Nov 16,2015 -Lima to Iquitos and on to Nauta on the Amazon
The reason I am in Peru to start with is because my friend LeeAnn saw a picture of a pink dolphin swimming in the muddy waters of the Amazon and said we should go there. That was two years ago and here we are up and ready to head to the airport yet again. The past six days have just been preamble for this main event. Although Leeann lit the flame, Janis carried the torch and before you could say “Jiminey Cricket” (does anyone really say that?) our friend Aaron Russ, owner of Wild Earth Travel out of New Zealand had us busy sending cheques.
Today, I look out the window of the Hilton in Lima and know tomorrow will be very different. For now, it could be Toronto’s Bay Street down there. Everyone is wearing a dark suit. For the Peruvians the workweek is beginning. Mist is rolling over the Malecon and construction workers are hard at it on the seawall. Me, I’m off to Iquitos and the beginning of a wonder-filled week on the Amazon river system.
As we head for the airport the traffic is building and the west is infiltrating the city. We pass signs for Kentucky Fried Chicken, Pizza Hut, and Scotia Bank. Dog parks have statues of St Bernards that are really garbage cans for “do-do” bags. Totally isolated bicycle lanes trail down the middle of the road between the traffic lanes. It looks like a good design but at this hour it is not getting much use.
The steps up to the flight deck on our plane to Iquitos are much easier today even though it is hot with 90% humidity. Yeah for sea level!
As we disembark in Iquitos, a town of just less than 400,000 found in the eastern part of the Amazon basin, Juan Luis from Delfin Tours is there to orchestrate our journey. There are eight of us now. Shirley and Erika joined us in Lima. We are 96km from Nauta where we will board the Delfin I but nothing will do but we go to the Best Western for the “best lunch in town” before we begin the journey.
On the way through the crowded streets of Iquitos, my imagination runs away with me and it is all wrong. No one will be eating at the Best Western for some time. But our van with its trailer in tow drops us at its would-be front door and we descend and descend until at river level we are ushered aboard a boat that might float long enough for us to reach the “Al Frio y al Fuego”, a floating restaurant found mid-stream.
Water transport is important here, even in the city of Iquitos. Founded in 1864, the city is built on an island. Everything is brought in by air or water taxi. Even on the water it is hot and sticky so the chicken and banana pancake things I have for lunch sit like a rock in my stomach. I guzzle coca cola.
On returning to shore, it is up those multiple flights of stairs to street level where it is worth my life to step onto the street itself. Here it is not cars but Tuk Tuks, 25,000 of them, that rule the roads. They are basically open air taxi’s powered by a motorcycle. They come in all shapes, colours and sizes. Some are more like trucks. Some carry people, whole families on the single back seat, or furniture or lumber tied precariously on top. Honda seems to have cornered the market but in some cases, the really spiffy ones, look more like a Model T.
As we head out of town, the traffic lessens, houses become scarce and land looks poor. We’re told that some families make charcoal to sell to the Chinese restaurants in town. We pass banana trees and chicken farms. And we see our first hanging orapendula nests high up in the trees. As we near Nauta the soil becomes as red as the sands of Prince Edward Island. Houses are made of this red clay. Occasionally we pass signs for a lodge. We proceed on a two lane highway with about as many bends as the Amazon. Traffic is scarce. And there, as we round a bend, is an ice cream cart. What?
The Amazon heads off in an easterly direction and travels from its source in the Andes through three countries (Peru, Columbia and Brazil) covering a distance of over 4000 miles. Along the way over a thousand tributaries dump their black water, heavily laden with tannins, into the main white water stream. There is still debate about whether the Nile or the Amazon is actually the longest river but hey… lets not quibble. We will travel on the Ucayali and the Maranon, the two confluences that merge to make the main stream in Peru. Where it empties into the Atlantic in Brazil, the estuary is over 150 miles wide. During the wet season the river triples in size and covers in excess of 330,000 square kilometers of land. Any way you look at it, it’s a big river and it holds a lot of water and not a drop of it can be drunk without first being boiled.
By 5:10 I am looking at my watch and put my camera aside. I cannot hold it up any longer. The drive-by pictures will have to develop in my memory.
In Nauta, our driver navigates a maze of narrow back streets and stops abruptly at a polished wooded door. The stairs, leading up to it, are resting places for the local kids. We are ushered past smiling waif-like children into a place without glass but with plenty of shine. Alice just fell through the looking glass!
The sun is setting and grey dolphins play in the glow as we make our way to the boat where our superior accommodation, deluxe meals and shiny, shiny floors, await.
Did I mention, it’s quite a contrast!