HUgo and I arrived in Pucallpa Tuesday afternoon after a tiring but tolerable two-leg trip from Arequipa via Lima. We have reserved tickets for Iquitos on a boat called the "Henry", which has claims to being the fastest on the river, and leaves this evening at 5:30.
After looking at the options, we decided to pay a little extra for one of the tiny, hot cabins, as this means we can leave our bags in a secure place and will at least have the option of sleeping in a bed. But we have also bought hammocks and will be able to relax on the (covered deck). The guys selling the tickets made all sorts of extravagant claims about special food for those in the cabins, and armed on-board security, which we didn't believe.
Later this afternoon we will stock up on provisions, including insect repellent, fruit, water and beer, before boarding the boat for what we hope will be an interesting and tolerably comfortable trip.
On the way here, we climbed out of Lima in the evening, crossing the Andes by night. Morning saw us already in Tingo Maria, in the lush lower part of the "ceja de selva". From there we endured two stretches of rough unsealed road, and had to wait for an hour for roadworks, before finally arriving in Pucallpa at around 3:00 in the afternoon. The countryside was green and attractive, ranging from jungly lowlands, to hills with ferns and waterfalls.
Pucallpa is a friendly, surprisingly attractive town, decorated by plams and othe trees and buzzing with swarms of moto taxis, three wheeled vehicles with the front part of a motorbike attached to a passenger platform seating two people. There's evidence of some wealth; Pucallpa is the centre of commerce for a large area, and the wood and petroleum industries are being supplemented by increasing agriculture in the lowlands to the west of the town, plus the beginnings of tourism.
Last night we took a moto taxi out of town to a lagoon which had been recommended to us by another taxi driver. We feasted on the local cuisine, and were surrounded by indigenous women selling crafts. I opted for a píranha tooth necklace, which I hope will protec me against all fierce beast, fish and serpents during my journey.
We then took a launch across the other side of the lagoon to visit an animal reserve run by a kindly ex-policeman who was originally from Camaná in Arequipa. There were several kinds of monkeys, sloths, a range of South American rodents, a boa, an anaconda, and a beautiful ocelot. Most of the animals were in cages, but the monkeys were free to climb in and out.
The animals were also mostly babies or quite young; the owner said he always ended up getting animals dumped on him to take care of, so had decided to start up a nature reserve. It had been going for 8 months; they had just completed a restaurant and were starting on building tourist bungalows. We left a donation for the animals, and talked with the owner's son about creating eco-tourism links with Incaventura and Sudamerica Tours.
From this evening, we will be on the river until we get to Iquitos, so this blog will not be updated for at least three days.