Big boat down the Amazon

After a long wait through the cloudy night, the big boat finally arrives in Lagunas to take us to Iquitos. We’ve decided that after a week sleeping in our tent in the amazon jungle we deserve to get boat cabins with beds for this leg of the journey down the Amazon river.

They’re really more like tiny jail cells: two small bunk beds and just barely enough room to climb between them. Our tiny haven for two days of floating down the river, transporting people and supplies from one remote village to the next. We crash for the night.

There is a loud knock on the steel door and, scrambling into the crack between the beds, I reach for the latch and slowly push the door open with a screech. Standing backlit by the early morning sky is a smiling effeminate sailor boy, holding a tray of styrofoam cups full of thick, light-brown liquid.

“Que es esto?” I ask, not interested in drinking some strange sailor soup at 5:00am. He doesn’t answer, but just continues holding the tray with that huge smile. Maybe he’s high?

Léa and I shrug, and take two cups. I couldn’t tell you what they contained, just that it was thick, sweet, and gross. We put the still-full cups under the bottom bunk bed, and left them there for days. They may still be there.

Other meals were dishes of 90% rice, 5% chicken, and 5% boiled plantain. Also gross. We ate as much as we could stomach, and the rest went….yes, under the bottom bunk.

Here are some pictures we took:


So yeah, to recap, we spent two full days taking pictures and hiding food under our bed.

Finally our boat pulls into the Iquitos port on the third night, only to be shooed away from the landing dock by about 500 orange-vested officials waiting with open ambulances and police vans that they had backed up to the water’s edge. What the hell is going on here?

Our boat waits dead in the water until eventually a police-escorted fast boat pulls up and they spend just short of an hour dragging unwilling men off the boat and into the open vehicles which speed off, one by one, sirens blaring.

NO IDEA what that was about, but the queue of large boats that had formed during this time inspires our captain to circle around a different part of the port to look for entry. Never before have I seen such a large vessel bumper-car its way into such a tiny slot. The opening between the other two huge boats was literally two meters wide to begin with, until we just barely edged our way in. And every time we collide, a teenage crew member sticks a large piece of wood at the collision point: “CRAAACK!” The wood splinters into the water. Better grab another one. “CRAAACK!” And so on.

Somehow we squeeze our way between the two boats all the way to shore and we’re released into this wild jungle city.

Iquitos is a very unique place. Over the years it went through several booms and depressions, mostly caused by the fluctuations in the industry of shipping goods down the Amazon, thousands of kilometers all the way out to the Atlantic. It is essentially an island, though it’s surrounded by land. It’s the biggest city in the world with no road access. Just boats and planes.

Nevertheless, the streets are absolutely buzzing with mototaxis, everywhere, at all hours. Lonely Planet offers a one line description of Iquitos – “This is a party city.” – which I repeat to Léa, ad nauseum throughout our visit. I thought it was funny.


During our visit we see a lot of colorful things on the streets. Worth translating if you don’t speak spanish:

This is one of those instances where I remind Léa that it’s a party city.


We also see a good number of old colonial houses, with facades covered in detailed tiles:


And we look out at the surrounding area of Iquitos, reminding us that we’re still on the Amazon river, in jungle territory:


During our stay in Iquitos we eat all kinds of food – no more goddamn boiled plantains, or fish, or rice, woohoo!

After eating our fill, resting up from the jungle trek, doing laundry, and surfing the internets, we decide it’s time to head south to a new climate altogether: the high Andes around Huaraz. We’re excited to cool off, get some new scenery, and embark on a world-famous (though not over-travelled) trek in the Cordillera Huayhuash. That means marmot in Quechua.

Considering that the roads south of here are still supposedly dangerous due to drug trafficking (Peru is right up there with Colombia), and considering how long it took us to arrive here from the west coast, we decide the most sensible thing is to fly to Lima, spend a day at Starbucks, and then catch a night bus to Huaraz.

That is our plan.


Categories: Posts in English