P1020429View from front door of hostel

Decided to take a short break from the lowland river area.

There is a combi/van service that serves the travelling public from Yurimaguas  inbound on terra firma. I hopped aboard one that was enroute to Tarapoto.

I skipped making a blog entry devoted to Tarapoto because I found the place to be somehow much less interesting to me. Tarapoto is two hours by van from Yurimaguas.  I found a small hostel about eight blocks from the city center for my night’s stay.  Visited the center and went to the bus station.

What I learned was that the bus service is only very slightly less than the combi (15 passenger van) service to anywhere from Tarapoto.  Prices of everything are higher in Tarapoto than Yurimaguas. Probably because the increased population… more soles (Peruvian currency) changing hands.  The people are friendly, but seem to be more interested in commercial things than in the Natural settings that surround them.

Interesting phenomenon isn’t it?  How people who live in ‘the country’ come to want to leave it for the ‘excitement’ and for improved economic ‘opportunity’.  Probably true everywhere in the world.  Joni Mitchell’s ‘Big Yellow Taxi’ song comes to mind:  ‘…they pave paradise to put up a parking lot…’

So, after spending only one night there, I departed Tarapoto and got another combi ride to Moyobamba.

Moyobamba calls itself the ‘city of orchids’. There is an orchid festival once a year, in October.  The ride from Tarapoto to Moyobamba is through some beautiful low mountain scenery.  Always, in these parts, the road runs mostly parallel to a river. No exception here. I was surprised to learn that the Rio Huallaga… the same river that Yurimaguas is on is quite near Moyobamba and runs through these low mountains for quite a long distance. The Huallaga  flows from and though Tingo Maria… many kms and hours to the South and East of Moyobamba, and continues all the way to Yurimaguas on a very meandering course.

Went to the San Mateo Aguas Termales. I love to go to naturally heated (geothermal) hot springs when I find them. This one is a gem. Not loaded with minerals as is the case with many hot springs.


Two of the different Pozos

There are six different ‘pozos’… pools, each one with a different temperature. It is the Goldilocks version of hot springs. You can find one that is ‘just right’.  All temperatures are given on the Centigrade scale. Pozo 1 = 43 degrees, Pozzo 2 = 42 degrees, 3 = 37 degrees, 4 = 39 degrees, 5 = 40 degrees, 6 = 41 degrees.

There are rooms where you can change and there is a small locker facility for you to secure your gear if you choose. There are  three areas where water of  varying temperatures comes out of pipes at above head level. The rules are that everyone must first wash at these natural ‘showers’ prior to entering the hot pools.  Signage includes instruction to not urinate in the pools… obvious, sensible, polite instructions.

There is a small natural stream that runs through the facility. Three  foot bridges span the stream. There is an Olympic sized swimming pool that was used mostly by the younger folks. There were concrete built in ‘bleachers’ on one side of it and there were pedestals on one end giving the appearance that the designers made a place for those who wished to engage in competitive swimming events. There are also two smaller and shallower pools (not hot water) for the kiddies.

It is clear that the San Mateo Aguas Termales facility is a family place. It is managed by the municipality of Moyobamba.  They have done a great community service and it is certainly a worthy tourist destination. I get the sense that it is widely known and used by many Peruvians.  It is only a 15 minute mototaxi ride away from the center of town.

I am enjoying the break from the heat and humidity of the lowland Amazon river towns.  Moyobamba is about 800 meters elevation. It clearly is consistently a bit cooler than either Tarapoto or Yurimaguas.

Have been in Moyobamba now for over a week.  I really like it here. Nauta and Yurimaguas were hard to leave. Moyobamba is even harder.  Have a great hostel with an incredibly convenient location.

My morning routine:

1. Step out the front door and in 50 paces I am sitting in my favorite breakfast place of the journey.  They now know me and exactly what I want. My three scrambled eggs, big cup of coffee, and bun are served with smiles are perfectly prepared, placed  in front of me within 5 minutes of sitting down.

