earlier – keep up) throughout the day. The main problem we were told was the time keeping of the boat that we were to take from Yuri (is too much trouble to type Yurimaguas ) to Iquitos. You may be told it would leave at 10am on Wednesday, only to find it left the day before or two days later.
The main problem was in fact that there was only one collective that day and it left at 5am!!! We had also found out that the boat (henceforth known as Eduardo VIII) was due to
leave the same day at 5pm. It looked like things would be plain sailing (a deliberate pun due to boat reference). The collective took 3 hours (remember to count) to get to Yuri. We went straight to find the Eduardo VIII.
Yuri doesn’t so much have a dock as a muddy area where boats run ashore to be loaded and unloaded. The boat is about the size of a quarter of a cross channel ferry. Two decks - first for cargo and locals to hang their hammocks in the cheapest area, second was more hammock space and cabins for gringos. Being a couple of taste and status we decided hammocks were not for us and that a cabin was the only option.
To try to envision the size of the cabin, imagine a fridge with two small side shelves that were the beds. Now put two fully grown adults, two big, travelling rucksacks and two day packs in there and the picture is complete. All information was that the boat would leave at 5pm, so as it was only 10am we wandered back in to town for breakfast and beer. This took us up to 1pm, so we
got back to the Eduardo to sort out rucksacks etc… and as soon as we got on, off we sailed!! 4 hours early!!! This does not happen in South America, nothing starts early!! It was just as well that your correspondent stopped his beloved wife ordering her third bottle of rum.
The river trip to Iquitos took 48 hours. We sat on deck drinking beer and rum with new friends Karsten and Estella. Karsten was an unusual sort of person – ie a happy, smiling, laughing German. The first of such a species that we have met on our travels – we put it down to the fact that Estella, his wife, is a completely mad and wonderful Peruvian woman.
Two days were spent watching beautiful scenery slip by and looking on in amazement when the boat would stop at villages along the river and cargo taken on and off with a chaotic efficiency. At each stop, locals would rush on selling fresh fruits and cooked meats that were purchased rapidly by those on board. Food was provided on the boat, but I would question the cook’s definition of food. Your correspondent declined all offers and spent eating
hours scoffing a jar of peanut butter. Healthy eating at it’s best.
You were promised a massive storm and here it comes. Rain of a type you have never seen suddenly drenched the surroundings from pitch black skies as a prelude to thunder and lightning that must have rocked the planet. The boat bounced as the thunder smashed all around it and the whole jungle on either bank was lit up like a summer’s day as sheet lightning sizzled every 10 seconds. Your correspondent quickly looked for the positions of the life rafts and found a total of none. Very reassuring.
To make matters better, the Eduardo has no lights to steer by at night. All the captain has is a searchlight that he would sweep from side to side to watch the currents and depth of the river. I was glad that the lightning would help him see where he was going. This was a big boat made from steel and metal, but we could feel it being thrown about the river. The best step to safety was obviously to drink more beer and rum, which we did to the best of our ability.
day we arrived in Iquitos under blue skies. The docks there were packed and we wondered where the boat was going to park (I know the correct word is dock, but I have already used that in this sentence), but needn’t have worried as the captain just pushed smaller boats out the way to find his preferred place to let us disembark.
Iquitos is not somewhere one would go for a quiet weekend break. It is manic, noisy, chaotic and completely brilliant. Nothing stands still in Iquitos. If it did, it would be taken and sold at Belen Market. The market is described as gnarlous in one guide book, and as I like that word so much I will use it again. The best word to describe the market is gnarlous – if something swims, flies or runs, then you can buy it here.
For your correspondent the most interesting part of the city is Fitzcarraldo’s house. I was never sure how much of a true story the film was, but it was completely true and I was stood in front of the proof.
The main reason for being here was to go on a jungle adventure.
There were several tour operators offering different excursions to the Amazonas, even one who was guaranteeing no mosquitos!!!! Our friends booked a lodge that had wi fi, flat screen televisions, beer and fans in their room.
.An hour and a half car journey took us to a small town called Nauta on the banks of a river. From there it was a two hour trip on a small wooden boat to the lodge in the deepest jungle. A wooden structure on stilts very clean but no electricity or what could be described as comforts. What we did have in our bedroom however was a tarantula who sat on the mosquito net just above our heads, another big black spider that our guide didn’t think was dangerous, a few geckos, lizards and 7,368,142 mosquitos. Sleeping or trying to was an adventure in itself. Every noise was quickly interpreted as a jaguar or anaconda trying to force their way in to our cabin.
Almost straight away, May (our guide, not the month) took us in to the jungle for a trek. He advised the use of insect repellent. Dear readers, you could have a shower in insect
repellent, you could have it surgically spread all over your body from top to toe and the mosquitos will still get you. With May leading us, we headed deeper in following a small trail. The noise was incredible. Everywhere you looked there were fantastically coloured flowers and trees, birds of all sizes and shapes and the inevitable insects. At one point, May turned round and told us to “vamos” as he ran past us. Looking Up I noticed something yellow and black, about three inches long, flying straight to us. A giant wasp. Normally, in situations like this, I usually have a small puppy or kitten as a suitable replacement, but in this case they had seen the wasp and had buggered off!!! You will be pleased to know though, that I survived, and checking a few minutes later, I noticed Wendy had as well.
Other adventures included getting up at 5am to go and watch and hear the birds waking up and start to take flight. Sat on the Amazon, in a small boat, with the sun rising, watching hundreds of different birds starting their day’s business was something amazing. Species that I had never even imagined would
swoop low near us as if to see what was going on. At the same time we were visited by many grey and pink dolphins who being curious, wondered who we were.
A word about the Amazon – huge. It is difficult to get your head around the size of it. Where we were it was only small but still four times wider than the Thames. At it’s peak the Amazon is 30 km wide. Surrounded on all banks by thick, impenetrable jungle, it is truly wild.
May, took us in to part of the impenetrable jungle. He tied up the boat, grabbed a machete and led us to a wall of bamboo and trees. On our previous trek, he had hardly broken sweat, but this time he was sweating as badly as we were. Hacking his way through, he took us deeper and deeper in. Wendy was terrified that he was going to injure himself and we would never get back out. I was more worried by the inch long black ants that started crawling on the branches around us. May was also worried and told us to “vamos” once more. Most people are worried about the
big cats or big snakes in the jungle, but it is the small insects who will cause more concern.
In this part, it was impossible to talk as you would be eating mosquitos. It got to the point that we had trouble seeing each other clearly as we were swarmed by them. In the end it got too much and we had to try and follow the path back to the boat. I managed to do this very easy as I merely followed May.
To put the mosquito situation in perspective. At the end of the second day, Wendy and your correspondent had over 200 bites between them. It is known as the Amazon tattoo!! Of course, W had to go one better. While out fishing (where she caught a cat fish), she had to put her hand on a nest of fire ants. They were not too happy about this, and bit her rather badly. She had to take medicine for the pain and swelling from the bites. Ouch indeed.
With sloths, monkeys, huge frogs, iguanas, caiman, toucans and beautiful sunsets, it has to be said that we had quite an adventure.
There are more photos below