When I booked my boat ride to get out of Lagunas, where I stayed for a three day tour in the jungle, I hadn’t considered the arrival of the express boat and its complications.
The boat was expected to be at the port by midnight, which gave me eight hours to pass the time once I left the jungle, stinking and sunburned.
I booked a night at the nearby hostel, had a shower, and rested. I hadn’t washed my clothes in a week, and had to resort to scrubbing the armpits of the Tintin shirt I was wearing, while in the jungle.
At 10.30pm I took a moto to the port, and I realised the risk I had placed myself in. The port was really nothing but a road that ended at the riverbank. A dim street light shone over the end of the road and empty market stalls, and a general store, and the ticket office.
Men passed, preparing for a journey on a cargo boat. A few couples waited near the store.
“Am I safe here?” I asked the moto driver in rough Spanish. He said I was okay if I stayed directly in the area of the street light.
Men came to talk to me, in rough jungle-river accents, and I couldn’t understand what the hell they were saying. I didn’t need the attention, or the risk of offending, but they all were trying to help me. One guy offered the transport on his friend’s cargo boat, and another said my boat wasn’t due until 2am.
The ticket master rushed to the office, unlocked the door, searched inside and returned to give me my ticket. Apparently three days before they had given me the receipt, not the official ticket.
And then the street light turned off. I felt dread, unsafe, and realising I was waiting at the shore in the dark. The power in Lagunas is rationed, or more accurately, the diesel that generated it, from 4pm to 11pm.
We could see the boat lights from almost an hour away, cutting out between the bends and islands, and as it passed, people shone torches and mobile phones to lure the boat in. It came and a crowd of us walked into the stuffy boat. It smelled strongly of sweat and eaten food, and I searched for a free seat in the dark and couldn’t find one. A lady took pity on me, sat her little boy on her lap and gave me space. The boat moved on but there was no room for my legs. It hurt to bend my legs at such a tight angle.
The dark became morning. As light shone, the children became active. There were so many infants, and they had to sit on their parents, because of the space. Children became more aware later in the day, and had a habit of staring at me when I wasn’t looking. Most of the time I pretended they weren’t, but when I did, they would shyly grin and look away. They were well behaved, considering, although some of them would lightly return their mothers’ slaps when they were reprimanded.
The boy next to me on his poor mum’s lap began playing with the boat curtains, which stretched the entire side, but soon a TV was set up, hanging from the roof, for the kids to watch some Peruvian situational comedy. They loved it, but for me, it was torture. I couldn’t understand why the tiny tough man with a mohawk was beating a chubby man’s stomach with a whip in some marketplace.
After 12 hours in the boat we reached Nauta, just upstream of the Amazon River, and I left exhausted. Police searched my bag, and then I took a bus to Iquitos.
This blog is part of a collection of my journal entries travelling into the Peruvian jungle region of Loreto. Another piece includes my jungle tour.