Pilpintuwasi means ‘butterfly home’ in the Quechua language. Owned and managed by Gudrun, an Austrian woman, Pilpintuwasi has become part tourist destination, part butterfly farm, and part animal rescue habitat.
It is located on the banks of the Rio Nanay and can only be accessed by boat. From Iquitos, have a mototaxi driver take you to Puerto Bellavista Nanay ; a fifteen minute ride. Once there ask around for boat going to the small village of Padre Cocha. Tell the boatman that you want to go to Pilpintuwasi. You could walk or mototaxi by land once in Padre Cocha, but because it is on the banks of a river, a small boat can tie up right at the property.
Riding on the river is a welcome change regarding the increased comfort level as compared to van travel in mountainous areas. In the vans, which don’t depart until every seat is filled (18 passengers), it is hot, the roads have hundreds of tight curves tossing passengers to and fro, many potholes, and hour long stops along the way (common in the wet season) waiting for road maintenance crews to clear the road of rock slide debris.
Above: The Bruno ties up in Lagunas 5 hours after departing Yurimaguas. (Note that there are 3 boats depicted. the Bruno is the one in the middle)
River travel eliminates many of the discomforts of road travel described above. The river is flat, nearly free of waves or wakes, very little choppiness. There are many, many curves in the river but they are wide ones; no sense of being tossed back and forth, no potholes, ‘open air’ travel, and no unexpected road repair stops.
The public transport boats that travel distances requiring an hour or more are made of welded sheet steel and fabricated locally. They are powered by two very modern 100hp (usually Yamaha) outboard motors. Such is the Bruno.
It is flat bottomed, with gradually flaring three foot high sidewalls, about 55 feet long, 7 feet wide. There is a roof which extends nearly the whole length. Plastic tarp material is attached the entire roof length along both sides and is normally rolled up so passengers are exposed to the breezes and the sights. When it rains, often suddenly and in torrents, the sides are rolled down keeping the passengers and gear more or less ‘dry’. Seat design and comfort vary from boat to boat. There is a life preserver tied over every seat, one for each passenger.
This kind of travel is not recommended for those who are in a hurry or who are seeking a relaxing, comfortable, ‘vacation’ experience. This is for those who are accustomed to some level of discomfort and who are seeking to experience a special way of Life that is different from modern, more ‘civilized’, metropolitan existence.
An ‘adventure’ is nearly guaranteed if one is willing to experience Amazon river travel the way the people who reside here live and travel. To hundreds of people and families, this way of life is quite normal. To ‘outsiders’ it is an amazing thing; to observe a way of Life that includes such close proximity to the Natural world… 24/7/365.
Above is Lagunas: My gear is ported on shoulders to a mototaxi across a raised plank walkway.Sign to left says that the Bruno returns to Yurimaguas at 6PM.
The towns whose banks are on the rivers: Huallaga, Maranon, Ucayali, and the Amazon are accustomed to having ‘high water’ for three months or so every year.
This year the conditions are extreme. Water has risen to levels that have flooded homes and roads directly adjacent to the river bank. I saw this in Yurimaguas, and in all the towns between Yuri and Lagunas. Where planked docks built on stilts are usually visible, even during ‘normal’ high water season, I saw men and women on these ‘docks’ with water over theirs knees.
A lot can happen in 65 hours. My stay in Lagunas and Pacaya Samiria national refuge includes seeing/experiencing firsthand some of the most prolific animal and plant species as they exist in their Natural habitat in the Amazon basin. My stay also included experiencing the truly kind and generous spirits of the people of Lagunas.
Sometimes Life’s adventures can include some amazing high points as well as very low points, occurring within a short span of time. Such was my experience of Lagunas.
During 29 of those 65 hours I experienced the most severe asthmatic symptoms ever in my adult life. My bronchial congestion was so severe that breathing itself was just barely possible. The symptoms began shortly before nightfall at a cabin built on stilts at ‘Pozzo Gloria’, which is a considerable distance into the Pacaya Samiria reserve. My guide; Reiner, had paddled with the current for about 7 hours to arrive at the cabin on stilts, the floor only a foot or two above the water.
Above: Sounds outside my room at the Eco hospedaje during the afternoon of day of my arrival.
