Joyful that My Wealth Was the Landscapes Around Me

7 Sep

When we took the ship from Pucallpa to Iquitos, we had a lot of time for ourselves. It was a journey of 5 days and I had a lot of time to THINK. This post will include extracts from my journal, from during these days.

The ship we took belonged to a fleet called Henry. The 4-5 day journey from Pucallpa to Iquitos costs 100 soles (approx. € 30), including 3 meals a day. The ship supervisor later told me off for accepting the price without haggling: “If you say you only have 90 soles, or 80 soles, ofcourse we’ll accept! Just don’t try to haggle us down to 50. Only hippies try that. It’s bad.”

If you are planning this journey, this is what you must bring:

  • a hammock
  • learn one form of sailor knot, because the people who’ll help you hang up your hammock will charge you for it. And the price will depend on your skin colour. The whiter you are, the more expensive the knot.
  • a small food container in which to receive your food. Note: you can go for second and third helpings!
  • a spoon. Knives and forks are an unnecessary luxury.
  • Soap for your body, soap for your dishes.
  • More water bottles than you can carry. There’s a bar onboard and the prices are pretty much the same as they are on land, but in Pucallpa, you can get a 2.5 liter bottle for 2.5 soles (75 cents) and that’s a pretty sweet deal.
  • enough toilet paper for your 5 day needs

I made a short video for you to give you an impression of what it was like on the ship:

If you ever tire of Henry’s food, regular stops are made at villages for passengers to get on and off, which is when villagers board to sell fresh fish dishes, watermelons, eggs, etc. They won’t care what time you stop at their village: they’ll get on and broadcast their merchandise at the top of their lungs regardless of the hour. We stopped at Requena at 3am and woke up from the shouting: “Hay papas, hay papas! Hay pescadito, hay pescadito! / We have potatoes, we have fish!”

The Henry fleet is the only official and secure means of travelling up to Iquitos. We asked around at several ports and were always sent back to Henry. He sells cool beer, chocolates, cookies, soft drinks and cigarettes at his bar. There is running tap water. And four toilet cabins. Each toilet cabin is also a shower cabin; i.e, the shower is above the toilet, meaning that you could literally shower while sitting on the toilet. Most shower taps were loose, so that going to the bathroom meant that you came out with your back drenched from the dripping shower.

And yes – the shower & tap water comes from the Amazon, and your refuse goes right back in. But tell me – what else are they supposed to do? Seriously?!

It’s not all beautiful: everything, literally everything, is thrown into the river. From plastic bottles to baby diapers. Henry offers a large plastic bag where you can put your trash, but these bags are also thrown into the Amazon. People are quick to chuck things – it was impossible to stop them on time, and believe me, we tried.

I spoke to the captain about it, suggesting they put up signs and hang trash bags by the windows. He shrugged and said, “Ofcourse, but these people have no education. They’ll keep throwing things into the river.” I emphasised the need for someone to make the first step, and he agreed, but I really doubt anything will be done.

Here are some extracts from my journal:

A good time to read all your books. To exhaust every thought. My thoughts are a place of cool refuge, but I’ve chased them into their forests so often that the path is now well-trodden and I am ready to LIVE again.

I think every thought through. Then I challenge every thought. Then I challenge my challenges. Now I know a little more about myself.

Fourth day. No one is expecting to arrive today, but there’s that quiet ease of having completed the obligatory four days, and now a patience settles in. “We’ll get there when we get there.”

A sense of solitude and isolation. Almuth and I watch our mosquito bites and count the days. “Malaria has an incubation period of 7 days,” she says. And if we got malaria, nothing can be done but hang on. We’re in the middle of nowhere. If my leg falls off, nothing can be done but wait until we arrive. There is nothing out there – but jungle – and there is no quick way out of this.

The heat and the duration makes this journey challenging. But I’m learning many new things: sleeping whole nights in a hammock for the first time in my life, for example! Now I am getting very attached to my hammock. I absolutely love it. What a useful and relaxing invention. After 3 full days of this, I wonder why we ever live without hammocks. Are they not just endlessly practical and comfortable?

I’m learning to live around the weather, according to its rules. A lessons in showers around midday, to be slightly cool when the sun is at its most ferocious. But live under no illusions: you won’t escape sweating again, sticky skin again. But for 10-20 minutes, your skin will be cool and you’ll feel you have won.

