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.

Laguna Azul

If you are Peruvian you have probably heard of la Laguna Azul as a vacation spot. You can take a tour there from Tarapoto, they ask 70 soles including lunch.

But this time I chose to go by my own. Got a motocar to take to the combi and car stop that drives to El Sauce, the village in front of the Lake. They leave when they are full so, some waiting time there. Cars are 10 soles when taking 5 or 12.50 when taking 4 people. Combis are 7 or 8 soles.

While seating I spoke a bit with the driver and a woman, who came to ask for a package, got into the conversation. Probably in her 30’s simply dressed and with that tanned skin tone usual in the people around here. She had a charapa -a name for the people from Loreto, or the jungle in general- accent and after asking me a few questions about where I came and if I traveled alone we started joking about another woman’s butt and sex in the way they usually do around here, openly and explicitly. I just followed along and had fun. She was a Saucina -born in El Sauce-. Later she sat by my side and asked me if I was married or something, I explained to her I was not but had met and lived with a girl from Pucallpa before. And then something caught my attention, I can’t recall it right now, I think it was the possibility of the combi departure so I looked away for a while. When I turned back she was walking away saying that she had to leave and wishing me a good trip.

I had enjoyed her company for a moment and regretted a bit that she left. Oh well…

The drive to El Sauce is a paved way that later becomes a road that reaches the river where a floating platform to cross to the other side awaits.

crossing the river on the way to El Sauce and Laguna Azul

On the way to El Sauce there is a detour a little after having crossed the river, that leads to hot springs. The place seems interesting, with several pools of different temperatures and a house / hostel where to have something to eat and possibly to stay. I found out too late…

After the river, the road cuts through a real jungle forest, trees and vegetation paint the surroundings in green just until you see a small lake -not the Laguna Azul- but a sulfurous lake that has no fish in it. Later the road goes higher and then you have the first glimpse of the Laguna Azul and some lodges by the lake side before reaching El Sauce.

I arrived around midday and stepped down in the main square, before the car stop. Took a look around, not much to see and went to the pier looking for a boat ride. Empty. No people around.

a pier facing Laguna Azul

Laguna Azul is not blue.

Laguna Azul is not blue

The place was nice though, peaceful and surrounded by deep green hills. I went to eat and came back to contemplate the lake before going back. Some hotels were nice, even at El Sauce they looked really like lodges with cabins and even saw a kayak around but even though they were opened no one was around to answer my questions. I even yelled hello waiting for somebody to come but nothing. Perhaps they were having lunch. Who knows.

While waiting at the pier, a guy arrived and seated a little behind. Later two other guys came along with a local who offered them a boat ride. For 35 soles. They refused and left. When the guy asked me I haggled a little and I got the ride for 30 soles. And we would take the first guy who was a boy that only had 2 soles for free. The ride for a cheaper price and taking a poor boy along for free seemed a good deal to me.

We left a little later, after an old man came along offering us the same ride for 25 soles. But he had a different attitude, not really like somebody I’d like to spend time with so I refused and he left grumbling. Our guide was kind and good humored and told us many stories about El Sauce and the surroundings. He took us to the piscicultura -fish farm- already abandoned but still owned by the government. The place was wonderful, I was so in awe that I didn’t take a picture of it until we had arrived. He said some people chooses to camp there to spend the night at the lake and the guardian is a friend of him who doesn’t charge nor mind people camping as long as they don’t pollute. In fact the guardian and his wife welcome the company as they live alone in there all year long. The place was really beautiful and I was very very tempted to stay, even offered a mattress where to sleep, but had left my backpack at the Hotel Cielo with my fleece jacked and thermals. I really wasn’t prepared for this and had never heard or read that you could stay here for free. There is a path that leads to 2 de Mayo -another village 1.5 hrs away by foot- where you can take a motocar back to El Sauce.

Fish farm at the Laguna Azul

Resting at this spot with full sunlight I was thinking of the saucina women. I should have asked her to come along, she may have agreed. And it would have been good company to spend the night.

On the way back I asked the captain to stop as I wanted to swim in the middle of the lake. And I took a swim, a short one as I soon felt tired, perhaps by the lake waves. The boat moved away and for a second I though they were going to leave me to drown and take my stuff with them. It was a terrible thought that got me frightened for a moment. So I turned yelled him asking to come pick me up instead of waiting for me and floated to relax and wait. I saw the boat going right first and then turning around to meet me. I pulled myself in and got my towel and smiled.

That was probably the most frightening moment of my whole trip up to now.

Back to El Sauce I waited for the car to have all the seats taken so we could leave and met two Lima guys who were in serious party mode, speaking of girls, sex and alcohol. At first I didn’t quite felt like interacting with them but later in the car they started talking to me and telling me the story of their trip from Lima to here. They were fun but a little noisy. They had got a Licor de Acerola, a drink made of some rounded yellow fruits that seemed a bit like cherries but who knows what their name is, that is produced there in El Sauce. The stuff didn’t tasted bad so we shared a few drinks, and experiences. The info about Morales was right, they had gone the night before and all was empty or closed, they got to the only whorehouse opened that had only a girl who they took out to their hotel. Well, that was more that I needed to know. Later they told me they belong to a salsa band, and one -or both- were singers there, and that they had the girl’s phone number so we could call her and make a foursome. That was more than I wanted to do with them at least, so I thanked their offer but refused politely.

Back in Tarapoto I picked up my backpack at Hotel Cielo to switch hotels to Patarasca lodge. Yes, they also own the Patarasca restaurant. The lodge was nice, with more personality and vegetation than Hotel Cielo, I would chose to stay there anytime over Hotel Cielo but it is not completely an improvement in all senses. Rooms smell a bit old and there is no pool, they accept visa cards and I got a rate of 30 soles there, including private bathroom and cable TV.

It’s an interesting choice anyway, and just a block away from the main square.

I hesitated a lot again to leave Tarapoto the next morning. Wanted to go back to El Sauce and stay a the piscicultura. Wanted to meet again the woman as well. Wanted to have another lunch at the Patarasca. Oh well, if I wanted to reach Iquitos by the weekend I should leave to Yurimaguas the next morning in order to catch a boat and navigate to Iquitos.

So, with much regret I booked a car to Yurimaguas for the early morning. 25 soles.

We’ll see how it goes.