Hammock Diaries: From Iquitos to Santa Rosa
Duration: 1.5 days (Leaving at 21:00 on Monday, arriving at 6:40 on Wednesday)
What’s Included: Food (Breakfast, lunch and dinner, except for the dinner on the first day. No water included!)
Price: 80 soles (24 $)
Things to Bring: Water (for drinking purposes and brushing teeth), toilet paper, a mosquito net and/or repellent, a good camera, a hammock, a blanket/sleeping bag, a plastic container and your own cutlery! Some snacks, perhaps. And flip-flops.
Exactly as I did when embarking on the boat in Yurimaguas, at this one too I arrived before the departure time. 7 hours earlier, to be more precise. This time, I was the very first person to arrive and put a hammock up, and it felt great to have the whole deck all for myself even if for only a couple of hours. It didn’t feel so great, though, when some more passengers started to show up and I realized that I had secured my hammock dangerously close to the urinals at the back of the boat and, since there were no flushing facilities, they gave off a reeking smell. So I had to relocate.
I put up my hammock next to a lovely woman with three small children, all of whom I found quite nice. They didn’t seem so nice, though, when they stopped just centimetres from my hammock and just stood there, silently watching me. (I was at the time eating some corn flakes I had bought in Iquitos, so they probably were hoping I would give them some. I would love to have done it, but I knew that if I had, the rest of the children on the boat would be soon all around me, pleading to treat them too, and that kind of attention I wanted to avoid.) Nor they seemed so nice in the early hours of the following morning when it came apparent that they were the loudest and the most uneasy children on the whole ship. And then there was that little issue of their mom openly breastfeeding the smallest of them three, right before my eyes and without any scruples at all. (This wasn’t the first time such a thing had happened to me in Peru. Once, when I was given a lift by a family of five, the girl sitting next to me in the back seat just took out her left breast and started feeding her baby while I was conversing with her mom sitting in the front seat.)
About the boat.
The same type of cargo boat as previously, with loads of produce for the local villages on the first deck and with the second and the third deck designed for passengers. However, this one was much dirtier and nastier than the previous boat. It was so dirty, especially the bathrooms, that I decided against taking a shower during my whole stay on it. I had taken one just before leaving my hostel, so I knew I would survive for a day and a half easily without proper washing. Not ideal in the humid rainforest, I know, but there really wasn’t an option.
The food. Well, this time, it was real service. Every meal was served right in the hammock, with equal portions of food for everyone. The food itself was modest, yet tasty and delicious, and very similar to that on the previous boat – bread and sweet rice soup for breakfast, rice with vegetables/stew for lunch/dinner. The stew was with meat, so I gave the bits of meat to the woman with her children next to me, hoping to sort of make it up for not sharing with my snacks the day before. However, although the service was nice, the portions were actually rather small. So small that, although I still had my snacks, on the second evening I bought an egg sandwich from the bar in the front of the boat that had everything from cigarettes and toilet paper to meals consisting of rice and newly fried fish that looked freshly caught.
On the first night, just before the final departure, we briefly docked right next to the boat that had brought me to Iquitos – “Eduardo IX.” It felt odd, the realization that just the day before I had left it after having spent on it three full days. It was like looking back at the past, reminding me of how fast time actually flows. Brr.
About the weather.
The days were no longer as sunny as before, but still without any rain. I sighted a few more river dolphins, but not anything else. Not even mosquitos, so there was no need for me to put up my hammock.
About the atmosphere.
Everyone was pretty much relaxed and calm the whole time. Every time we stopped at the villages, the local vendors hurried up on board to offer different kinds of fruit – banana, watermelon and others – and snacks, and drinks to the passengers. But this time, there was one difference.
I was the only gringo.
But I didn’t complain much. I was nose-deep in another of my pdf books on my phone, “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and so was trying to avoid any conversations as much as possible.
I was quite pleased with the way the stuff on the boat was cleaning the decks now and then, especially after the mealtimes when the passengers simply left their empty plastic trays on the floor – until I realized that everything the guy gathered went straight off board and into the river. From that moment on, I kept all my rubbish to myself and discarded it at the arrival in Santa Rosa.
Regarding the safety. Although there didn’t seem to be any problems or suspicious individuals on my deck, I still took my smaller rucksack with my most valuable belongings in it with me inside the hammock for the night. Just in case.
On the last morning, I nearly missed the time to leave the cargo boat. Santa Rosa, a town on the Peruvian side in the triple border point between Peru, Colombia and Brazil, didn’t seem to be the last stop of the route because when we arrived there some of the passengers still remained in their hammocks. When I realized I had to get off, I hurried downstairs and was already approached by a guy asking if I needed a transport. I said yes, for I had read somewhere before that from where the passenger boats stop, you have to take one of the smaller boats to get to the town of Santa Rosa. And so I did. The most foolish mistake of the day.
The boat trip lasted three minutes. I was still on the same side of the river. And I had to pay for this ride 5 soles, which seemed outrageous, considering that normal bus fare in any Peruvian city is either 1 or 2 soles. I complained straight away why the guy didn’t tell me that I could have walked to get to the town, but he just smiled and didn’t answer. Instead, he told me that, if I wanted to get to the immigration office, I should better take a mototaxi because it’s not very close. Yeah, right. I didn’t believe him anymore, so I started walking. And I was right.
The town of Santa Rosa consists of just one street. Just one. And 50 metres from where the immigration office is located there’s a direct pathway leading straight to the port where the boats from Iquitos are docked. It would have taken me 5 minutes to get there by foot. But, since the boat guy had left me at another port, the one where boats leave for Leticia (Colombia) and Tabatinga (Brazil) on the other side of the river, I got to the immigrations in 15 minutes, having first stopped at the police office to have my passport inspected and my travel visa stamped. And then, then I waited an hour until the immigration office was open (I got there at 7 o’clock in the morning, but it opened at 8.), got my passport stamped, walked back to the port with the boats going to Tabatinga, ignored the offers by my boat guy (5 soles, 5 soles!), found a boat crossing the river for 3 soles, and off I went, across the river to Brazil, finally leaving Peru behind for good. Although this country had been at the top of my wish list for many years (primarily because of Machu Picchu), the reality turned out somehow different from my expectations, and I knew I would not be willingly coming back to it anytime soon.
But I still had one more boat trip ahead of me. And about that – in my next post!