Iquitos To Santa Rosa/Leticia/Tabatinga

P1060161The interior of the boat

The boat ride from Iquitos to Santa Rosa was the most comfortable ride in any vehicle I have experienced during the entire course of this journey.

The name of the company that I chose was Transtur. There are two other ‘rapido’ services that offer the same route. You can choose any day of the week except Monday. One service operates Tue, Thurs, Sat and the other service operates Wed, Fri, and Sun.The motor on this boat was a Volvo Penta engine coupled with a jet drive. Very powerful, very smooth, and quiet as motors go. The interior of the boat mimicked the interior of a small commercial prop plane.

A small breakfast and a lunch is offered to each passenger as part of the fare.The reason for the breakfast (coffee and a roll) is that you must arrive on the dock by 5:00AM. The stated time of actual departure is 5:30. As is the usual case, the actual departure time is not scrupulously adhered to. In my case, the boat did not cast off until 6:10 and then we stopped not far from the place of embarkation at another dock for about 30 minutes to pick up the lunches. We were not fully underway until shortly before 7:00AM.

P10601625:30AM Iquitos Transtur dock

The boat did make seven or eight stops along the way. Each of those stops was very quick, only to discharge or take on passengers… less that 5 minutes each stop. The ride, as stated above is very, very smooth. The speed was also the fastest of any of my previous ‘rapido’ experiences. I would guesstimate our average speed to have been close to 45 to 50 mph in relation to the land. In my case the journey was in the direction of the current which is about 6 mph or so. So plan on the reverse journey taking slightly longer.

P1060303 P1060324Check out these majestic Amazonian cloud patterns

Santa Rosa is a small island in the middle of the Amazon river. It is the official Peruvian border crossing town on the Amazon. Everyone who wishes to comply with the Peruvian immigration process must stop at Santa Rosa to have your passport stamped out, if departing Peru or stamped in if you plan to go further upriver towards Iquitos.

P1060406After baggage is inspected this is the route to Santa Rosa police and immigration offices

The boat tied up to the dock in Santa Rosa about 4PM. The first thing that happens is the some kind of uniformed officers check your passport and then they go through your luggage. Then, if you tell them that you plan to continue into either Brazil or Colombia you will directed to first visit the Peruvian National Police office. The man there looks at your passport and the separate piece of paper that you received on entry into Peru that you tuck inside your passport. The police then stamp on the back of that paper. Then, you are directed to the immigration office. There the official will check that piece of paper to make sure the police stamp is on it.  The immigration official will then stamp your passport as ‘exiting’ Peru. They will keep the separate piece of paper.

P1060401Santa Rosa, Peru immigration office

Next, you walk back to the dock and then get a small boat (there are many) to ferry you across the river to Leticia, Colombia.  Lectica, Colombia and Tabatinga, Brazil are essentially the same town, but are officially separated by a well marked area as they are in different countries.  There is no immigration nor aduana office at that area. The immigration office for Leticia, Colombia is at the Leticia airport.

Tri border areas are always a bit unusual. The practice is, that if you do not plan to go beyond the border area it is not necessary to do anything with your passport. In other words; if you are ‘stamped into’ Colombia, you may visit Tabatinga (which is actually in Brazil) or Santa Rosa (Peru) without bothering with passport stuff. But ONLY if you plan to continue to remain in Colombia. The same is true for people who are ‘stamped into’ Peru or Brazil. You may visit any of the border towns without bothering with passport stuff. Again; ONLY if you do not plan to go beyond the tri border region. The immigration officials get irritated with you if you do not understand this.

My boat arrived late in the afternoon and it takes a bit of time to go through the official Peruvian exit process. So, that coupled with the boat ride across the river, I did not arrive at the Leticia docks until about 5:30 or so. Was told that immigration office would probably not be open then and that a person has 24 hours to ‘stamp in’ from the time/date showing on your ‘exit stamp’.  I also needed to locate a hostel. I had an idea which one I was looking for but had forgotten the name. The mototaxi driver knew which one I wanted from my description.

Arrived at the Mahatu hostel close to dusk. Check in process was simple. My room has six bunks and it’s own bathroom. I’ve now been there for four nights. Mine is a lower bunk which works great for me.

P1060484Mahatu hostel property

The owner is a Colombian man (Gustavo) who sailed on a Colombian Navy three-masted training vessel in his youth. He says one of his classmates in college went on to become a president… I think his classmate was Santos.  Mahatu hostel is situated on 5 hectares (about 12 acres) of wetland. It is an easy walk to the center of town or the docks. The grounds include a natural lagoon setting. There are fish and turtles in the lagoon. Carefully arranged plantings line the entry drive. There are palm trees of various kinds. Bouganvilla and amarillas in bloom.

