“Hola, como estas jovenes?” An elderly men is descending the hill towards us. His arm spread wide like a Jesus statue and around his neck a cross. He`s only one black and white outfit away from looking like a priest. Sweat drops make their way down from my forehead towards my jaw. After our jungle tour we wanted to see a bit more from the Amazon. Puerto Nariño, a small ecovillage, a two hour boat from Leticia, appeared to be our Mekka. We walk up the muddy hill. It`s challenging us. With flip-flops, a backpack on my back and a smaller version on my front it`s not an easy task, especially considering the insane high temperature and the equally insane humidity. Juan, the hostel owner, shows us around. The dorm, the kitchen, the doors that everybody had to keep shut to keep the monkey`s outside, the parrots, the cats, the dogs. It`s a true Zoo. The atmosphere is laid back. Everything is possible. We settle into the dorm which appeared to be our own private gigantic bedroom for the next couple of days. During dusk, we say goodbye to the sun, which says goodbye to us in return by leaving an impressive coloring above the jungle when it sets down behind the horizon.
“Pats! Kleng! Boom!” I`m startled awake and sit straight up in my bed. “Kadam kleng!” The sound comes from the kitchen. I slowly get out of bed. Softly I put my bare feet on the wooden floor and as silent as possible, sneak towards the door that separates our room from the kitchen. Slowly, I open the door just enough to gaze through the opening unnoticed. I look back. Grant is still in a deep sleep. I`m on my own. I close one eye and with the other I try to get a view on what is causing the noise. My sight doesn`t reach far enough to see what is going on. I curl my neck around the door to take a peak…. “Oh no way…!” I giggle in amazment. One of the monkeys has found her way inside the common area and is digging into a pan with leftovers chili con carne. Her buttocks and squirrel tail are arched gracefully over the edge of the pan. “Hey, get out of there! That's not good for you! Hop off you!” Quickly, she shoots up the curtains and into a hole in the mesh (revealing her own secret entrance) and scampers outside. As best as I can, I try to repair the damage in the kitchen. Having swept the necessary dishes and broken shards, a mop is the only thing missing to finish the job. I walk outside toward the house of Juan. “Ouch!” I feel a sharp beak nipping my left heel. I look back and see one of the Parrots, who has a habit of biting girls’ heels, glaring up with a look of; “Back off my land.” Ah no, completely forgot to bring my broom. Juan gives all women at the hostel a broom to protect themselves against the woman-hating-Parrot. But with all the monkey excitement in the kitchen I had forgotten my bird shield. “Rocho, no! Leave Janet alone!” (After 5 times having to repeat my name, we settled on Janet). It is Juan, shouting from his porch. With a low head and widely spread wings Rocho staggers back to his base under the door of the hostel. I tell Juan about the monkey incident and the same afternoon the mesh above the kitchen door is fixed, this time, monkey proof.
There is a lookout tower on the hidden away property which gives us the chance to bath in the sun and watch the endless wildlife that is passing by. We see Parrots flying past the hammock, monkeys jumping from branch to branch, dolphins gasping for breath in the river and the most colorful butterflies you could ever imagine. Unfortunately, we are obliged to leave the place way sooner than we wanted. To avoid high season on the Galapagos Islands, we have to start to make our way to Ecuador. We say our goodbyes to Juan and the heel hungry parrot and head for Ecuador. A small ferry takes us from Leticia to the other side of the river where we are able to get a fast boat to Peru. A comfortable boat is departing the next morning to Iquitos, hundreds of kilometers west. It`s still a mystery how we can continue our journey to Ecuador from there, but it`s a descent way into the right direction. We decide to take the gamble and walk the next morning, in the dark, towards the boat. Grant has forgotten to put in his contact lenses. We cross one of the flimsy ramps which is being used a bridge between one muddy edge of a mini quagmire and the other. Grant volunteers to go first and as he crosses the plank of wood loosens it`s balance on the bank of mud. The crossing ends with Grant and backpack, knee deep in the muddy abyss. While Grant is trying to make the best of his new mud-stained outfit, I get to talk to an American whom has lived in Ecuador for over 20 years. Luckily, he knows an easy way into Ecuador. I write all of his tips and tricks on paper and warmly thank him for his time.
