On the Way to Amazonia: Half the Fun is Getting There

Oh, it sounded like a challenge. 4 days and 3 nights in the Amazonian jungle in a wooden canoe with a couple of guides, camping and living rough, eating fish and rice, sweating and beating off mosquitoes. I thought of my friends and family and couldn’t imagine many of them doing this, but then again, lots of people have done so, and have the stories to tell. Usually when I do something that seems like a huge stretch, I am surprised at how much my imagination has overreached. It was a hot, itchy, mosquito plagued blast, and not so hard, after all.

We booked out trip with Huayruro Tours, which is an indigenous owned and operated business with all indigenous guides who spend at least a couple of weeks a year living and tending to the Pacaya Samiria Reserve. Our tour was less than $40 a day inclusive.

I went with a couple of friends first to the Peruvian river city of Yurimaguas, and then by fast boat to the small town of Lagunas, at the entry of the reserve where I would spend a short 4 days.

In Yurimaguas we stayed in a small hostel  on the river, the Alojamiento Yacuruna, for the night before we left. What a sweet little hostel! The owners took care of us, and we slept well in our little rooms before catching the morning fast boat to Lagunas.

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The fast boat loads at a small port. Life there starts before dawn, the touts and porters hard at work as we arrive for the 7 AM departure. Aside from a young Israeli and another young man from The Netherlands, we were the only non-locals on the boat. People were traveling to villages upriver with supplies and bread. (Yes, everyone had visited the bakeries in Yurimaguas and bought boxes and bags of some of the worst white bread ever. We would discover  that this was a staple for people in the Amazon.) There was a huge new speaker system loaded, as well as some smaller ones. Unfortunately the large one was headed to someplace close to us in Lagunas, and would be fired up as soon as the electricity came on (electricity in Lagunas: about 4 hours in the evening). There were tires, a small boat, and lots of  boxes of food and dry goods.

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Our fast boat is the red topped one in the center

 

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We arrived at Lagunas roughly 6 hours later. Most of life in Lagunas revolves around the preserve and the boats that ply the river Paranapura on their way to and from Iquitos and the Amazon. We were greeted at the port by a guide in a tuk tuk, or tri-mobile. From this point on up the River tuk-tuks are the main transportation on land.

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Port entry at Lagunas – Tuk Tuks

We spent the night in Lagunas and got up early for the market, which runs from 6-8 in the morning on the local streets. We bought our hammocks and a few incidentals and got on our way to our wooden boat and guides.

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Local men and school boys watch a war movie on a television in the market

 

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Loading the canoe for the trip

In my next post I’ll describe the actually trip into the reserve.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Belen Market, Iquitos, Peru, Amazonia

I’ve been traveling in places with little wifi access, and today is little better, but I can post a few pictures of the wildest market I have ever been to: Belen market, on the Amazon. You can get all of your Candomble (Candomblé is a religion based on African beliefs which is particularly popular in Brazil. It is also practised in other countries, and has as many as two million followers).needs here, as well as anything else in the world you want, unfortunately, including endangered wildlife. It should be your first stop if you wish to do some self-administered ayahuasca, or other exotic mind altering substances. Caution is advised.

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For Me, the Sun Has Set on Cuenca

There are many reasons to love Cuenca, but in the end, they are rather prosaic. Where to live and what feels like home to a person is highly personal. I’m moving on, but I can understand why many people stay.

It is a cheap enough place to live, now. But the developers are coming, and have been here for a while, and the cost of living is rising. The cheap little apartments that probably once housed Ecuadorian families, then new-comer immigrants, now are being redeveloped into more expensive “loft’ spaces. As rents go up, so will the cost of things as locals have to adjust their incomes. Cuenca is not cheap today, by Ecuadorian standards, and will become relatively more expensive as time goes on. Even if I were totally convinced to stay in Cuenca, this would convince me otherwise.

That Cuenca appeals to middle-class economic refugees from the developed world is no surprise. It is a very easy and undemanding place to be. There is an excellent symphony, with free performances, as well as dance and other arts, museums, clubs and cafes. The hope for many is, I believe, that you can pick up your “life-style” where it left off where you left from, only at a fraction of the cost. The relative loss of standard of living as one transitions from working income to pension will be absorbed by the difference in cost of living between the home country and Cuenca. This is the hope, of course. And given this ehop, it is easy to see that learning a new language and adjusting to a very different culture are not part of the expectations of the newcomers.

For me, Cuenca lacks a certain edginess that comes with international cities-the clash of cultures and classes that keeps things lively and fresh, and a touch threatening. I think that sort of sums up my personal response to it. It is a pretty place to visit. I’m happy for the displaced foreigners who find a second home here, and a comfortable one. I’m sorry for the fate of the locals, but in truth Cuenca has belonged to foreigners for 500 years. Really since the beginning. It was born a middle class European colonial city, and that is remains.

There is my final hurrah for Cuenca. It will continue to be promoted by the developers and the International Living magazines. As the US becomes increasingly unaffordable for retirees, they will seek out the Cuencas of the world. Meanwhile, I am off to Vilcabamba, a retiree spot of a decidedly different, funkier sort in the far south of Ecuador.