Travelogue of a trip down the Amazon River
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A trip down the Amazon River from Iquitos, Peru to Leticia, Columbia

10-17-98 Iquitos, Peru
I am now in Iquitos. The first impression was very bad. But it has been ok since. It is very hot here – must be 95 or 100. Transportation around town is mainly by motorized rickshaw – the damn things are everywhere and noisy. This morning as I walked around town a young boy latched on to me and followed me around everywhere. His name is Oscar. He went everywhere I went, including the internet café, where he sat patiently while I typed for an hour. So I bought him lunch and one of his friends joined us. Together the three of us rented a rickshaw -–the same driver I’d used earlier in the morning to go to the medicine market in Belen, where I bought several things. But earlier, the driver either didn’t understand or didn’t know where the medicine market was. Together now, the four of us, me, Oscar, his friend, Antonio, and the rickshaw driver returned to Belen.

Belen is a set of grass/thatch-roofed huts built on stilts to avoid the rising of the Amazon. The high water months are Jan, Feb., and March.

Antonio spoke English quite well. He served as interpreter for me as I went thru the medicine market. He asked for nothing, but I bought one of his hummingbirds – carved from a white hardwood. He teaches Spanish to the Indian children of his home village 3 hours away from Iquitos. He comes to Iquitos on the weekends to sell his carvings.

I bought medicine for arthritis or muscle aches, medicine for cancer, for sexual energy. A halucinogen that gives visions to see where the body is sick. All just meaningless souvenirs, none of it needed. Partly bought because I promised Tanya, who is interested in alternative medicines, that I’d bring back things from the medicine market.

10-18-98 Amazon medicines, exploring the Amazon, catching Caiman
Last night was another big adventure. Oscar, Antonio, Carlos (the rickshaw driver) and I were supposed to go to a dance at 8:00. I left the hotel to go to dinner at 6:30 and Oscar was waiting. As I could anticipate, his intent was for me to buy him dinner. But he also took me to meet another friend of his, Alex, who spoke very good English. Well Alex joined us too. Little did I know the plans had changed. After dinner, the three of us went to meet Peter, an American that owned a bar. I played a Peruvian bar game with the barmaid. But alas, she was married.

Today I met Caesar who has worked for Amazon Tours before. He helped me to negotiate the tour price down from \ to . His reward - - a lot of money in Peru. My reward - learning to negotiate better and keeping an open mind to meeting strangers.

Peter told me his thoughts on Ayuhuasca, the hallucinogen. His opinion is that it is a life changing experience each time it is used. But that the preparation requires a shaman – that the plant will not give up its spirit to anyone. That it is conscious and makes a choice.

The lady selling the Ayuhuasca said it would provide visions that would identify illnesses in the body. Advice for preparation: boil for 12 hours in 8 liters of water, reducing the volume to 8-10 ounces of the medicine. Dose is one small shot at night after no dinner. Also no breakfast the following morning. Caesar says this should only be taken with a shaman.

Another medicine is cat’s claw. There are 23 types, the most effective being uncaria todomentosa, good for treating: prosthate cancer, skin cancer (he said spots on the skin), and high blood pressure. To prepare, boil 3 pieces in one liter of water for three minutes. After it cools it should be drank in three doses, morning, noon, and night.

Clava Huasca is a treatment for impotence or to add virility. To prepare it for this, one strand of Clava Huasca is chopped into 50 pieces and soaked in Pisco or “firewater” overnight. Take one big glass. (If it doesn’t add virility, at least you’ll be drunk).

Chuchuwasa bark is prepared similarly to Clava Huasca except that 100 pieces are used. It increases metabolism and provides warmth. For women, it can be used to assist in childbirth and acts as a tonic after childbirth. It is also a medicine for yellow, unpleasant vaginal discharges (yeast infection?). For this, it is used as a douche prepared by adding 2 glasses of the liquid to one liter of water. Douche twice a day for two days.

We have begun our trip down the Amazon. We pass many huts along the way with children playing on the riverbank. I saw one older couple swimming naked and the lady rose to show her breasts. See – women are much alike everywhere.

At one point our boat stopped for a couple of hours while we waited for a couple of passengers that had arrived late in Iquitos. There were several boys swimming in the river near our boat, probably 10 or 11 years old. I climbed off our boat unto one of two smaller motorboats that we tow. I had removed my hat and watch and was about to undress to swim when our boat motors were restarted – our new passengers had arrived.

