Napo River Adventure

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March 6th 2014
Published: March 6th 2014
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This is a map we found on a blog and how we got the crazy idea to go this route.
April 19th - 22nd 2013

We got up at 6 am and started getting ready to head out. We quickly realized that we did not know where our boat ticket was. We searched and searched and neither of us could even remember who had the ticket. Finally we gave up, went and got breakfast and then headed to the boat. Surprisingly they didn't seem to care that we didn't have it. We were the only gringos on the boat so I think it was probably impossible to forget selling us tickets.

The boat was crowded, I didn't count but I would estimate about 60 people. It was a very long, narrow covered boat. The benches that lined the sides of the boats were full, They told us to head to the back where there were plastic lawn chairs. We didn't have much room and although I was glad for the seats I could see that it would be easier to fall asleep on the bench seats. There were lots of military guys on the boat and I felt like everyone was staring at me. No surprise, this isn't a place where they see a lot of gringos.

The view was pretty but the same the whole 10 hours, it was painfully long and even worse was that they only stopped once for us to use the facilities. I had to pee so bad I thought my bladder was going to explode and I had less than a glass of liquid at breakfast. When we stopped we got lunch and I had a bit of juice and almost no water during the rest of the trip. I couldn't believe no one else had to pee, why was it only me!?

When we arrived in Rocafuerte a guy asked us where we were going and he took us to a nice hotel. I was shocked to find it had air-conditioning and a little flat screen TV and a new toilet. We checked in and after some checking found that our next boat which is only a short ride and will take us into Peru will be more expensive than we had hoped. Expensive gas in this remote place and crossing international waters being the culprit. Raul who hooked us up with the hotel arranges the deal and introduces us to our captain who is missing about half his face literally. I can't understand him but that is who Raul has so I guess we are going with it. I feel a little uneasy about it but this it what comes when you do things the cheap way. It is Friday night and I mention to Dan that I hope our Captain doesn't drink tonight, I can just picture him showing up drunk in the morning.

Before dinner we were sitting in our hotel room and all of the sudden it started pouring down rain. With a tin roof it sounds even louder of course but it really was a torrential downpour. After 20 minutes or so I looked out and could see standing water and a small river pouring out of the gutters. Soon after the power went off. Both of us on our tablets and didn't move, the power outage didn't disrupt us at all. It came back on after 15 minutes or so. We headed out to dinner in the rain and got pretty soaked. Standing water on the sidewalks as well. The place we had pre-ordered dinner was a little hut so it was leaking, I wiped off a chair and sat down. Dinner for me was rice, chicken, pasta salad which I enjoyed as well as yuka and beats which I do not care for. The "juice" mostly tasted like water. During dinner we saw 3 different kinds of geckos. I was surprised to see a very dark brown one, it was nearly black. We hadn't seen one that color on our trip yet. It is funny that we always notice them at dinner. It was still coming down hard on our walk back to the hotel, I was about to go up the steps towards our room and I let out a little shriek at the sight of some very foreign bug. It was white with brown speckles, probably about 3 or 4 inches long. It had large wings which covered most of it's body. The head is what was really fascinating, it looked just like a crocodiles head! I went to get the camera and of course within two seconds of me leaving it flew away. I will have to Google this bug when I have internet, absolutely incredible!

The next morning we had peanut butter and jelly sandwiches and a can of peaches for breakfast. We met Raul at 7:30 in the morning in front of our hotel. He took us to get water for our longer boat ride, he said it was cheaper here than the next town so we bought a couple gallons. The water on the ship would be from the river and not drinkable or good to sterilize. We were told there was a boat leaving Pantoja today for Iquitos, we were quite happy to be able to leave so soon. Raul also informed us that the guy who was supposed to take us to Pantoja was arrested the previous night. I asked if it was because of drinking and he said yes, he ran up a large tab he couldn't pay. I must admit I was happy he would not be the person taking us. We got our exit stamps, registered with port authority which also made me feel good that they knew where we were going, getting on a boat with a couple locals makes you feel a little vulnerable, they could really do anything to you.

Finally we leave, we slow down past a guy with a machine gun and our captain gives him the information he needs. A little further the captain asks us if we want to see dolphins and we say yeah! He shuts off the motor and we drift and sure enough we see a few dolphins pop their heads out of the river and make noises. It was so cool! I had heard of the river dolphins but hadn't actually seen them yet! We thanked the captain and were our way. We pass another guy with a machine gun and the captain gives him the same information. We pull up to a military base and see the boat we are to take to Iquitos. It is a real rust bucket and full of military people, it looks a bit scary to me and I only see one other woman on the whole ship. I'm thinking about how much it's going to stink and how we are going to have to watch our stuff all the time and how I hope the guys don't try anything. It's never a good thing when there are so many men and so few woman.

Almost instantly the boat leaves, we are trying to get their attention so they can wait for us but the boat just leaves. We have to go further down to Pantoja and go thru immigration to get our stamp to enter Peru. One of the military guys tells us that we can hire a boat to catch the one we just missed after we go thru immigration or go on a faster boat tomorrow. We opt for the faster boat which will only put us on the boat one night rather than 4 nights. Plus I hope very much that the next boat is better and not full of military guys.

