Updated: Aug 29, 2018
By Jesse Simmons
The bus ride was an action packed 20 hour journey. It began innocently enough; we arrived on time and everything was in order. Our seats were on the top deck right behind the stairs, so we had an open view to the steward and his workstation. Immediately we were glued to his every action, the poor guy did not have any glasses and was extremely near sighted. He was reading his lines with the paper one literal inch from his nose. I read them over his shoulder. His skill was first observed when pouring coffee, tea, and coke on a bumpy bus. He accomplished this by holding the cup tray with his knee, the 3L coke bottle under his arm and his head down as far as possible. It was quite the feat. The steward’s trouble began when the sound system malfunctioned during a movie change. We had just finished the third movie and he was switching to the fourth when the sound cut out. He began to troubleshoot the system, but could not see the remote or read the menu screens. Emily and I were glued to his every move, and watched the first scene of the movie about 50 times. We silently cheered him on and had heated discussions on if he was on the right track for the next two hours. He was relentless in trying to get the machine to work. Finally he called it quits and asked one of the drivers to look at it (this was an overnight bus and two drivers were on board). The driver was unable to figure it out; luckily there would not no blasting Spanish movies the rest of the ride.
Shortly after giving up on the movies we stopped for a few minutes at a new bus station and all got off to use the bathroom and stretch our legs. While Emily was in the bathroom the bus drove away! My eyes were filled with panic. When Emily returned, a local noticed us and started speaking very fast Spanish, saying something we couldn’t understand, but we got the message: calm down - the bus was coming back.
Next came dinner which was a plate of surprisingly good chicken and rice. During the whole preparation Emily and I were completely involved in watching the steward's ingenious methods of preparation and compensation for his nearsightedness. At the end of dinner he was back to serving coffee, tea, and coke.
During this, a little girl about five years old got up to go to the bathroom, but he sent her back. The mom asked "even for a little girl" but he was firm on the rules. The restrooms were locked during meal time because he had to pass up and down the aisles frequently. A bit of time passed and the mom and little girl got up a second time saying that it was an emergency. He was very firm again, but as the mom and steward were talking the little girl peed her pants in the middle of the bus. Directly next to Emily and I. At least I had the window seat this time.
I should mention that throughout the overnight bus ride, the landscape had transformed from a desolate desert with mist shrouded little “mountains” by the sea to a lush landscape with huge leafed palm trees. It was to these beautiful surroundings we woke up the next morning to a checkpoint search. Two police officers boarded the bus and began to check IDs. All was going well until they came to us. The cop was young and had no idea what to do with our passports. He took them off the bus and stood around for 10 minutes, just looking at them and then brought them to a new cop with a flak jacket and an automatic rifle. This officer did not look well pleased at having to look at two American passports. He boarded the bus to look at us, went downstairs and stood with the first cop to confer. After a while they went and got a two more cops and had a good discussion. The cop with the assault rifle came back on the bus and told us to get off. We were not ready to go anywhere since we just woke up, so we had to put on our boots, gather our stuff and make our way down with him staring at us the entire time.
Once off, the four cops surrounded us and the female cop started going over our passports with a fine tooth comb. She looked at all the stamps in them, scrutinized the Peru stamp, quizzed us on why we were in Peru, how long we were staying, where we had been, where we were headed. The hard question was when we arrived, we had no idea what the date was that day much less the day of the week or the date we arrived. Again, this was maybe ten minutes after waking up after a terrible night's sleep. After a little thought we threw out four likely dates. We satisfied the inquisition and were allowed on the bus! Phew!
We finally arrived in Tarapoto and took a mototaxi to the next bus station. This was a combi station to Yurimaguas. Combis are small busses with bench seats, and usually very over crowded. When we arrived at the station the place was a hive of activity. We went to ticket counter and tried to get tickets. We were told to just go by the bus, so we went around the corner and saw a big crowd of people milling around with all manner of packages, from taped up card board boxes to chickens tied up in bags. When the bus arrived the locals swarmed the bus and pushed and shoved to get seats. There was no way we were going to get on that combi. Emily asked a worker that we had seen loading a lot of the luggage onto the bus roof when the next combi was coming. He didn’t know, but Emily chit chatted with him and asked if he would give us a heads up when the next bus showed up.
The next bus came and was again filled before Emily and I could board or he could find us in the crowd. This time we made it into the crush, but were too timid and late. By this time we made it to the front of the pack and were ready to rumble. After some more waiting another bus came, the guy that Emily had spoken to earlier pointed it out and before it could even pull into the spot we were swarming and it had to stop in the middle of the parking lot. Emily ran ahead and I was in the middle of trying to pick up both backpacks when the same worker told me to leave the bags and claim my space (he said he would take care of the bags - risky, I know...) When I ran up, Emily had her hand on the front passenger door speaking heatedly with a local guy who also had his hand on the door. He had walked up to the bus right after Emily and said the front seat was occupied. Emily was telling him that we had been waiting for the last hour and he had not, also that we were going to take the front since I was too large to fit in the tiny rows of the back (my legs are too long). There were also two older local guys backing up Emily (they were friends we had made while waiting and looked to be in their 70s). When he didn’t budge I reached between Emily and the guy, and grasped the door handle and began to try and open the door. He tried to keep it closed to keep Emily and I from getting in, but with me pulling at door open, the two local talking at him and Emily talking at him he finally relented. We learned how to be a local and had a great time with it, mostly anyways. You have to make your friends and jump in the crush.
The last dramatic event of this journey was when we saw a mototaxi flip over 360 degrees on the way to Yurimaguas. It was terrible looking, and the guy driving looked like he was in a lot of pain.
The Port City
We arrived in Yurimaguas to a hot and sweltering afternoon, a welcome break from the chilly mountains. No plans what so ever were in place, so we headed out looking for hostels. The city was a mix of paved streets and gravel roads. Many of the houses we passed were inside abandoned buildings and were open to the elements. The people though looked in good spirits if not very inviting. Once we arrived at a hostel we asked about the “Barge”. The barge is a cargo boat that goes from Yurimaguas to Iquitos over a three day span and takes on passengers. The passengers sleep on one of the decks in hammocks, and eat with the crew. This was to be the highlight of the jungle, relaxing in a hammock floating down the amazon, eating ship food.
The hostel proprietor did not have any info on the barge, but called a friend. He told us that we had missed the barge yesterday and it wouldn’t be in town until Tuesday, 3 days away. There was no way we were going to be able to wait that long and still catch our flight out of Iquitos. The guy then tried to sell us a tour in the area but Emily and I were dejected and just wanted to get out of the hotel. We wondered around and found a guy that also told us the same information and then tried to sell us another tour.
We wondered around town and realized that we had to get out of Dodge. The town of Yurimaguas was not a place we wanted to stay long. We had fish for dinner to try and lift our spirits. Emily had never had a whole fried fish before and I did not really know what I was doing, so she spent the majority of the meal pulling spines out of eat bite. We could not stop laughing and had a great time. Also with dinner we had a fruit smoothie which is a fantastic idea and should be brought to the USA. The smoothie was full of local fruit and ice cream.
Once we got back to our hostel Emily and I were trying to figure out what we were going to do the next several days and how we were going to get to Iquitos. After moaning and groaning I decided we were going to try a different port location. It was 10 pm so it was a really long shot that anything was still going to be open. We walked down dark streets and arrived at what might have been a port, but had lots of mototaxis around. We walked in circles and finally found someone who pointed us further along the road. We found the company that ran the boat we were looking for and the only employee was locking the front door.
What did the man have to say? Find out what happened next and read ou