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South America : Peru

Floating down the Peruvian Amazon

by Emily Culver

The Amazon River is the world’s largest river system covering 4,400 miles of the South American continent. Boat travel is absolutely vital to this almost infinite water world, and the vast majority of the Amazon rainforest is only accessible via boat.

For the people of the rainforest, getting around by boat is an integral part of daily life: it is how people get their produce to market, buy such luxury goods as batteries, plastic sheeting and salt, and is the only way to visit friends, relatives, attend school or reach a doctor.

For anyone living in one of these riverside communities a seven day journey on the river is considered normal. For me, it was anything but.

The reality of travel on the Amazon is extremely challenging for all, not just first timers like me. First, the boat is mind-blowingly crowded. When I first walked on Henry II (the name of our ship) in the Amazonian town of Pucallpa there seemed to be no space to walk let alone hang a hammock. But I soon learned that really, there is always more room.

A 10 year old boy who worked with his father in the kitchen noticed me standing, scared, clutching my backpack in the midst of the chaos of impenetrable hammocks and screaming children piled on top of each other. He insisted I could fit among them, and helped me hang my hammock perpendicular to everyone else’s. These 6 feet of space would to be my home for the next four days.

The most exciting part of the day on these boats is meal time. For my 90 soles ticket (around 30 dollars) I not only had a spot on Henry II, I also had a full meal plan. When the meal bell rang everyday everyone sprinted toward the kitchen and the line snaked out the door. At the leisurely pace of Amazonian boat travel, when time is filled lounging on the deck, reading or playing cards, waiting in line for dinner seemed like no trouble at all.

But if sitting on an ageing boat deck for days on end sounds boring, in reality, with an endless jungle panorama to keep us entertained, it was anything but. As the only lifeline to the forest’s many communities, the river is a busy waterway plied by a steady stream of boats. But despite the traffic it was hard to escape the sense of adventure as we descended further and further downstream into an unimaginably vast and entirely wild jungle.

Every now and then the boat made stops to refuel or collect more passengers and cargo. Each time I got a quick glimpse of the comings and goings of the Amazon River: in came the consumer goods, out came an astonishing amount of bananas, agauje, lucuma and other tropical fruits. It was a classic example of primary products being exchanged for manufactured goods.

Then of course there were the people. There is always a sense of strong camaraderie during mutual discomfort and suffering, and among the crowd and the heat and the biting insects I found myself making friends with several fellow travelers.

On my left were a rowdy bunch of Brazilians who were on their home stretch from a considerable journey (Manaus to Leticia to Iquitos and back). On the other side was a family of four, a single mom traveling with her two young kids, Cristof and Lizbeth back to their village.

Anecdotes, life stories and endless jokes filled the hours and cemented friendships. For these four days our lives were completely intertwined. We shared meals, dealt with the lack of privacy, tried to keep the area clean and keep the kids entertained. I felt rewarded with stories of life on the river and what it meant to live on the Amazon. For travellers seeking more comfort than a hammock there are plenty of more luxurious Amazon cruise options to suit a variety of budgets. Contact this specialist in customised Peru Trips for more details.