P1020476Incredible variety of fresh fruits, veggies and food of all sorts

2.  Wander through the market past stall after stall of fresh fruits and vegetables, narrow, tall  bags filled to the brim with 25 or so different varieties of beans, rice. Stalls with 10 or so varieties of river fish on display, some dried, some fresh. Chickens, live, and/or dressed out, plump whole or pieces.  Cuts of beef, (no blood) lie on tiled surfaces in open display.  Mangoes, Avacados, Noni, 5 varieties of grapes, oranges, limes, lemons, pineapples, coconuts, jacon (a local tuber that is sweet), beets, 4 varieties of apples, peaches, apricots, leaf lettuce, cabbage, green beans, peas, lentils, carrots, lettuce, barrels filled with 4 different varieties of olives… for as far as the eye can see. All fresh and locally grown and brought to the market each and every morning.

The people of Moyobamba are active and hardy.  The majority of faces are between 16 and 50. There are a few older folks but most are young. Everyone is shiny clean, well groomed and their clothing is nearly always faultless.  This is the rule. There are rare exceptions. The shopkeepers and restaurateurs are mostly women.  Beautiful, strong, smart, healthy.  That is how I would describe the locals of Moyobamba.

The exterior sights of the buildings vary from appearing old and in need of attention… not ‘run down’… to ‘in the process of being fixed up’.  It seems people pay much more attention (and time/money) on their personal grooming/appearance than they do on their exterior environment. The emphasis is on looking great and on putting a best foot forward in the hopes of attracting a customer to enter your shop/stall/restaurant/hotel/casino.  Yes, there are a couple very small casinos… mostly slot machines. I did not see any poker, black jack, or roulette.

It is an undeniably ‘agricultural’ town. There are support  and ancillary business, but the obvious core is agriculture.  A few dentists. A few lawyers. A few churches. Several hardware stores. Places that sell fishing nets, and ropes and simple hand made horse/burro tack. A small university or two. A museum. Several ‘combi/van’ transportation stations (did not see a ‘bus station’).  Hundreds of mototaxis.

Visited two small villages nearby on dirt roads. About a half hour from Moyo proper…  Jepelacio and Yantalo.  Van was stopped by a roadside, self styled  armed ‘security’ group on the way to Jepelacio.  The revolutionary force known as Shining Path was once very strong in these parts  a decade or so ago.  I think that the local roadside ‘polite shakedown’… (they stop all traffic, carry guns, look in the cars, and ask for money… not demand) may be a remnant of  those guys.  Think of them as armed beggars. I’m sure the locals don’t want to get on the ‘wrong side’ of these fellows but I’m also pretty sure the local cops know who’s who around here. Some people in the van coughed up a peso, so I did too.

On the return trip…. back to Moyo… same stop, same guys. I was in a different car this time. I  recognized the fellow at my window. I had given him a peso inbound. No one in this vehicle offered money this time. The guy peered into the car with his rifle cradled in his arms and acted like he was really doing a ‘security’ check. His facial expression and body language were not menacing. He saw that no coins were forthcoming and he indicated we were OK to move on.  Everybody seems to be OK with this arrangement.

Moyobamba possesses a wonderful charm for people who are impressed by an abundance of fresh local food and with a hard working common folk who have a strong sense of family and community.

Like I said… hard to leave.

Photos to be posted when internet speeds improve.






P1020336This mural was painted on the wall of the local Yurimaguas TV station. Depicted is local sentiment of the exploitation that has been and is taking place. Enlarge the view if you can.

Yurimaguas is a town that connects the major navigable tributaries of the upper Peruvian Amazon region with the road network of Peru. The port of Yurimaguas is situated on the banks of the Rio Huallaga. The Huallaga unites with the Maranon as it flows toward Lagunas and Nauta and several smaller riverine pueblitos. All of the tributaries in this region eventually become the mighty Amazon river. To locals, the Amazon river does not take that name until the Rio Ucayali joins with the Maranon.

