Changes in Latitude

4°.

Well, 3.7° to be more precise. No, not the temperature (not by an order of magnitude!). The latitude. 259 miles south of the equator. 340′ above sea level.

Hot. Humid. Muggy.

There are no direct flights from North America into Iquitos, so first one makes one’s way to Lima, the capitol of Peru. Even that is not a straight shot from Seattle, so instead I flew to Chicago, which felt sort of like going the wrong way, and from there to Toronto, which really felt like going the wrong way, where I met up with Dale in the airport before catching the long leg down the east coast, across the Caribbean, and into South American airspace. We arrived in Lima in the middle of the night and made our way to the airport hotel, where I had my first taste of the classic Peruvian pisco sour.

I could grow to really like this drink, I thought.

In the bar of the hotel we met up with Kate and Steve, Canadians who would be paddling in the race, and subjects of Dale’s documentary. With their arrival, I had a second taste, and the four of us kept the barman busy until it was time for the Canadians to catch their flight to Iquitos. I think they found this preferable to trying to nap on the floor of the airport.

Wait, what race? What documentary? And what are we doing in Peru, again? Hmm, rather than explain it all over, go back one blog post for the introduction to this story and how I found myself, on practically no notice, dropping everything to jet off to the jungle.

Meanwhile, Dale and I stayed in Lima an extra few hours. I was scheduled to appear as a speaker on a professional webcast that morning, and the hotel WiFi in Lima was going to be far more reliable than anything we’d likely find in Iquitos. That proved true, the webcast went well (“Greetings from Peru!”), and as soon as it was over we rushed back into the airport for our own flight.

Where we waited. And waited. Then we waited some more, as our flight was delayed, then delayed some more. To make things worse, the stated destination over the gate kept changing. Sometimes it said Iquitos. Then it would say Tarapoto. We were pretty sure the plane was going to both cities, we just weren’t sure in which order.

Domestic Gate at Lima Airport

“¿Es este el vuelo a Iquitos?” asked an older gentleman of us as we stood in line to board. Is this the flight to Iquitos? Even the locals were confused!

“Sí… Yo creo que,” replied Dale. Yes… I think. Ah well, they accepted our boarding passes, so surely it was the right plane.

By this time it was already evening, and as Tarapoto lies between Lima and Iquitos, we assumed we’d be landing there first. It was pitch black outside, so no landmarks could be seen to assure us. To my regret, I never was able to catch sight of the famous Andean Cordillera when we passed over. It was only as we started to descend, and we began to see rivers and tributaries reflecting the starlight, that we knew we were well and truly over the Amazon basin. We began to see the lights of river barges as we flew lower and lower, and then we touched down on a short runway between the bright city and the dark jungle.

Heat. Humidity. Flying insects. Unenclosed airport (though not as glamorous as Kona, perhaps). I could grow to enjoy this place.

Bags collected (pelican case, photography gear), the haggle for a moto-taxi ride into town began.

“¿Diez soles?”

“No, no, veinte.”

“¿Quince?”

“Veinte.”

We moved on. 20 soles (about US$6) was too much for the ride, though we knew we were unlikely to get it down to 10. The second driver we spoke to said ok to 15, and off we went for a night ride through the streets of the city.

The streets of Iquitos are busy, crowded, with everyone seeming to go wherever they felt was best for them, and as such they are difficult to navigate in a regular car (though people do). So, they are crowded with motos, or moto-taxis, the same as tuk-tuks found in southeast Asia. Essentially these are the front half of a motorcycle and the back half of a rickshaw, able to carry three passengers in addition to the driver, and they dominate the city. Almost all of them are for hire, operating on a cash basis, so it is essential to carry plenty of coins in order to have correct change. Residents and visitors alike get around by moto-taxi, and as long as you negotiate your fare before getting in, the drivers will honor it without hassle when you arrive at your destination. Indeed, a good moto driver can make or break your search for just the right place in Iquitos when you need a certain part for the construction of a raft, but we’ll come to that later.

Belen Market, Iquitos, Peru

Motos are not clean machines, contributing greatly to the smoke filling the streets, nor are they quiet. From about 6am until Midnight, the sound of moto engines can be heard all over the city. On a hot night, however, riding in the back of one can be just the thing, a breeze in your face and hair, to make you feel that little bit less sticky.

It’s about a half-hour ride from the airport into the heart of the city, to our lodgings at the Green Track Hostel. We arrived to a dark street, and a barred and gated doorway. We rang the bell.

Moments later, the door opened, light flooded out, and there stood Kate! We were in the right place.

“Where’ve you guys been? We were expecting you hours ago!”

“Long story. Flight delays, changing destinations…”

“This is Peru,” she said, and off we went to find dinner at the Plaza de Armas, a picturesque, green, and lush city square ringed with shops and restaurants and, yes, motos.

Iquitos Street Corner

I could grow to like this place.

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