Exploring a new continent

Travel time: March - June 2010  |  by Dominik Weber

10 - 16 April Iquitos and a jungle trip

We arrived very early in Iquitos. We made a first stop at the port authorities, a second at the ship repair where we dropped off the damaged ship and the last stop at a small pier. Although it was only 7am in the morning, there were plenty of people waiting for us. In my guide and in various reports I was reading that you have to watch all your stuff if you don't want to lose anything. Also my new friend from Brazil said that again and it was really true. I was prepared for that, but once not looking at my stuff and a guy was already looking into a plastic bag in which I carried some fruits. Together with the Brazil guy, we tried to get off the ship fast and were watching each others bag. I was happy that I hadn't to get of the boat alone. As soon as the boat as stopped, all people came on board and when we left, they were already selling the fish on board. It was almost a small but coordinated chaos.
Once on terra firma, everybody wanted to offer taxi to us. The taxis in Iquitos are called Motorkars, motorbikes with a wide bench in the back. There are so many of them and beside some regular motorbikes, this is almost all of the traffic. There are hardly any cars - no wonder, you can reach Iquitos only by plane or by boat. We were walking a little bit further into town and at one point the Brazil guy said that this is the Plaza de Armas, the main square. After I thanked him and he left, I realized that this wasn't the plaza at all. So I walked a little bit further into town. Plaza de Armas was quite a few blocks further away.
While walking, every few minutes a taxi stops and asks if you need a ride. I always decline - perhaps I should have taken one. You have to negotiate the price, but they are very cheap. After I decline a further taxi, the driver got off the taxi and asked me if I wanted to do a jungle tour and gave me a brochure. I had my doubts of a jungle tour in Iquitos. My guide book said that the tours here are very expensive (because most lodges are owned by US companies with a lot of luxurities) and that they are cheaper in the South of the Amazon area. I was thinking of staying only one day in Iquitos and of spending some days further down South in Puerto Maldonado.

A few minutes later, a bit further down the street, my taxi driver appeared again, this time with another guy who spoke English. He was the representative of the tour company. He invited me to his office (that was just around the corner), he showed me some photos and I also spoke with another Germany lady who was just about to leave that day for a trip. She told me how much she paid and since it absolutely sounded reasonable, I was considering doing a jungle tour right the next day. I decided to go for four days, we negotiated the price a litte bit, Walter, another guy and (I learned that later) the owner of the lodge, gave me a bike ride to the bank to get cash - in the middle of the jungle plastic isn't really the preferred method of paying - and he gave me a ride to his bar where we had a beer.
Since I didn't wanted to use the shower on board of the ship from Leticia, I decided not to take a hostel this time, but a cheap hotel. I got a large single room with a great shower at the Hostal Peru, right in the main shopping street. That day, I explored the city of Iquitos a little bit further. As I said, it is in the middle of the rain forest, but has about 450,000 inhabitants and it is very busy. Actually, you don't get the feeling at all that the town is cut off from everything. But there is one thing that reminds you that you are in the jungle: everybody gets up at 6 in the morning when the sun rises. Something that I had seen all over the jungle area, they all live with the sun. Normally, the jungle people go to bed rather soon after sunset, but Iquitos is a city, so there is life until 2am. And it continues again at 6...

The next day, they picked me up at the hostel. They said, that it will be a Motorkar, but instead, with delay, a regular taxi came. I got in and there was this guy - first I though he could be from Australia, with blond, long and curly hair and a jungle hat. Soon I learned that he was from Lausanne, spoke only a bit of English and his name was Alex. As it turned out, with him, I will spend the next five days and we had a lot of fun.
Our lodge was about 100km upstream the Amazon, but with a speed boat it took us only a bit more than an hour to get there. The lodge (photo below) contained several buildings and was located at a river (at least during rain season it is a river) just off the Amazon river. We got our rooms, were introduced to our guide Raoul, nickname The Wolf, and we were very lucky that we go him. Already right after arrival, we had to take our rain boots and had a short walk into the jungle, just behind the lodge. And it was necessary to wear rain boots every time we left the lodge since everything there is pretty muddy.
Since I arrived together with Alex and we both stayed there for four days, we were sharing one guide. We had three tours per day, one in the morning, one in the afternoon and one in the evening. We saw a lot of spiders, some tarantulas, a few leguanas, some sloths, snakes, the two dephines of the Amazon River, were drinking water out of trees, were eating maggots, fishing piranhas, were visiting the next village and the shaman and so on. We spent most of the time with The Wolf and he told us a lot about the jungle - no wonder, he grew up in the next village and was a kid of the jungle. We asked him when he has been in Iquitos last time. He answered that it was about half year ago and that he doesn´t like to be in the city. The city is too boring for him!

