Adventures from a Hammock
In November, the rivers in the jungle begin to rise. It’s the perfect moment to grab a hammock and climb aboard a cargo boat, a floating world, linking Pucallpa-Iquitos-Yurimaguas. Welcome to a tour that is out of the ordinary.
In Iquitos, the gateway to the Peruvian Amazon, they say it´s a floating island city amidst immense rivers. To enjoy its charming islands, there are two options: fly 2 hours from Lima or go on an epic journey aboard a floating monster. From Pucallpa, the cargo boats with their passengers, travel down the Ucayali River and from Yurimaguas, a port located two hours from Tarapoto, travel down the Huallaga and Marañón rivers. Tie your hammock there and enter a floating world. I traveled on the “Henry I” from Pucallpa to Iquitos a few years ago: 4 unforgettable days.
When you first look at the “Henry I” from the port, it has grandeur: painted white, orange and green with a Superman drawn just below the captain’s cabin. Under the sweltering heat, this boat looks like a happy and hungry ogre. It has no fixed departures and leaves when there is no more space to be found. On the two days we went to visit him, we saw him consuming tons of goods: boxes of beverages, refrigerators, mattresses, furniture, motorcycles, a truck, chickens, tons of tires, bananas and more bananas. Everything was loaded on the backs of hundreds of men carrying the goods like ants. Once filled, another procession begins: the arrival of the passengers. You can book ahead and rent a cabin with private bathroom with a shower: 5 to 10 cabins are available per boat. Everyone else on board, with their hammocks under their arms, find two iron bars and begin to tie their hammock, and so on, until every morsel of space is turned into a jungle of hammocks. Kids start running around in all directions, while the adults twitch every time they want to run cross the boat. It seems like the ideal scenario for everyone to hate it in less than 24 hours. But it is actually quite the opposite.
The “Henry I” moves impassively, buzzing and exerting black smoke. Whenever you approach a port, they load and unload for several hours. The villagers board to sell fish, yucca, fruit and some exotic delicacies. If some arrive late, suddenly they approach in canoe and climb aboard as if they were pirates. Throughout the day you lose track of how many hours you have spent watching miles of white sandy beaches, thick forests, small huts and cottages, rainbows and dolphins appearing out of nowhere and watching people come and go without stopping.
But, it´s not all wonderful. Each floor has 4 bathrooms with a shower to share. The other institution is the cafeteria. At 8am you hear a loud banging on the pipes, turning the boat upside down: this collective alarm announces breakfast. On some ships you can find basic dishware, but it’s a good idea to buy a plastic container and utensils for your personal use. With your container in hand, join the queue for the set menu that never varies: oatmeal or rice pudding with some bread in the morning, rice, beans and meat with gravy for lunch and soup for dinner. Most of the employees in the kitchen area are gay, friendly and quite talkative. In regards to culinary, I prefer not to mention any more. Keep in mind that some people from out of the ordinary are expected to board and packing some snacks to improve the daily menu is an excellent idea.
So where’s the fun? Well, in every moment, really. You cannot do anything to go faster and there is not much else to see, just share the hot and humid air, sleep, laugh and gossip. It’s like crossing paths with the neighbors at lunchtime, when it’s time to bathe and when washing the dishes or clothes, everyone knows everyone; they talk and greet each other. I remember a Venezuelan nun, traveling with her parrot, craftsmen and musicians, children with generous smiles, Custodio and Valdemar, 12 year old cousins, travelling by themselves to sell their parents fish and the many stories they told me.
The last day came as a surprise. The ship was different this day. Women had their hair done up, nails painted and were with their sexy dresses that had been saved for the occasion and the flawless young women dressed as if they were going to church. The port appeared, we were returning to civilization. But, you will see that you will come to miss your swaying hammock.
The best route? The Iquitos-Yurimaguas route is beautiful. The river is narrower and the trip is shorter. The “Eduardo”, which operates the route, usually leaves on Wednesdays and Saturdays.
The mythical route? The Pucallpa-Iquitos-San Pablo route. Che Guevara took this route in 1952 aboard the raft “La Cenepa” and “El Cisne” towards the leper colony of San Pablo, a few hours from the triple border.
What to bring? A hammock and mosquito net. If you don’t have one, buy one at the local market (50 soles). A plastic container and utensils. Drinking water, soap, shampoo, cleaning products (organic products are best because the drain goes directly into the river) and plastic bags for trash (there aren’t any on board and unfortunately they also end up in the river).
The companies and river routes?
– Yurimaguas-Iquitos: Eduardo, 065 351270
– Pucallpa-Iquitos: Henry, 065 26 3948
– Iquitos-Santa Rosa (Border Peru-Colombia-Brazil): Departing from Puerto Masusa or Pesquero with “Gran Loretana”, “Gran Diego” or “Jorge Raúl”. There are also speedboats like the “Golfinho” or “Transtur“.
Prices and Times
– From Pucallpa to Iquitos: going down the Ucayali, 4 days, 150 soles in hammock, 200 soles/ cabin with bed.
– From Iquitos to Pucallpa: going up the Ucayali, 5 days, 150 soles in hammock, 200 soles/ cabin with bed.
– From Yurimaguas to Iquitos: going down the Huallaga and Marañón, 2 days, 100 soles in hammock, 150 soles / cabin with bed.
– From Iquitos to Yurimaguas: Maranon and Huallaga up, 3 days, 100 soles in hammock 150 soles / cabin with bed.
– From Iquitos to the Brazil-Colombia boarder: going down the Amazon, 2 days, 80 soles in a hammock, 130 soles / cabin with bed.
How is the current? It is important to find out if the river current is strong or weak. A boat going up the river, counter-current, will take longer.
How are the tides? If the river is low, the boat takes longer and can be immobilized by sand banks, so be aware of the time of the trip.
– Semi-high, good time: November, December, January, February
– High, ideal time: March, April, May
– Semi-low, good time: June, July
– Low, complicated: August, September, October
And how can I get there?
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