Iquitos, Peru - the wild west

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South America » Peru » Loreto » Iquitos » Amazon Rainforest
September 6th 2006
Published: September 28th 2006EDIT THIS ENTRY

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Hey what´s new, I am way behind on my travelblogs -

As always I hope you and yours are doing well.

For the few of you who read them, sorry. I guess I will start where I am currently and when I have time make up for the past. Sorry, but this is a long one. Just in case any of you are reading this with your kids - don´t let them read this. Currently I am in iquitos, Peru - in the jungle. This is a big city, about 400k in the Amazon, it is a river town where barges and ferry's ply the waters delivering and picking up people and goods. I even arrived here on a boat. (If you want to see pictures of the boat ride, iquitos or of a short trip to a native village and boa farm, also there will be some pictures from the raft race (read on) click here)
It took two days to go from yurimaugus to iquitos, stopping along the way to pick up cargo - mostly bananas and other food products at the villages along the way. Iquitos is noisy with thousands of moto-taxis (tuktuks) that have had part of their mufflers removed (the drivers think they will get better gas millage). There is oil near here so the oil companies are here exploiting the lands and people. Also the US military and DEA are here even though i´m sure we would deny it. I have come to discover that Iquitos is the wild west. There are some bad things that exist here like in any other developing countries. But before i tell you about them, i want to say that the people are friendly and smiling. Yes there are the usual thieves and scam artists that thrive on tourists but there is very little violent crime (sorry to say that my friend Karen told me that she had her bag stolen when she visited here a few months ago. But i am sure as a good Canadian she had another beer and took i in stride). The people here have a special charm about them.

There are a lot of westerners here, some were here with the military and oil companies and they came back to live. Others are like the end of the roaders in Alaska - those that go to the end of the road to escape from whatever haunts them. Others come here for the Natural healing medicines and others to try hayawashka (SP). there are stories of cancer being cured and other diseases being cured through various plants in the jungle and i would tend to believe them. Some of the medicines we use today came from plants in the jungle . But the majority come here to take jungle trips. From Iquitos you can take boats to Colombia and Brazil.

The weather here varies from hot and humid and just when it gets really hot there is a thunderstorm and the jungle cools down ( i think it is hotter in Miami in the summer than here though - but there you can go from an air conditioned car to an air conditioned house). the is more oxygen in the air here, you can smell and feel the difference (at least i think you can).

There is an area here called belen, or the Venice of Peru. Many of the houses are on balsam logs so when the river rises they float. It is a poor area, but it has a special charm. The people are friendly and the kids are super friendly and love to have their pictures taken. If i was a good photographer I could put together a great exhibit of fotos on just the kids or the boats and canoes or the houses with all their bright colors. (click here to see fotos of belen - i will be adding many more in the weeks to come)

As i said this is a poor area, many of the bathrooms are outhouse that sit over the river and yes they bathe and wash their clothes and dishes and i would imagine get their drinking water from the same area. .... well you get my drift (no pun intended).

OK, bouncing around as usual here is the latest going ons in iquitos. Thursday I left to do a three day 150 kilometers (or was it a 130 mile) balsam raft race down the Amazon. I had no idea what i was getting into. We would be paddling one day to a town and then spend the night there, the next day we would paddle to another town, spend the night and on the third day paddle to Iquitos. How hard could that be? After all I used to be a rafting guide in the desert. All I had to do was paddle for 6-9 hours a day, nothing else. besides i had sat on my bed in my hotel a couple of days ´practicing paddling´ with my paddle, so I was ready.

Well the race kind of kicked my ass. I didn't know the other members on my team. I took a bus from iquitos to nauta (where the race was started from) with some other competitors. there was a boat going to nauta with other competitors and we would all meet up there and we would be sleeping and eating on this boat. There were 6 foreign teams and i think about 15 Peruvian teams. One of the gringo teams was of ´older´ men (one in his 70s) 2 from Canada and 2 from the US, they did a hell of a good job and they were only about 15 minutes or less behind us the first day. The Peruvian teams were racing for money and we were racing for a trip to a jungle lodge. when we got there our rafts were already made and they looked like tanks compared to the Peruvians rafts. My team consisted of me, karina from the UK, Adam from the US and Anna from Russia. The first day of the race, it took us 7 hours to go about 38Ks. Anna wasn´t feeling good due to the heat and still we managed to come in first place that day. The winning Peruvian team came in under 4 hours. these guys are machines, they didn't even take food or water with them, and the first day the difference in time for the first and second place Peruvian teams was only one second, after 4 hours of paddling!!!!!.