At 6:30 tonight we took a launch out to seek Caimans. When spotted, the reflection from our flashlight causes the Caiman eyes to glow red. We caught two, each about three feet long. After catching the first, Beder asked if anyone wanted to hold it and I was the first of only two that volunteered. So I’ll make the video tape being made by Mario.

As the light was shone to search for Caimans, bats were attracted to the insects that were attracted to our lights. We arrived at the tributary for the Caiman search before dark. Shortly after, as we waited for darkness at the mouth of the tributary, dolphins arrived and were surfacing all around us. These were gray dolphins, very similar to those I’ve seen in the ocean off North Carolina.

My quarters on board are comfortable, consisting of two very narrow beds, an open closet, and a bathroom with shower. One large window to look out at the passing river and shore. Later at night after most had gone to bed, I stood at the bow of the ship. With barely the light of the ship, I could see the debris float by – logs, leaves, branches. Small, canoe-like fishing boats would occasionally be seen. Very frequently, what I think were bats, but possibly birds, flew around me and around the bow of the ship.

10-20-98 Exploring the rainforest
Yesterday we took a boat ride up the Ampiyacu River to Pebas and beyond. Ampiyacu means poison to the Indians in this region – this river was once thought to carry Malaria. Pebas is a town of 3,000 people. Along the way we saw many birds: Jacana, Turkey Vulture, Amazon and Ringed Kingfishers, Cara Cara, and Osprey. At one point we stopped to look at birds and we heard marmosets in the jungle but did not see them. However, during the time we quietly watched from our boat, we saw many pink dolphins surface near us. We’ve also seen many beautiful butterflies.

After we passed Pebas we visited a little village of 400, Pucaurquillo, where the villagers danced for us and we bartered for handicrafts.

Later in the day we anchored at the Shishita River and took a hike into the primary rainforest, where we saw cocao trees, breadfruit trees, rubber trees, wild fig trees – some absolutely huge, maybe 20 feet in diameter at the base. We also saw leaf cutter ants and opened their nest to see the fungus that they farm. Also, a couple of pretty large spiders and webs.

We have a man on board that video tapes our excursions, then sells the tapes to us tourists - \ for the one-way trip, for the round trip. This morning I offered him a shirt in trade for one of his tapes and he agreed. I will offer him my San Diego Harley Davidson shirt.

Until today, the heat has been oppressive – ever since arriving in Iquitos.

We visited a village this morning called Intipacari – about 100 people. This village is very backward, no electricity. They showed us their technique for pressing the juice from sugar cane, which was very tasty. The village consists of Yagua indians, some of whom do not speak Spanish – among them the Shaman. They grow bananas, yellow and orange ginger, lemon grass, guava, and guayava (their name for what we consider guava). In this small village is a one-room schoolhouse which teaches something like kindergarten through 6th grade, 6th grade being the highest mandatory grade. In this village, I traded a bar of soap, scissors, and a package of cheese for one fan thatched together with dried cane. Later we visited the “home” of one of the villagers and I gave the fan to the eldest daughter, a girl of about 10. To the father for his hospitality I gave a flashlight. The home had a thatch roof and a floor made of the split (hollow) logs of the “walking palm” – a strange plant we saw yesterday during our walk through the primary rainforest. This palm has many above ground roots which branch off the main trunk looking like a teepee. The home had three rooms. A living room which had one hammock and a wooden bench, a connecting bedroom, then a covered walkway to the kitchen. In the kitchen was a pot of boiled fish with bananas, a pot of mikado, which is a fermented drink from the sap of a tree, and a fire pit. The house is built on stilts to stay dry during the high water season. This family had a parakeet for a pet which was free outside the home. Another villager had a pet monkey.

10-21-98 Leticia, Columbia
Where Iquitos is a city of motorized rickshaws, Leticia is a city of motorbikes. I paid 5,000 pesos to rent a motorbike for one hour and drove around the town. Went the wrong way on a couple of the one-way streets in the first few minutes, then had no further problems.

I’m staying in a little place called the Santa Helena and paying \. Amazon tours had a room reserved at the Anaconda for . This place is clean and nice but, although I don’t know about the Anaconda, it doesn’t always have electricity.

The senora proprietor just walked in and showed me how to turn on the AC. It is oppressively hot here and I’ve done a lot of walking – discovering nothing worth seeing on the motorbike. But I have seen some women that have given me hardons – they dress to show themselves off here.

