Trip to Iquitos (Peru) on the Amazon River
Thursday August 31, 2006
We closed up Lanikai and Mary Ann, Soy Libre, gave us a ride to shore. We boarded the 11:30AM bus for Guayaquil and arrived at terminal Terrestal in the city just after 5PM. A taxi took us to Hotel California where we found a nice room with hot water, cable TV and breakfast included for only $25.
Friday September 1, 2006
After breakfast we walked down calle 9 de Octobre to the Malecon. We walked its entire length and it is one of the best waterfront parks that we have ever visited. Along the route we passed Iglesia San Francisco and - since it was open - we walked in for a look-see. The Old Market structure at one end of the Malecon is another one of those Gustave Eiffel-designed steel structures. It is now restored but we could not determine its present use. The other end of the Malecon is a big museum and an IMax theater. After all of our walking, we opted to sit and watch a show on the Galapagos Islands instead of waking thru the museum. We returned to the Malecon for an ice cream dessert after a dinner in town, lingering over the dessert while we watched the sunset over the river.
Saturday September 2, 2006
This morning we visited the archeological exhibit in the Casa de Cultura. It had a small but informative display on the early inhabitants of Ecuador. It was then back to the Malecon’s north end to climb the 444 stairs to El Farro on Cerro Santa Ana. The light house had been moved to this site from Isla Santa Clara at the river’s mouth, with the recent development of the Malecon tourist area. We climbed up the tower. There was a great view over the city and river from its top. We also visited the little chapel of Santa Ana at its base. This small park included a display of many old cannons which in past centuries had defended Guayaquil from pirates. Foot tired after the climb down we still walked along Pompillo Liona in the Las Penas area to see the old homes - many of which are undergoing restoration to their previous splendor. Back on the Malecon we walked down to Resaca, a bar overlooking the water. There we enjoyed beer and nachos while we rested our tired feet. Another couple sitting there noticed our speaking English and introduced themselves. She, Debora, is from Tennessee and he, Brian, is Australian and they currently live in Cuenca. They were returning home in the morning and offered to give us a ride to Cuenca, which was our next planned destination.
Sunday September 3, 2006
At 11AM Brian and Debora picked us up at our hotel and drove us over the Andes mountains to Cuenca. The road passed thru Parque Nacional Cajas which was high enough to be treeless. There were many small lakes and some high peaks visible among the clouds - of which there were plenty. We also saw some llamas grazing at the side of the road. The Guayaquil side of the mountains was covered in a wet fog bank which we eventually rose above. The far side of the mountain had fewer clouds. We entered Cuenca and drove thru its center and found an open pizza restaurant where the four of us enjoyed dinner. Brian then helped us to find a hotel. The one we found was nice although the rooms were small but the water was hot and there was no need of air conditioning, more important there were heavy blankets on the bed.
Monday September 4, 2006
This morning we headed off toward Calle Larga, a road along and above Rio Tomebamba. We followed along this road to El Museo del Banco Central, one of the larger ruins in Cuenca. A visit to the museum and the Inca ruins of Pumapungo that are associated with the museum occupied us until 2PM. For lunch we searched out a Mexican restaurant recommended by Brian and Debora. The food was great and had the true Mexican flavor. After lunch we returned to the hotel and took advantage of their internet connection to check our mail and send out some letters to the family. We tried reading in the central plaza but soon it was too cold for that, so we returned to our room for an early night and some TV watching.
Tuesday September 5, 2006
This morning we walked around the city’s center to view the many churches. The cathedral was first. It has no bell tower as the arches of the main structure were constructed wrong with no capstone, so are barely capable of holding the weight of the shortened towers. The building is still quite impressive, although all the arches holding up the north side isle had cracks to the ceiling at their peaks. We then walked across the plaza to view the outside of El Sagrario, the old cathedral which was built on the foundation of an Inca structure in 1557. We walked back past the side of the new cathedral to the flower market and Iglesia de El Carmen. The interior of this church seemed to be all wood painted in bright colors with religious designs and murals. We continued on past Iglesia San Francisco, thru the market and back to the plaza. We enjoyed an ice cream moca at the corner ice cream store while we waited for Brian to pick us up. We enjoyed a very interesting afternoon visiting with Brian and Debora at their home. Debora made us a wonderful dinner of shrimp fettuccini. Brian returned us to our hotel after 9PM.