All the gringos were suffering from dehydration and we had a town of water and food with us. The humidity was a killer. On the first day one of the teams was about two hours behind us and they got caught in a bad thunderstorm. The storm came up quickly and the team was not able to get to the shore before it hit and they had to ride it out on the river in zero visibility. The peruvian coast guard went out and rescued them. On the second day the coast guard didn't have enough gas to drive around checking on the teams so they hitched rides on the bank side of barges going up and down the river telling everyone how they rescued the gringos the day before. I didn't go there to win but i knew in order to win we would have to have a raft like the Peruvian teams. so i bought a raft off a team that was changing rafts. it cost less than $7 dollars. well the second day Anna was sick due to the heat and wasn't able to paddle. we picked up a Peruvian woman who was on a women's team that dropped out. With her on our team we should win with no problems. By the rules we were disqualified, but we figured everyone would let us have the prize if we won. Well the next morning there were only 5 gringo teams and three of them had picked up rafts from Peruvian teams that dropped off. We were supposed to go about 60 kilometers the second day but nobody knew for sure. We took off and after a few hours we were about 15 minutes behind the leaders. We were having problems with the raft, it turned too easily which meant we only had three paddles in the water most of the time. I kept stopping to try to change things to make the raft go straight. The problem was basically due to the weight distribution. Well after four hours the leaders were probably a half hour ahead of us. There was a boat that was following us ... (this wasn't the boat i was sleeping on which was, well we are in Peru, it wasn't very nice at all and we were all crammed on there to sleep at night). They told us we had only gone 11K (in 4.5 hours) and we had maybe 50K more to go. We were a bit tired and frustrated and they said we should get a tow because all the rafts (except the Peruvians) would need a tow. This would definitely disqualify us, but if everyone needed a tow they would be disqualified too.

We decided why paddle until dark just to be DQd so we took a tow as well as another team and had a realizing ride to the next city we would be staying at. The boat that towed was a beautiful boat called dawn on the amazon !!. Bill Grimes, the owner is an expat from the US and he does a great job with this boat and the crew, it is 1st class all the way! Compared to the one i was sleeping on this was heaven (i was lucky enough to eat breakfast on the Dawn on the Amazon and i have to be honest, they were the best breakfast's I have had since I left the US). It was a great boat, we had a few beers and sat on the top deck watching the pink dolphins. IF anyone is looking for a great way to travel the amazon check out bills´ website, (Dawn on the Amazon)

Well what happened was that we must have been a lot closer to finishing then they said and we would have got in about 2 hours before dark. So now we were screwed. That night, we made modifications to the boat which helped it go straight and the third day we came in second. Keep in mind that the amazon can be two kilometers wide if you make one or two mistakes it will cost you a lot of time. We were on the wrong side of the river at the end and had to cross over what seemed liked a huge lake. We were all pretty tired after paddling for 6 hours in the heat (luckily it was cloudy most of the day) and then the fun started. To finish, we had to paddle up another river for maybe 200 yards. Well it felt like it took us a half hour to do it, at times everyone was paddling their asses off and we went nowhere. We had to grab on boats tied up onshore just to pull ourselves along. I don't think I had some many F words come out of my mouth quite like that. Anyway when my muscles feel better and all the blisters are gone i will think it was a good experience (seriously, it was fun) and if anyone wants a good idea for a new reality TV show, I have an idea for you. Hopefully i will have some fotos of the race uploaded some day. oh, there was a nice party for us and a awards ceremony. at the end there were about 18 peruvians that were going back to Nauta but they didn't have bus fare to go home so some of the gringos chipped in $3 each and Mad Mick the guy running the race paid the rest.

Additional photos below
Photos: 51, Displayed: 30


belen 10belen 10
belen 10

nice kitty

young girl making cigaretes

28th September 2006

shooting from the hip
great photos dave, how cool was your raft race?We know how fit and muscley you are so it must have been tough! We did notice most of your photos were of young girls??? We are having a great time in mexico. cheers
29th September 2006

what great experience
I love the pictures and you really know how to show through your lenses the thuth Peruvians.. rose
30th September 2006

your satories and pictures are wonderful the children are adorable your doing a dream that most will nevwe experience good for you enjoy be safe keep all this news a comin its great
1st October 2006

fotos (photos)
great pictures, i can see that it is easier to take the kids photos than the adults. Looking forward to more blogs, keep up the great journalism!
3rd October 2006

Great to hear from you Dave! Looks as if life has truly laid its hands on you in a great way. Love to reading and traveling with you. Look forward to the next entry!
6th February 2008

luggage and going to the bathroom
I am planning to do this race for the first time with my team mates The Dragon Healers(a dragon team in San Francisco California. We may have a raft with 4 women on the two teams. What do we do with our luggage, we plan on staying to do tourist stuff after the race. How do women go to the bathroom on the raft? We need to know. kathy

Tot: 0.313s; Tpl: 0.013s; cc: 15; qc: 79; dbt: 0.0927s; 1; m:jupiter w:www (; sld: 2; ; mem: 1.7mb