Above: Morning 18April2015 after my first night in Lagunas, at the start of the canoe journey into the Pacaya Samiria reserve.There was a downpour from above.
Had not ‘planned’ on a journey to the reserve. During the Yuri to Lagunas boat ride I just happened to be sitting next the president of Huayrurin Tours, based in Lagunas. We chatted briefly. Upon arrival in Lagunas he (Miguel) was kind enough to help me get my gear transferred from the boat to a mototaxi. I had previously decided (from an internet search) that my lodging would be at hospedaje Eco. I was checked into my room within a half hour of arriving in Lagunas. Miguel invited me to visit his office… and so I did.
I learned that Huayrurin tours is the oldest Pacaya Samiria tour operator in Lagunas. Miguel has spent 40 of his years traveling in the area that is now the reserve. He has other, younger men who do the actual ‘guide’ work now. Miguel tends to the business end of things, managing two offices, one in Yurimaguas and the other in Lagunas. Lagunas only has electricity 5 hours per day; 6PM to 11PM. There is no internet service in Lagunas. Miguel often travels back and forth between Yuri and Lagunas, managing the internet site(s) and reservations received in Yuri.
My visit to the Huayrurin Tours office got me interested in seeing some of the reserve… why not? Who knows when I would be there again? And so… I signed up for a four day tour. It was to include ‘camping’ three nights in the reserve. The first night at Pozzo Gloria… and then the second day it was to include more paddling with the current deeper into the reserve where an even more basic cabin was to be the lodging… the third day was to have been returning to Pozzo Gloria for the night. The fourth day was to have been paddling against the current back to the ranger station where the mototruck would be waiting to return us to Lagunas.
Above: Guide and canoe handler, Reiner (L) and the mototruck driver at far (R). The young woman handled the forms needed to give to the park rangers (three forms required… with signatures)
Above: The mototruck with gear and provisions for a four day journey into the Pacaya Samira reserve. It was a 30 minute bumpy, muddy ride to get to the ranger station, reserve entrance where we transferred all the stuff into a canoe.
After signing into the park ranger registration book, Rainer and I began the canoe trip into the reserve. During the course of the day I and saw and heard an extraordinary number of animals. Spiders, two kinds of macaws, two and three toes sloths, four different kinds of monkey, eight or ten different kinds of birds including raptors, water striders, dragonflies, eight or ten different kinds of butterfly… and while at a small elevated hut where we stopped for lunch held a three pound white piranha, a usual food fish in these parts.
We encountered a few other folks in canoes.. People know each other around here. Strangers are easily identified and don’t go unnoticed nor unreported amongst the local population. Saw a friend of Reiner who had been very successful netting 20 or so edible fish. He would return to Lagunas and sell them.
Above: Macaws in their Natural habitat and sounds of the wooden paddle gently whisking our canoe forward with the current deeper into the Pacaya Samiria reserve.
Above: Report upon arrival at the cabanas. Breathing issue had just begun, and got worse as night and rain ensued.
My asthmatic symptoms began around 6PM at cabin… and continued to worsen through the night. I had taken a (Salbutimol) inhaler with me. I gave myself two doses every half hour throughout the night. It helped very little. I spent the night in my bed surrounded by mosquito netting in the front leaning position reducing the muscular strain and effort required to breathe. I am sure that everyone heard me laboring for breath all night. There were two other people… who prepared the evening meal at the cabin. There was also another guide and his client, a young man from Italy. There was little point in disturbing Riener during the night as it would probably have not been possible to see enough to paddle the canoe at night against the current back to the ranger station.
It rained during the night, sometimes very heavily. At daybreak people began to stir. They prepared a fire to cook breakfast. I rose and dressed. I immediately notified Rainer that I would not continue the planned 4 day journey and I needed to return immediately. Everyone could see that my breathing was very labored. Apparently this is not an unknown phenomenon in these parts, even among locals.
I was very pleasantly surprised when I saw a park ranger had arrived with a motor (a ‘peke peke’) on his canoe. I’m guessing that someone had alerted him that there might be problem. We had to change canoes which required some makeshift field modifications before all gear, Reiner, the park ranger and myself were in the canoe and motoring against the current toward the ranger station/entrance.
