On a Boat Again: The waterway to the Amazon

Posted on May 16, 2014


We had been on a twisty two-hour ride from Tarapoto and we were still a bit dizzy when we got out of the taxi at the muddy dock of Yurimaguas. Suddenly we found ourselves standing in the middle of about twenty touts, all shouting and pushing, trying to get us on to one of the big cargo boats at the dock. We were looking for one specific company, since we had read about different services from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, and there seemed to be one company that was reliable. One of the ships looked like the one we had seen on pictures, so we tried to escape the yelling crowd and headed towards that ship. One of the younger touts was quick enough, to get ahead of us and went with us on board, he showed us around and presented us to a crew-member, who sold the tickets.

The cargo- and passenger boat was scheduled to leave that day at eleven in the morning. It was only about 8:30 now and we were hungry – we had left Tarapoto very early with no time for breakfast. Still we did not wanna miss the boat with all our stuff on board. We had read various travel reports about the Amazon cargo boats online and from what we remembered they all seemed to have one thing in common: These boats were never on time. So when we asked the crew member, who sold the tickets, how much time we would have before the boat will leave, he admitted that we would certainly not leave before 2 pm.

The small, muddy dock of Yurimaguas seen from the cargo boat

We were happy to have a bit time to visit the small city of Yurimaguas, have breakfast and even lunch there before we would get back on board. We stored our luggage in the tiny cabin we had rented and got our two hammocks hung up at the top deck. Until now there were only two other guys at that deck, while the lower deck, the cheaper option and mostly used by local people, was already starting to fill up. All the cargo was carried manually on deck and even though the boat seemed to be fully loaded, there were more and more trucks arriving at the dock and the porters brought on more and more goods of any kind. The only connection from the ship to the muddy shore, was a narrow steep blank, the fully loaded porters had to cross. We had never seen somebody carrying so heavy loads, some of them only wearing sandals, while they had to walk on such difficult terrain. It was really impressive to see these men do their tough work.

Truck after truck was unloaded

and carried by hand onto the boat

Toilet paper and eggs – check!

The “human ants”

Big storage area at the main deck

Cargo boat for scrap “parked” next to us

Small break for the porters

After the breakfast in the town of Yurimaguas, we spent our time walking around in the centre and the market area. We had to buy some provisions for the three-days boat ride, although we would get the main meals served on deck, which was included in the price. What we brought along in addition was fruits, bread, some chocolate, wine and plenty of water.

Moto-taxis in the streets of Yurimaguas

Dried fish for sale

Yurimaguas street view

The town itself had a relaxed pace, it was warm there and we were reminded of some Asian cities, with all the moto-taxis, or tuk-tuks as they are called in Asia. Yurimaguas is the last town in the north-east connected by road to the rest of Peru. To get further from here, to the jungle cities of Iquitos or Nauta, is only possible by boat or plain. That is also the main reason why it is still common to use the waterway, both for cargo and for the transportation of passengers.

Waiting for the boat to leave

Back at the dock at about 2 pm, we relaxed a bit and explored the cargo boat and the dock. We saw they had rescheduled the departure time to 2:30 pm but there was no sign or any attempt to leave this afternoon, the porters carried still goods on board until after sunset. There were however more passengers on our deck now and when Arnold brought some beer on board, he soon made friends with a Peruvian who was renting one of the neighbour cabins.

Departure time 2:30 pm? – I don’t think so!

Camilla is ready to go!

The captain at the right place, but boat still not moving.

Tourist deck on top and local deck below

We found out that the departure had been moved to the following morning and so we spend the first night on board without even moving. They served dinner on board though and they sold ice-cold beer at the small shops at the dock, so there was no reason to complain. We had decided to sleep in the tiny cabin (we had mainly rented it to ensure our luggage would be safe), since it wasn’t possible to hang up the mosquito net over our two hammocks. Although the bunk bed was small and the mattresses were thin and worn out it wasn’t too bad to sleep in there either.

Our cabin with a bunk bed

The following morning, the boat started finally moving. To our surprise, we went into the wrong direction – upriver. After about ten minutes we reached another dock, were we stopped and more people came on board and more cargo was loaded. It took about two more hours before we really departed and were headed in the right direction. Our three-day adventure towards Iquitos and the Amazon had begun!

Finally moving!

Goodbye Yurimaguas!