Sleep around midday, just to escape the worst of it. I’m so unprepared: I have neither a blanket nor a sleeping bag, so I’m using my towel as my blanket and pillow. But those eyeshades are saving my life! (Thank you Duke!)

A cool breeze will make all the difference, turn everything into pleasure and paradise into an adjective. Sewing, knitting, sleeping, and standing at the outer balconies watching the rainforest roll by.

The worst is the screaming babies, but luckily we have our MP3 players.

Still not sure how long the journey will go on for. Most speak of 5 days. Considering how low the river is, our progress has been rather slow. We stop every night around 8pm and begin sailing around 6am.

At night we’re like a species of ghosts resting in our cocoons. By day we’re playful monkeys, swinging in our hammocks, crashing against one another, sleeping, laughing – just trying to let the days pass quickly. Are we getting better at it? I realise now it’s a mistake to count the days. It’s the worst thing you could possibly do. Just let them blur.

There’s a nun on board with a small, small puppy (did you spot her in the video?) who keeps rolling around when the ship turns. There’s another nun wearing a pink shirt that says in bold glittering letters: I’M NO ANGEL. You can’t make stuff like this up.

Women check each other for lice. We’re fine so far.

Last night there was a beautiful display of lightning. Almuth and I sprayed ourselves with mosquito repellent and went to watch the sky display. I asked her if she knew how lightning occurred and she said: “It happens due to the little pluses and minuses in the clouds.” I loved her reply.

In Peru, people say: “Thinking too much will break your head. A good conversation is worth more than thinking so much.” Almuth and I are the only two gringos on the ship and everyone is curious as to why we are there. The minute one of us stands alone, contemplating the river, just wanting some peace & quiet to think, someone comes up to us to ask us who we are, where we are from, where we are going… Answer that 200 times.

The lack of privacy is trying. The only escape is lying in the hammock. The days have blurred. I have no idea how long I’ve been here. On a ship, it’s useless to count the days. Don’t make that mistake my friends.

And then, in a small pocket of time, startlingly pale and literally pink, a small dolphin. Just its back as it broke the surface. And me, giddy with delight, with awe at something so beautiful. A strange little albino, a literally pink dolphin.

Yes, the ship journey was a challenging experience, not merely for the heat but also for 5 days without anything to do, except think, read and sleep. But to sail up the Amazon was a thing I simply had to do! I made very good friends onboard: Percy, the ship’s cook who only talked about the food people eat in different countries; the ship supervisor who’s been travelling back and forth between Pucallpa and Iquitos for 3 months, is always moved to a different ship shortly before the harbour, and has therefore not actually reached a city, or set foot on land, in 3 months; Frank, who played the guitar for me; the most beautiful baby in the world, a boy called Schneider (?!), etc.

I wrote for Munay on the Henry ship, and I continued writing in Iquitos. We were very lucky to make friends with wonderful wonderful Iquiteños, who told us many fables and beliefs from the jungle. I was constantly scribbling into my journal, and now have many exciting new ideas, characters and plant knowledge for Munay.

So I want to thank Frank and Adderli for sharing their knowledge with me so openly. Yes, you’ll be thanked officially in the book!

After we arrived in Iquitos, I ended up staying one week, and here are some impressions from around the capital of the Peruvian jungle:

children swimming in the Amazon

being given a face mask with the rich Amazon earth

yuca plant

just compare the monkey’s elegant pensive pose with my hysterical antics, and tell me homo sapiens are more highly developed!

This lovely sloth is a house pet and a regular stop on jungle tour. All he wanted to do was munch on his alkaline leaves and get high (thus producing the sleepy grin), but along come a bunch of tourists who try to pick him up.

And here we find out that sloths actually make sounds… that they have really long nails… and that they can be very fast! As promised, a sloth-video for you:

leaves that are bigger than my head

in the Reserva Nacional

okay, now I’m just showing off

To be honest, dear ayllu, I have a lot I could say about Iquitos, but the truth is, this was never meant to be a travel blog … and there are other things I want to talk to you about. Suffice it to say that we had many many adventures in Iquitos and made very good friends. After a week, we were offered a job at the Camiri Floating Hostel, where we were staying the last few days. The deal was to work in the bar, and in exchange live & eat there for free. We both seriously considered it. I declined. Almuth accepted! How cool is she!

