Partying and Belen

The last couple of days were interesting. I found out I could get an apartment free through a friend, the apartment is currently empty, I mean unfurnished. Getting some furniture is cheap compared to the hotel rate for the time I would stay. I went to see it and it was OK but knowing that I’d be back soon didn’t really do much with it. Why didn’t I think of this a couple of months ago when I was just doing nothing in Lima?

I went to one of the Agricobank parties. Not much people but Monica’s friends were there. Last time one of them was like wanting to talk with me. I just avoided it politely. This time I arrived a bit late and they had been drinking with some other guys, so when I got there she was a bit friendly and after asking me a bit of who I was and saying that Monica and her were friends but she was not into the same “business”, but that she just wanted me, all while getting closer and starting to grope me. As much of an ego stroke as that somehow was I felt unwilling after a few moments, I told her so and she reacted asking me if I didn’t like her or if I was gay. I just said she was not my type and offered her a drink. After that we talked a bit, booze helped her to open and talk about her life. Until I got sleepy again and told her I was leaving. And I left.

On the one hand it was interesting to talk to the hookers and see more than just one side of them. On the other it was a pity that most of my experience in Iquitos was only with them and not with a normal girl, I mean, not a girl in the business, just a somebody that lives there.

I went to Belen. If you go around the Belen Market more than a guy will approach to you offering a ride in a bot to visit Belen. They usually ask 20 soles. But as in other places they are just intermediaries who inflate the price.

To get to the Belen port you have to walk 3 blocks down the Belen Market and then descend. You will find again many people offering the same, ask if he has a boat and if he is going to drive. The ride costs 2 to 5 soles. If you want to pay more, give it straight to the boat driver not to a guy who just brings them a customer and takes the larger part of the money with them.

OK, you then descend to the “port” and walk over wood above the water -they are like a bridge- until you board the boat. Then they take you around.

Belen

All this neighborhood is under water on the rainy season, you can see the first floor of many housed almost covered in water until the roof. But most of the houses are done in such a way that they just move everything one floor above and that’s it. I don’t know how they do with electricity, there must be a switch for each floor I guess.

They have small shops, bars, hairdressers, everything above the water. Even a church. On the way you see many houses with their doors opened and the way people leave, in hammocks, and with some furniture like tables and chairs but mostly they stay at the porch laying like sloths or kids playing in the river.

It’s an interesting trip, not to be missed.

When you return, a walk around in the market is also interesting. You will see many kinds of exotic meats sold there as motelo (turtle), majás, and some sausages that I dared not ask what they were made of. The many fruits are also interesting, some do not usually arrive to Lima and you can see and taste them there copahiba, tumbo, aguaje, ungurahui and cocona drinks are readily available for 0.50 soles a glass.

A market gives you a glimpse of a part how people lives. Consumption habits are part of a lifestyle picture.

The town has something that captures you and makes you want to stay in spite of the temperature -30 to 32º C at midday- and not having the greatest nightlife, I’d wanted to have more time to stay longer or to have come before. The allure of a simpler life perhaps. There’s also my liking for finding out how is life in other places by staying a while there.

So, while I order a cocona drink in my fav jungle food restaurant back here I think of Iquitos with a bit of nostalgia.

I should go back to stay for a longer time. Just hope that the flat is still there.

listening to Atahualpa Amuletos [Niños Malos version]

Advertisements

What to do

OK the visit to the tourist info office was helpful this time. Basically you can do things in Iquitos or out in the jungle but having Iquitos as base camp.

In Iquitos you have -other than the city- Nanay, Quistococha and a Reserve on the road to Nauta.

I went to Nanay yesterday and got a boat to take me to the 4 main attractions around there: the serpentarium or snake house, the Boras, the Yaguas and the butterfly farm. It took close to 5 hrs due to the stuff you do, not to the time you spend traveling on the river. Some guys ask 60 to 80 soles, others say only 10 or 15 but in the middle of the river they tell you that it is only one way and that the whole trip will be double. Be sure to point out clearly that the agreed price includes the two-way trip and the visit to the 4 places -or the ones you want to visit- before you leave.

OK the snake house is like a small zoo that the same boat drivers say they’ve built to have a place where to take tourists and show the animals. I was told 10 soles was the entrance and the sign outside says 10 soles, but the guy there asked me 20 since I hadn’t come with an agency, he argued. I simply said the driver that we should continue as I can visit Quistococha zoo and see the animals there. Then the guardian agreed to charge me the stated fare.

