River Dolphins, Amazonic Piranhas, and Floating Towns

After posting my last blog entry I walked up to the super market and gathered supplies that I would need to last me until I reached the town of Yurimaguas. The plan discussed by Agustin of Argentina, Christian of Switzerland, and I, Taylorito, of Canada, was that we would make our way to the boat as quickly as possible no matter how terrible and long the journey would come to be. It turned out the journey was quite a bit more horrible than we had expected but we all still made it to our destination town of Yurimaguas in one piece. Along the way we had a tire explode right on the side of a very steep cliff. The next morning we spent several hours waiting outside of a bus station in a far from secure neighbourhood in the middle of the night, and even rode for 4 hours in the back of a pick-up truck in the pouring rain. It is amazing what you can get done when you just keep on trucking.

Here is Agustin of Argentina, Christian of Switzerland, and myself in the back of the pick-up getting ready for hour 4 hour ride to Yurimaguas in the pouring rain
Here is Agustin of Argentina, Christian of Switzerland, and myself in the back of the pick-up getting ready for our ride to Yurimaguas in which it poured rain for about 3 hours out of the four hour journey.
Christian snapped a shot of us goofing around underneath the tarp as we stood on the back of the pickup holding onto a tarp to try and keep us dry. Lots of laughs, always.
Christian snapped a shot of us goofing around underneath the tarp as we stood on the back of the pickup holding onto a tarp to try and keep us dry. Lots of laughs, always.
Christian attempting to sleep in a bus terminal in Turjillo at 5:00 a.m. as we wait for our 11:15 a.m. bus. About 5 minutes after I took this picture this dirty looking homeless dog came and licked his mouth.
Christian attempting to sleep in a bus terminal in Trujillo at 5:00 a.m. as we wait for our 11:15 a.m. bus. About 5 minutes after I took this picture this dirty looking homeless dog came and licked his mouth.

Upon arrival in Yurimaguas, we made our way to the docks where ships were being loaded up with supplies in preperation for their trip down into the Amazon. We found a ship/ferry that would allow us to sling up hammocks on the top deck. The journey was to start by making our way down the Rio Huallaga, onto the Rio Maranon and finally onto the Rio Amazonas where we travel another 60 kilometres along the Amazon River into the city of Iquitos. All in all the slow boat ride down the river took 2 nights and 3 days and during the ride I was able to see some beautiful scenery, wildlife, and of course, I was able to meet more great people.

After being assured that the boat was to leave the same day we arrived we still were all too used to the way things really work down in Latin America. We paid the captain each close to $40 in order to sling up hammocks,  as well as be fed breakfast, lunch, and dinner for the entire journey. We even were given a small cabin/prison cell (for a small fee) that we could put all of our bags into in order to ensure nothing was stolen by locals using the boat as well. As expected, there seemed to be little to no danger of anyone searching through your stuff at any time of the day but we still used the cell since we had already paid. Also as expected, the boat continued to be loaded throughout the night and well into the next day so our journey did not start until 6 p.m. the next evening. We did not have to pay extra for our night on board as we waited and it actually gave us more time to check out the freshly caught piranhas in the market the next morning. After eating some food and grabbing lots of fruits (especially grenediyahs) we made our way back to the boat to wait for them to load the last supplies onto the boat. As we waited many river dolphins played around in the waters near our boat and continued to follow us as we made our way down river and further into the Amazon Rainforest.

It was at 6 p.m. that evening that we began our trip down the river and from the beginning I was absolutely thrilled with my last minute decision to travel into the Amazon. This was the first tiem on my entire trip that I was truly forced to just relax. There was no wi-fi to absorb yourself in, no mountain to go and hike, no waves to surf, and no party to attend. All that I did was stand out along the sides and front of the boat and watch the beautiful rainforest surrounding me. River dolphins were to be spotted in the river surrounding us, keen eyes were able to see parrots in the trees, and if you kept your ears open monkeys were busy howling away.

A river dolphin swimming around the boat. It is not easy to get a nice photo of these guys.
A river dolphin swimming around the boat. It is not easy to get a nice photo of these guys.
As we were cruising there was a pod of river dolphins playfully following our boat.
As we were cruising there was a pod of river dolphins playfully following our boat.
Relaxing on the boat with Audrey and Manu as we make our way down the Amazon River
Relaxing on the boat with Audrey and Manu as we make our way down the Amazon River for a 3 day “cruise”. Only a small group of backpackers were on board this boat but most locals really enjoyed sticking to themselves. There was even a group of about 20 Haitians on board who spoke no English or Spanish so were very difficult to communicate with. Manu and Audrey of France were able to communicate a little and were tod that they were heading into the Brazilian Amazon in order to search for work.

These rivers that we are traveling down are not these skinny rivers covered up by a canopy high above us that you may be imagining. Remember I was traveling in a big supply ship not a skinny little canoe. The rivers were at least 2 kilometres wide at even the most narrow section. As we made our way onto the Amazon the river widened to about 3 kilometres wides but never got close to its maximum width. Further down the Amazon River nearing the coast of Brazil, the Amazon River has been recorded as being up to 40 kilometres wide! Food was served at roughly 7:00, 11:30, and 17:00 daily. Although the food was far from gourmet, it was more than sufficient to satisfy ones hunger.

