Hammock Diaries: From Yurimaguas to Iquitos
Duration: 3 days (Leaving on Friday at 13:30, arriving on Sunday at 16:00.)
What’s Included: Food (Breakfast, lunch and dinner, except for the lunch 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! And snacks too, for the mealtimes are quite a few hours apart. And something to do, read or listen to.
I arrived at the town of Yurimaguas late on the evening of the 22nd of October, 4 days, 985 km and 9 rides after having left Los Organos. On that very same evening I promptly went looking for a boat to Iquitos. I had read that some travellers had arrived at the boat the day before the departure and had been allowed to stay overnight at no extra charge. I was a traveller too and was hoping to do the same. And indeed – when I got to the port and found the right boat, several hammocks had already been put up on its second and third deck, and, after a brief discussion with some of the workers there, I followed suit and pitched up mine on the third deck, right next to a guy from the United States, Robert, who had left his country behind to start looking for another place to live. The next day, we would be joined by a Belgian couple, Gabon and Sarah, who were one month into their 10-month trip around South America and were heading to Iquitos to their first Workaway host. On the third deck we would remain the only ones almost for the whole time, while the locals remained on the second deck. Although I was told differently, I have a slight suspicion that they charged us, the obvious gringos, more than they charged fellow Peruvians.
About the boat.
The boat itself was a cargo ship supplying the villages along the river with whatever it is that they need. We often made stops during our trip when a lot of stuff was being loaded and unloaded on our boat. The cargo consisted of all sorts of things – building materials, loads of eggs, potato sacks, a lot (A LOT!) of beer, hundreds of banana, mineral water and other provision. And two cars too. The initial load was so big that, although the boat had a set departure time, in reality it set off only when it was fully loaded.
The trip is in no way a luxury trip. For example, the shower is incorporated inside the bathroom cubicle, for which the water is taken directly from the river. There’s no toilet paper, so that has to be taken along too. As for the meals – they only provide the food, so you have to have something to put it into. And something to eat it with if you don’t fancy eating all the time with your hands! But, having read a lot of online materials on such a travel beforehand – and carrying a lot of stuff on my back too – I was well prepared and wasn’t that easily put off-guard.
The food. Mostly it consisted from rice with another dish, like spaghetti, potatoes, beans or salad. And meat as well, of course. Most often I would simply ask them not to give me any, but when I forgot, I gave it to my fellow passengers who highly appreciated it. Once we had a soup as well, but in the mornings the breakfast always consisted of two pieces of bread with some sweet but watery rice soup. No drinks or dessert.
The weather stayed cloudless and sunny all day long, everyday. And it was hot, oh boy, how hot, forcing the passengers on the third deck to stay within the boundaries of shadows underneath the roof and on that side of the boat that was sun-free. But the river did not always run straight, so the boat made many slow but irreversible turns, leaving the shady side exposed to the sun. And then the passengers resting there peacefully would go promptly to the other side of the boat to avoid the scorching heat. But sometimes, within minutes, the boat would make another turn, and everyone would hurry back again.
Only once did it rain, bringing along some considerable winds, but it was during night time, and then the captain drove the boat to the shore and waited for the wind to calm down again. And the nights, well, surprisingly, but the nights were cool; I was thankful for still having my blanket from Bolivia. Without it, it would have been quite hard to fall asleep.
With my fellow international travellers we kept sharing stories (the American kept going on about the conspiracy theories all involving his country’s government), stayed up late to enjoy the quiet silence of the forest, and stuck to the shadows in the hot daylight hours, observing the almost never-changing jungle landscape sliding before our eyes.
About the jungle. There was no sound from it at all. Not once did I hear a monkey crying or anything else. Only absolute silence. Oddly enough, but there were hardly any mosquitos either, considering that we were in the Amazon. Nevertheless, I always put my mosquito net up for the night, just in case.
But I did spot something else. The pink river dolphins. Whenever they were seen it was always near villages where they were probably looking for some discarded fish. Yet these occasions were so brief that I couldn’t fetch my GoPro out of fear of not seeing anything when I came back. So instead, I opted for simply enjoying the view.
But now forget about the river dolphins. In fact, forget about anything else. This trip is not about the jungle. It is not about the people. It is about sunsets. For I can assure you, South America has far more beautiful sunsets than Europe can ever dream of offering. And the Amazon Basin, well, is no exception.
And then, after three days of slow travel, quite predictably but still surprisingly, the trip was already over, and we arrived in Iquitos. I said goodbye to some of my fellow travellers, and, since it was a Sunday and it was the only day of the week when the boats to my next destination would not go (I’m so lucky, I know.), with the American we opted for paying 15 soles each for two bunk beds in a dormitory room of a rundown hostel right next to the main Plaza (Plaza de Armas). My main reason for staying at the hostel was that I knew finding a place in the city to pitch up a tent would be difficult, if not impossible. And thank goodness I did, because the rain that started coming down in buckets that evening would surely have left my tent and me with my belongings inside it dripping wet. Brr.
About the city of Iquitos. Did you know that this city is unique, even one of a kind in the world?
Iquitos is a city that many travellers choose as a starting point for their trips into the Amazonian jungle. It has about 500 000 inhabitants (900 000 including the nearby villages) and has all the amenities as any other city in Peru, such as bars, discos, hotels with WiFi and swimming pools, markets and street vendors, and those awful mototaxis everywhere. But something sets Iquitos apart. What it is? Oh, I don’t know. Just the fact that Iquitos is the biggest isolated city in the world! Surrounded by lush tropical jungle, the only way in or out is by boat or plane. There is a road leading out of the city, but it goes only as far as Nauta, a city some 100 km away, and there it stops. Iquitos has beautiful colonial architecture, abundance of vendors that offer cheap meals and …
Well, I could probably be able to tell more about it, but the following day I already got on board my next boat and thus my stay in this city was over. But where I was heading next – in my next post!