As our crowded, slipshod taxi pulled into the dusty town of Yurimaguas, I saw them. They were lying in wait like lions near a watering hole. And they saw us. They were the moto drivers who would be our best friends, or something just shy of it, for the next few hours.
When we did our research before we left on this epic journey, we discovered that we wouldn’t be riding a cruise ship down the Amazon. On the contrary, we would be hopping aboard a cargo boat that takes passengers. They offer a few cabins with meager amenities, bust most of the passengers prefer to sling hammocks on the deck, and sleep shoulder to shoulder, because it’s cheap. Two complimentary meals are served daily, lunch and dinner, and there may or may not be snacks for sale. A personal supply of water is critical. As is wine, don’t forget your wine.
We had decided that we would procure our supplies in Yurimaguas, then board the boat around noon. As we exited our taxi, and the eager moto drivers descended, I took the initiative, locked eyes with a young man and said “Vamos”. I said some other things in my halting Spanish, but he knew why we were there, and what we needed. And he knew just where to take us.
His uncle’s shop, of course.
We barreled into the heart of town, which was very much like most other small Peruvian towns we’d visited over the last few days, and screeched to a halt in front of a store. We were ushered in, and just like the pros that they are, our driver and his family began gathering all of the things we’d need for our journey. Hammocks, raincoats, mosquito netting, eating utensils and rope joined a pile of other stuff quickly towering on the counter. Then something strange was placed beside the stack.
An electric kettle? ¿Qué? ¿Por qué?
Para el café o té.
Will and I looked at each other and suppressed a laugh. I don’t really see us finding a place on a Peruvian cargo boat to plug in a kettle and enjoy a quiet cup of morning coffee. Plus, we’d already decided on buying a few cans of Red Bull to stave off the morning headaches. I thanked the lady kindly, but refused the kettle.
Our fearless young leader helped us gather our things after we’d paid what seemed like an insultingly meager price, and we were off to the market. As we rumbled along the dusty streets, I instructed Will to pick up some fruit, some non-perishables, Red Bull, water and wine. Don’t forget the wine! I stayed behind in the moto with our driver, while Will went into the market.
The shopping done, we sped downhill to the river. Finally, our first sighting of the confluence of the mighty Paranapura and Huallanga Rivers, which came together in a wide, muddy boil. Gone were any last vestiges of hope I might have had for any luxury on this trip. As thin, wispy men rushed to have the honor of carrying our things onboard, for a small fee, of course, I got my first view of my chariot for the majestic river adventure I’d soon be on, the Eduardo VI. Really? This is a boat?
As I dodged mud and piles of cow shit, and navigated 2×4’s serving as gangplanks while trying to keep up with our scrappy porter, we scampered up and over and around and he deposited Will and I at the man in charge. We decided to get a cabin, which also allowed us to hang hammocks on the deck. This was perfect, as the cabins could be locked, thus relieving us of the constant need to watch our things. We paid for our journey, about 80 USD for the both of us, then our porter hung our hammocks, we were shown to our cabin, and that was that.
Except the boat wasn’t leaving until 5pm, and it was currently 1pm. And hot. So very steamingly, swelteringly hot. What to do?
Well, make sure our things are locked in the cabin, and head off for a beer and look around the town, of course.
And that’s exactly what we did.
We returned a few hours later, and as Will settled in his hammock to read, I began to arrange things in the tiny cabin. I placed the netting over the jalousie window, shoved the box of water under the bunk, and stacked our cans of Red Bull and boxes of snacks along the wall. As I’m maneuvering things around, I notice something. No. It can’t be!
A socket. A goddamn electric socket. IN MY CABIN!
We should have gotten the electric kettle.
As the cattle and chickens and bananas jockeyed for position below deck, I stood at the railing, near the captain’s cabin and tried to ignore the pornographic poster on the inside of his flung open door. The engines rumbled to life as the sun began to set in the most impressive display of force I’ve ever seen in my life. It was as if pink, purple and gold light sabers were intent on slicing the sky into shreds, to display the inky blue lurking in the shadows.
And just like that, with no confetti, no fanfare, and no champagne bottles popping, we left the last place in northeastern Peru accessible by road, the boat swinging wide into the current and off into the night.
Next time: Crazy cocaine dude (I promise), Iquitos is kind of weird, alligator in a bottle, and pink dolphins.