Waiting for a boat to Ecuador

We are still in Iquitos, Peru, very close to where the Amazon River begins in Nauta.  It feels odd saying that we are here in a city that is on the banks of the Amazon River which has always been a distant place in the jungle.    We want to take a boat from the Amazon River up the Napo River to Coca, Ecuador.  Since that is an upstream destination, there are only 2 boats that usually travel that direction.  One is currently being repaired and the other one is Arabela.  There are no definite schedules of when the boat departs.  We have been told many different days of when the boat will depart, but that keeps being moved ahead.  Chris read about the irregular schedules and unexpected or unexplained delays before we came to Peru, so we are ok with waiting.  Waiting seems to just be part of the culture.

Yesterday, we went to Port Masusa to see the boat and see when the boat may leave and they told us Friday.  Some cargo has been loaded on the boat and that is a good sign that it is getting closer to the departure date, but the cargo area was not full.  This morning, we asked someone to call for us and they didn’t get a definite departure date either.  They were told that the boat would leave  Saturday or Monday.   We keep checking back with the boat to see when it may depart.

We have read about people coming from Ecuador to Iquitos, on the Napo river, by boat and it’s not an easy way to travel.  The boats traveling downstream from Ecuador have a bit more of a regular “schedule” because they are delivering produce and products for the markets in Iquitos.  The boats heading upstream have a fairly irregular schedule and leave when they have enough cargo.

What follows is the confusing and conflicting information that we received while trying to locate a large boat to take us up the Napo river towards Ecuador.

We first started looking for a boat to take us towards Ecuador on May 7th.  We were first told to go to Puerto Masusa (Port Masusa). When we arrived at the port we spoke with some of the people who were hanging out near the entrance. We were told that we needed to go to another port and that there were not any boats heading north at Puerto Masusa.  They gave us directions to Puerto Requena and they wrote it down in Spanish and we believed that we understood so we started walking.  A handicapped man in a wheel chair came along to show us the way.  He rolled thru mud and sand and we kept telling him that we are ok and that we didn’t need help but he kept going until we reached the turn for Puerto Requena.  It touched our hearts so much that he kept rolling through the sand and mud just to show us the way.  Everyone greeted him as we walked along the road.  When we turned into the Port, we thanked him and gave him some money.  He did not have his hand out for anything and shook his head no when we handed him the money, but we were so grateful for him making sure we make the correct turn.  There were no signs for Puerto Requena because it is one of the smaller ports.  We tried to speak with some people there.  One person that spoke a little bit of English said that we needed to go back to Puerto Masusa.  He said that there was a boat named Walter Junior that goes north to Pantoja, Peru and we should go talk to the people on the boat. Returning back to Puerto Masusa we skipped the people loitering by the front gate and just started walking around the port looking at all of the boats.  We weren’t sure if we had just got the gringos runaround by sending us to the other port or if the people just didn’t know anything about the boat and boat schedules. We later figured out that the people at the gate were day laborers that helped load and unload boats as they came in.

We wandered around the port reading all of the boat names and looking at the chalkboard they have on the front of each one that states the day they leave and their destination. We didn’t see Walter Junior.  Luckily a person approached us from one of the boats and he seemed to be a little more knowledgeable about the boats and departure times. He told us that Walter Junior would leave on May 12th which was about 5 days away. We were also told that there was another boat, the Arabela, that was not in the port yet but should have been there in about 2-3 days.

We came back to Puerto Masusa to see if Arabela had arrived yet and we were told that it was at Puerto Gomez. We had to take a motokar to Puerto Gomez because we could not understand any of the directions in Spanish.  We would have never have found it on our own, it was down a little muddy road very close to Port Masusa. We tried to speak with some of the people there but they only spoke Spanish and weren’t so helpful and basically said we need to go to Puerto Requena. They told the motokar driver to take us to the gas station where someone who works there knows how to call the Arabela. So off we go to the gas station where the motokar driver speaks with one of the attendants. A phone call is made and the best we can make out is that the Arabela won’t be in for another 12-15 days. From there we were told to go to Puerto Requena. We went to Puerto Requena for the second time and didn’t see Arabela. We spoke with one gentleman who tried to help us out and he said that Arabela would only be at Puerto Masusa. He offered to give us a ride in his motokar.  He was helping us because he wanted to give us a ride to make some money. We declined and started walking back to Puerto Masusa when a younger gentleman that spoke pretty good English started asking us questions about where we were trying to go and when. We told him what we had done so far and he walked with us back to the gas station where we got some clarification on the Arabela.  The Arabela would be leaving in about 12-15 days from whenever it arrived.  We keep getting such conflicting information but that’s just how it is, nobody knows when anyone is coming or going. Since the Arabela was possibly expected to arrive that day we walked back to Puerto Masusa. It was not there. We spoke with another helpful person from one of the other boats and we were told that it would be another week before it would arrive. So we planned on coming back a week later.  We also asked about Walter Junior and were shown that it was on the dry dock having its motor repaired.  The end result is that there is only one large boat headed north to Pantoja.

We returned to Puerto Masusa, several days later, and saw that the boat Arabela was there.  ArabelaWe walked onto the boat and looked around opening a door to what looked like it would be a private room. It was a hot steel box with 2 bunk beds, no windows or ventilation. Eventually the Administrados of the boat came and spoke with us. We asked about a private room which he showed us the door to and told us that it had 4 bunk beds and that we could sleep on the two bottom ones and put our luggage on the upper ones. He didn’t open the locked door but after seeing the other room we didn’t need it opened. The room had 4 bunk beds, no window and no ventilation unless you sleep with the door open. It would have been really hot and stuffy being enclosed by six sides of steel. We asked about price and we were quoted a price for the private room and also a price for just hanging our hammocks. The private room doubled the price.  Double the price for a more uncomfortable but private room did not seem like such a good deal. We also asked for the estimated departure date. We were told Saturday, May 17th. We had the receptionist at the hotel to call for us and she was told that they boat would be leaving on Monday, May 19th.  We went back to the port on Sunday May 18th just to verify that the boat was still leaving on Monday. We were surprised to see the sign on the front of the boat that said the boat was leaving on Thursday, May 22nd.  We went back to the port on Tuesday and spoke with the people on the boat again. This time we were told they would be leaving on Friday, May 23rd. Today we had the receptionist call to confirm and she was told that they boat would be leaving on Saturday, May 24th or on Monday, May 26th at the latest.

So here we are, 12 days after we had hoped to leave, waiting on a large boat to take us north to Pantoja, Peru.  There are smaller boats that we could take but we’re not quite ready for that experience. There are also faster boats that they call “speed boats” which would make the 5 day trip to Pantoja in much less time.  It’s not just about getting to the destination but about the experience of getting there.

And we are having an experience while we are here in Iquitos. We thought we had tried most of the regional foods based on what we have seen in the markets and based upon internet searches but today we got a new list from the receptionists.  While we are waiting for our boat we will be adventuring around the city to find and try these foods.  We tried to explain that we had never heard of the foods they told us to eat, and that was not comprehended.  Also they could not understand how we could not like one of the most popular regional fruits. The aguaje fruit grows on the aguaje palm tree. It’s hard reptilian looking skin is peeled and the yellow peach colored fruit is then soaked in slightly salty water. It’s so popular that almost every street vendor sells it as fruit or juice.   So now we’re off to try some new foods at one of the markets.

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