The port of Yurimaguas is only slightly different than that of Nauta… despite the fact that Yurimaguas has 6 or 7 times the population. Access to road routes that lead to Tarapoto and beyond account for this. It is much easier to expand a population where roads exist… easier to buy land… cut the land into smaller portions… etc. etc. The history of so called ‘development’.

P1020361A riverside joint that specializes in various concoctions. The stuff in the bottles contains different kinds of wood bark or herbs that are steeped in a locally made cane moonshine called aguardiente. The barista knows which stuff is reputed to be good for specific ailments. FDA approval  not required here.

Key to development (expansion of population) is infrastructure. A road is seen as the  key component to infrastructure. Next is access to electricity…  easier to plant a pole along roadsides than it is along miles and miles of riversides.P1020376This is the riverfront area where the commercial products come to market. There is a different riverfront where the passenger transports tie up.

Many riverside pueblitos have limited access to electricity. They usually have a town generator. Electricity is not a 24/7 proposition.  Internet, television and telephone access are now possible in these remote river communities thanks to wireless transmission and satellites.  These modern communication tools are therefore, still relatively new to these riverside communities.  It does not take long for people to adapt, but not long ago, the entertainment for the evening would be listening to a human telling stories or looking at the stars.

Is it ‘progress’?  It depends upon how a person cares to define the meaning of the word. Is it ‘better’ or is it an ‘improvement’ for people who experienced an intimate relationship with their surrounding Natural environment to now be exposed to ‘news reports’ and images of other humans killing each other in Syria… half a world away?  How does that ‘improve’ their lives?  The access to electronic media brings with it the propaganda, designed to inculcate a world view or to steer public opinion, that were unknown a generation ago. Is it a good thing for a person to be exposed to commercial images that are intended to make the viewer ‘desire’ a product or service that once was unknown?


3 foot tall heavy duty bags filled to the brim with locally produced varieties of beans, lentils, peas, corn, and rice. This is one of several examples that exist there

People are very friendly in Yuri.  Only saw 3 other ‘gringos’ for the five days I was in Yuri… not on the radar of many ‘Western’ tourists.  Because Yurimaguas is connected to the rest of Peru by road, the markets have a greater of a variety of consumer goods. The latest is flat screen TV’s are to be seen in shops and in the markets where smaller ones are playing movies on dvd’s that local entrepreneurs sell.

P1020355Six 55 gallon barrels filled with different varities of locally grown olives in front of a storefront in the market area

Yurimaguas, having a larger population than Nauta… has a livlier feel to it. The markets were bustling with activity every day I was there.  Excellent example of what a free market economy can look like. Ten or so streets surrounding the central municipal market are filled elbow to elbow with hundreds of vendors selling local produce of all sorts as well as  Peruvian made and imported electronics, clothing, and  consumer items.

An astonishing variety of fresh locally grown and produced food. 55 gallon barrels filled with 5 or more varieties of olives are seen.  Live chickens in baskets that look like large wicker fish traps are offered. I saw dozens of different varieties of local dried beans in bags at some stalls. Huge papayas.  Plantains, bananas, mangoes, avacados, coconuts, carambolas (star fruit), pineapples, apples, 3 varieties of grapes, peaches, potatoes, yucca, spinach, leaf lettuce (did not see and head lettuce), all kinds of spices… all arranged in different ways.

P1020366My morning coffee shop while in Yuri. Here, a lady making a huge pot of hand whipped meringue. People eat it by the bowlful. She also makes a  ‘coyboy coffee’… no fancy filters needed… just dump ground coffee in a huge 5 gallon pot filled with waterand ladle off the liquid from the top. Some people have a big cup or bowl of coffee and scoops of the meringue on top.

In the main mercado area…. butchered poultry products, not a lot of beef, but a few stalls displayed some. Scores of stalls selling freshly caught varieties of river fish.

All in all a veritable feast for your eyes and senses. All locally produced. Very little contamination in any of it because there is no heavy industry around and the petro production is mostly downriver and they make a very real effort to avoid spills/accidents in these parts. Nearly all the Peruvians I have spoken to seem to have a very deep awareness and pride in their Natural heritage.