People come and go in hostels. It is the normal course of events. Have met people from Colombia, Israel, Norway, Canada, England, Germany, Australia and USA during my stay here. Many are young folks. It was unusual to have met a number of people 40’s and older.

A recent visitor was born in Wales but Australia had been his adopted home for forty years or so.  He is recently retired and is very happy about that. He described his current relationship with his wife as rocky. He is father to a son and a daughter. He lived in Perth. The story of how he arrived in Leitia is an unusual one.  He arrived here by slow cargo boat and had come all the way from Belem, Brazil which is the town where the Amazon meets the Atlantic Ocean. His first boat was from Belem to Manaus and then another one from Manaus to here.

I was very interested in his tale because I want to see the places he just came from. I will not be able to do that on this trip because Norte Americanos… including USA citizens, must arrive at the Brazilian border with a Brazilian visa attached to their passports. I can only get the visa by visiting a Brazilian embassy and handing over my passport to them for a couple of days. During which time, they paste the visa in it. The cost of the visa is about 160 dollars. It is good for 10 years. A person is limited to visiting Brazil to the normal 90 days per year during each of the 10 years the visa is valid.  I will have to postpone my visit to Brazil and further down the Amazon until next trip.

The man told me the first boat from Belem to Manaus took 6 days and the one from Manaus to Tabatinga took another 7 days or so. Then I inquired how he had gotten to Belem. His journey was most interesting and and unusual.

In Perth he had accidentally bumped into a captain of a ketch that had been a Norwegian herring vessel. It had been built in 1915 and built to withstand the heavy weather and cargo encountered in the North Sea.  The boat was heading to Auckland, New Zealand. From Auckland, the captain planned to go ‘around the horn’.  The infamous stretch of water that is the very tip of South America… South of Tierra del Fuego. It is a passage much written about and is reported to have some of the most unpredictable and rough weather and water conditions known to sailors.

Jack, the Welshman/Australian learned that there was room for another hand. A deal was struck. He scrambled to get money to the captain to secure his space aboard. Then, while the boat was underway to Auckland, Jack read up as much as he could on what he might need to be prepared for and bought as much appropriate gear as he thought he might need. He then flew to Auckland and became one of the crew members.

He described the captain as a well seasoned Norwegian skipper, but this would be his (and the vessel’s) first trip ‘round the horn’.  ( Jack filled in some details of the journey. He estimates they were in rough seas, weather and water for about two thirds of the way from Auckland to the Falklands where they restocked. 

The boat, the Tecla ( then made it’s way North and was to have landed in Buenos Aires. They were about half way up the Rio Plata when the shipping agent the captain had made arrangements with emailed the captain with the ‘news’ that he wanted 10,000 dollars for the necessary paperwork to land in Buenos Aires. The captain immediately set a new course to a port in Uruguay, on the opposite side of the Rio Plata. No extortionist charges were required there. It was from there that many of the crew disembarked and each made their own plans.

P1060723Jack, the Aussie/Welshman who went around Cape Horn as a crew member aboard the Norwegian ketch Tecla

Not many ‘tall ships’ nor sailing vessels go ‘around the horn’ these days. The Panama canal route is the vastly favored one for vessels going from the Atlantic to the Pacific or vice versa. The ‘horn’ is well known as a very challenging route. His vessel did what is known as the ‘under and over’. 

What that refers to is the 50th degree latitude South.. To accomplish that a boat must pass under the 50th degree South latitude and then sail North above it before making landfall.  The Chatham islands is the last port of call on the West to East passage. Then the horn and the ‘straights of Lemire’ must be negotiated before making landfall on the Falklands. Jacks journey is considered by most… including those in the sailing community to be a most unique one these days.

Jack made it to Rio for carnival and eventually made his way up the Brazilian coast until arriving at Belem. He had had not any specific plans in mind for visiting the Amazon but thought to himself, “Well, why not?”  His story is one which I value because it shows a person who is willing to adapt to changing conditions. Doing so requires letting his inner self to lead the way in contrast to the way many travelers approach travel… armed with an ironclad itinerary.

Each method has its benefits and each person’s life circumstances are unique.  At this stage of my life, I like to have a very general plan/itinerary but allow myself the freedom to alter it along the way as seems fit to me from day to day.