Welcome to the Jungle - Iquitos
Posted on Dec 21, 2013 by Inga
With roughly 600.000 inhabitants Iquitos is one of the biggest Peruvian cities, nevertheless it is situated completely isolated in the Amazon basin, and only connected to the rest of the world by air and water.
Bimbino and Bambina arrived in Iquitos at a port on the Río Itaya, only a couple of hundred meters away of its confluence with the Río Amazon. It was shortly after midnight and still dark outside. Luckily they were able to stay longer on board so they left the Arabella-I only in the early morning hours when the sun was rising. They found ashore a busy harbor side. All cargo had already been landed during the night, not only from Arabella-I but also from a couple of other boats that lay side by side. The embankment seemed to consist from nothing else but plantains, life-stock and barkers looking for the nearest buyers to sell their goods. A scenario that reminded of old pirate movies, a picture that was only altered by the presence of cars and motor-taxis. Motor-taxis are the counterpart to the Tuk-Tuks of Bangkok and can easily be described as a bastard of a rickshaw and a motorbike.
In fact you can hardly see any cars on the roads of Iquitos, just motor-taxis and motorcycles. Why would you need a car in the city which you cannot access by road? The longest you can drive is around 100 km to the next town Nauta. But even for that a boat would serve well enough. Iquitos is a city of boats and motor-taxis. Bimbino and Bambina had to get in one of the motor-taxis to reach downtown as the harbor is located some four kilometers away from the center.
After the long and exhausting voyage on the Río Napo it was time for a break. Hence the day consisted merely of having breakfast and an extensive rest in a hostel. What the monkeys found here were travelers from all parts of the world who mainly had one thing in common: talking about their last Ayahuasca trip or sharing information where to find the best shaman for having a hallucinogenic body and mind cleansing experience caused by that psychedelic jungle brew.
Walking around the city the monkeys noticed a lot of contrasts. Iquitos’ atmosphere is not easy to describe. Half village, half city it breathes a little bit of the spirit of a gold-mining-town whose best times are over. While the center with its fine tiled houses is a witness of the long gone rubber boom most buildings in the outskirts must be described as shabby. However, exactly this mixture is what gives Iquitos its unique and special character.
There is a small area around the main square full of overpriced cafés and restaurants for tourists. Every second door there is a tour agency, where on most of the photos you can see people holding "wild" anacondas and making out with monkeys (no, not with Bimbino and Bambina). Trying to avoid annoying tour agents the monkeys were walking around the city trying to find their way to one of the most interesting areas of the city - Belén.
- How can we get to Belén, which street shall we take?
- Belén? Oh, you should not go there, it is too dangerous!
Such answers Bimbino and Bambina got from a few locals on the street. Obviously, they have never crossed a dangerous line themselves, and live with common prejudice about that place. The monkeys found Belén quite friendly. But what you definitely shouldn't do though is walking around Belén at night.
On the way to Belén there is a central market. It is full of everything, it the best place to buy cheap and fresh food and all kind of supplies for the daily life. a perfect place to catch an interesting moment with your camera. You should only be careful holding it properly. Otherwise you might find it the next days on sale on the very same market. If you need a haircut this is a place to be as well, there is a whole alley of barbershops. You aren't up to it, are you?
Very typical for Iquitos, and especially for the destrict of Belén are houses build in the lake. They are either standing on the wooden pillars or floating on the water. Like this they are independent from the tides.
Iquitos is very popular to visit by Germans and arthouse cinema enthusiasts. They all love Fitzcarraldo, the famous movie by Werner Herzog about the Irish protagonist who is eager to pull a steam-boat over a mountain in order to access unexploited rubber-territory, efforts he only makes to achieve his dream of building an opera house in the Peruvian jungle. Actually this enthusiasm for the movie must have spread over to the population of Iquitos some time ago as you can find countless streets, cafés and hotels named after this famous character played by the insane male diva called Klaus Kinski. Also the name Mick Jagger can be found all over the city as he was originally part of the cast, but left the set during the shooting for a Rolling Stones tour due to delays in the filming schedule. In the end Jagger's character got completely deleted from the movie.
Welcome to the jungle!
The most important experience in Iquitos, except for Ayahuasca, is the jungle. Loads of tour agencies offer different tours. Bimbino and Bambina didn't have a lot of time, just one day to visit the jungle. When they checked a few tour agencies offering a one day tour, they realized that those tours were more like visiting a Zoo, but not the jungle. For really seeing wild animals you have to go for a few days with a tent into the depth of the jungle, sit silently and wait. But if you want to have a photo kissing anaconda, you must join the Zoo tour.
Bimbino and Bambina never liked the tours. Luckily Bimbino and Bambina could stay with Laly and Jaker
from the second day on, a couple of Couchsurfers who was able to tell them how to visit the jungle on their own. The same information you can get at iPerú near by the Plaza de Armas. There is a National Park, Allpahuayo-Mishana, one of the most bio-diverse areas in the world, which is located 20 minutes from the city, so you can reach it by bus.
Unfortunately the monkeys couldn't see the other monkeys in the reserve. At that moment the way to the tropical rain-forest was closed due to maintenance, so they could only visit the dry forest. In the dry forest they could see loads of different birds, butterflies, frogs, insects, flowers, and mushrooms. In that part of the forest the soils are fragile consisting of the white quartz sands. The trees there don't grow as giant as in the rain-forest, but the variety of plants was really impressive.
