About Me

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).

18 January 2008

Iquitos and Beyond

Iquitos - one of the largest cities in the Amazon jungle, yet there are no road connections to any other major city in they world (there is a recent road to the town of Nalta near the official start of the Amazon). For once, the phrase "All roads lead to Rome" (or to Cusco) has no meaning. Even this far up the river, it is navigable by ocean going ships, although they do not usually come up this far.

Being a city on the banks of the Amazon, fish dominates the menu. And a quick walk through the old Belém market this morning, I was quite impressed with the variety and quantity of fish for sale. And like the rest of Peru, fresh fruit is also readily available, and quite cheap.

Because of its relative isolation, it is a bit more expensive when compared to some coastal towns, but not really that much more expensive. It is a vibrant town, and the setting for many expeditions to the jungle. And like most tourist trades, it caters mostly for the tourist: luxury and semi luxury lodges, speed boats, swimming pools ... some of the offers almost seem like theme parks.

After a lot of thinking, especially considering the considerable financial outlay, I have decided to go for a much more of a wild jungle trip. At this point, both Asher and Daniel have decided to press on to Brazil and make their way to Salvador. I have decided that instead of spending money on expensive dorm beds in Salvador (50 US $ a night, minimum 7 nights) to spend it on the jungle trip ... I will still make it to Brazil for the Carnaval, just not to a major Carnaval city.

The jungle trip, is in many ways roughing it. It will be just me, the guide (who speaks fairly good English) and his assistant, for 5 days in the Jungle, far from any luxury lodge. There will be camping on 2/3 nights and at least one night in an Indian village before, one night in a simple hotel before I get a boat for a day and half to the border. Like all nature expeditions, nothing is really guaranteed - but I have a fairly good chance of seeing animals in the wild and it should be an interesting experience.

I leave later today ... and if all things go well, I should be able to blog about my experiences in the jungle next week, from Brazil. Of all the things I have done on my trip, this is both the most terrifying and the most exciting ...

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

13 January 2008

Chachapoyas, Pedro Ruiz , Tarapoto and the road to Yurimaguas

We only stayed one night in Chachapoyas, and left Chachapoyas for Pedro Ruiz after our visit to Kuelap. There are no direct busses to Tarapoto, our next stop, and given road closures, it was best to leave at night. For a small town, I have spent more time in Pedro Ruiz than in larger, more well known towns, such as Nasca.

The intention was to take shared taxis (collectivos) all the way to Tarapoto, but we discovered that was a rather expensive option. So we took a chance, and bought a bus ticket from an "agent" for 28 Soles to Tarapoto. It turned out to be one of the best purchases - as we got effectively a first class seat (bed like seats) for the 7 hour trip.

Tarapoto, also known as the "City of Palms" is not much to write about. It is the first forray into the jungle - a welcome relief from the mountains into the heat and humidity of the jungle. After spending the night in the city, we took another collectivo to Yurimaguas - from where we were to take a boat down to the Amazon city of Iquitos.

The road between Tarapoto and Yurimaguas is still under construction, but once completed it will be one of the most spectacular roads in Peru, if not the world. Winding over the last remnants of the Andes, with some spectacular waterfalls (Cataratas de Ahuashiyacu) and some spectacular views of the jungle below. Right now though, the road is still muddy in large parts and quite difficult to drive through in places.