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Published: December 8th 2011
We arrived in Pucallpa in the early evening following a few hours in a taxi from Tingo Maria. This particular stretch of road is one that guidebooks consider to be very dangerous due to hijackings and drug trafficking, they do not write about the stunning beauty of the journey which made for a pleasant surprise as we journeyed alongside a river into which fell many beautiful waterfalls.
On arrival in Pucallpa we wandered about to find a hostel, checked in and left in search for the market and some food. Tansy went to sleep early whilst myself and Ryan stayed up with a few beers watching the Peep Show. I figured Ryan would appreciate the disturbing humour, and he did
I had travelled from Trujillo through Lima and Tingo Maria to Pucallpa for one reason, to find and take a cargo ship to Iquitos. For that reason we headed to one of the many ports in a moto-taxi.
The jungle ports of Peru are not exactly of European standard, but to be fair they do have to exist in challenging conditions. The seasonal rising and falling river levels due to the rainforest environment means that the location of
the ports varies due to the time of year. They should be better though. We entered the first we visited through a small metal gate which opened up to a dirty muddy courtyard. There was no paving here, the trucks delivering goods to the boats were driven through the mud and men transferring huge loads of cargo from the shore uncomfortable, tense feeling in the air about being in this strange place, I followed him with the others behind me. We were here to find and take a cargo ship and to do so, clearly we needed to look at some and we needed to put some faith in the situation.
Climbing over cargo we made our way into the boat, which was appeared to be much smaller compared to others around us. The passenger deck was very small and we figured it would probably house 20 people at the most. It was good to see the boat, but we decided not to take the first boat that we'd seen, especially since it leaving in an hour and so we would have no opportunity to check out others.
We headed to another port and found a boat belonging
to the only company that any of us had heard of before, a Henry boat. We boarded the boat which was far bigger than the last an advertised a 200 passenger capacity and were given a quick tour of the passenger deck, where a few people had set up their hammocks already. In the centre of the deck were two long and crudely constructed tables which were attached firmly to the cold metal floor. Round the back end of the deck were two small compartments; one was a kitchen where the food for everyone on the boat was to be prepared and next to it a roll cover which was hiding a small shop. Behind these were the bathrooms which each contained a toilet with no seat, no bin for paper (in SA paper is never flushed) and with a shower head hanging from the ceiling in a position so that shower whilst having a bowel movement.
The next level up should have been for passengers as well, but the boat was carrying far more cargo than normal and so all that was visible inside was endless glass bottles, fridges and furniture. On this level there were also some
cabins, small rooms containing a pair of bunk-beds with old foam mattresses and a private bathroom which whilst fairly filthy, was a definite step up from those downstairs.
The top deck was home to more fridges, freezers, furniture and huge amounts of unidentifiable products too. At the front of the top was a small cleared section surrounding the captains deck. From here we were granted impressive views of the chaos that defined the port. Boats lined the river of all shapes and sizes; there was another Henry boat a little further down amongst them, although it was vacant as all the cargo was being loaded onto ours. The muddy slope down to the boat was covered with a broad scattering of containers, crates and trucks, the contents of which being transferred by scores of workers carrying vast weights on their backs with straps around the top of their heads for support. To the side of bank was a large number of huge logs, cutting machinery and cranes. These trees looked far older than the town itself, they were tremendous . I can't imagine the work is sustainable, which if not, is a tragedy.
The day we were checking
out the boats was a Saturday and we were informed that no boats left on Sunday, the Henry was to be leaving at 10am on Monday. We had read that it was important to choose a decent hammock spot the day before departure the boat was to leave as the boats get crowded very quickly and it is good not to be near the front where the noise and heat of the engine makes the journey far less survivable. All of this meant that we had one night before we had to get on the boat and so we decided that we would go to Yarinacocha for a night, a lake a few kilometres outside of the town.
Lonely Planet failed again here, I realise that it must be hard to cover countries in their entirety, but surely some research into more locations is far more useful than providing a list of 5* Hilton and Marriott hotels in every big city around the world. Information like that can surely only be useless, people who stay in such places will surely have either booked their hotel from home or had a secretary do it for them. There was a single
listing for Yarinacocha, a hostel in the noisy and chaotic little port which was far outside of an average backpackers budget. I cannot imagine any traveller coming to this remote Peruvian location and wanting to stay in the midst of the noise. We spoke to a tout and with an ounce of hesitation we jumped in his boat and were motored away from the madness across the lake and out of view. We hopped out and made our way up a boardwalk, through a layer of trees to Casa del Ucalayi where we checked into a decent hut for less than $8 each a night.