My breathing was still very labored and the inhaler had been exhausted… nothing left. Fortunately, in the sunlight, it was not raining, my condition improved slightly. The motor sometimes conked out unexpectedly and the ranger cursed a few times. Again, we were underway. Took two hours by motor to get back to the station. Another hour waiting for the mototruck who was expecting us back in two more days. A half hour more of bouncing through the mud before arriving back at the hostel where I had another inhaler in my gear.
Had not slept at all the previous night. Was glad to be at the hostel in Lagunas, but even so, the Salbutamol inhaler did little to ‘fix’ my breathing. The owner of the hostel, Miguel the president of Huayrurin tours and Reiner, my guide sat with me for a time and were obviously concerned.
When they did leave, I took a shower, tried to sleep but could not. Walked down to the Huayrurin Tour office in the late afternoon to let Miguel know that I understood that my four day fee had been used to buy supplies and things. Had to stop several times along the way to catch my breath. I let Miguel know that did not expect a refund.
He saw that I was still not doing well and offered to give me a ride on his motorcycle to a pharmacy. He said the owner was a friend of his and had seen these kinds of breathing problems… that an uncle had had them and that the only thing that helped was some kind of injection… which his friend had and knew how to administer. I immediately responded: “Vamanos” (let’s go).
Received the shot in my rump while lying on a cot in the rear of the pharmacy. It was obvious that this man knew his stuff. He asked me if I had used an inhaler… did it work? … other kinds of meds?.. OK. shot time. He said it might take a while to kick in and that the effects would then last for about 12 hours. He was right.
Returned to the hostal. Took another shower. Electricity came on at 6PM as it had done my first night in Lagunas. I packed up all my gear, very slowly as I was still breathing poorly and I knew that in the morning there would be very little light. I had learned that there is a boat that goes downriver… to Nauta… departing at 8AM the following morning. I would be on it. Miguel, once again, stepped up and offered to pick me up at 7:30AM and to help get me and my gear loaded on the boat.
After all my gear was packed and I was completely prepared for the following morning… all I had to do was get dressed…. I lay on the bed looking at the one tiny bulb and listening to the sounds outside my room. I was exhausted… no sleep the previous night and breathing was still difficult. I must have fallen asleep sometime after the electricity went out. I awoke around 2AM… startled from a very weird dream… but very grateful to discover that my breathing had greatly improved.
Above: 65 year old Wellington; resident of Lagunas
At 7:30AM Miguel was there with a mototruck as he had promised. Wellington, who I had spoken with at the office and who had recommended that I try mixing honey with wild lemon juice for my breathing. He said he used it every morning and evening for about three months and he said he used to have breathing problems and no longer does. He rode in the back with me and the young woman from the office. They all came to see me off and to wish me well. Miguel drove the mototruck.
Wonderful, kind, caring, generous people. I have nothing but good things to say about the people of Lagunas.
Yep, a lot can happen in 65 hours… even in the middle of a jungle environment where electricity is a sometimes thing and where plants and animals vastly outnumber human critters.
Was aboard the boat to Nauta just in time… it actually left a few minutes early. My breathing was very much improved. I was told to expect a twelve hour boat ride. Was very pleasantly surprised when we arrived in Nauta around 6PM… only a 10 hour boat ride.
I have lived to tell the tale… which remains my ongoing intention.
Moybamba to Tarapoto: 2 hours. Changed vans in Tarapoto. Used the longest running, most reliable transport service in this area: Tourismo Selva. Departed Tarapoto around 2PM Arrived Yurimaguas around 6PM.
As usual in these parts; the van (packed to the gills with 19 humans aboard) was halted for a full hour en route, waiting for road maintenance crews to clear rock slide debris.
Checked into a previously unknown hostel in Yuri around 6:30PM. By 7:30 I had all my gear sorted out in the small room, logged onto the new router, and went out to get my bearings and a bite to eat. The power went out just before I left the hostel and partially returned as I walked to the main plaza. Ate and made it back to the hostel around 11PM.
The following morning I had a pretty good idea of the layout of the small town. I was here last year (it’s in a previous blog post). I fell in love with the market then. This year was no different.
Below: A short walk through one street of the Yuri market area
Is it any wonder at all why I have required myself to take up the practice of fasting every so often? I’m putting on weight again… just like many folks in this vid. Hard not to pack on a few extra pounds around here… all this delicious stuff is available, every day, year round, at very affordable prices for all who live here.