It takes us a full day before we arrive in Iquitos. The largest remote town disconnected from main roads. Anyone who wants to travel beyond Nauta will have to make the trek by boat or plane. A horde of pushy taxi drivers awaits us on the banks of Iquitos, ready to drive us to our hostel. We give a gentleman the name and address of our preferred destination. “Oh, this hostel is full ma'am. There is a large group of students who arrived this morning. I know a different hostel for you, much better and a good price.” Grant looks at me “What shall we do now?” He asks. “Bet it's a trick of him.” Taxi drivers in Central and South America have a habit for gaining commission when tricking tourists into their `amigos` hostel. “We have a reservation, so not to worry.” After some disgruntled mumbling from the driver, we agree on a price and hop into the motor taxi. Upon arrival to the hostel, the normal argument over the agreed price begins. It appears that the taxi driver had a gripe because the traffic light was red for too long and we haven`t yet paid extra for extra luggage. The hostel, as we guessed, was far from full. 15 rooms and only three other guests. Wisdom strikes again. The driver, after all of this, decides to have a shot at one last piece of `business`. He runs after me and puts his card in my hand. “I also organize tours through the jungle madam, if you are interested you can always call.” I draw my left eyebrow high in the air. “Sorry friend, honesty is a virtue. You tried to cheat on us with the hostel and then the price of the taxi ride. If you had been honest with me it might be a different story.” Returning the card back, leaving the driver in full amazement.
Iquitos proved an even dirtier city than Leticia with a mountain of pushy tour vendors. After the 10th pushy salesman walking the street within fifteen minutes of arriving, we decide to depart the next day. By bus we travel to Nauta, from where the rumours telling us that a boat could take us to Yurimaugas, which would bring us back to civilization, with roads! Nauta, where the boats for Yurimaugas departs, appears to be equally charming as Iquitos and after some searching we find a cheap hostel which room resembled something like the bunkers that soldiers slept in while fighting world war two. Over the past couple of days I had been hunched over the toilet bowl trying to throw out my jungle parasite. So after a long boat ride and bus, Grant suggested I should get some rest while he hunted down the boat which could take us to Yurimaguas. In the meantime I kept myself entertained watching a Spanish voice-over of the 'Devil wears Prada` whilst trying to swat away hand size insects from my face, continuously entering through the window (window being a gap in the wall with bars).
Grant returns less than half an hour later, walking in with two tickets in his hand to……. Yurimaguas! I spontaneously fly into his arms. The Amazon has been great, but in these circumstances I am ready for culture and development!
The joy unfortunately doesn`t lasts for long. According to the tradition (see blog `passport on the wall`) I passed my parasites onto Grant. This makes him do the necessary yoga moves above the toilet seat for the proceeding 6 hours. The smells, noises and groans make for a romantic last night on the Amazon.
At 5 AM we had to be at the boat. Since I feel the least troubled of the two, I'm going to the ticket booth before 4 AM to see if we can exchange the tickets for the next day. The girl at the counter takes the two tickets from me and points to a chair in the corner “Wait there, the manager will sort you out in a moment”. In order to kill some time, I read the various posters on the wall. “Only cards that are canceled up to 1 hour before departure, can be refunded.” Says one of them. My phone says 5 to 4, so I'm still good. The manager walks inside. A short, burly woman with a leopard-skin print shirt which she must be wearing since 15 kilos ago. I quickly make this assumption since her upper body seems bound together by the shirt and now each roll of fat tries to make its way out between the series of buttons on the front. The girl mumbles something to the lady. She strikes a deep sigh and sits down at the desk, starting to re-issue two new tickets. She hands me the new tickets "That is 150 soles". She says with a straight face. "But I've already paid. Up to 4, I`m allowed to cancel the tickets for free.” Pointing to the paper with terms and conditions hanging above the desk. She sighs and looks at her watch "It's two past four kid, you're too late." I look at her with disbelief. "But I've been here for 15 minutes, additionally, the street is filled with people who want to go on the boat, you can resell the tickets easily." "Not my problem. The tickets are attached to a name, so you cannot overwrite them to someone else." With anger I grab my old tickets from her desk. "If we today puke and shit all over your boat, then that's not MY problem." With stamping feet I walk back to the hostel to Grant to tell the story and quickly pack our bags.