Wednesday September 6, 2006
We were up early and off to the bus terminal to be on the 9AM bus to Ingapirca, the largest Inca archeological site in Ecuador. We arrived at the ruins at 11:30. This is a rather small site mostly consisting of short walls depicting where buildings had existed. There is one large oval structure topped by what archeologists think was a solar observatory. We took the trail to Cara de Inca, an augmented natural rock formation looking like a face. The trail also passed a carved stone turtle, a broken stone fragment that had been used in religious games and Ingachugana, a large stone with many channels and holes carved into it. We visited the small museum on the site before finding lunch at one of the small eateries. The 4PM bus back to Cuenca never showed up so we walked the short distance to the town of Ingapirca, caught the local bus to Cañar and there finally climbed on a bus bound to Cuenca.
Thursday September 7, 2006
Today was a day of rest. We did take our laundry in to be washed, but spent much of the day resting and reading in our hotel room. Bill woke with a cold and I had eaten something the day before that left my stomach upset.
Friday September 8, 2006
Today we moved on to Vilcabamba. The first part of the trip was to Loja and it was a 5-hour ride along the ridge on the Andes mountains with at least 3 spectacular drops into river valleys and out again. It is the dry season here, so much of the landscape is brown, but we did pass thru some pine forests and at lower elevations, forests of eucalyptus trees. Around Loja were farm plots terraced up the hillsides. In Loja we boarded another bus, much smaller and quite crowded, to Vilcabamba. We dropped in altitude on this leg of the journey. Vilcabamba is a tourist town with plenty of nice hotels. We settled on Hidden Garden with its great Mexican restaurant, nice size rooms and pool for $20 per night.
Saturday September 9, 2006
After breakfast we walked the one block to the central plaza, took some photos, and peeked inside the very modern church. We visited the tourism office and discovered two times for busses passing thru town to Zumba, 6AM and 9:30AM. We were also directed to the Runi-Wilco Nature Reserve with hiking trails about 10 minutes walk away. We made a wrong turn and ended up 30 minutes later looking at the main road back into town. We turned around and corrected our mistake but still had some confusion in following the directions that we had been given. We finally stumbled on the “leaning bridge across a small river”. Several women were doing their laundry in the river near the bridge and a man was watering his horses. We crossed the bridge and finally found the reserve. We enjoyed two more hours of hiking on the reserve’s trails before our legs had had enough and we returned to town. We were to bed early tonight but at 10:30PM we were awoken by the reverberating base of the band that our hotel had playing in their plaza. They were celebrating the hotel’s 8th anniversary and since we could not sleep - we dressed and walked out to enjoy the music.
Sunday September 10, 2006
We decided to stay in Vilcabamba another day so we would not be trying to cross the border into Peru on a Sunday. Today was another day of rest. Bill’s cold is still bothering him and my gut has not been normal for the last three days. There was a craft fair in the plaza with vendor stands set up. The vendors all seemed to be mostly modern-day hippy-types from Europe. A potter's booth was set up where the town’s children were busy making clay pots and figurines. We ate a light lunch at a small restaurant off the plaza where we could watch the activities from. We ate another great Mexican dinner at the hotel with plans to head on in the morning.
Monday September 11, 2006
With Bill up much of the night coughing, and with my gut misbehaving after the great Mexican dinner, we opted to take another day of rest.
Tuesday September 12, 2006
We finally got underway again today. The bus stopped in Vilcabamba at 9:30AM and continued on to Zumba passing thru many small towns. Palanda looked like another town where the trip could be broken-off along the Peru to Ecuador route. We enjoyed many spectacular views as the road snaked along the cliffs and up and down steep canyons. Several of the smaller towns were built along the road with the structures hanging out over the valleys. Leaving Vilcabamba the road climbed slightly to Yangana where the pavement ended. The road to Palanda was somewhat graveled and wide enough for vehicles to pass going opposite directions - but after there the road narrowed and was just dirt but remained in good shape. The last two hours to Zumba held some of the most spectacular views. The landscape was sometimes dry brown and other spots were greener with denser vegetation and always the high peaks of the Andes were in the distance.