They have like 10 different animals among monkeys, anaconda and mantona snakes, parrots, small crocodiles, añuje, and some small jungle birds. Also they let me carry the little smiling fellow you can see here.

sloth

He moves very very slowly and feels like a stuffed animal only with a stronger body. In a sense it would be a great pet. At the end of the visit they invite you to seat and bring a colorful parrot to stand in your arm and you get to taste clavohuasca or SVSS -seven times without pulling it out-. Yeah, they refer to that. Chatting a bit about his life there, the guardian remembered his time serving the army and the hardness he had to endure working in the jungle as a perro -first year soldier- and the conflict with Ecuador before arriving to settle and work there. Interesting story.

Then we left in order to reach the Boras. They don’t actually live there but come everyday in order to get in touch with tourists and get some income from admission tickets and the souvenirs they sell.

entrance to the Boras place

We danced a little, talked a little as well. Their language sounds a bit like Japanese. They told me they go back everyday to their community but that I could not go along as it may be dangerous to me, the path is not clear and currently underwater, parts of it are around 1.50 or 60 m deep but in that is possible to visit and stay at their community in the dry season.

Boras dancing

I wanted to go as that should be a more real experience than they show they put up here.

Then we went to the Yaguas. The curaca welcomed me by painting my cheeks and chin with achote -a red bulb- and talked to me a little. They live very far from Iquitos, deep in the jungle. But an agency proposed them to come and 30 people agreed to move closer so that visitors could go and have a glimpse at their culture.

It was odd to see this man that looked like any guy in a shop or a corner dressed with a straw skirt, painted and half speaking Spanish. He did not get all I said in Spanish so I had to slow down and try simpler phrases. I had the same feeling than at the Boras. After dancing with them we seated and talked a while, even the women came closer and chatted a bit. We spoke of ayahuasca and their experiences with it, they offered me the possibility to try it but had to let them know a day ahead at least so they can contact a shaman. While talking to these half-naked women dressed in tree fiber skirts I thought that we are both Peruvians but differences in education and opportunities have made our experiences of what meant being a Peruvian so different. You cannot help feeling a little touched by how they live without so much that we take for granted.

Although the idea of progress or what progress could mean for us and for them can be a whole topic of discussion. And in that sense what better or best would be -occidentalize their culture? assimilate them in one of our large cities?- is also open to contrasting.

Finally we navigated to the butterfly farm.

Butterfly farm

I met two girls from Iquitos who had gotten a boat for 10 soles. On the way the driver said they wouldn’t go to the Yaguas and later that the price was one way and since they didn’t reach an agreement he left them at Padre Cocha -a village nearby- so they could look for another boat.

Anyhooo… the farm is well kept and maintained by a couple, an Austrian woman and her husband, a local who care after butterflies and many other animals, including monkeys, alligators, a jaguar, etc. Interesting to see so many animals and the owner provided a very good explanation of how butterflies are raised and grow, predators, species, etc. Sadly we just saw like 6 from the 40 varieties they have there and they moved a lot so getting them into pictures was harder than I though.

butterfly

At the end the owner invited us soft drinks and gave us a pin as souvenir. They were out of t-shirts of my size. The way back was fast over a quiet river, so quiet as a black metal mirror that broke in waves as we moved along to reach the Nanay River. Simply navigating the rivers is such an amazing experience.

Almost 5 hours had gone by since we left so I invited the driver to have a menu and a couple of beers with me to chat a bit. You get 3 Cristal or Pilsen for s/10 Have yet to try the local beer, Iquiteña.

Julio, my boat driver, started talking about his time in the army. The army training -servicio militar- is welcome here and some guys enlist even before the minimum stated age as they do not have other means to obtain any sort of education. The army teaches them some discipline, personal defense and other skills that they value as well as provides home and shelter and a weekly payment -propina- that they can use for their expenses or to send their families. They also get relocated that means a bit of travel and the release of not being a burden any longer for their families or the single mother that raises them. Many of the good years for these guys refer to their adventures in the army and usually when they are discharged they get married or have kids and settle in a job to provide their families, just like Julio and the serpentarium guardian.

Talking and listening to these guys referring to their time in the army as the heyday of their lifes makes you think how different life can be.

Peru is so full of contrasts. In a good and bad way.


I saw a copy of the Iquitos Times. Seems to be a great resource.

Dreaming

We all have dreams.

Ideas about what we want for and from the future or how we want things to be.

