Well, there’s that time again. I said goodbye to Ecuador, a country that I’ve grown to love over my two month stay here, and crossed into Peru. But before I left with all my beautiful, hazy, fun memories, one more adventure awaited. I decided it would be a brilliant idea to do a border run via the Amazon..on a cargo boat.
Where do I begin…
It all started with me taking the night bus to Coca, the gateway town to the wilderness of the jungle.I stash my stuff at Hotel Florida, which is good for one night; nothing too fancy, but I get a private room with two fans and a shower for 10 bucks. The only downside- it has no Internet. Actually, apart from the few Internet cafes, the connection to the outside world legitimately stops in Coca as I did not have any reception beyond this point, so tell your friends and family you’ll talk to them in Peru. This is also your last chance to take money out if needed. The boats from Coca to Nuevo Rocafuerte leave three times a week (Monday, Wednesday and Thursday) at 7:30am. The journey takes about 10hours, which mainly consists of people watching, napping and stopping for lunch.
Upon your arrival at the last town in Ecuador, you have to go to the migration office to get your exit stamp for when you’re about to leave. But you first need to make sure you have a boat that will take you to Peru. I managed to arrange that the minute I set foot on land, however I arrived late so I had to go to migration the next morning, wake the officer up from his sleep so that I could leave Ecuador. The office is part of a hotel and the guy normally resides in the first room so just knock on the door.
After all that was done, I set sail to Pantoja. The peke-peke boat I took looked as if it could only hold the weight of the bag of yucca and my bottle of water, nevermind my two relatively heavy bags, myself, the captain and his daughter. But somehow we made it. I was in Pantoja, in Peru, where after getting my visa I walked around asking for the slow boat, which I was told will be here Wednesday. Next week. What awaited me was 8 days in this tiny 3 street river village, where there is:
1) no electricity until 6pm to 11pm
2) no showers, aka you bathe with a bucket and rain water
3) God knows what running on the roof above your bed at night
4) not a single other foreign person
5) limited food
6) no chocolate
Nevertheless, my stubborness (or stupidity, however you view it) wasn’t going anywhere so I parked myself in the one hospetaje in town and was determined to wait for the slow boat to take me to Iquitos.
Traveler’s log, Pantoja, PERU
Life is peaceful here. So far no sign of ANY type of boat heading to Iquitos. Showered with rain water for the first time; wasn’t half bad. I realized how little I actually need in life, which is good. Other kind of attitude would get me nowhere here.
Made friends with a group of army lads working at the border crossing. This lead to one of them knocking at my door at 2am asking to be let in and sleep on the floor since his place was locked. I pretended to be asleep; 2am is not a time I take house visits. He then proceeded to annoy me by getting a stick, putting it through the hole in the mosquito net on my window and POKING me to wake me up. I could smell the strong aroma of alcohol as I was about to jump out of my bed and rip his head off. As much as I do carry a resemblance to Yogi in terms of loving to eat out of picnic baskets, I am NOT a goddamn bear. This incident was then followed by a claim that he is in love with me. If this is your idea of courting foreign women into being with you, you picked the wrong gringa.
As if last night’s adventures didn’t irritate me enough, Sunday is apparently ‘drinking moonshine at 8am’ day as I witnessed an alarming amount of drunk men hitting on me as I walked to get food. Patience level is running very very low. Where are you, slow boat?..
Once the town sobers up and you meet the right people who you can actually have a normal conversation with, life here isn’t too bad. Still no sign of the slow boat, but so far I’ve heard that:
a) it will be here Monday (lie)
b) Wednesday (possibly true, but maybe also a lie)
c) next Wednesday (I would die if that were the case)
Never trust a South American “time table”
My day mainly consisted of washing some clothes from my ever growing pile of dirty laundry in a soapy bucket filled with rain water. The suffocating humidity lingering in the air is a clear indicator of upcoming rain, however chores need to be done.
Two hours later I run with all the women to grab my laundry as the terential Amazonian rain starts showering the village and bringing a breath of fresh air into my lungs.
I have not had any connnection with the outside world for a week. The Internet is set to be put in on Friday, which only makes me smile as I was also told that it will be installed Wednesday.
Yet another day ends here in Pantoja; the slow boat is still nowhere to be found. But I’ve actually grown to oddly like this place. The days are relatively mundaine but peaceful, I spend my time reading, writing, taking photos, talking to locals, however, my favourite time here is night. All lights shut down just after 11pm and the impenetrable darkness surrounds the village, bringing out billions of tiny stars sparkling across the black silk resembling sky. The sounds of insects, frogs are echoing through the otherwise vast abyss of the night, with bats occasionally making flight above your head. No other source of light, apart from the peeking crescent moon and fireflies, that light up the air as they circle around you, giving off a rather fairytale-like feeling.
I go outside to start my day and there it is. The slow boat, that mysteriously appeard over night. The biggest and most unstable looking rust bucket I have ever seen, and yet I feel like Captain Jack Sparrow finding his beloved Black Pearl. Finally, my ticket out of here and down the Rio Napo into Iquitos has finally decided to show up. It ended up being a fantastic day; my local kitchen served me a double portion of food, we cut down some oranges to make juice, and I also ventured out into the jungle for a walk up to a lady’s farm, who owns a tienda just next to my hospetaje. There was not a cloud in the sky as we watched her herd of buffalos come back for feeding time at her gorgeous property in the heart of the vast green jungle.
I spent the day stocking up for my trip. Trying to get fruit here is like digging for gold, but I manage to get four oranges from Daniel, an apple, strawberry cookies and bread.
Farewell, Pantoja. I have to say, I’ll oddly miss you. I’ve gotten used to the life here, but I am so excited for whatever adventures lie ahead.
So finally here I was. On the biggest, most unstable looking ruskbucket of a boat I have ever seen, but I was drifting down the Rio Napo towards Iquitos. Me and 50 other people, all of our hammocks, two dogs, wild boars, crates of chickens, everyones luggage, a prehistoric looking turtle, cows and alot of comical moments.
During the day life moves slow. People watching, photo taking, writing, chitchatting and reading are pretty much all you do, stopping at tiny pueblos to load up cargo, which frequently results in a “7 men vs. one cow that refuses to board the boat” scene.
My nights were spent playing cards with three lovely Italian lads I made friends with, and (the most fun part) trying to crawl my way through the labyrinth of hammocks to get to mine so I could sleep. Crammed up like the sardines we would sometimes consume as a snack, but it felt wonderfully homey. Everyone would be in their own tiny cocoon for the night, the noise of the boat engine mixed with the odd musical melodies of the jungle and with my hammock neighbour playing religious vallenato about Jesus were my background music to my 4 day river pirate voyage down the veins of the Amazonas.
And now I finally set foot on land, in the heart of the jungle, in Iquitos, Peru. I miss Ecuador, but oh God, am I excited for whatever magical moments wait for me here.