The alarm goes off at 2.30am. We finish packing and peel the sleepy and none too pleased kids from their beds! Jose. Our friendly taxi driver is waiting outside for us at 3am and takes us back across the border to Tabatinga, where it is instantly 4am – an added complication for these twin towns, divided by a timezone as well as language and currency! Thanks to Francisco for explaining we needed to leave at 3am not 4am or we’d have missed the boat altogether!
Jose takes us to the port and helps us down the steep ramp, steps and mud to a waiting long boat that takes us across the river to Santa Rosa where we step right onto the waiting speedboat Golfinho ll.
We grab the last seats – it reminds me of a small passenger aeroplane but without the glass in the windows. There are about 30 seats and we’re squeezed in like sardines, just like a low cost airline! We sit waiting for the boat to leave, then just like a plane setting off at night, they turn out the lights and the boat ‘takes off’! The kids soon curl up and go back to sleep! Soon after, they serve a yummy chicken sandwich and sweet milky coffee which is very welcome!
It’s exhilarating speeding up the river, Columbia to our right and Peru to our left. We’ll travel 370km as the crow flies today but looking at the meandering river on my map, it must we over 500km of river journey, our last on the Amazon. As day breaks and we can see more and more through the windows. The Peruvian houses, alone or in little groups along the riverbank look more rustic and picturesque than in Brazil, with their thatched roofs.
We pull over and take on some extra passengers – maybe the crew’s friends as family as they don’t have seats and have to perch where they can!
It’s a long 13 hour journey. The rush of air through the cabin as we speed along keeps us fairly cool but in the midday sun, it’s still pretty warm. We sleep, eat, read, the girls play with the mini barbies and do their hair with new slides bought in Manaus, they clamber back and forth, they chat with our friends Luigi and Jonathan who we met on the Voyager IV and a kind lady lets Ben and Zoe play patience on her laptop till the battery runs out! We stop a couple of times only to let a couple of passengers out.
Eventually, Iquitos appears ahead of us – a busy port, with steep muddy banks, all the more because the water level is low. Iquitos is the largest city in the world without any road connections to the outside world. Just air and river.
It’s no longer on the Amazon which changed its course leaving Iquitos on a much narrower tributary as you can see from the map.
We pull up at a smelly dockside where sewage empties into the river and get out with all our bags. The big bags have been on the roof and we’re rather happy to see they’re still there! We’re met by Gerson, a guide from a jungle village with whom I’ve been exchanging emails for a couple of weeks about the next leg of our journey up to Ecuador on the Rio Napo. He helps us up the steps to the busy street as to find the courtesy minivan for our hotel amongst the throng of people and Mototaxis.
It’s sheer heaven to step into the luxury air con minivan and we head the 10 minutes or so through the busy colourful streets to the Amazon Apart hotel where we get a lovely room (after a brief mix up, my fault for booking the wrong day – the hotel staff bend over backwards to help!!) and the kids happily fling themselves in the pool.
Martin and I sit and chat with Gerson over a drink by the pool about options for travelling to Coca in Ecuador – the end point of our river journey and start point of Francisco de Orellana’s epic journey in 1541-2 – the first known navigation of the length of the Amazon, then the Rio Grande, to the Atlantic.
We’re hoping to be able to complete the same journey in reverse but the Napo river is less simple to travel than our Amazon journey. The cargo boats aren’t safe or clean, the river is low and there aren’t a lot of other options but Gerson is prepared to lead a 10 day private expedition. We’ll hire our own boat for much of the Napo journey, camp on the riverbanks and in villages and stop to fish, explore the jungle or swim along the way. Gerson has done this trip four times before with different groups over the years and we’re impressed with his award winning accolades and website created by an English couple who were so impressed with him they built his website and helped him establish a successful family business running jungle trips in and around his village. We decide to do it and agree to leave on Monday giving us three full days to relax in Iquitos and prepare.
In the evening we eat Chinese in a nearby square where there’s a pop concert in full swing and lots of Chinese restaurants then we hop in a mototaxi to the hotel and fall into our huge lovely beds in our huge pristine air con bedroom! Wonderful!