Nauta To Yurimaguas

P1020208Me & who I thought was the captain…he did not correct me

My oh my, but hasn’t this been an interesting week?

This past week or so I’ve personally experienced ‘life on the river’ Amazon basin style. As reported in the previous post, I was at the Nauta riverfront tie-up space from 5:30AM to 8AM for 9 days running. Had also taken a van back to Iquitos for info on the large (325 passenger) vessel named the Gilmer.  Chose to continue my journey heading upriver on a ‘rapido’… many such boats advertise themselves as departing every morning bound for Yurimaguas.

What I have learned from having visited many places in South America; having been a muchilero (backpacker tourist) on a few occasions and having ridden my motorcycle from NH to Argentina and Paraguay for a nearly two year stint, is that any information you may receive about travel from locals can not be relied upon. I learned that this is especially true when you are dealing with vehicles that float… boats.

I once spent a full month in Panama City waiting for a ferry that was reportedly going to depart Colon and go to Cartagena Colombia. There was advertising  in a major local newspaper… and an agency was selling tickets for the departure at two major malls. I bought a ticket. After three separate ‘reschedulings’ the ticketing agency reported that there would now be a longer delay.  I had had enough waiting and stories. Had to jump through hoops to get my money back… but finally did.  Mind you, this happened in the capital city in the very well developed nation of Panama.

So… that is why I took my time in deliberating about my choice of launches here. I will still stand by my choice of boats. I had seen over a dozen different ‘rapidos’.  These are boats that can carry up to 30 or so passengers and gear. The ones I saw were all constructed of heavy guage sheet metal… and welded together. They mimic the shape of their predesesors, the wooden launches. They are all flat bottomed and the length is generally speaking about 10 times the width. They resemble a flat bottomed dory that has been stretched from bow to stern. Most ‘rapidos’ were from 40 to 60 feet in length with a width (beam) of not more than 6 feet.


‘HAVY’ was the boat I rode from Nauta to Yurimaguas

Having been riverside for over a week and having seen what was available, I chose the ‘Havy’ because it looked to me to be of a higher quality construction.  Also high on the things to consider were the seats.  Most of the other boats I had seen had unattached lawn chairs for seating. Some were the kind with the vinyl clothesline strung between for your back and bottom. Considering that the ride was reportedly going to require my rump being affixed to one of those seats for  about 17 or 18 hours total (or so I was repeatedly led to believe) seat comfort was definite point of interest. The ‘Havy’ had what appeared to be modified old school bus seats… upholstered, with foam cushioning.  Also had a fitted wooden floor over the metal and the seats were affixed to the wood.

P1020217 The next boat over

P1020220 My boat

Was riverside at 6AM. Bought my ticket and had all my gear onboard by 6:10. Was told we would be underway at 6:30. Got a very quick bite and bought some water and was in my seat at 6:22. We cast off at 6:50. Then we slowly motored very slightly upriver from where we had been and tied up to another launch that was next to a floating gas station. From the other boat we took on more passengers and more gear. We were motoring upriver at 7:30AM. My guess is that there might be a per passenger head fee charged at the casting off location paid to the town or association. Just a guess.

From the time we were actually moving until nightfall there was an unmistakable sense that you are surrounded by LIFE. I saw an occasional dolphin surface and blow water from the hole on the back of it’s head and then sucking in air and instantly submerging again. You cannot but notice the variety of trees and vegetation along the riverbanks

Nauta River Travel


Men in center are icing down freshly caught fish

Have been in Nauta for about ten days.  It takes a day or two to become acquainted with a new place, especially so if it has a life style to which you are unaccustomed.

Part of the particular style of any town is in the rhythm of it. There is a rhythm embedded in each weekly cycle. The only way to get to know that rhythm is to be awake and aware during certain key parts of each day in a week.