We have no problems at immigration. We then set out to find a hostel, there is one, a guy who seems to be drunk (mind you it's before 10 am at this point) is trying to help us but clearly doesn't know what he is doing. Finally a guy shows up and leads me to a very basic room. It has a cracked concrete floor, a terrible bed with even worse pillows. There are dead insects on the bed, slats missing in the shutters on the window, a shower with no shower curtain and no lip to prevent water from going all over the floor. I ask the man how much, it's $8 US for the room. We will take it I say. After all, it is the only place to stay in this tiny town. I walk back to the lobby where Dan is guarding our luggage & playing guitar. The drunk guy is dancing and pretending to sing along to Hotel California, he sounds like a wounded dog. I find the guy very creepy and later tell Dan to please not leave me alone in this place.

After putting our things in our room we go outside and Dan plays some more, the locals are enjoying the music and I am happy there are more people around than the creepy drunk guy. We talk for quite a while with them. I almost feel like we are celebrities. There are other locals listening across the way but seemingly too shy to come over. We go look for lunch which is essentially at someone's house. Chicken, rice and fried plantains are what we get. It comes time to pay and the guy doesn't have change for the 50 sole bill that we have. It is all we got when we exchanged money. He tells us to go find change and come back. Wow, first time someone has trusted us like this. To be fair it's a tiny town, where are we going to go? Steal a boat to escape a $5 bill!? We go to the store and buy a couple drinks and get change, go back and pay. The locals are all pretty friendly. We still haven't been able to figure out what time our boat leaves but we meet another guy who seems to be taking the same boat. We are on jungle time so who knows.

After a nap we go out and Dan plays some more guitar, the locals seem to be enjoying the music again. I make a new friend, an 8 year old girl. She is sweet and beautiful. I often see girls I think could be models so easily, so many little villages with undiscovered beauty. Eventually we go get dinner with a drunk guy who we can't seem to shake. The little girl who is now holding my hand tells me he is drunk and essentially full of crap which I already know. What can we do though, tell him to buzz off? Likely not a good idea. They are only serving fish for dinner which I don't like so Dan eats then we tell the drunk guy we are tried and go hide in our hotel room. I eat Ritz crackers for dinner. Not many options in this town.

Finally we find the captain of the boat and he tells us the price is $120 per person US! Holy cow! The last boat was $37 per person. We are completely taken aback, we don't even have that much cash on us. We talk to a guy from the military base who says he thinks the next boat is in a week. I don't even know what we will do in this town for a week let alone how much money we will spend in a week. It's cheap here but what if a boat doesn't come for two weeks. The military guy says he will find out if they will take less but we never hear back from him. We decide to get up at 5:30 the next morning and see if there is some way to get on this boat.

The alarm goes off and Dan heads out the door to talk to the captain meanwhile I start packing in case they say we can get on the boat. The power is out and it's just getting light out so it's hard to see in the room. I put my head lamp on and as I gather my shoes up I see there is a huge spider near them. I recoil back from it and after a moment I grab my bag of shoes but the spider darts off so quickly it scares me again. The thing is probably nearly 4 inches long. It's in the bathroom now, I have to keep going but oh the horror of such a thing in our room. I look at our bed imagining what may have crawled on us during the night.

The captain tells us we can pay them when we get to Iquitos to an ATM. I am not at all happy about paying $120, the whole reason for doing it this way was to save money but I think this is our best option considering our money situation.

"Slave Ship""Slave Ship""Slave Ship"

This is quite similar to the boat we were trying to catch in Pantoja.

There are two other Americans, Zach and Cesar on the boat, two Australians, Dan & Dee, a German woman name Burtha and a few locals. We are happy to see other tourists, it makes me feel a little safer. The boat serves meals for a fee. It is another long day on the river. This boat is like the one we took from Coca to Rocafuerte but bigger and faster. It rains on and off and we put tarps town the side to keep out the rain but it's hard for the captain to see when we do this. At one point it is just white, you can't see anything really. Thankfully it doesn't last long.

That night we arrive in Santa Clautilda which is where we will port for the night. We have to register with the police for some unknown reason. After that everyone goes for a beer, they only have beer so I don't drink. Then we head back to the boat and hang our hammocks and eat dinner. There isn't much space now with the hammocks hung and people sleeping on the floor. It's pretty hard to get comfy in the hammock
Tuk TukTuk TukTuk Tuk

Our ride across the little stretch of land to the next boat.
but eventually I fall asleep. Amazingly I don't get one mosquito bite during the night even though I don't have a net. Dan couldn't sleep in the hammock so he moves to the narrow benches lining the sides of the boat. At about 5:30 am the sun is starting to come up and the locals start talking and get up. I'm a little miffed as I am tired and I know the boat likely wont leave until 7 am so why shouldn't we sleep longer. It's no use though, even the gringos get up and I can't seep any longer. I'm feeling pretty stinky, it is extremely humid here, you just feel sticky and I am hoping very much that there is a hot shower wherever we check in tonight.