Bimbino and Bambina were tired from the hike. In fact they were tired from the heat, so they decided to visit a zoological park with a lake before going back to Iquitos. The water in the lake was warm like in a bathtub, but still refreshing comparing to the air. In the Zoo the monkeys could finally see some other monkeys, and a lot of other animals like alligators, jaguars, pumas, dolphins, tapirs, and some more. The animals living in the park are told to be saved from life threatening situations. If it is true nobody knows, but it looked like people were taking good care of them.
After coming back from the day trip Bimbino and Bambina went to check the cinema in Iquitos. Since weeks they were looking forward to watching the second part of "The Hobbit".
The monkeys were walking towards the cinema when someone approached them. The man looked rather run down, dirty clothes, not sure whether he had been for a long time on the road or for an even longer time in the streets. He introduced himself with pure British accent:
- Hey guys! I am Brian. I need help. I was robbed in the port when I arrived to Iquitos two days ago. They took everything, except for the things I was wearing. All money and documents are gone. When I tried to defend myself, they kicked me, I fell and lost consciousness. When I woke up I saw that my little finger was broken.
And he showed the monkeys his crooked pinky with fresh traces of blood on it. Nasty. He continued:
- And I went to the police, but they were not helpful. They tried to get money from me as well, but I didn't have any, even no money to pay for the copy of police report. You know how such things can happen. Now I need to go to the hospital for an operation which would cost me 60 Soles. But I don't have money yet. I contacted my family in Britain, they have transferred the money, but I cannot get it, as I don't have my documents yet. The British embassy in Lima is working on sending me new documents but it takes time, and I need the operation as soon as possible. If you could help me with at least part of this sum, guys..
And he showed his finger again.
Knowing how many scammers are running around with similar stories Bimbino and Bambina became suspicious. Of course, it could be true, but they had to find a way to check this person. They said that they needed to think how much money they could give to Brian, and went into the cinema building. They could actually just leave it and go further to enjoy the evening, but a seed of doubt that the story might have been true couldn't let them free. So they tried to think, what they would do in such a situation themselves.
First, they would do everything to convince people of their trouble. They would tell the story and ask people to go with them to the internet to show their e-mails, Facebook, all kinds of resources they have about them. Maybe Skype with relatives. Show their account via on-line banking with money. It would be even possible to transfer people the money straight away in exchange for cash from them.
They decided to come back to Brian and ask him to prove his story. They wanted to go with him to police, so that the police could proof him right. Then they wanted to go to an internet café to read his last e-mails. Then they could give him even the whole 60 Soles for his operation. Brian's reaction surprised them:
- You think I'm a liar!? Look at my finger! Is it not a proof enough? If you don't want to help, just say so. I don't ask a lot, 5 Soles would be already a big help.
- Ok. We don't want to help, - was their answer.
They were standing stunned and getting more and more sure that their decision was right when they saw Brian approaching two foreign ladies and getting coins from them. The remains of their doubt became very very small, but they finally lasted until the very New Year's Eve.
That day they were standing on the main square with a big group of travelers and talking to a Polish guy who was on his big South American trip as well. His wallet was stolen recently, but all was fine. His passport was safe, so he was just waiting for his Western Union money transfer. This story was waking up some memories. Exactly! Iquitos. The monkeys told the Brian story. The Polish guy started laughing. He told that he had met that guy as well. He even had made some research on the Internet, and found a few stories about Brian.
The next day Bambina went online to look for information about the scammer. And there it was, a whole article in a newspaper, and a few topics in different travel forums. Beware of the British scammer in Iquitos!
You should read this article, the actual interview with Brian and another scammer from Iquitos: http://jungle-love.org/2012/03/17/the-confidence-man-of-iquitos/
"The Hobbit", unfortunately, had not arrive to Iquitos yet, so the screening was postponed. But all things happen for a reason, and so Bimbino and Bambina spent a great last evening with their Couchsurfing hosts, Laly and Jaker
, a very friendly family.
Advice from Bimbino and Bambina
Where to stay:
With Laly and Jaker
. If you get lucky to meet them, you will not regret it! La Casa de Samantha
. A decent hostal.
25 Soles for a double room. Has a kitchen.
What to do:
Visiting Belén. Belén is a great place to take pictures. But take care of your camera, and don't go there at night.
Visiting Allpahuayo-Mishana National Park. There is an entrance fee of 20 Soles. The bus from Iquitos would cost 4 Soles. The buses leave from the southern corner of the market. Those are the buses that go to Nauta. Just ask people for the directions. Tell the driver to stop at the Allpahuayo-Mishana park entrance.
There are different routes and the most interesting take the longest time, count 5 hours there and 5 hours back.
Visiting a Zoological Park of Quistococha. This park has an entrance fee of 9 Soles. The bus from Iquitos would cost 1,5 Soles. It is located on the same road as
Allpahuayo-Mishana National Park, but much closer to the city.
What to bring for the jungle hike:
A lot of water.
Some food. Fruits and vegetables you can buy very cheap on the central market.
You will need good waterproof shoes, as there are some wet places on the paths.
Follow the adventures of the Travelling Monkeys! More stories to come soon...