In Zumba, Bill hunted down a decent room with a private bath while I waited with the luggage in the central plaza. He had checked out several hotels finding them to all be too dirty for our liking, before asking a soldier where a decent room was to be found. The soldier directed him to Hotel El Emperador and probably the only decent room in town. We stopped at the restaurant below our room for some cold drinks and enjoyed a nice visit with the proprietor while she cleaned up after lunch. She suggested that we return after 6 for dinner - which we did. The intervening time we spent walking thru the small military-base town.
Wednesday September 13, 2006
This morning we hopped on the bus, really a truck with wooden seats placed across the truck bed, for the ride to Las Balsas and the border with Peru. The road was a relatively well maintained jeep trail. We dropped to the east, much drier side of the mountains, again transiting up and down valleys along the steep canyon walls. The road dropped down into La Balsa with its new cement bridge crossing the river and the border. We easily checked out of Ecuador but after walking across the bridge into Peru, the Peruvian Migration officer could not be found. The official in the police office next door went looking and so did the Aduana. Someone eventually found the missing official 45 minutes later and our passports got stamped for entry into Peru. We then climbed into a small compact car, a collectivo, for the trip to San Ignacio, 2 hours up the road. With 7 bodies squeezed into the car and the road in much worse shape than the jeep trail on the Ecuador side of the border, the ride was anything but comfortable. At least our bags rode in the back along with the large speaker that blasted music at us the entire trip. Bill had an especially bad time of it as his cough increased and he tried to control it as well as his gut that had also decided to act up. Once in San Ignacio we had to hunt around to find a way to get some local currency. After several false leads we were directed to a store that would change dollars into soles (with one sol worth about US $0.30). Armed with some of the local money, we ate a quick lunch and hailed a moto-taxi (a tri-cycle with the front half being a that of a motor cycle and the back half with seating for two people plus luggage) to take us to the collectivo station where we could get transportation to the city of Jaén. At the station we paid for our passage and then sat on benches watching TV and waiting for a full load. Once they had enough bodies to fill the van we boarded, went to the gas station where they got change for the fares, passed out the change and then we took off. Jaén was another 2 ½ hours - first over an improved dirt road (they were actively grading it) then the last half of the trip was on new pavement. In Jaén we again hailed a moto-taxi for the trip into the hotel from our list that was nearest the central plaza. It was expensive at $27 per night but it did have air conditioning, real hot water, and cable TV. With Bill still not feeling well it was a good choice and breakfast was again included. We got settled in the room, walked to the plaza for ice cream then had to hunt the streets to find bottled water and sodas. The city is a farming center so veterinary supplies and seed stores predominated around the center. Our last stop before returning to the hotel for the night was at a bakery for some late night nibblies.
Thursday September 14, 2006
Señor de Huamantanga’s festival was celebrated in Jaén today. We stayed for the celebration and to rest. In the morning there was a grand parade followed by the raising of a giant Peruvian flag and one of the province of Jaén. We watched the parade while enjoying fruit drinks at a restaurant across the street from the plaza. Before the parade a group of school children had arrived to participate. They were milling in the plaza and several stopped to ask us questions. Soon we were fielding questions from a large group of the children until they ran off to join the festivities. During the day we watched the construction of tall bamboo towers with fireworks affixed. We also watched the painting of large decorations on the street. At 8:30PM we heard the loud booms of fireworks and ran out to the plaza where we joined the crowd. We arrived in time to watch the first fireworks tower being lit off. It was quite spectacular. A slow fuse burned up the tower and lit up the various fireworks displays as it climbed. Pinwheels were set a blaze throwing bright colored sparkles as they spun and changing from one color to another as different sets of fireworks lit up. When the fuse reached the top of the tower many shooting rockets were sent off and even the top of the tower was sent spinning into the air shooting off colored sparklers as it went. Seriously spectacular !! After the first tower finished burning, the procession started. The statue of Señor Huamantanga was carried followed by a statue of some Virgin. Much of the population joined the procession carrying candles. When the procession reached the corner, the second fireworks tower was lit. We watched the display but when the procession started again we took the opportunity to find a path thru the crowd and return to the hotel.