This morning when I pour a bucket of water in the toilet to flush I hear the water go into the river. Alarmed I come back to where Dan is sitting and say I think the toilet water is going into the river. It is; he replies. Eeeeewwww, how can they just let our waste go into the river. I am so appalled but I shouldn't expect more from this part of the world where trash is thrown out the window as if there is nothing wrong with it.

A little after lunchtime we arrive in Masan, there is another one of those crowded rust bucket ships. Oh my, how thankful I am that we didn't travel on one of those ships. I hear one of the other passengers on our boat comment that it looks like a slave ship. The Americans are discussing how it's cheaper up front but who knows what the medical costs would be associated with the diseases you could pick up on a ship like that. There is a huge cow on the boat and it's feces are all over. I was not happy about the $120 we spent for our boat but oh how much better it is than these things.

The port looks a bit dingy and is crowded. I stop on the bridge and tell Dan to go ahead, that I want to take a photo. He stops and says he doesn't like the look of this place and wants to stay close to me. How sweet =) We all follow each other to tuk tuks and ride on a narrow old concrete road full of holes, it's feels as if we are going to go off the road at times. We then pull up to the river and get out to see a little old boat that will take us to Iquitos. Are feet are going to get wet, one of the American's says he doesn't want his shoes to get wet. I advise him to take his shoes off. In this humidity if he gets them wet, who knows when they will dry. Dan and I have our water sandels on so no worries for us. We load our bags on the boat and hear our driver from the previous boat arguing over the price. This leg of the journey is included in our $120 and the guy is charging extra for all the bags we have. It's stupid really that they are arguing, with the money they charged us on the main boat this is nothing, they are still making a lot of money.

Finally we all get in the boat, there is plastic down one side and the other side is open. I feel like it's a death trap and hope that they don't put the plastic down on the other side. The skies are dark and it's thundering, if the boat flips we will all drowned in this crowded little boat. Thankfully they do not put the other side down so I do not panic. We do however stop to get gas. The place sells cheese too and the gringos are making jokes about the place selling cheese and gas only, how strange. They take quite a while here and we are all annoyed and I think a little uneasy on this particular boat. Finally we leave; as we get closer to the city we hit a log and the lady next to me screams, ha ha. Amazing how jumpy the locals are and not a comfort whatsoever.

Much to my relief we arrive in Iquitos. As we walk on the docks I see so much trash in the water, it's a sad sight. I hear Zach comment that everything within 100 yards it rotting. I look around and he is right, not a pretty sight. We get to the street level and disperse. Dan and I have to find an ATM to pay the captain. Dan has problems with the ATM. He goes to find an internet cafe to check his bank account, all the while I am stressed since I still don't have a pin for my new ATM card, I can't get money out. He can't get his online banking to work so he has to call his bank in Spokane and have them transfer money so he can make a withdrawal. Finally he comes back and we pay the captain. What an ordeal!

We go to a hostel we read about in our guidebook. The room is ok, price is right. No hot shower which I am bummed about but pretty much expected. Dan and I each get mosquito bites during our shower; another reminder that we are in the Amazon. I am just really happy to be able to wash my hands in clean water with soap. After getting cleaned up we go look for a pizza place we read about, I am really excited to eat something other than rice and chicken. Turns out the restaurant is right next door to us but doesn't open until 6 so we go somewhere else and split a sandwich. I am feeling a little lightheaded so we come back and take a nice long nap.

Now the pizza place is open, they have a brick oven. We order a pizza and some sangria, both are tasty and a welcome change from water and rice and chicken. We head to the store and pick up stuff to make breakfast. Yay we have a kitchen here and can cook! We meet a couple of guys in the lobby, one if from Coeur d' Alene! We are both excited to meet someone from so close to home. this guy by the sound of his stories was born in the early 50's. He has been traveling for years and has some good stories. The guy he is with is from Belgium and mostly listens but seems nice as well. He has bee in Peru for 6 months and is going to Spain in a couple of months. Meanwhile something is attacking my feet like crazy, time to put some more bug spray on. Pretty sure i'm gonna get cancer from all this deet.

The internet doesn't work here, bummed I can't email my Mom. I figure she may be anxious to hear from me since we have been on a boat and in the jungle for a while. It's past 11 now so I'll have to find a internet place tomorrow. Dan gets out his guitar and one of the locals wants to play. Turns out he is pretty good, he plays some guns n roses for us and some blues. An Alice Cooper song in Spanish too, I love hearing the locals sing in Spanish while playing guitar.

I come back to the room and see that Dan's backpack which is on the bed has quite a few ants on it, there is no food in the bag so I'm not sure why but the bed now has ants. Uuuggg, it was my idea to come to the Amazon but so many bugs and bites! At lunch we overhead a gringo talking about a friend of hers who was just hospitalized for a bad spider bite and that he had to have surgery. That really makes you feel good let me tell you. It is one thing to suck it up and deal with the bugs and another entirely to have to have surgery because of a bug bite!


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