Another day further into the Amazon Jungle for Christian, Agustin, and myself.
Another day further into the Amazon Jungle for Christian, Agustin, and myself.

Arrival in Iquitos came as a big shock to all of us. Iquitos is the largest city in the world that is unaccesible by road. at close to 400,000 inhabitants this exotic city is hot, humid, polluted, and just overall chaotic. That being said, I absolutely loved the place. It seemed that only moto-taxis were allowed to be driven there, no body had any place to be if they weren’t working on the ports. They also seemed to love to party. Although many people have indigenous languages as their first language, Spanish still was spoken by all and people were more than happy to hear news about what is going on in Canada or even just outside of the Amazon  Rainforest. It is amazing how many people from all over the world you met in the town of Iquitos that have been there for months just hanging out. Although it is chaotic, secluded, and humid, people seem to be drawn into the uniqueness of this city and have a difficult time bidding it farewell.

It seemed that mototaxis were the only form of transportation in the city. There were very few official moto-taxi drivers but pretty much anyone would pick you up as soon as you turn to the street to make eye contact with one.
It seemed that mototaxis were the only form of transportation in the city. There were very few official moto-taxi drivers but pretty much anyone would pick you up as soon as you turn to the street to make eye contact with them.

Unfortunately during my journey down river I lost my debit card and no where in town would take credit card as payment for a tour further into the jungle. I luckily was able to receive some money from an amazing couple by the names of Adam and Kate of England. Don’t worry, I sent money to their Paypal account but we did all laugh a little about the amount of effort I would have been putting into conning them for a few hundred dollars. With only a few weeks left in my trip I decided not to worry about being sent a new access card from my bank and just try to pay for everything I could with my Visa card. I only had to borrow money one more time and had no further issues on that front.

During my time in Iquitos I spent a lot of time at this shacked area on the Amazon River and searching for fried Piranha. The city hugs along the side of the Amazon River and many houses are even floating up and down with the river as the wet season comes and goes. Because I was there during the wet season the Amazon Forest surrounding the city of Iquitos is completely flooded and so canoes can be used to navigate the jungle. We were able to borrow a canoe often from a guy who had built himself a hostel on the river. The reason so many people build their houses and businesses along the water is not because of practicality. In reality, the reason that these huts are built along the river are because it is free to do so. It is technically illegal to do so but with entire shanty-towns built along the rivers and its extreme seclusion from the rest of Peru, there is very little that the government is able to do.

One of the nicer sections of Belen on the Amazon River
One of the nicer sections of Belen on the Amazon River

It is amazing how many people from all over the world you met in the town of Iquitos that have been there for months just hanging out. Although it is chaotic, secluded, and humid, people seem to be drawn into the uniqueness of this city and have a difficult time bidding it farewell.

When searching for a good hostel for our time in Iquitos we made our way down to the ‘hostel’ on the river. Although the hostel on the river was an excellent spot to hang out at, the lack of running water as well as lack of sleeping accommodation made it an unideal spot for Christian and myself. They even had to shower in the amazon river which is far from your ideal bath water. However, the hostel owner was very chill and the reason I put the word hostel in quatations before is because it can only very loosely be titled a hostel. Upon first arrival when we asked how much it was to stay each night his reply was “How much would you like to pay?”. We asked for 5 soles each ($2 USD) and he replied with “Sure.” It turns out he had spent the last 7 years constructing the hut and only had to pay for the lumber and nails he had used to create it. Remember that all of the land along the river is illegal to build on and there are no property taxes.

The 'hostel' on the river where we would spend a lot of our time relaxing and figuring out plans for the day.
The ‘hostel’ on the river where we would spend a lot of our time relaxing and figuring out plans for the day.
A little piranha fishing is a nice way to fill up some spare time.
A little piranha fishing is a nice way to fill up some spare time.

Christian and I ended up staying at a brand new hostel called Toe for $6 USD a night and were even given towels with the tags still on them to prove how new the hostel was (for those of you who know, I actually would much prefer an old [and clean] towel over a new one waiting to throw all of its fluff into your facial hair and then refuse to dry you). It was also nice because even though the dorm room was meant for 10 people it was just Christian and me in there the entire time. Best shower head of the entire trip and comfy ass beds; great decision.

One Sunday morning Christian and I awoke after a nice relaxing evening laying out with our monkey, the stray dogs, stray cats, and our other gypsy/backpacker friends. We felt fresh and ready to do something exciting for the day, and Christian had just the thing in mind for us. We made our way down to the ‘hostel’ on the river as had become our usual routine and tried to rally the troops for an epic adventure to the shantytown along the water. Christian had heard about a place the year before that was on the outskirts of Iquitos and one of the most wild parties on the planet. He had also been told that Sunday afternoon was the best time to go. Somehow our relaxed friends at the ‘hostel’ on the river were content with canoeing around and relaxing in the hammocks for the day and so after about an hour Christian and I made our way to the floating town of Belen.