The food was excelent, in the entire lodge, there were always around 8 guests only (some stayed there for less than 4 days, so every day someone left and someone came) and 6 people were taking care of us plus the guides for each of the groups. It was really a great experience but everybody of us was happy to return after four days: there were just too many mosquitos and no repellent seem to give you 100% protection.
On the fourth day, in the afternoon we took the speed boat back to Iquitos and I stayed with Alex in a hostel, Casa Samantha. A fine, clean and cheap hostel with a funny owner who parked his Harley Davidson right in the corridor. The last evening, Alex and I had a last drink to finish the days we spent together. Since his English was basic, we talked in French. I was surprised how much French I still know
The last day in Iquitos, I tried to see the tree main attractions of the city: In the morning I went to the floating city of Barrio Belen, which is actually a slum area. Most of the houses are floating and going up and down with the water. It was funny to see all that and it was not difficult to get a trip with a kanu there. Just show up and they will offer it to like the taxis on the street. I took 30 minutes ride and it was absolutely enough. My driver said something of something floating that I could see, but for that I had to pay another 10 Soles (about EUR 2,50): This guy spoke Spanish and I thought "why not". Well, it turned out that he was talking about Water lilies - something that I already saw in the jungle. I think I should improve my Spanish but I am working on it...

I also wanted to see a butterfly farm but I got stuck at the market. It rained and rained and rained very strong. I had to take shelter in front of a small chicken stand at the market. The woman was very funny and started talking with me. Yes, she talked for about 30 minutes non stop, some of them was, I think, dirty talk since they neighboring market women were giggeling. But they had their fun with me and I had my shelter. But this is something that happened to me several times. Even if you say that you don't speak Spanish or just a few words, the people don't realy care and continue talking like a waterfall.
I took a motorkar to one of the ports where the ships leave to go to a butterfly farm. But at the pier I learned that the opening hours of the butterfly farm in my guide were wrong and I was simply to late for seeing the farm. What a shame since a lot of people told me that it is worth the trip. So I took the same motorkar back to town - it was pooring rain! But it was fun to see all the kids on the street playing (some of them naked) with and in the rain water! Even in Iquitos, they are very close to mother nature.
I enjoyed the city a little bit more, with the Plaza de Armas with the church with a swiss watch in its tower, the main shopping street and the house architectured by the office of Gustave Eiffel. The house should not be in Iquitos but in Quito, in Ecuador, it was simply an error by the shipping company. But once it was here, they didn't want to ship it further to Quito. Now, this is one of the main attractions in Iquitos.
Iquitos is very nice with a very nice atmosphere. It is pretty relaxed and has the nice charm of a small city with a lot of Motorkars. And hardly any mosquitos! But since I saw most of the attractions, I decided to fly to Lima the next day.

The Eiffel-house in Iquitos with two taxis in the front.

The Eiffel-house in Iquitos with two taxis in the front.

Our lodge.

Our lodge.

Thick green jungle. Sometimes you do need the machete.

Thick green jungle. Sometimes you do need the machete.

A street of leave-cutting ants.

A street of leave-cutting ants.

One of the million trees that are used to be flooded.

One of the million trees that are used to be flooded.

I think the sloth is smiling as well

I think the sloth is smiling as well

Me and Alex in our little boat.

Me and Alex in our little boat.

In order to get more action, sometimes our guide took ways where we have to carry the boat over land. That was exhausting in the heat!

In order to get more action, sometimes our guide took ways where we have to carry the boat over land. That was exhausting in the heat!

Night fishing - thanks to the libellulas no mosquitos at all. But at some point the libellulas were gone...

Night fishing - thanks to the libellulas no mosquitos at all. But at some point the libellulas were gone...

The Wolf with his catch - a kayman.

The Wolf with his catch - a kayman.

With this brew from the local chaman, you can see into the future! It smelled pretty ok...

With this brew from the local chaman, you can see into the future! It smelled pretty ok...

Drinking water out of a tree. Tasty!

Drinking water out of a tree. Tasty!

One of the piranhas I caught. But he was very small and I released all of them afterwards.

One of the piranhas I caught. But he was very small and I released all of them afterwards.

One of the swimming houses in Belen. Usually, they are open like this one.

One of the swimming houses in Belen. Usually, they are open like this one.

In the middle of the market of Belen when it started to rain.

In the middle of the market of Belen when it started to rain.

© Dominik Weber, 2010
You are here : Overview The Americas Peru 10 - 16 April Iquitos and a jungle trip
The trip
 
Description:
After working for too long without a real break, I decided to go on a long planned backpack trip. After changing the departure date and the destination several times, I decided to go to South America. Starting in Colombia, then Peru and finishing in Bolivia. At least, this was the plan but once on tour, you never know what to expect. This report is for all people asking how I am doing, but also for those who are thinking about doing something similar. I hope I can inspire them.
Details:
Start of journey: Mar 19, 2010
Duration: 13 weeks
End of journey: Jun 15, 2010
Travelled countries: Colombia
Peru
Bolivia
The Author
 
Dominik Weber is an active author on break-fresh-ground. since 11 years.
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