Feeling a little fragile and looking as though I had just survived a major car accident, I said my goodbyes to everyone at El Cuartel and set off for the jungle.
In Piura I caught a moto taxi to the Movil Tours station, where I was able to catch a 5pm bus to Tarapoto for 125/S. I had heard that the road to Tarapoto was dangerous at night, but the 15 hour journey was both uneventful and comfortable and I arrived in Tarapoto feeling well rested. Even better, it was raining – which was exciting after 5 weeks of desert towns. Hot, steamy, jungle rain. The best rain.
I quickly found a moto taxi (4/s) to take me to the offices for the transport to Yurimaguas (20/S). Once there, I had to wait about an hour or so until there were enough people. In the meantime I grabbed some breakfast in the tiny cafeteria attached and was interrogated by the concerned proprietor about my bruises. She was so horrified that she trotted off to buy me some arnica. I guess there are benefits to being wounded!
I had been dreading the journey to Yurimaguas because the mountains roads were said to be windy and car sickness inevitable in the crowded collectivos. To my great delight however, I was bundled into the front seat of a car and spent a glorious two hours enjoying views of the spectacular mountainous rainforest.
In Yurimaguas it was easy to find someone to take me to the boat. My driver was obviously used to travelers because on the way he took me to the market and lugged around my backpack while showing me places to get my hammock (50/S, but you can get for cheaper), a Tupperware (about 2/S), locks (3/S), rope, toilet paper, a mosquito net (20/S) and fruit (I bought 1kg of nectarines and it was the perfect amount). Then he took me to the boat, helped me buy my ticket and set up my hammock for me. All for only 10/S!
The boat was only leaving the next day but I didn’t want to pay for a hostel so I opted to sleep on board that night. Fortunately all the other gringos on the boat had had the same idea, so I felt safe. I was extremely grateful for my mosquito net!
The next morning at about 6am we set off.
I chose to go with an Eduardo boat as they seemed to be the cleanest and most spacious boats. They are a little more expensive, but given the crowded and dirty conditions of the other boats we passed, I feel it was money well spent. I had been debating whether to get a cabin or not and I’m glad that I did. At 150/S, it’s only 50/S more than the normal fare (which just includes a space for your hammock and food) and you get better food (served on plates so a Tupperware isn’t actually necessary), a charging point and a place to lock up your bag. I had heard about the theft on these boats and witnessed it first hand when a Colombian had his phone stolen by the boat’s cook! (Luckily he managed to track it down and forced the cook to give it back).
The food on the boat was… Not great. As I was planning on doing Ayahuasca I had been cutting down my oil intake for the last week… so the food on the boat was my worst nightmare. Super, super oily. Breakfast was two rolls and a bowl of porridge (which I didn’t try) but you can also purchase boiled eggs for 1/S a pop. Lunch and dinner were almost the same thing every day – soups with rice or pasta – all with an oily layer. It probably didn’t help that I got served first (because I had a cabin) so I got the bulk of the oil. On the second day I woke up vomiting and from then on I stuck to plain rice or pasta. If you’re not on an Ayahuasca diet you can supplement the food with chips or biscuits from the kiosk on the boat.
The nights and mornings were quite cool and I ended up using my sleeping bag. From about 12pm to 5pm it was too hot to function and after all that slight food poisoning episode I felt justified in whiling away my days dozing and listening to music.
The journey was uneventful, save for the theft incident. We stopped at many villages to drop off supplies, but generally only stayed for about 10 or 15 minutes (during which time villagers would hop on the boat to sell fruit, chifles or popcorn) so the captain didn’t allow anyone to get off to explore. On the second day we stopped at a village situated on the confluence of the Negro river (which has cleaner water and is a dark, almost black color) and our river, the Marañón, which has that milky brown hue typically associated with the Amazon. It was like oil and water! The water was a flurry of activity because of all the dolphins that kept popping up. At this stage of the game I’ve given up trying to photograph them but there are two types.
It was interesting to see how the jungle changed along the river. The water level was very low so sometimes there were sweeping beaches stretching away towards the tree line, and at other times we were relatively close to the jungle, with a steep cliff dropping away to the water. The water level will rise 10 to 15m during rainy season and I can only imagine the incredible transformation the land will undergo. Hopefully I can come back one day and see it. I believe many of the villages (with all their buildings built on stilts) will be under water and navigable only by canoe, which I suppose also partly explains why there were no cars. (That, and the obvious lack of a need for cars in the thick jungle).
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