Friday, August 29, 2008

The Boat: Pucallpa to Iquitos

We knew there were boats from Pucallpa to Iquitos. We knew the boat took between 3-7 days, depending on the water level. We also knew that there was no schedule. So, we asked around and found out some information: room on the boat should cost about 100 soles and space to hang a hammock about 80 soles, all the Henry boats were reputed to be the 'biggest and best' and Monday was the next scheduled departure day. So, on Monday we went to the docks in the morning to find out what's what...

First, we found out how incredibly busy the docks are and how much manual labor there is. There were men carrying food, supplies - everything you can think of was being carried onto various ships.

Then, we went to the Henry boats. On Henry IV we found out that the rooms were tiny, had no windows, an unfriendly manager, and rooms which were way more than 100 soles. On Henry VI, we discovered room that had private bathrooms, windows, and a fan -- and cost even more. I was nervous not to get a boat and Arturo was determined not to get taken advantage, we walked down the docks and checked out a couple of other boats. It's a good thing we did.

We finally settled on Men del Norte. It was the right price, a room with windows, and a very friendly owner. We were told to come back at 1:00 and that our departure time was about 2:00. We left to go back to the hostel to pack, enjoy our last shower for several days, and to pick up some snacks for the trip (all meals were included in the price).

At about 1:00 we returned to the boat, ready to settle in and watch the remaining cargo being loaded onto the boat. We put our bags in the very, very hot room we rented and went to hang out hammocks which we bought to use during the day. We decided to hang them next to the two foreigners also on the ship and, after working and sweating, Arturo successfully hung our two hammocks...
and we took the positions we would sit in for most of the following days: in our hammocks.

We met the group of 8 other backpackers on the ship. Doris from Austria, Lisa from Australia, a couple from Argentina, Ethan from the USA, Martin from Sweden, and Chris from Austria, and a slightly older gentleman from Chile.

As we got settled in, we realized that it was unlikely we will be leaving on time. In fact, the Austrian and Australian girls had been there since Saturday waiting to leave. We began to take bets on when we would leave...In the end, we left about 6:00 p.m. Our journey to the Amazon had really begun!

Time passed both slowly and quickly. We made several stops along the way at various towns on the river bank. We met some of the locals on the ship, there for both business and pleasure. We enjoyed surprisingly good food at meal times (as the chef served us, he flirted outrageously with Arturo), and we read a lot. Of course, we also socialized with the people on the ship, talking and sharing our stories, while watching the incredible landscape.

Then, we stopped.

And didn't move

We were stuck in a sandbar.

After several hours, a small boat happened to come by and tried to help. They left quickly as they realized they were doing nothing but wasting gas. Eventually, a tug boat came and, after several more hours, we were moving again. We lost about 12 hours as a result of this, but we chalked this all up to 'part of the adventure.'

Several times through these next few days - which have now kind of blurred into one day - we saw pink and gray dolphins. Dolphins? Yes, the Amazon, and the rivers which form it, have fresh-water dolphins, both gray and pink. They are fascinating to watch, but very difficult to photograph. By the time you see them, move your camera and look through the tiny screen on the back of your camera, they have long since gone back under the water. I've included a photograph here from the following website which has some interesting information about these rare dolphins.
In addition to the amazing dolphins and tiny villages along the way, I realized something incredibly disturbing: all garbage from the ship was put into the river. I suspected that the toilets were going straight in, but thought that, surely, some garbage was being saved to deposit when we arrived in Iquitos. Then, we had a small pane in our windown break. When the guy came to sweep it up he promptly dumped all of the glass directly into the river. That is when it hit home: all garbage from the ship was put into the river. Of course, this was nothing new, but the amount of traffic and the type of garbage had changed and now was, as everywhere in the world, affecting life as you'll see when I write about Iquitos.

That small bit aside, the journey was relaxing, smooth and enjoyable. I learned how to play Texas Hold 'Em poker, read a book in Spanish (Tuck Everlasting - Tuck Para Siempre), read two books in English, watched incredible scenery, played with kids on the boat, talked with interesting foreigners, and had lots of time to think about my life.

On Thursday night we were told that we would definitely arrive in Iquitos Friday morning. To celebrate, we had a little party with the remainder of our beverage and snack supplies. We were all a bit tipsy as we went to sleep that night, but went to sleep relaxed, knowing we would arrive by the time we woke up.

Before that happened, I awoke to the light being switched on and three policemen asking me if I spoke Spanish. I answered, a bit disoriented. They were there to search the boat for drugs. Lisa, the girl from Australia, had been storing her bag in our room and that was their first object. Second was to look at our documents. I was a bit nervous to hand over my Peruvian resident's card and Arturo's national ID card while, next to me, Arturo was snorning loudly, oblivious to all that was happening. The police didn't seem to care about the Peruvian passed out in my bed and began to search our things. Our bags seemed to pass inspection, but he took out a bottle of pills and a small statue from Lisa's bag. He tested the statue with some pink liquid to see if there were drugs inside. Since she wasn't carrying any, the statue was clean and we were free to go back to sleep. Just as I was dozing off, ignorning the sounds of the search that was going on throughout the ship, there was anothing knock at the door. More police. They entered and wanted to search under the mattress. This was difficult as Arturo would not wake up or move. The policeman was very kind as he gently lifted Arturo's legs and looked under the mattress. We passed inspected yet again, as did - to the best of our knowledge - everyone else on the ship.

In the morning, we arrived into Iquitos where we were promptly greeted by someone from a hostel with a swimming pool for s/15 per person, per night (that's about $5).
A swimming pool?
We were sold.
We hopped into a moto-taxi with him and were on our way. And when I say 'we' I mean the entire group of backpackers to the next stage of our adventure: Iquitos and the Jungle.


Michael said...

Hi, my name is Mikis Hasson , I am Greek and I am organizing a spiritual voyage on the 20th of June from Pucallpa to Iquitos and I have hired the MEN DEL NORTE for the trip. I wonder if I can use some of the photos for the site I am making for the voyage and also any further info about your voyage - mosquito situation, conditions on the boat, places visited etc. I loved your full of life enthusiasm blog
thanks and electronic hugs

David said...

What's the name of the hostel with the swimming pool? I'm going to iquitos soon and I'd love to swim away the heat..

David said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
David said...

What's the name of the hostel with the swimming pool? I'm going to iquitos soon and I'd love to swim away the heat..

cherielove said...

Hospedaje golondrinas. Still 15soles for a dorm bed. Pool, kitchen, lovely Rosa, the owner. Putumayo, cuadra 10

TravisH said...

Thanks so much for this post! Very helpful for my upcoming journey!