A thousand pesos is worth about \/home/free/cgi-bin/util/sitebuilder.75. For lunch, I had soup, a cucumber salad, rice, beans, fried bananas, potatoes and beef – all very good, for 4,000 pesos. I stuffed myself.

A couple of things were noticeable when crossing the border into Columbia. One is that the people are of greater mix – from white to dark, whereas in Peru everyone was indian and dark. Another noticeable thing is that women dress much more provocatively – tighter slacks and blouses – much more of a latin American look. Also, there is a lot more obesity here.

I met a woman today - Zuli. Not great looking but a nice body – the long, lean look. Divorced. So even though she doesn’t speak English (a girl that was there when we met served as translator) we have agreed to go dancing tonight. I was just walking by a shop when all these giggling girls and the woman called me in and we began flirting with one another.

Just as I was walking to the ATM, it’s reserve power went out – the electricity had gone out earlier. Had been going on and off all day. The town is pitch black without it. The ATM machine is a problem because I need money to pay my hotel bill and to have money to go out tonight for a few drinks.

As I was waiting for Zuli in the hotel courtyard, I saw a spider on the wall that was easily three inches across. Apparently, it wasn’t a common sight because when I got up to look closer, others came and made a fuss over it. During lunch I saw a couple of lizards on the sidewalk. I’ve also seen many toads on the street.

People ride their motorbikes four at a time sometimes. Mother, father and two kids; or mother, father, a kid and a pet. Once a driver and a man carrying crutches.

My room is nice. Double sized bed, AC, and TV (when there’s electricity), end table and ottoman-like chair. Nice wood doors and the ceiling and one wall paneled in wood. The proprietor senora says the power is out all over Columbia. Zuli didn’t show up.

10-22-98 Off to Bogota
Now at the Leticia airport. About the size of the Santa Barbara airport. Man, the heat is oppressive., almost overwhelming. And it’s not even the full heat of summer yet.

Before coming to the airport, I stopped at D.A.S. to have my passport stamped. The man said something about “Trenta” and I thought he wanted 30 mil pesos. I thought it was a scam, thought I had no choice, could see a locked metal box that could be for money so felt a little better and began to count out the money. He laughed, said something to someone else in the office and said “trenta dias”, thirty days. I wonder if he and his buddy will now try to scam non-Spanish speaking Americans into paying in the future.

I’m just sitting here and the sweat is dripping off.

No reservations in Bogota, so I’ll be on my own. Not a comortable feeling in a city with Bogota's reputation.

There was some kind of parade in town this morning, the leaders with a megaphone, the marchers chanting in unison. Somebody handing out a single page flier which I got a copy of.

In the Leticia airport the army checked my baggage. Opened them all and poked around pretty carefully. Don’t know if they were looking for drugs or bombs. I was worried about Brazil nuts, Amazon medicines, and the Coca leaves. But finally, a flight on time. The stewardesses were the worst bitches I’ve ever encountered though.

10-23-98 Bogota
Unfortunately, I arrived in Bogota too late to visit the Museo de Oro, but went to Monserrate for an overlook of the city at sunset. Pleasant view.

Bogota is an armed camp. Military people all around carrying automatic weapons. On the way from the airport was a sign in Spanish saying something about contraband, probably meaning drugs. Makes me wonder if all the show of force is due to US pressure about drugs. But there is also civil unrest, the cause of which I couldn’t determine from the Spanish speaking news. But there were riots yesterday. I think some people were killed.

Bogota is a modern city – many buses and taxis. And the taxis even have meters to prevent people from being cheated. But occasionally a horse-drawn wagon can be seen – I saw a couple yesterday. Traffic in this city is intense. And like every other city I’ve been in in South America, the vehicles are very old and almost every one spews out smoke, making the air pollution pretty bad.

The Columbians eat meat and potato soup for breakfast. But eggs can still be had.

Eager now to get home – all of the highlights of the trip have been experienced. Have an hour to kill before leaving for the airport.

Walking back to the hotel I saw a young woman that looked like Sabrina – the short, black hair, the glasses, the lips. Enough to make my heart skip and feel funny. A real ache. It’s one of the genuine mysteries in my life – wondering how I’ll react when I see her in person again someday.

In the airport, my carry on bags were not only x-rayed, but later carefully searched. Also, my body. Then to find out, when arriving at the gate to get on the plane it was all repeated (except the body search). Fascism! Is it Columbian or American in origin? .