Most usually, the daily activity begins very early in the morning, sometime around 4 to 5 AM. The larger the city the more activity there is at any time of the day. The rhythm of a place varies due to the major activity of a particular town. Smaller rural farming communities have a different pattern than do retail, tourist, manufacturing towns, seaside ports, or government centers.


Nauta riverbank and primary tie up location for boats

Nauta is unique.  Not only is it situated at the ‘end of the road’… The only public road in the Amazon basin is about 100km long and runs between Iquitos and Nauta. No more public roads exist until you get to Manaus, some 1500 miles or so towards the East, There are some oil company roads dotted throughout the Amazon these days linking exploration and drilling sites. Nauta, being a tiny port town on the Amazon river, is a uniqueness in itself.

The main activity hub of seaports or fishing villages anywhere in the world occur dockside or in Nauta’s case, on the river bank. The river bank in Nauta serves as the ‘dock’ for many varied vessels. The river bank itself is a reddish ocre colored dirt. The road alongside the riverbank turns to mud after a (frequent) rain. The top of the bank is not more than six feet from the surface of the river.

There are 5 floating gas stations, 20ft x 30ft x 5 ft, filled with gasoline and diesel fuel. There are old fashioned gas pumps under a metal roof. Not only do boats get their fuel here, the mototaxis do also. I have seen mototaxi owners carrying small plastic bags full of fuel over the narrow wooden planks to fill the tanks of their vehicles parked on the bank.


One of several Nauta floating riverside gas stations

The total length of the river bank that is in use is about a half mile or so. Only 150 feet or so is dedicated space for the ‘transports’. The transports will have a stick of some kind that a crew member will manually sink into the mud on the river bank to which they tie their boat. In addition to the floating gas/diesel stations, there are larger boats that seem to be tied up semi-permanently.

You cannot walk directly on the riverbank the entire half mile. Sometimes you must return to a street that runs parallel with the river, but about 100 feet inland.  There are small peninsulas which return to the river. One such stretch is home to small sawmill. It is an area where boats of all sorts and canoes are repaired. I saw a few men building a balsa log raft, tying the logs together with a type of jungle vine that I was told was stronger than any rope they could buy, for the purpose. This raft was being constructed as a platform for a floating home, the type seen in the Belem section of Iquitos.


Balsa tree logs tied with vines form a floating house platform

The rhythm of Nauta is specifically slanted toward the arrival and departure of boats large and small that have come from up or down the Amazon river or any number of it’s tributaries. Many such boats arrive from Iquitos or are bound there. These boats are usually cargo vessels. Local passengers… humans travelling to and from Iquitos know that they can save 8 hours by hopping into van and riding the Nauta/Iquitos road. Two hours to and from.

The fact that a person can save the time and discomfort by getting to Iquitos from Nauta and vice versa has given rise to an opportunity for smaller ‘rapidos’…  40 to 60 foot long  x  5feet wide flat bottomed boats with outboard motors to offer service up and downriver from Nauta.

It has taken me a week to figure this out. There is no detailed information about river travel in this part of the world. Even the locals are often baffled. The only reliable way one can discover the facts is to get out of bed at 5 AM every morning and to be riverside between 5:30 and 8:30AM. You have to ask a lot of different people an lot of questions.

Keep in mind that there are people who live in small villages along the shores of many tributaries. They do travel back and forth to Nauta (and Iquitos) from their villages.  Some to visit friends and family, some to go to school/college, some to buy needed supplies, some to sell bananas, plantains, maduros, chickens, mangoes, oranges, coconuts or fish, and some for other reasons.  The river is their thoroughfare, the boats are the public transportation for river people, known locally as ‘riberos’.

Every morning, along the red/ochre colored mud banks of Nauta are these 40 to 60 foot, very narrow boats. Most made of thin sheet steel or aluminum. Most have what you might recognize as plastic outdoor lawn chairs for seats, moveable, not attached to the bottom of the boats. There are life preservers aboard. I did not detect any bulkheads or flotation methods that would keep the boats afloat if they were somehow capsized.  These boats do have a plastic tarp stretched over thin metal tubing arches that extend to the gunwales of the boats. The roof keeps the rain and the equatorial sun off the passengers during the journey. There are clear plastic sides that roll up or down in case of blowing rain.


