The Chicken Boat

Trip Start Sep 07, 2011
Trip End Dec 22, 2011

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Flag of Peru  ,
Sunday, October 23, 2011

This very unique and special day started at 3am with a motorcycle taxi ride across Leticia to the docks in Brazil.   Riding on the back of a motorcycle with a backpack and rolling suitcase isn't an easy feat as you can visualize.   The only way to bring along the 40 pound bag was to hold it with my right arm off the side of the bike and lean to the left to keep my balance.  I had to use my thighs to squeeze the seat to keep from meeting asphalt like some sick Thighmaster scene gone bad.  Not even potholes and sharp turns could throw my balance though and somehow we got to the docks sore arm, bags and all.

My only instructions for finding the proper water taxi in Tabatinga was "head for the lights.  You can't miss them."  Hoping this wasn't some sort of Poltergeist omen for the trip to come, I did head into the light and got the last seat on a boat leaving that very moment.   Going across the Amazon in the pitch black is an eery sensation but we survived and I settled into the speedboat for the all day ride upstream to Iquitos.  The seating is four abreast and each row is actually a different make and model recycled from a car.  I think mine must have been from the tiniest Kia ever produced.

By 3:45am we were loaded up and hurtling down the pitch black Amazon with a guy holding a searchlight on the bow of the boat hopefully detecting any obstacles.   I really don't think we could have stopped or turned in time given the speed this thing was moving into that weak light.   Plus he really does need to shine the thing a little further out than the immediate surroundings for it to work as advertised.   Sunrise brought the heat and transformed this rectangular boat into an aquatic toaster oven.   Actually with all the windows open, the breeze kept things comfortable enough.  

After a few quick stops along the way, the boat was jammed to the gills with people, and some were even sitting on the floor in the back.  A piece of carry on luggage, and I use that term loosely to describe this box, made some sort of clucking noises a few rows up from me.  I got to thinking this is the kind of crap splashed all over the news when one of these suckers cracks in half.  I can see it now...59 locals and one tourist eaten by piranhas as boat hits obstable at 45 mph in pitch black night!  Only survivor is a lone chicken found floating in its cardboard box.

The three day slowboat does save a few bucks and offers up a somewhat different experience for the true adventurist.   As much as I love a good story to tell after a wild journey, I do want to arrive alive in some semblance of comfort.  Maybe dialing back the calendar say 20 years to another time in my life would key me up for swinging time away in my hammock on the deck of a boat moving at a glacial pace.  Nowadays I feel as if I am caught between the two worlds.  On the one hand I want to shock my senses with the most off the beaten path adventures possible.    But on the other I just want to maximize my time and just get there in some modicum of comfort, especially after that crazy day going from Capurnaga to Cartagena.

After seeing a few of these floating pieces of wood debris nailed together, I think I can say I chose wisely.  I also read that rampant theft on these boats causes any items left unattended to become shall we say community property.   Yes, I will take my Kia carseat in the hydrofoil any old day of the week

After 12 long hours the trip came to an abrubt end when we bumped into a wooden dock leaning down into the water at a 45 degree angle.   We all had to jump from the swaying boat onto this incline and then climb up to a very narrow ledge jammed with locals eager to offer their "assistance."   As I waited for my luggage to hopefully make it from the roof of the boat to this ledge without taking an Amazon bath, I must have been hit up ten times for a motorbile taxi ride into town.  

When confronted with this type of chaos, it's best just to first keep watch over your valuables and wallet.   Once your belongings are secure, take a deep breath, shut out all the noise and do things on your terms.  People are so eager to hustle you into their scams or ripoffs and being in a new place with no clue where to go can be overwhelming.   I gave a few very firm No Gracias warnings to more touts than I care to count and made my way up the steep stairs to the street.    My entire knowledge of Iquitos was the address of the hostel but with no clue where in the city it lay in respect to the dock.   I knew I needed transport, but wIth me, if you want my business, leave me the hell alone and I will come to you when I am ready to make my selection.  

Due to its isolation and lack of access to any outside road system, the fleet of motor vehicles in Iquitos is mainly motorbikes.  With dozens to choose from I walked up to a guy half asleep and negotiated a price.    Just like the guidebooks warned he launched into a textbook display of what to watch out for. He told me my hostel was closed and he could recommend a better one. I held firm and told him to take me to my hostel, in my limited espanol of course. Of course in the end they all want their fare so they will take you where you wanted to go in the first place. These guys just get a commission from other less than reputable joints if they can steer unsuspecting tourists that way.  

Without a fair bit of third world chaos under my belt, the arrival into Iquitos would have been daunting and downright nerve wracking.   Even crossing through Brazil in the middle of the night on a sketchy motorcycle and watertaxi to start this journey down the Amazon could intimidate the uninitiated.   I see how a green traveler can end up in world of hurt when he or she is blasted head on with noise and shouting and people pulling at their luggage.  

Needless to say I lived to tell about one more day down here in the Amazon.   Right now a heavy tropical downpour is washing away the day's heat and humidity.   It's the little pleasures in life like listening to pouring rain and thunder that make the day end on an even better note.

How I Got Here:

La Jandaga to river in Tabatinga, Brazil - 7,000 pesos ($3.50) Motorcycle Taxi - 10 minutes
Tabatinga to Santa Rosa, Peru - 5,000 pesos ($2.50) Water Taxi - 10 minutes
Santa Rosa to Iquitos, Peru - $79 - Fast Boat - 13 hours
Dock to Flying Dog Hostel - 2 Soles (75 cents) - 5 minutes
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