Friday, April 11, 2008


Next stop: Iquitos. A city of 400,000 inhabitants located on the banks of the Amazon river in northern Peru. Inside the airport there is a sign saying that a cab ride to downtown costs 15 Soles ($5), which is quite outrageous. Upon exiting the door one is immediately accosted by a swarm of mototaxi drivers. What is a mototaxi and how can it possibly carry two passengers with big backpacks?

A moto taxi is rickshaw-like constellation of motor tricycle with a passenger compartment that, indeed, seats two and has room for two items of luggage precariously strapped to the back. The ensuing bidding war between the mototaxi drivers was won with a bid of 3 Soles.

As it rapidly turned out, a mototaxi is not only an enormously entertaining form of transport, but also overwhelmingly the only form of transport in Iquitos. The traffic here consists of mototaxis and mopeds loosely interpreting a possibly existing minimalist set of traffic rules that is barely supported by any discernible signage. It is a hoot!

Video shot with my cell phone camera.

Searching around for a hotel we were somehow joined by a certain mr. Ronaldo, a local tour guide. I don´t know where, when, or how he suddenly materialized. We tried several little hotels but none of them had hot water. All one really needs out of a hotel room is a bed and a shower, but one does want that shower to have hot water even in a climate as warm and muggy as here. Iquitos has two seasons: rainy season from December until May, dry season the other six months.

Ronaldo eventually led us to some place called El Colibri which indeed has hot running water and, after several attempts, a fully working lamp in the room. We then set out, Ronaldo in tow, to try and acquire tickets for a high speed boat to Leticia/Tabatinga on the Peruvian/Colombian/Brazilian border. It needed to be a high speed boat because that´s the only way to arrive on the same day. The regular boats take at least three days.

As it turned out only one operator had a boat leaving on Friday, despite Internet propaganda of the other operators insinuating that they sail every day. Unfortunately there were no more tickets available, but the owner promised us that there are always no-shows and if we showed up at 5:30 we´d be first on the standby list. We agreed with our trusty mototaxi driver to meet us at the hotel at 5:20 punto. He then jokingly added "punto Peruana", evidently the universally recognized version of what we had already come to refer to as "punto Inca".

Ronaldo subsequently pointed us to a restaurant that had good typically local food and said that he´d meet us the following day to assist in our attempts to find a boat should we be unsuccessful at 5:30AM.

The small restaurant´s menu had a page with local dishes. Being the only patrons present we engaged in a lively conversation with the owner, whom we then got to serve us a sampler platter of various different local specialties. We thus ate, and I now quote: Chicarrón de Lagarto con Yuca frita (alligator rind with fried manioc, which is a kind of potato), Tortuga (turtle), Majás (some sort of pig), and Picadillo de Sajino (minced peccari, which is some sort of wild pig). And some lemonade. The restaurant also sported an authentic live salamander on the wall.

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