We were most excited to be finally on the lancha and on our way to Iquitos. So excited in fact that we asked if we could sleep aboard the night before it left, to secure a good spot for our hammock, and avoid having to wake up early for the 6am departure. (And also because we only had about 20 soles left to our names until we reached the bank in Iquitos!) Of course it was a hive of activity from about 5am the next morning and we were up to wave off Pantoja and set off down the Rio Napo. But not for long. Ten minutes after departure we made our first stop at the army base and for about an hour there was a frenzy of military guys carrying things on and off until finally we got going again.
The next stop was to pick up plantains, and we quickly realised that this was the purpose of this lancha. We were on the plantain boat! Over the next two days and nights countless stops were made along the way for plantains, sometimes for huge piles, sometimes only a few bunches. The lower deck was filling up fast, and we were also picking up many chickens and pigs, as well as some turtles, three bulls, a small truck and a digger. Plus about 150 passengers with luggage. The boat was pretty full, and in the heat it got very smelly. The kitchen was dangerously close to the toilets (revolting and to be avoided until absolutely necessary), which were flushed straight into the river, and of course all the food was cooked in river water. The showers were river water. We swam in the river. We were at one with the river!
Our days were spent lazing in the hammock, dozing, reading, wandering round the boat, sitting on top deck, and treating ourselves to the occasional cold fizzy drink or beer (when the boat’s fridge was working and until we ran out of money). Also sitting on the “gringo bench” watching endless plantains being carried aboard with fellow travellers Reuben and Josh from Australia, and Helyn, Pat and Mike from England. It was Australia day during the trip so we celebrated with some music and supplies of rum and coke we had brought on board. Wout and Mike did some fishing too, much to the delight of some of the Peruvian guys on board who were in absolute hysterics watching their attempts as they used a plantain tied to the line as a weight to try and stop the hook and bait from bouncing uselessly on top on the water. Their efforts were in vain but at least they had provided some quality entertainment for an hour or two!
Lunch was rice or spaghetti, some kind of sauce, maybe even the odd vegetable, a boiled plantain, and some mystery meat; we think it might have been jungle pig, but there were rumours that it was turtle. Dinners were usually a sweet milky, suspiciously river coloured, rice soup with, not surprisingly, the only thing on the boat in abundance, a boiled plantain in it. We didn’t realise that you were expected to bring bowls and cutlery so we improvised and cut a large water bottle in half and took turns to use our travel spork.
The novelty of the lancha was definitely wearing thin and we couldn’t wait for Iquitos, which to us meant land, clean showers, and nice food! The final two days we zipped along the beautiful Amazon river, enjoyed some amazing sunsets, and arrived a day earlier than expected in Iquitos after four nights on the boat. We worked out that we had travelled approximately 400 miles along the river at an average of 5 miles an hour. It had been an amazing journey but we were glad it was at an end!
Where we stayed:
On the boat! 85 soles each for hammock space for the whole trip
Where we ate:
On the boat! Breakfast, lunch and dinner were included, however we brought hot sauce, tinned tuna, crackers, granola and yogurt drinks to supplement what was provided, plus booze
Cold fizzy drink – 2 soles
Cold beer – 4 soles
(Exchange rate: 2.4 soles to 1 US$)