Days: 271-274 (23 March 2015-26 March 2015)
Total distance travelled: 52,963.1 kilometres (32,896.34 miles)
With our return from adventuring on the Amazon complete, we felt our time in Iquitos too had ran its course and thus, it was time to move on.
As mentioned in earlier posts, this city in the jungle is in fact inaccessible by road and having flown in, we thought it only fair, and perhaps a bit more intrepid, to make our way out by water.
Our hostel had signage highlighting the river boat departure days and times to various destinations, and it looked as though Yurimaguas, our next port of call had departures every day excepting Sunday.
Thus we found ourselves, packs and all, in a moto-taxi in the early afternoon of our Saturday headed to the harbour, hopeful of securing ourselves passage up river.
We settled our taxi fare, then began to investigate our options, hopeful that the tub we’d be calling home for the next two and a half to three days wouldn’t be a total rust bucket (call us optimists).
In truth, the vessels were generally what I’d expected (I’d done a little preliminary reading of fellow travelers blogs) and more substantial than what Sarah had feared.
As we began to read the scheduled departure days on the various vessels (the destination and departure dates are prominently displayed on chalk boards at the front of each boat), we began to feel like we could hardly afford to be picky and instead simply began to hope we could find a boat.
Find a boat we did… with a scheduled departure day of Monday!
A little deflated, we made our way back into town, found a cheap hostel near the main plaza and twiddled our thumbs for a day and a bit.
Fast forward to early Monday afternoon, and again we found ourselves paying our fare as we were deposited at an admittedly busier harbour.
Our boat was busy loading cargo, but there were few fellow passengers, so we got down to the business of negotiating our fare.
It turns out little negotiation is possible, as the fare is set, it simplified things and leaving us with two options.
Hammock class on the main passenger deck, or for an extra $50.00 Soles each, the choice of a two berth cabin.
Whilst the hammock option would have made us feel more adventurous, we opted for the security a cabin offered (after our Amazon guide had days earlier regaled us with a tale of how his belongings had been stolen on one of these trips), so three steel walls and a steel door (basically, a metal box) was to be our home for the coming journey.
Welcome to our vessel, the Eduardo IX.
With at least four hours until our scheduled departure, we took the time to familiarise ourselves with our surroundings, which in truth was no lengthy task.
The boat was split over three levels, the bottom of these being devoted purely to cargo and the Eduardo’s large Volvo engine.
Level two, the middle section was devoted to ‘Hammock Class‘, with the kitchen and bar near the stern, which was also home to the bathrooms.
It was an interesting setup (the bathrooms that is), with both the shower and toilet within the same cubicle. Given that most of the shower heads leaked a little, it usually meant that the bathroom, and specifically the toilet seat (if it had one) was permanently damp!
The uppermost deck housed the cabins, as well as space for a smattering of hammocks and importantly, the bridge.
Truly, it doesn’t make the Eduardo IX sound all that big, however this tub apparently carries over 300 passengers!
With time to burn, I ventured ashore to grab us some tiny, overpriced cans of beer, our farewell nod and tipple to Iquitos, which we guzzled over a few hands of cards.
The afternoon wore on, as slowly more passengers began to board, primarily on the second deck, but a few joined us up on the cabin level.
We whiled away the hours watching the super human efforts in loading and unloading goods, not to mention the crazy many in which boats simply squeeze in alongside one another, creating space where before there was none!
Eventually, our 5pm departure time came and went, our boat seemingly no closer to departure.
Still, at least we were able to witness one of our few Iquitos sunsets (most afternoons, the city had been shrouded in cloud)!
Eventually, around 8pm we received word (from a fellow passenger no less) that we wouldn’t in fact be departing today, but rather tomorrow… 5pm tomorrow!
A full 24 hours late!
We made ourselves a dinner from our supply of snacks (I think it may have been tomato on crackers) and settled in for the night.
Others decided to leave their berths/hammocks and head back into town, but we figured we’d paid for the cabin, we may as well use it!