For travelers intending to head further East from Yuri… this is where one trades wheels for propellers. No roads between here and Nauta/Iquitos. Only way to proceed is on a boat. Two or three types of boat exist. One type is a large (usually very old) cargo vessel, where passengers hang their hammocks on one or two decks just for that purpose. Cargo vessels are slow because they stop frequently at the small towns that dot the shore and they unload whatever cargo was requisitioned before continuing. It could take three to four days to go from Yuri to Iquitos on a cargo vessel.
The next two types of boat are mostly for ‘local’ passengers. One of these types has a very small ‘peke-peke’ motor which is really a lawn mower engine with a locally fabricated six to eight foot long shaft at the end of which is a propeller. These rigs are basic, no-nonsense vessels for very local traffic. Most river edge dwellers have a friend or family member who has access to a boat/motor like this. They do not go very fast and are very slow against the current. You will sometimes see whole families carrying bananas, plantains, yucca or other stuff to market in these things.
The next type is made for ‘commercial’ travel. These are built of thin sheets of steel. They are flat bottomed and have flared sides that are welded to the bottom that extend upward and outward for about three feet. These vessels are often 50 feet or longer and about seven feet wide maximum. They will often have old school bus bench seats and can carry 40 to 60 people, their luggage or smaller cargo. These boats have two modern (usually Yamaha) outboard motors. Often 100 hp each engine. These boats are the riverine equivalent of a bus or van service. This is what I chose to travel to my next destination downriver… Lagunas.
The boat/service I found was called ‘Bravo’. They do travel back and forth between Yurimaguas and Lagunas every day. They depart Yuri at 9AM (buy your ticket the previous day and arrive at the dock early). The Yuri/Lagunas run goes with the current. It takes 5 hours. The Bravo departs Lagunas and head back (upriver… a longer ride) to Yuri at 6PM.
Moyobamba calls itself the ‘city of orchids’. The area is home to over 3000 species of orchids. The temperatures, the altitude, the soil, the perfect combination of sun and rain all make the Province of San Martin and of the city of Moyobamba the perfect environment for orchids and bromeliads to flourish… and they do.
Below: Short video walking through a small part of the orchid nursery in Moyobamba
Moyobamba is also home to naturally heated hot springs ‘aguas termales’. The municipality of Moyobamba administers and maintains the baths. The very affordable entrance fee makes it possible for anyone in the area to enjoy the benefits of this place. I was there on ‘Good Friday’. All during ‘Semana Santa’ (Holy week) families get together there, maybe enjoy a picnic lunch, sit in the pools, swim, and just hang out together. Grandmas, grandpas, uncles, aunts, sisters, brothers, mothers, fathers, teens, tots, and toddlers are seen together, enjoying the company of each other. Above: Aguas Termales de San Mateo. At Left is a small stream. At right/lower are two different ‘pozzo’s (pools) of hot water. Above the pools are showers to be used before entering pools. Upper level is a medium depth swimming pool and a mini pool for toddlers.
I had been here before and was hoping that the hot springs were open. Was very happy to learn that they were open. As previous posts have mentioned (and shown) mud slides (huayco) and rock slides (derumbles) are a yearly phenomenon in many parts of Peru during the rainy season. More rain equals more slides. In November there had been a mud slide that washed right through the above hot springs. The people of Moyobamba are hard working folks. Not sure how long it took, but from the following video you know it required a lot of time and effort to clean the place up and repair the damage.
Scenic views of the Rio Mayo can be experienced a very short distance from the center of town. There is a ‘mirador’ (scenic overlook) and a pedestrian only walk along a ridge. One can see miles of the river valley and Puerto Tahuishco below. This area is also where a few late night ‘discotecas’ (bar/dance halls) are located, as well as some great restaurants. Known locally as ‘La Boulevard’… or ‘La mirador de Puerto Tahuishco’. The stairway from the boulevard down to the port has about 400 steps, I counted.
The port area is brand new, completed in late 2014. There are docks and there are the same kinds of boats as are common on the Amazon river.