The boat appears to be an old cargo boat of 30 meters long and 2.5 meters wide. The chairs resemble something you would find at a beach, iron frames with plastic lines acting as back support. "And where is the promised toilet?" I ask the captain. With a neutral face he points to the middle of the boat. An improvised wooden wall, just under our hip level, apparently is our toilet. A thin, sea through piece of blue cloth has to be the door and in the middle is a bucket, representing the toilet seat, revealing the former visitors achievements. "Are you sure you want to do this Grant? We can always buy a new ticket.” “They can shove their tickets where the sun don`t shine Sanne. I won’t pay a penny more.” Still, he has barely finished his sentence, when he quickly leans over the edge of the boat to repeat the nightly activities again. We put our coats on chairs to prevent a striped pattern of clotheslines on our bottoms and decide to make the best out of our 16 hour trip (10 hours today, 6 hours tomorrow).
The sun rises slowly, creating a magnificent pastel of colors. Astonishing sights cross our path; creative timber boats with huts on them pass us, all this possible due to a lawn mower motor steadily pushing the boat alone. Large freighters, filled with hammocks to take as many people as possible, pass us by. We stop in small villages where women sell pans of hot food, trying to make a little living. And all this under the regular melancholy of Grant emptying his stomach every hour. `Madam troll` runs back and forth in her tight leopard shirt and stops in each village to get as many people as possible on the boat. Unashamed she puts the money of each illegally sold space into her cleavage. People who do not have enough money for a chair, sit in the back among the luggage.
Pretty soon our sunken appetite turned into our luck. The promised lunch was running extremely late and the excited mood in the boat starts to be taken over by a grim. "Tenemos hambre! De donde esta mi almuerzo?! (We are hungry! Where's my lunch?)." `Madam troll` is way too busy with filling up her cleavage by stopping in each and every single village that we encounter. The clock already shows 5 PM, when lunch is finally brought in. Slowly dusk is coming in. It begins to get dark, pitch dark. The captain (which sits in the back of the boat) cannot see a thing. His assistant stands in front of the boat with a flashlight and tries as best as he can to keep the boat in the middle of the river. Not an easy task with all the curves and the fact that his instructions have to find a way past dozens of people and more than 30 meters of boat. It's a big, comic chaos. “Left!!!”He says to the left!” “What's he saying?” “To the left! To the left!” Cries the customers who are now acting as messengers. The boat makes a sharp turn left, closely missing the riverbank. Terrified that the boat capsizes I strongly embrace my backpack with my passport, bank cards, laptop and camera. “Calm down now Sanne. We are both excellent swimmers. Nothing will happen. If we tip over, I got you.” Grant is trying to reassure me. “Believe me, I'm not afraid to drown. I can trust you. But I also trust in their abilities.” And point to the caiman eyes that light up when the torch of the assistant shines on the water.
At 21:30, more than six hours later than planned, we arrive at our stop. The hostel has as much charm as our hostel in Nauta. “And our dinner?” “Yes, what about our dinner?” Ask the people in the boat to `Mrs troll`. “You had your supper at 5 PM.” She replies with a straight face. “That`s not true, that was our lunch!” Shouts a man. Casually she lifts her shoulders and closed the discussion with her motto: “Not my problem.”
Just a bit before sunrise we leave for part 2 of our epic journey. The children on the boat are overcoming their shyness, which quickly turns the nightmare into a funny adventure. They laugh constantly about our funny faces and bad Spanish jokes and our sunglasses are cheerfully passed through while posing for pictures. Also candy crush on Grant`s iPad appears to be a real hit.
After a lengthy but entertaining journey, we, with `some` delay, finally arrive in Yurimaguas. Our backpacks ended up on bottom of the pile of luggage, so we have to wait until everyone is out of the boat. With my elbow I poke in Grant`s side “Look, boxes full of food and drinks. And we have not even had breakfast today.” Grant makes a desperate attempt to pry breakfast. The troll is facing a street. “There's cafè Marios. If you show your boat ticket, you get your breakfast there.” We didn`t trusted her for a penny. We walk towards the cafe, which (of course) does not appear to exist. We decide to leave the whole experience behind us and take the next collectivo (shared taxi van) to Tarapoto. Here we check in at an overpriced hotel with swimming pool, balcony room and Mary Poppins clean bathroom. After traveling for three days passing around 1,500 kilometers, we stand hand in hand in the pool. “For the next couple of days, let`s enjoy a bit of luxury Grant.” “I think we deserve it."
After a burn-out it was time for a change. I quit my job, sold my stuff and bought a one-way ticket to the Dominican Republic. What was supposed to be a 4 month adventure turned into 2,5 years and counting......
Photo by: Vanessa Marques Barreto