Iquitos and the Amazon

If you’ve been wondering where I’ve been, I’ve been having adventures!

A few months ago I found myself in rather urgent need of a high-resolution portrait photo. How urgent? Well, a professional organization related to my day job wanted to give me an award, and they wanted to show my face on a huge banner at their annual conferences, in three cities on three continents, no less, and the first conference would be in a matter of a few weeks. Could I send along something of at least 300×300 dpi resolution, 30″ square, and by the way, tomorrow would be good?

If you do the math, you’ll quickly realize they were looking for a serious professional shot, not something I could whip out on my iPhone. I needed to bring in the big guns, and fast.

I gave my good friend Dale a call… well, ok, a text, really… and, what luck! He was actually in town and available. Dale is a semi-pro photographer, a reviewer and editor at one of the most prestigious online photography review magazines, and a freelance documentary filmmaker on the side.

“Sure,” texted Dale, “I can do that for you. But, I have a favor to ask. Do you remember that log raft race I won twelve years ago on the Amazon River? I’m going back to make a documentary about the race, and my usual assistant just canceled on me. It’s really a two-person job, so you’d seriously be helping me out if you could come with me to Peru.”

history ancient peru south america
Photo by Amanda Kerr on Pexels.com

Peru? Cool! I thought, imagining this would be months in the planning. “That sounds like a great trip. When are you planning to go?”

“In a week.”

Pause.

“A week?” I’m pretty sure disbelief would have colored my voice, if this whole conversation were not happening by text message.

“Yep. I know it’s last-minute, but I’ve already invested a lot into this trip, and losing my assistant has put me in a bind.”

One thing you should probably know about Dale is that we met as students in a climbing course. We had scaled peaks together. We had camped overnight in an emergency snow trench together. We had literally held each other’s lives in the balance on belay during rock climbs. I knew that Dale had spent a couple years backpacking around South America, and that he was fluent in Spanish. I knew he had spent three days paddling a log raft on the Amazon while he was there. So I knew that he knew what we’d be getting into with this trip.

Mt Rainier Emmons Route
© Matt Fraser

What’s more, Dale knew that I had wintered in Antarctica back in the day. He knew that I  had trekked the Himalaya and navigated the alleyways of Kathmandu. So he knew that I’d likely be fine for a little escapade in the Amazon jungle, and that the streets of a tropical Peruvian city were unlikely to faze me. He wasn’t asking an unknown to cover his back on this adventure.

Streets of Thamel, Kathmandu, Nepal
© Matt Fraser

“Give me ten minutes,” I replied. “I need to talk to my wife. And my boss.”

Fortunately for me, both my wife and my boss are adventure-minded in their own ways. Despite the short notice, the only issue my boss raised was that he’d prefer to be the one to go. Sorry, boss; this one was mine.

Ten minutes later I committed to travel to Peru in a week’s time, and then I called my doctor’s travel clinic to arrange for vaccinations.

Fortunately, much of what I needed in the way of vaccinations I already had from my time in Nepal, although a few had expired and required renewal (typhoid, tetanus, etc). I would need anti-malarial pills. And… ah, I would need a yellow fever shot. That was new.

The administrator for the travel clinic told me that it would be a week and a half before I could get on the schedule to see the travel nurse.

“I don’t have a week and a half,” I said. “I’m going to Peru in one week.”

“Oh. Where in Peru?”

“Iquitos.”

Ten minutes later the travel nurse called me back directly.

“You’re going to the Amazon!”

“That’s right.”

“You need a yellow fever shot.”

“I know.”

“Almost no one has it in stock right now. It’s in short supply all over the country. We’re ordering in an alternative from France, but it’ll take me ten days to get it here.”

My heart started to sink. I weighed the idea of just going without, but there are some complications with this particular nasty little bug. It’s rare to catch it, but if you do, there’s a scarily high fatality rate, and by all accounts it’s not a pleasant way to go (not that many ways are all that pleasant). And, because of its lethality, many countries require visitors to show documentary proof of having had the shot, depending on where they arrive from. Coming from the US, it seemed unlikely that Peru would require me to show the classic yellow vaccination card, but it seemed entirely possible the US would ask to see it upon my return.

And if not the US, well, a week after getting back I would be jetting off to Spain. Remember, the professional conference for which I needed the headshot photo that started all this? Yeah, that would be in Barcelona, and I was going. I had no idea whether Spanish authorities might see that Peruvian stamp in my passport and then say, “Tarjeta amarilla, señor?” It would be a shame to be turned away from the conference at which I would be winning this award.

“It’s ok, though. There’s a pharmacy in Sand Point that has yellow fever vaccine in stock, and they take walk-ins. Call this number.”

All was not lost! Hastily I wrote down the number, thanked the nurse profusely, and then gave it a call. I was able to make an appointment for the next day, and there I was able to stock up on everything the savvy traveler might require: anti-malarials, antibiotics, anti-diarrheals… pretty much anti-everything. And a course of typhoid pills, a tetanus booster, a flu shot while I was at it, and the all-important yellow fever shot, the most expensive vaccine of the bunch.

One week later I boarded a plane with no luggage besides a backpack, everything I would need for two weeks of equatorial living. I left the sweater at home.

Oh, and Dale snapped a great portrait.

SAP TechEd Barcelona 2018
© Matt Fraser, enclosed portrait © Dale Baskin

Stay tuned for the next part of my Amazon adventure.

4 thoughts on “Iquitos and the Amazon

    1. As usual with anything I write, it’s turning out longer than I anticipated! 😉 I thought I was going to summarize the whole trip… in fact, all my recent travels… in a single post, and then get back to the business of “writing” writing, but obviously it’s not going to go that way!

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