I spoke with the captain of a small boat that let off five passengers. I asked if his vessel was a tourist boat. He, of course said it was. Then, I asked where he would take tourists. He said, upriver to a small bridge that crossed the river. I asked how long a ride. He said about a half hour to the bridge. I asked how much. He said 30 soles (10 bucks). I asked if a person could get out at the bridge and get a taxi to town from there. He said no. I asked how does one get back. He said the boat just turns around at the bridge and comes back to Puerto Tahuishco. I asked how much to return from the bridge. He said 30 soles per passenger. So…if I got it right (maybe he was saying 30 soles round trip) it is an hour long tourist boat ride that might be fun, but goes nowhere, and costs either 10 or possibly 20 bucks depending on the interpretation of the captain’s response to my questions. Then I asked what happens if you go downriver. He said that you hit rapids about an hour downriver.
Bottom line is that the new port is skillfully designed and constructed; is very beautiful, and was only built as a tourist attraction with very little practical need.
Pizana Express transport has over ten years experience servicing the route between Tingo and Tarapoto
I thought that ‘Pizana express’ might have had something to do with Italian immigrants… until I learned that there is a small town along the way named Pizana. Still don’t know the origin of the name, maybe Italian immigrants named the town.
I had been on this route twice before. Once heading South on my motorcycle adventure in September 2012 and S. once again last year on, my Amazon adventure heading to Pucallpa to board a cargo vessel on the Ucayali back to Iquitos. (I had come upriver from Iquitos on the Amazon, Maranon, and Huallaga rivers and had disembarked at Yurimaguas)
Last year I spent the night in Tocahe and got a car service to take me to Tingo Maria. There are ‘gas stations’ along this route. Gas stations with pumps like most Westerners know. The car I was in last year and the van I was this time… both stopped at this odd place with no pumps.
The driver got out and I heard him order ‘cuatro’. What he meant was ‘4’ of something. The ‘something’ turned out to be four 5 gallon buckets of gasoline… poured into the tank through a funnel by hand. I have no idea why they do this. It is obviously some kind of a business arrangement. Must be cheaper somehow. I don’t know the particulars.
Photo taken through my van window
The van ride from Tingo Maria to Tarapota took eight hours, actual on the road driving time. The route is through low jungle scenery. It gently wends it’s way through rolling tropical foliage laden hill country, passing through the medium sized towns of Tocache and Juanjui and many other smaller villages.
This area is well off the established ‘gringo trail’… meaning that there are few Anglo types seen in these parts.
There seems to be a remnant of the ‘shining path’ revolutionary group that was known to rob and kidnap travelers as few as twelve years ago. Times have changed. They now call themselves ‘local security’ force(s). Different ‘stops’ are an hour or so from one another… and they all have different arms and different dress… leading one to suspect that there probably is no ‘central command’. It is very possible that none of the separate groups are even acquainted with one another.
The ‘remnant’ of uniformed young men with open weaponry now does its best to get all passing traffic to stop. Sometimes they stand directly in the road, other times they simply show their weapons and use hand signals. Sometimes the driver stops, sometimes they don’t. Sometimes the passengers in the vehicle offer money, sometimes they don’t. My policy is ‘when in Rome…’ in other words, if other passengers offer money I’ll cough up a coin or two.
Above: Taken a few miles North of Tocahe
I motioned to my camera and gestured to see if this fellow had any problem with me taking his picture through the van window. He grinned and nodded.
Road side pineapple vendor (two different species) near the town of Aucuyacu
Actual time in the van was over nine hours, which includes the stops to let some passengers out and others on… and the lunch stop an hour or so North of Tocache.
Finally arrived Tarapoto… I let the mototaxi driver wheel my gear over to his rig
The name of my hospedaje in Tarapoto was La Siesta. I stayed there based on a recommendation from the mototaxi driver I used upon arriving from Tingo Maria. I was tired and in no mood to shop around for a place to stay. I had checked online for Tarapoto hostels: ‘La Posada’… as the name I first gave to the moto taxi driver. He said it was overpriced and so I took his word for it.
Hospedaje La Siesta was about seven blocks from the ‘plaza de armas’… which is (are) invariably considered to be the center of town. The mototaxi driver was correct. I checked out a few places near the center and they were all double what I was paying… and many also did not offer ‘hot’ water. Tarapoto is a tropical town, and most of the time one would be happy to have a cool shower.
There is not much to interest a traveler in Tarapoto proper. There are many tour agencies that offer tours of the area, but most destinations are some distance from town.