I must confess that one of my dreams was to end up in Amsterdam where I would live in boat floating lazily in a water canal. Somehow Venice doesn’t cut it. In my mind, Holland represents a kind of freedom of many things -and if you read this blog, you’ll see I don’t really care for drugs-. Who knows where I pick up those ideas and images and how they become dreams. Freud may help but.. who cares, those are my dreams and ideas anyway.

Walking along the malecón I got a glimpse of one of my dreams, there to the reach of my hand.

A boat

This is not Amsterdam but I could see myself living in that boat.

It’s such a weird feeling having something you dream of to the reach of your hand in certain way.


It may not seem so, but the boat is in working order, just not working right now as this is the low season.

Iquitos

The first impression of the city I had was that of a little bit of a chaos. Or arriving to a fisher town close to the Lima shore -say, Barranca, for instance-. A little later you realize how large this city is, how many ports they have for different ships going to other Peruvian cities and to Brasil and Colombia as well.

I also had to find a hotel that took visa cards as I was very short of cash. Got one with air conditioning and breakfast included for 60 soles. Then out to walk a bit and have a look at the city.

Eiffel\'s Iron House at the Iquitos main square

This is the Iron House made by Eiffel. Even though not ugly or unpleasant I had a different impression of the Iquitos main square by the pictures I had seen up to now. The malecón is nice and the view of the river is great.

It was party night at Noa. After having a nice lunch at Huasai went back to have a long shower rest and watch a movie. At 11 PM I woke up, showered again and went to dance at around midnight. The place got crowded almost immediately and people was moving even out of the dance floor. I had a beer and watched a bit how things are in this corner of the world.

But, i got tired of the music soon. I’m really not against cumbia or whatever and I can sympathize with the joy the musicians and the rhythm seem to convey with the music but somehow I can’t connect. I learned to dance a bit of salsa around my twenty something years as I heard it in the pubs among other very varied music, even huaynos and sicuris, when traveling. In Lima, no way.

So after a long while I went out to have some air. Got a stamp in my wrist -which was from a hotel, wtf?- and headed to the main square to seat, relax and check the buildings and architecture with no people. Or so I thought.

As soon as I seated two girls approached asking me if I wanted “company”. I have nothing against the world’s oldest profession but I have never used their services either, so I declined smiling. Sat a bit, breathed. The air was not fresh but less warm than during the day. I noticed later that a middle aged blond woman, probably a foreigner social worker, went to talk with them and moved from girl to girl.

I moved to another seat, to check the Iron house and when doing so a girl seating by the next bench said hello. I answered hello and seated. Then the blond woman went across the street, to the drugstore, and the girls seemed surprised and said no word to me after that.

Intrigued, I moved back to the previous bench and when one of the first girls walked closer I moved my head and she approached. I was sure of not wanting her services but intrigued by the blond woman and curious about how things go here in Iquitos.

The girl said her name was Mónica and that the blond woman was evil. She approaches the girls to provide clients and sometime mistreats and yells at them. She told me that woman had problems with the local authorities as she provided underage girls on demand, and she was also caught doing that but she got out. Who knows if the woman is a social worker or if Mónica is telling the truth.

Other that that, she tried to convince me to go to my hotel in the sweetest way possible using the local accent when speaking, which let me tell you adds to the persuasion. Finally after talking a while about many other things, places to go out and stuff she understood and left saying goodbye.

Time to go back to Noa.

On the way back to Noa I got the itch for a burger and while eating started talking to the owner. He gave me some tips about the places -the Agricobank, the Complejo CNI and the COA- and also told me some bad news. The new mayor, in order to refrain the moral dissolution, the excess of “juerga” and to prevent this city to completely end up as Sodom and Gomorrah had set up a curfew of 3 AM for all discos and clubs in the city on Saturdays, and 1 AM the rest of the week.

No kidding.

It was about 3 AM, my wandering and talking to the hookers had taken more than I noticed and now Noa it was about to close.

As the burger’s place owner told me, there are places outside of the city radius that do not close until 5 AM or even later but I had just arrived that day after sleeping in a hammock for 3 nights so I wanted a bed.

Absynthe slept beautifully that night.

Navigating

All I can say about this part of my trip is WOW. Quiet, peaceful, beautiful, amazing, incredible are adjectives that would describe a bit of all you see, so I’ll leave you with a few pictures in the hope they convey what words cannot.