The schedules are not 100% reliable. Every morning, different boats have a chalkboard displayed aboard stating the departure time, day, and destination.  On Thursday morning, I saw a boat advertising that it would depart that morning at 7AM bound for Yurimaguas.  I heard and saw men talking up the departure,  encouraging potential passengers to hurry and buy their tickets and get on board. At 8:30AM they cleaned the chalkboard and put it away. The boat did not depart. There were not enough passengers to make it profitable.

Every morning, it is the same scene. Some days are busier than others. Saw a boat leave this morning with only a few chairs vacant, bound for Yurimaguas.  That journey takes about 30 hours.  All the boats that I have seen state 6:30 or 7:00AM as the departure time. I inquired as to when they expected to arrive in Yurimaguas.  Noon the following day was the reply. Again, remember, that every boat will stop several times to discharge passengers or cargo by the time they reach the final destination. I did not ask where they spend the night. I will, before I buy a ticket. Do not expect anyone to offer information. You must ask.

On Tuesday morning, there was a very large boat called the ‘Gilmer’ that arrived about 6:30AM and was gone by 7:10AM. Short stop. The Gilmer is about 150ft long, 30 feet wide and has 4 decks. Lots of open deck for cargo. The second and third deck is for hammocks. Packed in like sardines. The top deck is vacant. I am told it get unbearably hot up there if it’s not raining. I am also told that the stereo system aboard is played 24hrs per day and that it is loud if your hammock happens to be near the speakers. That boat also goes to Yurimaguas. The journey from Nauta to Yurimaguas aboard the Gilmer is about 3 full days… hence, the hammocks.  Looked to me as though the boat is pretty much filled when it departs Iquitos. Seems the best thing to do if using the Gilmer to get to Yurimaguas would be to either board in Iquitos (submit to the extra 8 hours on the river)… because only then can you be assured of getting a decent hammock space.

I have the phone number for the Gilmer. Tickets are arranged through the company called ‘Eduardo’.  I rode on a van to Iquitos to see if I could reserve a tiny cabin and have it vacant when arriving in Nauta. If I can do this, I will be assured of a somewhat more pleasant journey, have secure space for my gear, and a small cot. The fare aboard the Gilmer includes three (very basic) meals per day per passenger.  You must have your own bowl and utensils. The food is doled out military style… passengers form a line and the cook ladles the food into your bowl as you pass.

I remain undecided as to whether I want to ride the Gilmer or a rapido. I am leaning toward the rapido because I am willing to tolerate the discomfort for 30 hour to arrive in Yurimaguas.

Upon arrival in Yurimaguas, I intend to explore another very interesting place. It is called the Pongo de Manseriche.  It is reported to be a very, deep canyon, along the banks of the Rio Maranon. The canyon walls are nearly vertical and are 1000 feet from the surface of the river. At one point the river narrows to 100 feet or less, giving the impression that the canyon walls above are closing in on one another.

From there, I would hop a bus to Pucalpa. From Pucalpa I may get one of those very large cargo boats, like the Gilmer, and head back downriver to Iquitos.

Having accomplished the above, I will have experienced the main river routes from the Andes to Iquitos. I arrived in Iquitos by way of the Rio Napo. Nauta to Yurimaguas is upriver on the Rio Maranon and the Rio Huallaga. Pucalpa to Iquitos, downriver again, is on the Ucayali. This plan would give me firsthand knowledge of the life of the Western Amazonian ‘riberos’… and experiential data of all three (four actually) major Andes/Iquitos rivers joining with and forming the might Amazon, which continues Eastward and wends it’s way another 3,000 miles (more or less) to the Atlantic Ocean.

The adventure continues…

Here is a music vid from another place and time… the timeless theme of the RIVER: