Iquitos to Yurimaguas by Boat

Journal 13: Drinking Oje in Iquitos, Amazon animal sanctuary, and traveling to Yurimaguas by boat.

Iquitos to Yurimaguas by Boat

When we got off the boat in Mazan, we were ready to eat and party.  We’d split off from the group upon arriving, but we immediately ran into Nicholas on the short motor boat ride across the Amazon to Iquitos.  He and I quickly polished off the last of the caña we´d purchased in Pantoja.  We arrived in Iquitos, secured a 5 night rate at the El Colibri Hotel, and after a long shower, we were ready for pizza.  I´d literally been dreaming about Italian food for over a week.

Although Nicholas was at a different hotel, we bumped into him again at the pizza place, where we made a plan for the evening, and went to meet up with Maren at the Fitzcarraldo hotel.  Nicholas and I, the only ones who hadn’t yet gotten sick from the boat ride, were ready to throw down.  This was Iquitos and as far as we could tell, people come to Iquitos for two reasons: jungle adventures and party drugs.  And after our previous boat ride, we’d had about all the jungle we needed for a few days.

A beautiful sunset on the Rio Napo

Our first night in Iquitos was a lot of fun, perhaps more so for Nicholas and I than the girls.  We all had a chance to reflect on the boat ride, each other, and our respective journeys.  Nicholas would be leaving the following day, and this was the last time we would see him, but Maren would be traveling on with us to Yurimaguas.  Maren, Bibi. and I agreed to research boats the following day.

The next day everyone was really sick.  I hoped it was a hangover from the night before, but it was obvious that this was something more.  By the time early afternoon rolled in, I’d given up that hope altogether.  Maren and I were both suffering diarea and crippling stomach pains.  Bibi had a mosquito/spider bite that was infected to a level that neither of us had ever seen.  It was days before either of us were willing to accept the doctors prognosis that this really was just an infected mosquito bite and not some flesh eating Amazonian bacteria.  We hunkered down all that day hoping it would pass quickly.

Iquitos Central Plaza

The following day, we set out for Iquitos’s famous Belen market.  We didn’t really know what we were looking for when we arrived, but when we passed the section filled with natural medicines, we begin asking questions.  They gave Bibi a topical solution and low grade antibiotics for her infection.  Then perscribed Maren and I something called oje to fight what we were assuming at this point were stomach parasites.  Oje is the milk derived from an Amazonian tree that is said to have numerous health benefits.

Neither worked particularly well, but Bibi got some really great shots of Maren and I drinking the oje concoction.

Visiting the Brujeria in Iquitos Peru

The oje came in a small plastic water bottle.  They advised me to mix half with orange juice, add a bit of sugar, chug, wait 15 minutes, and drink as much water as I could without throwing up.  I took half the bottle as perscribed and gave the other half to Maren.  Words really can’t do justice to just how bad this stuff tasted.  Watch the compilation video at the top of this page.  You can see that her German beer drinking skills served her well.  I could only drink half my glass at a time.

The afternoon was spent recovering.


Although I was feeling too sick to appreciate it at the time, the Belen market features a floating city.  Only the city doesn’t float.  It just gets flooded as the river rises and people just move up to the second floor.  Its an extremely poor and unsanitary area of the city that makes you ask just how much waterfront access is really worth and why.

Iquitos's floating city - when the river rises, water comes up to the second floor

Although it wasn’t one of our first restaurant stops, we eventually stumbled into Gerald’s restaurant called the Yellow Rose of Texas, or some such name.  We were actually trying to find a well respected local place after a couple nights of pizza, but we ended up here instead.  We would return 3 more times.

Gerald runs the number one sports bar in all of Peru.  The memorabilia in this place is mindblowing, but the food is what brought us back over and over.  Texas ribs, Texas chili, Texas mashed potatos, Texas sized portions, even had a country fried ribeye steak while watching the NFC/AFC Championship game week.  Hell yes.  It was almost enough to make look past Gerald’s political views which were plastered all over the wall—though really, how do you move to Peru to open a restaurant, speak only English, and still have the nerve to put up a bumper sticker that says “This is America.  We speak English.  Learn it or Leave”

Looking at memorabilia with Gerald

There are some things about Texas that I will never understand and I couldn’t help being reminded of what Stephen Colbert joked about GW Bush: “You always know where he stands.  He’s going to believe the same thing on Thursday as he did on Tuesday…No matter what happens on Wednesday.”

