4th July - With an Amazon adventure in mind, we drove across the country to Yurimaguas, a main port on the Rio Marañon and gateway to the northern Amazon basin. Our first objective was to find a slow boat to Nauta or Iquitos, so we headed for the Port and were immediately mobbed by boat agents. Rachel disappeared to see the boats, whilst I did van protection duty as the place was definitely 'Wild West' and buzzing. When Rachel reappeared with entourage, she'd arranged a cabin on a boat for the following morning for just under £40 each and with a very loose promise of a morning departure. All boats carry cargo first and passengers second - a boat only leaves when full.
The next morning at 5am, with our van safely stored in town, we arrived at the boat. We were given our cabin (tin can) and set to watching the loading. There are no modern facilities - no dock, no forklifts, no carts. What there is - large boats backed up to a steep mud bank, a beehive of porters carrying back-breaking weights to and from boats and cattle being cajoled along narrow platforms on to boats. Amazing to watch and this short time lapse video captured some of the action.
A quick okay from El Capitán, Jorge, and we went looking for brekkie - port style. 100 metres away was the porters' breakfast spot. Various pots were opened for us to make a selection...first I think was Agouti stew (all claws and snouts), second and very popular large Catfish heads, and finally third, something to do with a chicken - claws floating menacingly. Option 3 for us!
Back at the boat and we left the dock at 9am, shortly after a sister boat loaded with cattle. Our capitain, Jorge, had been in the navy and working the river for 30 years, he had warned us that the river was shallow and that the channels changed throughout the year due to water levels and current.
We settled in for the trip. No modern technology on the boat. We didn't hear or see any radio - a wave or shout seemed to be the norm. The depth sounding was done either by a guy with a bamboo pole standing up front or a little more advanced with two guys running ahead in a small boat, with said bamboo pole. Three hours into the journey and we found the cattle boat aground on a sand bank. Despite spending 2.5 hours attempting to dislodge it from the river bed, by both pulling and pushing, our assistance was unsuccessful and our boat continued on its journey.
Food was included in the fare, but you could expect three square meals a day, each one involving a little bit of chicken..... Oh and passengers bring their own cutlery and plates. As the only cabin dwellers, there was no queuing for us - 1st class.
Drinking water was a separate issue. Rachel's plan was to filter river water.... Off she trotted and returned with a bottle of 'murky something'......much pumping of the water filter later, we had a 'clear something'... we survived.
During the first night, the crew found three empty dugout canoes (separately - more than a little suspicious about these finds...) floating down the river. Each one was brought on board and on day 2, the ropey not very floaty one was exchanged for a live chicken and two large branches of bananas.
In the very early hours on the 2nd night we reached Nauta and left the cargo vessel. Following a brief few hours at a local hotel, we took a further three hour ride on the river to reach our jungle lodge. We were given a very basic room shared with rats - slightly preferable to the room with the very large (poisonous) spiders or the one infested with cockroaches....
The first meal was excellent, but for the next four days the grub deteriorated. Food and accommodation aside, our local guide tried his best to give us a good jungle experience and for the most part he succeeded. We swam with river dolphins in pirañha infested waters, trekked in the jungle looking for animals; paddled down the river in a dugout canoe (supervised); spotted four different species of monkeys; and saw plenty of exotic birds.... we also visited a family who kept sloths as pets.
When it was time to leave the lodge and return to Nauta, we were provided a taxi for the 60 mile trip to Iquitos. It was basically a getaway drive in a dangerous car.....again we survived.
Iquitos is a city on the Amazon buzzing with mototaxis. It and Nauta are connected by road but their accessibility to the rest of the world is only by boat or plane. We liked Iquitos: there were some interesting old colonial buildings; an excellent steamboat museum; an Iron house designed by Eiffel himself, built and shipped bolt by bolt during the rubber boom from France; and last, but not least, Belén Market where the fresh food selection was fairly amazing.....turtles, caimán, grubs etc..
Our Iquitos experience ended with a decent getaway drive back to Nauta, followed by a fast boat back to Yurimaguas....well that was 19 hours in an uncomfortable seat, travelling at 30 kph - it's a bloody long way.
Amazon, Perú - great experience, not to be repeated any time soon - very happy to be back in the van.