With the grey dawn came a pleasant surprise, as a warm breakfast of watery porridge and bread rolls was served to all guests still on the boat.
In fact, the gesture was repeated come lunchtime, when a hearty serve of chicken and rice was dished up, keeping us somewhat content.
More guests began to arrive and we soon found ourselves flanked by Germans on either side as other cabins began to fill (both parties were good folk).
The day was essentially a repeat of the previous, with much loading of goods, the odd fight between dock hands on the shore and even down to the detail of us having another crack at some farewell beers in the mid-afternoon.
Again, 5pm came and went, whilst the Eduardo IX still sat close to the shore.
Yet another hour passed, and still we were unmoved, with us by now wondering if we’d somehow wound up in a new version of Groundhog Day!
Eventually, under somewhat faded daylight, we heard the engines roar (although we’d heard the engines fire up on at least a dozen occasions already), the gangplanks were all raised… and nothing happened.
Turns out we were stuck!
Finally, after about ten minutes of tug work from the vessel sat beside us, we were free, and finally on our way out of Iquitos.
Or so we thought…
Perhaps fifteen minutes later we found ourselves again docked close to the harbour, as a few more people and goods were loaded and unloaded.
Finally, with skies quickly darkening with the sun having long set, we snuck out of Iquitos for good.
Welcome to our river life on the Eduardo IX.
Rather late that very night I was awakened by the honking horn of the vessel, and curious, I arose to take a look.
This proved an unwise choice as the night was pitch black, undoubtedly due to the heavy blanket of cloud above, this same blanket even at the time dumping a torrential load of rain onto the river, our vessel and myself.
The reason for the horns?
This was the first stop, at the first major town along the rivers banks.
Our first full day on the river brought with it another warm breakfast of porridge and bread rolls, rolls that this time included a horrid slice of processed meat that looked so horrible, it was promptly tossed overboard.
We instead added a little jam to them to sweeten the experience.
Our fellow travelers on board (the locals that is) were certainly innovative, no doubt more practiced in slow river travel than ourselves.
Most possessed an uncanny ability to sleep much of the day, whilst another took the opportunity to set up a barber shop near the stern!
Down in ‘Hammock Class‘, which was by now bursting at the seams, when the tarpaulins which clung to the side of the vessel were dropped (when the rains would come), it was a hot and stifling place.
Sadly, the aforementioned hole in the wall with ‘Bar’ written above it proved a misnomer.
No beer (or any other alcohol) could be procured here, but it did sell overpriced soft drinks and snacks.
Stops at random villages became frequent, afternoons ridiculously hot (except for the occasional cooling shower) and we also discovered that Sarah was remarkably adept at spotting Amazon River Dolphins!
We became quite chummy with our German neighbours, chatting easily thanks to their near perfect English, sharing in card games and local fruits a few of them had thoughtfully brought along.
The passenger complement continued to slowly dwindle, as more and more found their way to their destinations, most little more than a cluster of huts deep in the jungle.
Still, there were occasions when new passengers were collected, although I’m not sure all of them were paying customers!
As beautiful as it was, it was an inevitability that we would get bored, possibly a situation not aided by our additional day and a half on board before we’d even gotten underway.
There’s only so long you can read, play the same card games or try and think of new things to talk about.
It’s little wonder those locals are so adept at sleeping!
One particular woman was I’m sure considered a treasure by many of the parents on board, as she continued to concoct new games, new songs and new dances to keep the kids, of which there were a considerable number aboard, entertained.
One thing that can never be forgotten, was the sunsets, of which sadly one night was ruined by cloud, so in truth we only had the privilege to witness two of them.
But what a treat they were…
Our journey ended in a rather abrupt manner, with a loud knock on all of the cabins around 5am.
In the pre-dawn light we soon discovered we’d made it, we were here in Yurimaguas, ready to haggle with the taxi drivers and colectivo operators for a ride to see us onwards.
That’s right, we were back in a part of the world that had roads…
* Our cabin on the Eduardo IX cost us $150.00 Soles per person, which included all meals (except for dinners before we left port) for as long as the journey took.