Friday September 15, 2006
Today was another day of travel and our longest so far. We left Jaén on another small colectivo taxi to Bagua Grande where we “would find buses to Tarapoto”. We were the first to arrive and it took another 20 minutes to fill the small car with 6 adults. The drive to Bagua Grande was only an hour, but the driver was the worst that we have yet encountered. We were glad to arrive alive!! At the bus terminal we were told that a bus to Tarapoto should arrive in about 30 minutes. Two hours later it had still not arrived - so when a definitely lower-class bus arrived and was heading our way, we climbed on. The ride was thru spectacular rugged mountains again. It started out in cacti covered hills like you would find in Baja California, moved higher to grass and greener shrubs, then lush green bushes and small trees and finally dropping down into the dense jungle plants of the upper Amazon basin. In the process we passed thru some quite tall mountains - again on roads that sometimes snaked up and down the steep canyon walls. The third class bus was slow and we were passed several times by the first-class buses, but we did get plenty of time to view the lands that we were passing thru. We arrived in Moyobamba at 8PM and the bus we were on was stopping there. The driver’s assistant helped us to get tickets on a “semi-cama” bus (with luxury seats that opened almost flat enough to sleep on), which would be passing thru from Lima in “cinco minutes” to Tarapoto. This bus was double-decker and as we boarded we were told that the bottom was more comfortable so we found seats there. The seats were wide with lots of leg room and even reclined nicely. The bus was also fast and in 1 ½ hours we were at the station in Tarapoto. A moto-taxi driver convinced us to go to Hotel Casa Blanca and we found it to be a nice place. We were back in the hot humid climates, but the room had a nice fan and without even using the covers, we slept like logs.
Sunday September 17, 2006We rested again yesterday hoping that Bill’s cold would decide to go away. Today we moved on to Yarimaguas. The manager at Hotel Casa Blanca in Tarapoto suggested that we take a car to Yarimaguas, ($10 each for only four passengers in a small car). Saturday afternoon he called to have one pick us up at the hotel at 9AM this morning. The trip was over terrible-to-worse roads; actually they were not worse than the road from Las Balsas to San Ignacio, but there was much more traffic so the surface was wash-boarded where it snaked thru the mountains with some very tight switchbacks and super steep ups and downs. Once the road reached the flats it was under construction with all the mess that that entails. In not much longer this section of the road should be completed into a modern two-lane paved road. We covered the 128km in just over three hours arriving in Yarimaguas about 12:30. At the carro station we were mobbed by moto-taxi drivers wanting to take us into town. We chose one who ferried us to a hotel near the plaza. It was a fairly inexpensive place, undergoing renovation, but the room was clean enough and came with a big fan. We had some difficulty finding a restaurant and settled for one off the plaza that only served one set meal of mostly white rice. She did find us a big bottle of coke that Bill and I shared. We then walked down the road toward the river landing, checking out some of the river views along the way. There was one cargo boat, the Eduardo III, that was set up for taking passengers with their hammocks. It was reported to be leaving in the morning. We got cornered by Alex, a “tour guide”. He showed us around the boat and ended up selling us two hammocks for $9 each and had his helper purchase for us a six-pack of 2 liter bottles of water. The hammocks we took back to our hotel room and he saved the water for us to get in the morning. We then enjoyed several beers with Alex while he answered our many questions before we returned to the hotel for the night.
Monday September 18, 2006
When we arrived at the boat in the morning, Alex met us and helped us to hang the hammocks in the first-class section and delivered the water. The boat was being loaded with cargo and we soon discovered that it would not be leaving until the next morning. No problem, we could stay onboard for the night and they would guard our packs for the day in a locked room. A few words about the Eduardo III - it is about 120 to 150 feet long, the top deck is reserved for first-class passengers (about US $30 for the three-day trip, including meals - there were only about a dozen people, although there was room for many more), the middle deck is for second-class passengers (about $15 for the trip, no meals provided - it was full, with about 50 to 80 passengers), the bottom deck is for cargo and livestock (and we had plenty of both!).
We spent much of the day watching the loading of the boat. Many young steer were boarded at the bow early in the process and penned up in crudely-constructed pens. Then the porters had to walk on the narrow pathway between the pen and the starboard side of the boat as they carried their heavy loads onboard. Lots of bags of salt, onions, rice, and flour, plus bottles of pop, stalks of bananas (and who knows what else) were loaded onboard. Late in the morning another boat of the Eduardo Line arrived from downriver, unloaded its passengers and cargo and by late afternoon was being reloaded. We took a moto-taxi into the city center to find a dinner and then walked back to the boat.