Afternoon on the Huallaga River

river bank - the green forest

sunset

But not all was said and done. The ship was supposed to leave between noon and 4 PM. Later we were told we would leave at 6 PM. At around 5 PM we were told that we would leave tomorrow as a truck hadn’t arrived.

If there is a delay you can stay in the ship and you will have to receive dinner as the delay is caused by them. I hurried and went out to eat at Yurimaguas, to the same place they would later order chicken for all passengers.

Next day we left at 11 AM. A couple of German girls arrived who thought they were the only people speaking German on board. Hah hah. And one day later a couple of British girls who were coming out from the Pacaya-Samiria reserve came on board as well. 3 Ucranians were aside me and the wind carried the smoke of their cigarettes. Not really pleasant.

Food is served at a dinning table with china, paper napkins and other amenities. It is carefully arranged in the plate, seems pretty well done and tastes good, but is only one course plus tea and water is taken from the river and “purified” in order to be used. I was hungry at times and had a weird feeling in my stomach that was not pain nor gas but a slight discomfort that I cannot really describe in better terms. Didn’t get any stomach problems but if you are not used to Peruvian food or water better take food with you or medicine just in case.

after sunset

At night they close the tarps protecting the deck from wind or rain. You may prefer to take a sleeping bag, I had to put on my fleece jacket as temperature drops a little at night.

The trip was really interesting though at times you may want to read something or watch TV, beware that Van Damme or Steven Seagal seem all they want to see -other than cumbia videos. For me a Vargas Llosa novel and my iPod were pretty good company.

We stopped in several villages on the way. I recall the Maipuco -dunno if it is written so- name as it was the place were they were selling a whole banana bunch with more than, I don’t know, 100 bananas? for 4 soles. In Lima they sell 5 bananas -una mano- for 1 sol and I got about 11 red bananas for the same at Yurimaguas.

The last place before reaching our destination was Nauta. We stopped for a couple of hours in order to arrive early to Iquitos but not by nighttime, so I got the chance to wander around the town a bit. It was not really big. You can step down here and get a car or combi to Iquitos by 8 soles and you will arrive in two hours. Ticket is also cheaper until here, 100 soles in the upper deck. Cabins do not change price I was told.

Finally we arrived to Iquitos early the next morning.

Arriving to Iquitos

As of last weekend Absynthe is in charapa land.

Yurimaguas

The car came on time, a little before 4 AM. I got a seat by a window, my fleece jacket and we were on our way. Our driver was a very clean and proper guy that seemed to have legs and arms too short for his body and the smile of the 50’s Mickey Mouse.

The road is in pretty good condition, a part is being worked on, so not all is paved.

On the way, daylight having arrived, you can see mist surrounding the vegetation. It’s eerie and fascinating at the same time.

Arriving to Yurimaguas you seem to be assaulted by all motocar drivers at once: one talks to you, another one does it too, a third one opens the trunk and another one points at your pack while you see yet another one picking it up looking at you, convinced you will pick him for the ride. I use a costal plástico -a large bag used locally for grains but also to transport stuff in lieu of proper packing- imagine how crazy they get when they see a large backpack that may mean people not having a clue about local motocar fares.

Anyway, picked up one to drive me to the dock to check the ship to Iquitos. Got to the port, checked the ship, the prices and went back to the city to have breakfast after booking a place in the 3rd deck.

Went around town next and no hotel would take my backpack in custody so I carried it along and went shopping for goods and water to the market area. Got bored soon and went to the ship to just wait for departure. You can see my hammock and pack there.

upper deck with my hammock and pack

Here is an interesting tip: beware of motocar drivers or the guys who are at the port entrance, they want to carry your luggage or tag along with you to offer you a hammock for a higher price -20 or 25 soles- than the one you would pay in the ship that is 6 for small hammocks or 10 for larger ones to rent.

About the ship: there are several options but the larger and probably the safer ones are the Eduardo ships to Iquitos. They have a cargo deck -that takes almost anything from oranges to cows or a 4WD-, a passenger deck -60 soles- and an upper deck where you can go in a hammock -120 soles- or a cabin with a bed sizes ranging from a sofa-width (1/2 plaza – 140 soles) to a single bed (1 1/2 plazas 250 soles) and a twin (2 plazas – dunno) bed. The last two have private bathrooms and a fan.

Both decks serve meals to passengers but in the 2nd one you have to provide your cup, dish, fork, spoon and knife. In the 3rd one all that is provided to you.

Food appears to be the same.