There’s a shack in the jungle, by the river, in the national park of Pacaya-Samiria. I’m there two nights. Other people pass through in that time. Some take tours of three days, or four, or seven. Some can be in the national park for up to a month.
My guide Santiago takes me on a walking tour on the second day for a few hours, while it rains. We see monkeys, and rubber trees, and the sap stretches. He shows fruits, and I taste a little bitter yellow fruit. He cuts through scrub with a machete.
He chops pieces of bark for himself from trees which he says can help with vaginal pain, and cancer, and other sicknesses. Everything we truly need seems to be in the jungle.
We collect strange fish, not just piranhas, from nets. He cooks lunch, we rest, and have dinner. He gets exhausted by my need to speak Spanish when we can ask nearby translators for help, and soon he offers me a boat ride in the night to search for alligators.
“Oh crap, I’ve offended him,” I think as we searched the creek by torchlight. “What a terrible way to die.”
Eyes shine orange in the night. A branch resting near the canoe shakes, and I jump in fright. He shows me alligators close up but they aren’t anywhere near as big as salt water crocs. I relax.
Orange eyes in the dark stare, not looking away from their predator. Sometimes they disappear when I shine the light away and back.
Santiago can find frogs in the trees by torchlight, and shows me, and eventually we return to the shack.
The next day he’ll canoe us both upstream to the park’s entrance, barely stopping except for lunch and to signal the river otters. Sometimes he drinks a brew from a water bottle made from ingredients from the jungle, but offers me none.
This blog post is part of a collection of journal entries set while I journey alone to the Peruvian jungle. It begins with this post, if you are interested.
There’s much debate as to where the source of the Amazon River is, or even, where it actually becomes the river. But, according to Peru, and to Google Maps, the Amazon River is named once the two tributaries ‘Maranon’ and ‘Ucayali’ join.
The jungle between their joining is the Reserva Nacional Pacaya Samiria, which is Peru’s largest national park.
I want to visit the jungle and I hear the best way to visit it is by taking a boat to the small town of Lagunas, on the west side of the park. Most tourists come from the east, near Iquitos.
I travel downriver on an express boat, which leaves the Yurimaguas Port at 6am. It is a canoe shaped raft with a roof, and windows near the water, with a toilet at the back. There is an aisle which fits between three seats. After the passengers take their seat, the crew load up the front of the boat with fresh produce, and items that cannot wait for a slower cargo boat.
We stop at a few small villages along the way, with shacks, and thin horses, and the occasional telecommunications tower, of dug out canoes with tiny engines. It take five hours to reach Lagunas.
Children and elderly women stand on the bank waiting for us and as soon as we hit land, they pile onto the boat before I escape. There’s too many of them. They sell soft drinks and water, beef hearts and fried egg rings, and strange jungle fruits. More kids get on the boat but find themselves trapped at the back. They cannot leave until the ones at the front do, but those ones are determined to reach more customers.
The captain shouts something, probably to say it is time to go. I try to leave and a kid laughs at my expression, but in a nice way. He sees the humour and the madness of the situation, expressed on the face of an outsider.
This is where we are.
Inside the express boat to Lagunas (and onwards to Iquitos).
The Yurimaguas boat port.
One of the small villages along the river.
Cargo boats continually pass by with rather interesting looking objects.
The shore of one section of the river.
I’ve been told by the Lonely Planet guidebook and by a man at the Yurimaguas port to seek the president of the ‘Asociacion Huayruro Tours’, Miguel. I am told by the last hostel owner that he will get him to wait at the port for me. A man beckons me to his moto at the Lagunas port, and I assume he is Miguel. He take me to a hostel. I get a room and after a bit realise that there has been confusion.
I visit the association three times that day, but each time I’m told the president will return from the jungle in an hour. The truth is I am anxious.
There is no way to get money in Lagunas. There is no bank, no ATM, no exchanges, nada! I brought all my money, about 700 Soles. I am worried it won’t be enough for three days in the jungle, more than a day in Lagunas, and a boat trip to Iquitos. At the same time, I feel it’s too much money to have with me.
The main street is fine enough, but most houses are made of wood and appear run-down. Every street that branches out from the main one become dirt, and in most cases are overgrown with grass. It’s intimidating, and after three times not hearing from the association I buy my boat ticket out for that night. I’m impatient and not accounting for jungle time and limited reception, but I’m also scared of the jungle and for what I’m going to expect.
But I quickly learn as I walk through town that the people are kind, and the best of Peruvians. They offer advice, aren’t greedy, and are hospitable. I begin to feel safe as Miguel finally contacts me. I agree to take a jungle tour for 500 Soles total which would last three days. I go to the dock and am able to reschedule my ticket.
Tarapoto was a small city in a cleared valley, nestled in by the mountain jungles. It’s the first place from the coast I really notice the motos. There are thousands of them zooming through the narrow one-way streets.
The hostel was great value and the people were friendly, more-or-less. The tourist police had a big building next to the plaza and although the officer who helped me couldn’t speak English, was patient and considerate. We had a small mix-up when he thought I asked if I could take a photo of him, and he had to say no because he was a police officer.
He suggested a zoo when I asked for places to see, but it was really a rescue centre. I went to visit for animal photos but the pens and fences made it hard to do that. They showed a hidden pen with the most ‘dangerous’ animal, and the visitors were taken in one-by-one to see it. The pen was empty, except for a mirror.
There are plenty of waterfalls, a lake, and a small town with a colonial castle, but I continued by mini-bus to Yurimaguas. I sat squeezed among locals and realised it might be a rough ride when everyone grabbed a small garbage bag for themselves. One small girl around 10-years or so, needed it a few times even after we made it through the mountainous jungle route. It felt cold there, almost misty, as if numerous waterfalls and springs weren’t too far away.
During the drive we crossed over into the Loreto Region, easily the biggest of all the 25 regions of Peru, and one that includes the upper Amazon and its jungle basin.
Yurimaguas felt rougher. A moto driver immediately approached me as I got off the bus, and stopped the moto halfway on the journey just to let me know it was better if I was stocked up at the market first. I went to buy a hammock, and the guy offered to sell it for 36 soles until I walked out. He was offended when he agreed on 30 Soles, and while it was still a high price, it was a good hammock.
It was a dock town, one where money was made by trade and the transport of it, and not by tourism. My hostel was near the plaza right on the bank of the river. I nearly walked away because it was a shack on stilts, but when I was inside I saw the charm. It was run by a Frenchman, and he was friendly enough.
I bought my boat ticket to Lagunas at the dock. It was sold by a woman with the hardest eyes I have seen. They weren’t just cold, or angry. These were intense, as if she would fuck up anyone who fucked with her, and she would do it without feeling bad about it. She would put some thought into it.
I nearly walked away with my ticket, forgetting to pay for it. She wasn’t amused when I apologised.
As night fell, engines revved and smoke clouded the riverbank. At first I thought it was a stupid time to whipper-snipper the grass, but then the haze spread through the markets as I searched for a general store. The haze was a repellent for the mosquitoes, and it worked well. My hostel was open out to the water, a patio that was also the lounge room and dining room, and the rest of the shack but the bedrooms. The mosquitoes barely touched me. We watched the boats pass us on the river.