The friendly owner showed us around his land which had a bar, a pool and a mini zoo split into two sections. The first part consisted of some larger cages which were overcrowded with turtles, anacondas and other larger animals. The second part sat on the edge of our wooden hut and was a series of small cages housing animals which require far more space than they were given. Amongst the animals here was some kind of large rodent, a toucan, budgies and two squirrels. Outside of cage was a green parrot that I
am happy to say spoke less Spanish than me, two happy bouncy young dogs and a tiny cheeky little monkey.
We left the room and went for a walk along the 'island' for a couple of hours. On the way we encountered many small settlings and tiny scatterings of house; considering we were only a few kilometres away from Pucallpa, this rural beauty of Yarinacocha was a great surprise. Every person we encountered on our walk wished us well and granted us large friendly smiles. Everyone we encountered seemed to be happy to see some foreign tourists in the area. The only gringo we encountered was a Swiss man who owned a more expensive set of villas further down the lagoon.
After a while of walking through this peaceful place the sun became too much and we decided to turn around. En-route one of the elderly gentlemen we'd previously encountered ran out to greet us with some small animals carved from wood. He was very happy to receive some money from Ryan and Tansy in exchange for them, I imagine every bit of money that enters these villages through tourism is a good boost to the economy.
Back at the hostel we ordered some beers - this night was our holiday, our freedom before being confined to a ship for an estimated 5 days, 4 on the river and 1 in port. We enjoyed the beers with great entertainment from the little monkey, that was smaller than my hand, that was both incredibly cheeky and rebellious. It enjoyed a good battle with the two hostel dogs as he jumped at their legs until they finally responded when he would run, jump and climb away as fast as possible. Most of the time he escaped freely, but on occasion one of the dogs would catch him underneath a paw, squashing him a little, in a playful non-violent manner. Whenever the mono was caught, he would let out some truly pitiful squeaking sounds before being released to retreat, recover and plan another attack.
We ordered food; grilled chicken and fried plateneux for me (that's a special type of banana for cooking), and sat talking with the owners of the property who seemed to be going out of their way to ensure we were enjoying our time in Yarinacocha. It was a wonderfully pleasant afternoon and we had even
more entertainment as we waiting for our food to arrive, watching the monkey befriend Tansy's hat and turn it into a new home. The entertainment level shot up to another level when the food arrived and suddenly the mono was no longer interested in the hat. Big laughs were hat as the single minded monkey climbed up each support of the canopy above our food in turn, launching himself through the air and landing with a soft plop next to someone’s plate before being chased away. Eventually we gave him a little carrot and he left us alone for a short while before discovering an empty beer bottle.
The monkey is definitely heading towards alcoholism, it was completely enthralled by the bottle, climbing atop it and reaching inside in a desperate hope at clawing some of the residue inside. Before long, the owner took a small glass and put a tiny amount of beer in a glass, placing it on the surround of our bungalow. First the little monkey climbed up, leaning over the rim of the glass, dipping in his hand before pulling it back to taste the beer. It couldn't get enough fast enough and so increased
efforts like a Geordie after a dry week. Climbing up the glass the mono leant further over the rim and stuck his legs firmly against the wall so he could lower himself in and drink straight into his mouth. He was enjoying this until the glass tipped over, spilling the monkey onto the ground. Further laughs were had when the owner got the parrot down from its perch and placed it on Ryan's shoulder whereupon it decided to chew on his ear and strangely, his tongue until the bird was passed to Tansy and eventually to me. It was a fantastic relaxed day in a superb and beautiful location and I was a little sad when the night drew in, realising that our time in Yarinacocha would be far too brief.
In the morning we ate breakfast, battling the monkey once again. Some sellers had heard tourists were in the area and the pair of women laid out their many beautiful hand woven sheets for us to inspect them. I hand washed some clothes, laying them out under a fiery sun until the early afternoon when in a matter of seconds a ceiling of clouds floated in from nowhere,
as I napped in a hammock, exploding over us and re soaking them.
The rain was brief and so our route off the island was not affected, though my clothes were going to suffer over the next few days as a result, becoming more and more wretched and stinking. We said goodbye to our new friends at Casa del Ucayali and were taken by boat back to the port, where our boatman kindly ensured that we paid the correct fee for a moto-taxi back into town and to the Henry port.
The story of the journey up the river to Iquitos is something I will write about in my next post - it deserves it alone for the length of time it took. For now I would simply like to end by saying that whilst Pucallpa is hardly an attractive town, the people were superb and Yarinachocha lake was beautiful, peaceful and inexpensive. If I were to think selfishly, I'd hope that it remains barely acknowledged by guide books - it's a beautiful thing to find a place that you fall in love with without knowing anything about it first. Whilst not thinking selfishly, I hope that guidebooks do change their wording for future additions, the people we encountered around the lake we wonderful, happy people who seemed to really appreciate the custom we brought them to supplement their beautiful peaceful lives.
Yarinacocha, I am a fan.
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