I lost my bearings walking around town on my first night there and had to get a mototaxi to return me to La Siesta. Next morning I got up and familiarized myself with the neighborhood I was in and it’s relation to the center. There are many very nice restaurants and panaderias (bakeries) in town.
I had not seen a movie at a proper movie theater in a while. I like to see films on the ‘big screen’. I learned online that Tarapoto has a new cinema. I learned from a mototaxi driver that there are two. I had him take me to the nearest one. It was packed. Looked like it would have taken an hour just to get to the ticket counter. I opted to not go.
Instead, I walked around the neighborhood where the cinema was located(fifteen minutes from hospedaje La Siesta). I found a nice looking ‘chifa’ (Chinese restaurant). Advertising banners that were still up indicated it had opened around Christmas. I ordered roasted chicken… they serve it with a generous portion of ‘papas fritas’ (french fries) and several sauces: ketchup, aji, red sauce, and mayonnaise. Mmmmm… good!
Spent three nights at La Siesta before deciding that I really missed the luxury of feeling warmer water for my showers. I also knew that I could immerse myself in naturally heated pools of water… hot springs in Moyobamba.
I always locate the ’emprsas de transportes’ that serve my next destination a day or two before I depart where ever I may be. That way I know exactly how long it will take a taxi to get me there the day I decide to go.
There are few buses in these parts. Most of the transport is done in ‘combis’… which are heavy duty vans that will hold up to 21 people (in the states these would be rated 16 passenger vans). Because there are so many small villages that require public transport services, different companies only service certain routes.
During the wet season, all kinds of major/minor rain related disasters occur. Rock slides can suddenly block a road. Mud slides do the same or can wreck havoc on buildings or neighborhoods almost anywhere in the Andes. Avalanches are common in the higher altitudes. Earthquakes are not uncommon, but unrelated to the changing of the seasons. These things are taken as a normal part of life… just as snow and low temps are in the Northern latitudes… just as hurricanes and tropical storms are taken for granted in the semi tropics.
When I arrived at the office serving Tingo Maria from Huanuco there was a large flat panel screen with a news program on. The reporters were covering the floods in Santa Eleulia. Video images showed rescue workers bagging bodies of people who had drown… mothers and family members wailing and the uniformed guys with their stoic ‘just doing my job’ demeanor.
I was informed that the road between Huanuco and Tingo Maria had suffered a major rock slide event. They assured me that road crews had arrived and were working on it. The best estimates were that it ‘might’ be cleared completely in about a week.
That may sound like a lot of time to those unfamiliar with the area and with the nature of the problem(s). These roads are not superhighways. They are narrow two lane roads. Truck and buses can negotiate the route when all is well.
Imagine that there are several scores of large trucks and some buses that have encountered such a rock slide… which has completely obliterated the road. How are they going to turn around? Remember this scenario happens on BOTH sides of the gap. Now, imagine bringing in heavy equipment needed to clear the mountain of rubble… and then they have to repair the area enough for truck and bus (as well as cars/motorcycle) traffic to pass. Not as easy as it sounds.
Because such events are not uncommon in these parts, there are procedures that have developed. Police; both local and national are notified, they arrive on the scene to coordinate rescue and repair efforts. A few police are immediately stationed at such an event 24/7 to help prevent hot tempers from getting out of hand. What happens is, a kind of ‘temporary town’ appears. Vendors arrive offering whatever anyone needs. The truckers are very accustomed to sleeping in their vehicles. No traffic passes at night.
During the day, the procedures allows that people intent on traversing the rock slide area from either direction may do so… but only during certain specific times of the day… as the work crews determine. No vehicles of any kind will pass the rock slide itself.
People will exit the vehicles that brought them to the area from their town of origin… and they will then proceed on foot, carrying whatever they have… up and over… and past the rock slide… to the other side of it. When the people walk far enough, they will find public transportation that is ready to take them to the next town. For me Tingo Maria.
What is normally a two hour ride can turn into a much longer day. I arrived at the Huanuco office at noon… arrived at the rock slide by 1:30PM… sat for two and a half hours to be given the OK to walk through… got into a combi van around 4PM and arrived in Tingo Maria around 5:10PM.
I had been to Tingo Maria a few times before. Once on my motorcycle journey in 2012 and once last year as I did my Amazon adventure. I like the feel of Tingo Maria.