I still have a bit of road ahead of me, and didn’t feel ready to settle down in Iquitos for my last month. So on Tuesday morning, I took a speedboat for 40 passengers to Leticia, Colombia. The journey took 10 hours. It cost $77, we were served breakfast and a hot lunch, and the toilet worked all the time.

inside the speedboat

The last sunset over Perú, seen from Colombia:

I stayed one night in Leticia, as I had a connecting flight to Bogotá the next day. Now I am in Bogotá, writing this post. My backpacking is coming to an end, and I will admit that I’m glad. I’m getting tired. As a very good friend said: “I’m not running to waterfalls anymore.”

After a while, every plaza begins to look alike. Every beach in paradise is just another strip of sand. Last night, I decided that I won’t, after all, go to Cartagena. I’m sure it’s as beautiful as everyone tells me, but I don’t think I’m in the emotional place to appreciate it. Right now, all I really want is to spend time with friends. I’m not going to run to every museum in Bogotá. I may not even see a single one! – except for the Botero musem, ofcourse.

In Bogotá, I’m staying with my good friend Erick, about whose band, Milmarias, I’m planning to write in the next post. Next week, I’ll travel to Nicaragua to visit another friend, and after this, my backpacking will end, and I’m alright with that. I feel the wealth in my eyes; I’ve had a good minute to think; and now I’m eager to get back on the Writing Horse in Europe.

flying over the Amazon rainforest, we witness the unique “two suns” phenomenon! With this, I feel my cup is full. I have seen everything I could have ever hoped to see – and more.

Now something about the BACKPACKER POEM PROJECT:

Over the past month, videos have been coming in from all over the world, and they are so so beautiful. I’m sure the final product will be really special, and I can’t wait to begin editing. I’m still waiting on a few videos from some people, so if you still want to send me a video, you can. Remember: you don’t have to be backpacking to participate! You just have to want to participate.

Last week, I met my friend Richelle in Iquitos, who had done something incredible. When she took the ship from Yurimaguas to Iquitos, she wrote down the entire Backpacker Poem by hand and got a lot of peopleon the ship to recite a line. When we met, she handed over a whole bunch of videos for the project! Here’s a picture of us watching them:

This project has become larger, MUCH LARGER, than I had dreamed, and it’s THANKS TO ALL OF YOU. So far, I have received videos from Germany, Finland, Canada, Guatemala, the United States, Perú, etc etc etc.

As a small thank you, here’s a video I made at the Leticia Airport, before flying to Bogotá. It’s a line no one has taken yet, but I’m not sure if I’ll put this video into the final film or if I’ll make another one. Perhaps someone will send me the line still!


I’m going to make good use of the strong internet connection in Bogotá to write my next post soon. The next posts will be more dedicated to my work and less to my travelling. But I hope you’ve enjoyed the videos… I filmed them especially for you!

And if you wanted more details on what the jungle is like, don’t worry: you’ll feel a lot of jungle in Munay. The second chapter is completely overgrown with it. I had a lot of fun writing, and thanks to all the information, stories and plant knowledge that my friends in Iquitos shared with me, the chapter is now rich with culture, ghosts, demons and plants!

thank you, Sophie, for this picture


One Response to “Joyful that My Wealth Was the Landscapes Around Me”

  1. Gerhard September 8, 2012 at 2:38 am #

    Even it is not supposed being a travel blog I still follow your stories very carefully of what you experienced during your backpacking. Very fascinating cause you live it with such a joy and shining that it`s just great to follow it via your blog. It proofs that you live every moment fully and positive and that your goal, to fill up your backpack with lots of inspiration, knowledge and personal acquaintances, has been almost achieved and seems to be quite rewarding, also for Munay.
    You follow your route, your dream. It`s your longing for something you wanna reach with a very strong desire where almost nothing can stop you of doing it. Like for example “to sail up the Amazon was simply a thing I had to do”. It remembers me somehow to Santiago, the boy from Andalusia (you know which book I`m talking about).
    I`m glad to hear that you always met good friends. You`ve been to Paradise for some weeks and it`s understandable that yo wanna leave it now. You say that you`re glad that it is coming to an end. To settle down? I don`t think that this will happen soon. More likely to concentrate on what is very important for you. Writing. It makes sense to rest once in a while and that slowly by slowly the feeling of being back on the road rises up again to follow your personal dreams.
    The ones who follow your blog see the wealth in your eyes too just when you look in the camera. This makes me happy as well because I know you live your passion and you use your talents to grow.

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