Stories from the Amazon

  • Dock workers loading a ship
    Dock workers in Pucallpa, Peru load a ship destined down the Amazon for Iquitos.

    Jacobs Takes to the Water in Peru

    "Watch your stuff closely on the boat" was the message repeated from people when I talked about taking a cargo ship down the Amazon.

    Determined not to get caught up in the fears of other people, I searched for a way to get on a ship to Iquitos, Peru.

    Juan, a worker at the hotel, took me to the port that was no more than just a muddy area where ships pull up next to shore.

    "The ship you wanted left this morning," Juan reported after speaking with some local workers. "We must go find a ship in a different area."

    A mile upstream we came to another location where a ship had docked and was loading cargo. It looked more like a barge than a ship. The long front section was flat and piled with everything imaginable - crates, pallets of bags stacked two stories high, a car parked at the very front of the cargo deck.

    The back of the ship had three large open decks, one on top of the other. This was the space where people would hang their hammocks.

    "You are in luck, Mr. Dean. This ship has space and is scheduled to leave in three hours," Juan said with a big wide smile.

    We walked through the mud and across a wooden gangplank that connected the ship to the land.

    I looked up at the name of the ship painted in large turquoise letters below the bridge - Linares III. I wondered what happened to I and II. Juan was still with me, to ensure no one would take my bags and to help me find a place to hang my hammock.

    Dodging workers busy loading cargo onto the ship, we climbed the orange metal stairs to the second level and found plenty of space to tie my hammock. Pipes running across the ceiling were placed strategically to tie each end of the hammock.

    I had brought my own hammock from the States in anticipation of this part of my journey. It is a fancy nylon hammock with attached mosquito netting and a zipper to entomb me at night. As I tied the thin nylon strings to the pipe, it spurred several conversations from the locals positioned near me. Their hammocks were tied with thick white ropes, and they were convinced my strings would break once I lie down.

    As I slipped into my hammock and nothing happened, I heard several low-pitched "wows" from those around me.

    This would be my home for the next four days.

    Hanging hammocks
    Hammocks fill one of the sleeping areas on the ship Linares III, heading down the Amazon in Peru.

    I met another traveler on the boat, a young man from Belgium. Ken had rented a small cabin on the ship. I offered him a few dollars and asked if he would be willing to store my large backpack in his cabin; he happily agreed.

    Now I was free to roam the ship without having an ongoing concern of constantly checking my bags. A freedom I relished.

    The three hours of waiting stretched into four, five and six. Word spread across the boat that we wouldn't be leaving until the next morning. In the darkness, I slipped off the boat in search of some dinner. Walking a port area at night alone is not one of my favorite things to do.

    I was just relieved to have a plan in place to send me down the Amazon. Now the river is big. It's a mile wide and already averages around 30 meters or 100 feet deep. This is even hard to quantify since the river rises and falls so much each year.

    My last meal in Pucallpa was at a wood oven pizza joint. Not so traditional, but I was aware the food on the boat was going to give me plenty of typical grub.

    In the quietness of night, I climbed back onto the ship. The waters of the Ucayali River lapped against the side of the ship, as if welcoming me aboard. Whispering voices on the ship seemed to add a mystery to the next segment of the journey.

    From this point on, I knew my main mode of transportation would be boats floating down the Amazon until I reach its mouth at the Atlantic. I climbed into my hammock and grinned, imagining this must have been how Tom Sawyer felt as he set off down the Mississippi.

    Smiling man and cargo ship
    A street vendor in Pucallpa reminds be to be careful of my things when on the ship to Iquitos, Peru (left).
    The Linares III leaves the port at Pucallpa and heads down the Amazon towards Iquitos, Peru (right).

    Fremont Tribune

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