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I ramble about a number of things - but travel experiences, movies and music feature prominently. See my label cloud for a better idea. All comnments and opinions on this blog are my own, and do not in any way reflect the opinions/position of my employer (past/current/future).

16 January 2008

Yurimaguas to Iquitos

The Lonely Planet labels this part of my trip very much as "off the gringo trail". While Machu Picchu and the Incas have been very much a more recent fascination, sailing down the Amazon is an old dream ... and this is the start of what could be a very long trip down the river.

This is not a cruise trip down the river. Nor is it a speedboat down the river. In fact, much of the journey is not even on the actual Amazon ... which officially begins as a river much closer to Iquitos. It is a throwback to the stories of Huckleberry Finn and Tom Sawyer - large cargo/passenger boats, slowly, almost drifting, down the river.

The Good Doctor

Asher and I arrived in Yurimaguas on a Sunday. Weekends are not really a great time to do anything in rural Peru - they seem to be all asleep. Regardless, the docks were somewhat busy, and there was a boat leaving for Iquitos at noon the following day (but we could stay overnight for free). We were in fact one of the first people that enquired about a ticket (and one of the only tourists). One of the earlier passengers was a retired British doctor, Tony, and his Peruvian girlfriend, and in many ways he has become a major figure in my trip in Peru.

Tony is an almost stereotypical cranky old man ... except for the fact that he is not really that old. He is 55, has been retired for 15 years, and runs a pro bono clinic in the jungle for 6 months of the year. The other 6 months of the year, he spends in the Canary Islands, and thus he speaks excellent Spanish. And for a man who is a doctor, and has apparently had 7 minor heart attacks and a heart bypass operation, takes numerous pills, he still chain smokes and drinks probably a lot more than he should. But as he correctly points out - for him, life is too short ... so he might as well live it the way he wants to.

In many ways, conversations with Tony is more of him ranting about some topic, and someone else listening. He is a bit paranoid, has a few too many conspiracy theories but is also knowledgeable in a lot of areas other than medicine. He worked as a forensic pathologist in the UK, and thus has lots of stories about crime and punishment. He has interests in photography, radio and apart from treating locals in the jungles, he is doing his own research into the medicines of the local shamans.

He has become a major figure, mainly because he has guided us, before the boat journey, during and even after in Iquitos. He does not really have to ... but he does and does not demand anything in return. Because he has been doing his volunteer work for over 5 years, he has a reputation which has helped us in return. He has definitely been one of the most interesting people I have come across during my trip so far.


There are basically three types of accommodation on the boats (launcha in Peruvian terms): cabins (140 Soles), upper deck (120 Soles) and lower deck (60 Soles) hammocks. Being the cheapskates we are, we bunked down with the locals in the lower deck hammocks - and in many ways, I think this must be what a sardine locked away in a tin can feels like.

The food, which is included in the price was interesting ... well it was edible, and fairly good ... but hardly food for the gods. The cabins got a lot better food, but that is to be expected. Since Tony was traveling in a cabin, he offered to allow us to put our backpacks in there, thus reducing the need to keep a constant eye on our bags.

Having limited Spanish knowledge was definitely a disadvantage in terms of keeping ourselves from being bored ... that said, one of the Peruvian passengers was quite keen to improve his English and was also quite helpful in his own way. I also managed to get a game of Rummy (cards) going with two other passengers.

The only real negative part of the journey was that I managed to lose my towel ... which, if you follow the Hitchhikers Guide, is a disaster. It is not really I lost it, but it was stolen - and I was not the only one who had their towel stolen ... oh well ... it was a good towel though.

Last thoughts

It is only when you are on the river, that you realise how big it really is. For most of the journey, we were on the Marañon river, which only becomes the Amazon when it joins with the Ucayali River about 70 Km upstream from Iquitos. The river itself is very brown, a far cry from the clear mountain waters in the Andes that feed these rivers.

Since the boat sticks mainly to the middle of the river, it is not the best place for wildlife spotting. There are a lot of birds to be seen, although I cannot identify what I did see. But it is still an amazing experience to slowly drift down this massive river


Amanda howard said...

Hola, thanks for writing about this. I am looking into ways to get to Guayaquil from Iquitos and considering taking this boat as one leg of my journey. How long did it take you to get from Yurimaguas to Iquitos?

My e-mail is AmandaJayne007@gmail.com, so if you have time to get back to me I would really appreciate it! :)

Maximus said...

About to leave Iquitos myself on lancha. It takes about three days, there's normally lancha's that leave every day. If you're in more of a rush you can get on a combi from the plaza 28 de julio to Nauta and then leave in fast boat. Which is much faster.

Janice Kramar said...

Oh, the memories. In 1971 my husband and I and 6 children, ranging in age from 7 to 17 did that trip. Starting from Lima on a bus!! we spent a couple of days in Yurimaguas, then got on a River boat!! for the trip to Iguitos....More adventure after that, because the plane we had intended to take to Miami was broken down and we had to find a way home through Leticia and Bogota Colombia. I love your photos, and will share them with the family. It looks like things have not changed much. By the way, the river was low and it took us 10 days to make the 5 day trip.