At any rate, I don't have any problem reconciling the parts of my country that I love—delicious, glutonous servings of meat and NFL football—with those that I find overtly racist, offensive, and just plain dumb.  I love ribs and I despise willful ignorance.  What of it?

Although we’d decided early on that we needed Iquitos for recuperation before embarking to Yurimaguas, we wanted to see some jungle critters, so on morning we went down to the docks to find a motor canoe which would take us to some butterfly reserve that Lonely Planet featured.  But then our river taxi guide, Jackson, talked us into going elsewhere and we weren’t opposed, so off we went.

Our River Guide Jackson

No stories really.  Its all about the critter pictures.  How cute are these sloths?

Sloths are adorable


So Adorable

This is an Ocelot.  It does not want you to pick it up.

I dare you CR...Try to play Kitty Pass with me

And here’s Bibi holding an anaconda.  They are in fact ginormous snakes.

Sir Mix-A-Lot would approve

After the 5th night in our hotel, we headed down to the port to find our boat which was due to leave for Yurimaguas that afternoon.  We arrived early, in order to secure of good spot, as the captains always advise.  In hindsite, this was not necessary and a waste of time.  We arrived at 9am, me nursing another hangover, with a blistering heat setting in.   There was no boat, but they assured us it would arrive and depart that day.  We spent the day drinking beer, playing cards, and periodically checking the docks.  Around 5 our boat arrived, and we rushed aboard with our bikes and gear in hand.

Our Boat from Iquitos to Yurimaguas

The Eduardo VIII was a thousand times more comfortable than the Tito which had taken us from Pantajo to Iquitos.  First and foremost, there were camarotes or private cabins.  These featured bunk beds and maybe 2 square meters more of space to maneuver but we snatched on up anyway for an additional 50 soles (100 soles ($40) for hammocks, 150 soles ($60) for the private room).  I wanted to a place to secure our valuables, and wasn’t really excited about competing for space in hammock web below.

The human hammock web

We slept a great deal on this trip, surprisingly comfortably, despite the fact that the bed (and room itself) was too short for me, and if Bibi and I lay on our backs shoulder-to-shoulder, half of one of our bodies would be off the bed.  I made a friend who taught physics somewhere on the coast.   He was a great chess player, and we passed hours on the third deck playing on his set during the day, and on the IPad in the evenings.  Bibi, Maren, and I also played cards nearly every day as well, which Maren somehow always won.

A typical Amazonian village

In total the trip took three days, but the days flew by quickly.  The morning of our arrival, there was a long debate between a very conservative woman from Iquitos Peru, and a young hippie traveler from Manizales Colombia.  Bibi asked questions and put in her two cents, but I was content to listen on the periphery as I organized our things to disembark.  It was a friendly debate but one that struck me as somewhat stale.  I certainly didn’t adhere to this woman’s view that success could be defined by raising kids, having a career, and going to church, though I appreciated what these things were able to offer to her family.  And while I tended to identify more with this 20 year old traveler who wanted to see the world and had faith in his abilities to figure out a way to scrape by, I could also see him pushing drugs to tourists in the not so distant future to support a habit of his own.  Both sides presented their ideal of what life should be, and both came up empty.

Its surely erroneous for me to sum up a century of conflict using these two as models, but I could easily see them as the poster children for every Liberal-Conservative dispute which has plagued our hemisphere for the past century.

But hearing this discourse as we pulled into Yurimaguas, I made a mental note: when a dichotomy is presented and both sides fall short, dont get trapped into siding with the one you feel most akin to.  Seek out the middle ground.  It has always served you well.

Oncoming river traffic

Welcome to Yurimaguas.  Goodbye River, Hello Road.

Land Ho!  Arriving in Yurimaguas

Photo Credit: Bibiana Robles

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