Tuesday September 19, 2006
The boat finally got underway at 10:30AM, after some rapid last minute loading of more heavy bags of dried corn. The Huallaga River that we started on is quite slow flowing. We had a nice breeze most of the day which did much to keep the barn odor and flies off our deck. Many sand bars and large sand beaches edged this section of the river. The farms and pastures of the upper reaches gave way the denser jungle as we moved downriver. About 3 ½ hours downriver we nosed into shore and spent another hour loading more big bags of corn and one additional cow. Some of the passengers went ashore and purchased guaba from the locals. They shared it with us - it is a long green pod, almost looking like a stick of firewood. When it is twisted to split it open, a sweet white fluffy fruit emerges surrounding the seeds (which we tossed overboard).
Wednesday September 20, 2006
Sometime in the night we passed into the Marañon River as we continued our downriver voyage. During the night the boat stopped at several villages to take on and unload cargo, while we slept soundly in our hammocks. Early this morning, just as the sun was rising, we stopped at a small landing. I awoke and watched the sun come up as I got my first view of the pink Amazon dolphins. We did lots of stopping during the day at villages, taking on mostly large sacks of corn and onions and bunches of bananas. We dropped off lots of bags of rice and salt as well as toilet paper, soft drinks and other household essentials. One of the bunches of bananas that they were loading had a boa hidden in it, providing some excitement until it found its way overboard. Many small rivers and streams joined the Marañon and the size of the river continued to grow. We made a stop at the junction of one of these rivers and a pod of the river dolphins fished in our view for the entire time that we were stopped, about 1 hour. At Sara Muro, a small town we stopped at to unload beer, pop, eggs and TP, then lots of bananas were brought onboard as well as empty beer and pop bottles.
Thursday September 21, 2006
About sunup we came to Nauta where a road begins that connects to Iquitos about 1 1/2 hour away by bus. Many of the locals left the boat here, opting for the shorter bus trip to Iquitos. Since it was so early no porters could be found to unload cargo, so we were soon back underway to Iquitos. We are now on the Amazon River. Iquitos Harbor is entered thru a narrow channel off the main river. Iquitos is a large busy city with no road access to the outside world (except to nearby Nauta). Even before the boat got into the harbor, tour guides were climbing onboard, mobbing us and the group of boys from Spain. We had to choose one to take us into town by moto-taxi. We had picked out a hotel and he took us there but since the rooms were all air conditioned with no opening windows, we went searching for another (it was also a bit expensive). Our guide took us to a very low class hotel with few rooms and many “tour guides”. Bill had a bad feeling about the place so we asked to be returned to the main plaza so we could look for ourselves. Instead he drove us to Hotel El Colibri, which turned out to be fine for us and at $15/night was a good deal. Checking into the hotel and taking some time to clean up we managed to loose our “guide”.
Friday September 22, 2006
Exploring the town occupied us for much of the morning. There are many tile-faced buildings with ornate hanging balconies left over from the rubber baron days. We visited the two museums in town, both quite small. One was housed in the governor’s mansion and the building was much more interesting than the small museum that it contained. The other museum was off the main plaza and contained a rather large collection of dusty, tattered, stuffed birds and animals from the surrounding jungle. It was interesting to get to see the animals up close with names attached. We stopped for lunch at the Yellow Rose of Texas Bar for great bowls of chili. While eating we discovered that another couple sitting there were also from a sailboat. Their boat – Mokisha - is on the hard in Salinas Ecuador while they, Tom and Colleen, had spent the last 10 months traveling around South America. We spent the rest of the afternoon and well into the evening visiting with them.
