Taking the boat from Pucallpa to Iquitos!

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August 24th 2013
Published: September 3rd 2013
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Started this in Banyos, Ecuador;

Currently (sept. 3rd on Isabella Island in the Galapagos!)


We just arrived yesterday in Banyos after the 7 - 8 hour bus journey from Cuenca along the spine of the country. We had a great view of Chimborazo, described in the book as a 'hulking giant topped by a massive glacier'! It is Ecuador's tallest mountain at 6310 meters.

While we were in Huancayo, which was the destination of our train journey that was described in a previous blog, we bought a cheapo cell phone for about 50 soles ($18) & then put another 50 soles down on the chip so we could call hotels in advance and even possibly call Stateside sometimes...but we were never able to get it to work internationally! So, when we got to Ecuador, we went to a shop and bought a new chip for Ecuador (and got a new number) and all of a sudden we ve been able to call and text internationally! Very cool! It is nice to hear your voices again! Lisa continues to use Hey Tell for shorter messages, which has been a very convenient program to use (tnx, Hannah) which we highly recommend!

Getting to the blog:

This is about our journey from Pucallpa to Iquitos on the cargo boat along the Ucayali River that we did a few weeks ago. We arrived in Pucallpa from Huanaco via collecivos, first to Tingo Maria, then another. The collectivos were quick and to the point.....it took 4 people to fill a car so since we are three we were never waiting very long before departing (although make sure you specify that you want to go via collectivo and not by renting the entire car! Our spanish was not that great so occasionally, we found ourselves in the car by ourselves!).

Pucallpa is in the jungle and was warm and humid. We stayed at the Antonio's Hotel, opting to pay a little more $$ for the pool & A/C option. The next day, i went by motor taxi to explore the boat options and the motortaxi driver took me directly to the Henry port, where a boat was being loaded as we arrived!! I went aboard and one of the Henry guys showed me around and informed me that the boat would probably leave that evening at 5pm! What luck! So, i hightailed it back to the hotel where we hastily took our last dip in the pool and packed and quickly ran around the neighborhood acquiring some last minute necessities (like hammocks, plastic eating bowls & spoons and a lot of drinking water and snacks) and we went up to the Henry port and boarded the boat. For some reason, the Henry rep showed us towards the back of the boat near the toilets and kitchen AND where the stairs led down to the engine room and told us to put our hammocks there! DON'T DO IT!!!

We learned later that the most desirable place is at the front of the boat and we ended up being subjected to 7 days of intense engine/generator noise (all day and all night) plus very high levels of Carbon Monoxide, in addition to being close to the bathrooms! This did not add up to a really fun time!

We soon learned that the boat wouldnt be leaving that day and it would leave that next morning. So we made ourselves comfortable in our hammocks for our first night on the boat, all while the boat was still being loaded and at the pier...

(Lisa) or should I say OVERLOADED. The reality of our departure hit hard late the next afternoon, when, much to our chagrin, we learned that the cargo boat schedule was not our desired schedule. By the third day of loading cars, trucks, monkeys, bananas, metal bars and humans with hammocks, we finally departed from the busy port, and I then realized my 15th wedding anniversary night would be shared with 150 others on swinging hammocks. It took a few days in close quarter conditions to really get into the SWING of things, no pun attended. Life on this loud, hot metal vessel became our daily routine. Awake at 4ish by the sound of the rooster below us (god, I hope we eat that one today!), 150 people rushing to use 3 tiny metal bathrooms (did I mention the fecally soiled toilet paper on the floor) which also served as our showers, and hot, sweet milk with a touch of rice cereal and two white rolls was our love boat morning breakfast. Afternoons were spent swinging while sleeping, swinging while reading and swinging while listening to our MP3 trying to drown out the roar of the engines below us. Rumi did start timing the chickens ascent up the seven metal steps beside us, and when they reached step 5, he would then happily carry them back down into the engine/ chicken/ slaughter room.

(Ron) We realized that the river water was being pumped through the pipes so all the sinks and showers were emitting brown liquid so we had to be extra careful careful when showering and washing. But it was so hot during the day that i have to admit that it was refreshing to step inside the hot box-like toilets and let the river water run down your body!

Its hard to estimate the distance of the journey since the Ucayali is so twisty and turny, but i would very roughly estimate it as 500 to 600 miles!. The journey cost 100 soles peruvian (about $35) each and it included 3 basic meals a day. The 2 cooks would be in the their small kitchen rustling up the meal, then they would ring a loud bell and everyone would grab their plastic bowls and spoons and run to line up to be served the meal, usually chicken and rice in some type of sauce with bread. We did get noodles one time (and we really enjoyed that!)!

(Lisa) On the third day, still at the dock loading cargo, I heard the first cough of a passenger. A wave of fear hit me knowing that Peru was reporting a small outbreak of H1N1. Memories of my 2009 flu experience in India came flooding back. By the next day I was counting 10 different vectors. My first cough was day four and it was all downhill from there. Fever, body aches and coughing hit our boat community, and the Peruvian CDC arrived on the same night, complete with White Hazmat suits to provide FREE care....antibiotic and steroid injections. I declined the care but did receive love from my neighbors in the form of hot tea, vicks vapor rub and a towel wrap to sweat out the illness....my neighbors to my left, a Dad and his sweet eight year old son, gave me a small tin of Vicks Vapor rub to-go. I self-medicated with ibuprofen, a loratab and with The Loner from Neil's acoustic set from 6/6/70. I dont know what it was but i really GOT The Loner that night! On the last day, a larger CDC group arrived by boat to assess the sick and give the young and old flu immunizations. I rapidly wrote my introduction in spanish: "I am a nurse. I have had my yearly immunization. I have bronchitis. I will receive care from Dr. Patch Adams in Iquitos in the form of hugs and farts".

(Ron) One of the boat workers would periodically clean all the used toilet paper from the floors of the bathrooms and throw it into the river and then use some kind of soap liquid to wash down the floor before the next person came into the bathroom and threw their used TP on the floor again and the whole process would start over again. People who used the toilets would then walk back into the living area, tracking the toilet material, to where kids were playing on the floor.

But there was also beauty in the journey. Many folks would go up to the front of the boat, outside, where it was silent and cool and you can feel the breeze against your face, a very welcomed respite from the noise and carbon monoxide inside. There, one could watch the jungle go by and also watch for jumping fish or dolphins.

When night fell, we prepared for the long night ahead. My hammock was made of woven plastic and was rough and uncomfortable, not conducive to a good night's sleep! (Spend the $$ to get a cloth one!). The first night out, the boat stopped for the night but that was the only time that it did that! So, we were subjected to the engine sounds all night! Right before the second night, we all reached for our MP3 players and, thankfully, it was able to block out the outside sounds and i had a fairly 'good' nights sleep, listening to Leonard Cohen in Vienna, 1985 (Lisa zoned out to CSNY at the Fillmore East June 1970 and Rumi to George Winston and the Beatles!).

As we reached the confluence with the Maranon river, the energy level went up a notch as this was the beginning of the actual Amazon River, which meant that Iquitos was only a few hours away! We had made lots of friends with the folks around us and now everyone would be going their separate ways as we neared our destination. The wide Amazon stretched out before us! And we grew excited to meet up with the Clown Trip that would be in Iquitos at the same time that we were there: Patch, John, Lars and Morghan and the whole group of clowns who had come to Iquitos on their annual journey to clown in Belen. BIENVENIDOS, PAYASOS!!


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