Amazing Adventures part 2 – All Aboard!

We really lucked out on the boat journey in a number of ways. First – we arrived as one boat was leaving which meant we were the first to get choice of place on the next boat to go – the boat that in fact we wanted, the Eduardo. This meant we got a cabin. This did not denote any particular luxury. There is nothing that we saw in the whole of the port at Yurimaguas that suggested anything had ever been in the vicinity of luxury, faded splendour, or even delusions of grandeur. There was just boat. Shitloads of hulking rust and metal, a testament to the power of a damn good soldering iron.Cabin 1 on the Eduardo II

The main reason to get a cabin is to have somewhere to safely store your gear so we wouldn’t have to sleep cocooned in our hammocks with our backpacks on top of us as at least one mistrustful passenger chose to do. As well as our cabin we rented a hammock for daytime use, when the cabin became too hot to be tolerable.

Hammock life

In addition to getting the pick of the crop for cabin and hammock space, getting a place on a boat that was leaving the next day meant we could stay on board that night for the same price, saving us another night’s lodging costs. This lead to our second stroke of luck, as the next morning we were awoken with the news that our Eduardo, the Eduardo II, was not, in fact, going to leave that day, but the boat next door, the larger and more capacious Eduardo I would be making the trip instead. The cabins on the larger Eduardo were definitely a sight better than on the Eduardo II, but the price rose correspondingly. As we already had our tickets, they agreed to give us a cabin at the same price and took us to the lower deck to show us something in our range. The friendly chap who’d rented us the hammock murmered quietly, “Tell them you don’t want to be downstairs; they’ll find you a cabin up here,” and lo and behold, a lovely, top deck cabin was offered. We were all sorted for a jolly voyage along the río Marañon and on to the Amazon itself.

The final piece of luck was that, with all our calculations we had come to terms with the fact that we wouldn’t make it to Iquitos for new year and would probably be spending a quiet one with a couple of beers on the boat, but in fact due to the rising waters (December is the prelude to the rainy season which begins in earnest in January) we were going to make the journey in just under two days rather than the predicted three or four, and would thus arrive on new year’s eve.

Leaving the port In port at 'La Boca'

This was the part of the journey that I had actually been looking forward to the most. Trekking and seeing amazing sites is all well and good, but surely all anyone really wants over Christmas is the opportunity to put your feet up and relax with a good book. And what better way to do that than spending a couple of days on a boat, with your feet up in a hammock, swinging away the hot jungle days as some of the greatest natural beauty the planet has to offer sails by, hour after hour.

The journey was as relaxing and enjoyable as I had hoped. By day I lounged in the hammock reading my book, or chatted with a group of jungle kids, five brothers between the ages of three and seven on their way back to Iquitos with their parents. After the usual questions, “Whass yu name?” “Where you from?” they launched straight in to their real agenda. “What legends do you have in England? What are the best names? What fish do you have? What animals do you have?” Certainly the most challenging and novel questions I’ve been asked yet. In the end we spent an hour or so exchanging myths and legends. Interestingly, the best I had for them in my canon was a story I learned recently about Pachacámac. They had a number of scary stories about witches and creatures like the half-woman, half-dolphin, and other jungle ghouls. They also had a number of jokes in which the punchline basically revolved around someone sticking their finger in poo and then licking it. By night we drank rum like true old navvies and chatted to the small group of other various gringos.

Sunset on the rio Marañon

A day and a half and one epic jungle thunderstorm later, we were awoken in the wee small hours of the 31st as we finally arrived in port in Iquitos. I was very much the worse for wear, although this was half rum and half the awful fever that was about to rob me of my first couple of days in the city. The running around to get packed turned out to be a bit previous as it then took nearly two hours for the wrangling with the harbour master, the registration of the passenger and cargo manifests and finally, in true Peruvian style, for us to spend twenty minutes heaving huge boats around with sticks in order for the Captain to nose the Eduardo into an impossibly small gap. This all the while to the soundtrack of the squealing pigs who were clearly not enjoying the experience of being hoisted off the neighbouring ship. But finally, with no ceremony at all, we bundled off into the port, on to a mototaxi and off to find our lodgings.

And for the travellers:

Yurimaguas to Iquitos by boat in figures, December 2012

 Coming from Chachapoyas, we headed on a colectivo to the town of Pedro Ruiz on the main trans-Andean road. Cost s/.5

We picked up a bus (servicio economico) direct from there to Yurimaguas. Cost s/.50 – but we were tired and susceptible, I think this should in fact be about s/.35. It is also possible and probably advisable to get a bus to Tarapoto and then pick up a colectivo from there to Yurimaguas – the services are regular and run all day.

In Yurimaguas go to the port (La Boca) and look around. The boats all have large signs on the front saying on what day and at what time they are scheduled to depart. We went with the company Eduardo as our own research said they were the best, but there are numerous options. There are eight or nine different boats and they have varying levels of luxury, so the prices differ accordingly. A cabin on the Eduardo II costs s/.150 per person and the shower and basins run river water. A cabin on the Eduardo costs s/.200, or, for the ‘habitación’ s/.500. This is the fancy-shmancy cabin with a double bed, ensuite bathroom and a real window that opens and shuts. The basins and showers run from a cistern of non-river water. All prices include breakfast, lunch and dinner of basic but perfectly serviceable food.

We also rented a hammock for the journey for s/.15 The same vendors sold them for s/.23 if you want a keepsake!

What we stocked up on in Yurimaguas market (an experience in itself): toilet roll, a lot of water, snacks, string to make a clothes line for towels to dry, and we bought some palo santo which keeps the bugs out of the room. Cost approx s/. 20

Total cost: s/.240 each

Boats

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