Saturday September 23, 2006
At breakfast this morning we met up with Tom and Colleen. We spent the rest of the day exploring with them. First we walked to the market area of Belem. The vendor stalls filled both sides of the street leaving only a narrow passage for vehicles to pass. We started to walk down to the “floating town” area, now a town built on stilts, but got stopped by a policeman saying the area was not safe for tourists. This old section of the city fills in with water in the wet season and people use cayucos (carved wooden canoes) to get around. We walked back toward Iquitos center, hailing moto-taxis to take us out to San Martin and an artisans’ market area. We all made some purchases and spent some time just watching the artisans at work. We were the only tourists there but even so I managed to have my purse slashed by a would-be robber. The thick leather of the bag and the lining prevented him from getting anything. We continued on to the zoo where we spent the rest of the afternoon observing the many animals with a gaggle of children that had latched on to us. One of the little boys was very knowledgeable about the many plants so Bill gave him a small tip. Tom purchased popsicles for all the children. At $0.15 it was a cheap treat that pleased the children. We returned to the hotel (by moto-taxi), cleaned up and deposited our purchases before returning to Texas Rose for dinner. Colleen and Tom showed up and we again spent until late in the night visiting.
Tuesday September 26, 2006
Bill’s cold got worse again, so we spent the last two days resting. Monday afternoon we finally visited the clinic. Bill checked negative for malaria and was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and sent home with antibiotics. They pills seem to be working somewhat. The underlying cold is still there but his fever and feeling of being completely wiped-out is gone.
Today, with Bill feeling better, we went to the butterfly farm. The trip entailed a moto-taxi ride to the port of Bella Vista, then a colectivo cayuca to the small village of Padre Coche, then a short walk to the farm. The farm was much more than butterflies. It also served as a refuge for orphan animals. These animals wandered the grounds and we ran into a giant anteater, several types of monkeys and were introduced to Pedro Bello, a jaguar and two tapir which we fed fruit to. Three of the smaller spider monkeys climbed all over us and a red-faced Huacury Monkey tried to groom our hair. Then we were guided into the butterfly enclosure where we got to see several species of the butterflies and were shown several caterpillars and the eggs of others. In another enclosure were many cocoons waiting for the butterflies to emerge. We returned on the same cayuca to Bella Vista and walked to the Yacht and Sport Club building where we enjoyed cokes while watching the river. The village of Bella Vista is built on stilts as in the rainy season this is another area that floods. When we got back to our hotel, I took a shower to remove the sand and pineapple juice that one of the monkeys had shared with me, then we walked down the Malecon to find a lunch spot. I ate a nice garlic-encrusted freshwater fish fillet.
Wednesday September 27,2006
This morning we purchased tickets to fly to Lima tomorrow morning. Then we went shopping for a small alarm clock so that we do not miss our flight, and a large bag to carry our extra purchases home in. The bag ended up way too big but Bill managed to tie it down with some of our hammock straps to a manageable size after it was loaded. Bill’s cold is still nagging him so he took a three hour nap this afternoon which gave him enough energy to explore the nearby small artisans market and enjoy a nice late lunch. We checked our eMail before finding sidewalk seating at Texas Rose. There we sipped bottled water while we visited with other tourists before returning to the hotel for the night.
Saturday September 30, 2006We are back in Guayaquil, Ecuador. Thursday after the plane landed in Lima we caught a cab to the bus station to catch a direct bus back to Ecuador. There was a Bus Cama scheduled to leave at 3PM or in about 3 ½ hours. We had to move to the international terminal, which was accomplished by another taxi ride. The bus was very late but while we were waiting Rick and Lillian, from Inshala, showed up also returning to Guayaquil after their Peruvian travels. We finally boarded the bus after 6PM. The seats were wide and comfortable but the bus was old and the seat latches on the seats that Bill and I started out in did not keep the seat in any one position. We eventually moved back a row and the seats were good. It was quite comfortable overnight but the air conditioner seemed to not work and since the bus had no opening windows it got very hot and stuffy during the day on Friday. When it got light Friday morning we were passing thru a very dry desert. The landscape reminded us of the US desert southwest, but without the big saguaro cacti. There were large dry washes, areas of mud hills, sand dunes and even areas of dry sparse brush, with some rich irrigated farm areas near the rivers. This continued all the way north to Tumbes, where the landscape began to green up. After crossing the border to Ecuador, it became almost jungle with hours spent passing banana plantations.
October 1, 2006
We finally made it back to Lanikai today after spending two nights in Guayaquil recovering from the long bus ride. We did pick up some groceries at a grocery store before heading out of the city - items that are seldom available in the small seaside resort town of Bahia de Caráquez.
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