Here is a picture of the floating shanty-town, Belen,  on the outskirts of the city of Iquitos on the Amazon River. Building houses on the Amazon River is illegal so the people here are able to evade property taxes. Life is difficult in this district and most people have hardly enough to make it through the day.
Here is a picture of the floating shanty-town, Belen, on the outskirts of the city of Iquitos on the Amazon River. Building houses on the Amazon River is illegal so the people here are able to evade property taxes. Life is difficult in this district and most people have hardly enough to make it through the day.

Upon arrival at the the boat launch we hopped out of the moto-taxi and were instantly the celebrities of Belen. Kids came running up to us asking us a million questions while men and women were trying to sell us food and get us to take their boat out to our party location. We ended up hopping onto a boat and making our way through this town built on the Amazon River and realizing we were in a place very unique but also very poor. Everyone was amazed to see two ‘western’ faces moving through the town as we made our way to the open part of the Amazon River. Once we made it past the last few houses and the river competely opened up. It was at this moment that we saw the floating discoteca named “Climax” that was located in the centre of the Amazon River.

There were at least 7 boats already pushed up against the discoteca humming their motors in order not to get taken down stream by the current. The shack on the river was completely packed and the music was blaring. Christian and I needed to walk from boat to boat in order to get on board this floating discoteca that somehow Christian had been told about. The bouncers quickly noticed us coming up to the entrance and were quick to push others out of the way who clearly had been waiting for a while to come in. We could not have stood out anymore and soon everyone was staring at us, high-fiving us, splashing water at us playfully, or trying to pick-pocket us. The craziest part about this discoteca is due to the fact that Sunday afternoon was the busiest time for the club, the water was close to reaching our waists. Even upon arrival into the club the MC who stands above everyone with all of the electronics shouted out over the microphone “Bienvenidos Los Estados Unidos!” or “Welcome America!”. We were soon able to explain that we came from Switzerland and Canada and soon had 2 litre bottles of some type of alcoholic energy drink which actually had the same name a the bar, “Climax”. Being in such a poor part of the city, the beers were very cheap but the problem was that some of the people who were coming up to dance with me were also doing there best to get into my pocket and take my camera and wallet.

Soon we assembled a security team of 5 friends who were probably around 18 or 20. Really nice boys who were more than happy to watch out for us as long as we bought them a few beers. With our new friends/security I was able to relax and really enjoy the party. The music was some of the best I experienced my entire trip and all of the people were so friendly towards Christian and I. The beers flowed a little more freely than I had first expected and soon was down to hardly enough money to make it home. Fortunately, somebody ended up stealing my last 8 soles ($3.25 USD) and forced Christian and I to leave due to the fact that he only had 10 soles ($4 USD) left. All in all, “Climax”, the floating discoteca in the middle of the Amazon River was by far the most unique party location I have ever been to.

The next day I packed up my stuff and made my way to the airport in order to fly off to Lima. I am seriously going to miss Christian, Agustin and all of the others I met on my adventure down into the Amazon. The journey was unforgettable and the exploration we did together once we arrived at Iquitos was fascinating. For now it was a flight to Lima and then a 21 hour bus ride up to Cuzco, the capital city of the Incas. You can imagine I had quite a few great memories to dream of as a fell asleep in the bus on the way into the Andes and up to the city of Cuzco.

Enjoying the sunset with two of my favorite people on my trip, Kathy and Adam of England. Their generosity and kindness were never eclipsed during my travels.
Enjoying the sunset along the Amazon with two of my favorite people on my trip, Kathy and Adam of England. Their generosity and kindness were never eclipsed during my travels.
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2 thoughts on “River Dolphins, Amazonic Piranhas, and Floating Towns

  1. Hey Taylor, Aloha,
    Nice brow pierce – kinda matches that bandage on your kne ( how are you doing with that ? any complications ??
    so you’re home and experienced Palm Desert – talk about your two sides of the coin eh !!!
    Working yet ?

    thank you so much for posting your blog to my e-mail address – I can’t imagine how much you will miss your fabulous adventure and new people.
    At least in this age of electronics – you will be able to keep in touch.
    so what now – have you satisfied the bug or was this just the beginning of many new adventures or are you ready to settle ???
    What a fabulous adventure you had and even if it was your last of this kind – you will have so many memoroes that you can’t explain in a journal – good for you and came through – relatively unscathed, Is Beamin Willy home yet – at least you will have a buddy to share your rememberancesw with.
    Thanks again and I look forward to seeing you – sometime in the future.
    All my love and all the best as you move forward with your life.
    Keep in touch when you can.
    Cheers UJ

  2. hasta ahora pude terminar de leer tu entrada de blog! y me encanta todo… aun cuando explicas detalladamente todo lo que te pasa. eso es fabuloso… pienso que puedes ser un buen escritor en un futuro ahah! se que tu viaje fue increible de eso no hay duda! Besos (:

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