Houses On Stilts


This blog entry about the events of Sunday, December 07, 2003 was originally posted on December 08, 2003.

DAY 50:  You would think that Amazonian city of Iquitos, the largest city in the world without any connecting roads, would be reminiscent of a lost Shangri-La or an ancient city out of a Tarzan set.  The fact is, Iquitos, the Amazon River’s first port during the rubber industry boom, now has over 500,000 residents and is a bustling modern city — it was evident as soon as we arrived at the port.

With a ship full of bananas, vendors scrambled to buy them at 5 soles a bunch to sell on the street for higher prices.  Some people were so adamant at getting the first bunches, they boarded an adjacent ship and jumped through windows to get to our stash.  It was like a Walmart on the “Black Friday” after Thanksgiving in the States.

Marita, Madalon and I split a mototaxi into town where we got rooms at a hostal that Marita recommended.  They helped me bargain down the price from 35 soles to 30 soles (about $9), which was a steal because the room was very nice — one of the nicest I’ve had so far — with a nice big bed, bathroom, fan and cable TV.  There was no hot water, but in the past fifty days, I’ve learned to live with cold showers.

Marita got a recommendation from a friend for a tour guide we could trust that could take us around the city.  He was Richard, a young, short man who lived in Iquitos — more specifically, in the poor neighborhood of Belen, which looked much more like the image of an Amazonian jungle city.  Richard led the three of us through a crowded market full of vendors selling everything from fruits to cooking oils in little baggies to meats to caterpillars to special potions made from plants and roots in the jungle for various ailments.

The Iquitosian people looked very Filipino to me, and I blended in pretty well, even though I could only make out about 20% of what they said.  Madalon on the other hand, understood everything but stuck out like a sore thumb.  I didn’t know which was worse. 

THE SHANTYTOWN OF BELEN is district of Iquitos almost completely on stilts for when the river’s high water season came in.  I say “almost completely” because some of the houses were actually built on rafts that could float and rise with the river tide (picture above) — sort of like dry Cheerios before you pour milk in the bowl.  It being the low river season, we were able to walk on what was usually the riverbed as houses on stilts towered above our heads and villagers looked down on us. 

Richard negotiated a canoe for us, and the oarsman rowed us down the river to see the houses in the lower waters.  Kids swam in the cool waters of the river while big condor-like birds soared above our heads.  Huge lilypads — able to support the weight of a baby according to Richard — floated near us in the water.  I wondered how many bottles of beer I could get on those suckers for a pool party. 

Back in town, Richard brought us to his friend, a potion maker, who let us sample some of his goods.  Potions, as magical as they sound, more or less taste like rum — a rum that can mess you up really fast after just one shot; I already started to feel its effects with just a sip.  Afterwards, I was introduced to a recommended an adventure tour company that could take me on a jungle expedition, which was good because my abridged Lonely Planet book didn’t have any good advice.

After a first but final lunch with the girls — they were leaving for Lima the next day and only journeyed to Iquitos to experience the cargo boat ride — I walked around town a little bit, seeing the more-modern-than-colonial Plaza das Armas and the riverfront area overlooking the Amazon River itself.  Most of the places in town were closed for the Feast of the Immaculate Conception holiday and the streets were essentially empty — except for the occasional mototaxi driving by.  The inactivity of the city was fine by me because I had been more or less in transit for eight consecutive days and just wanted to rest.  I had a lot of catching up to do on The Blog anyway.

THE SUN SET OVER THE AMAZON with another picturesque pink sky, just before a big lightning storm came in with its lightning bolts so fast I couldn’t take a picture of them.  Indoors and out of the rain, I worked on The Blog until the wee hours of the morning while flipping through the channels on cable TV.

It was weird to see a documentary on Discovery Channel about the jungle villages of South America, knowing that some of them were just down the river, not too far away.

Next entry: Urban Jungle

Previous entry: Tally Me Banana

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Comments for “Houses On Stilts”

  • Whew, all caught up with the Blog. I can’t wait to hear about your adventures in the Amazon and all the different animals,including snakes grin, you’ll see. Take a lot of photos!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  07:20 PM

  • houses on stilts… looks like the bahay kubos in the philippines.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  09:24 PM

  • Hey, I got my Galapagos postcard…I didn’t see the stranger though. But damn, that was fast.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:10 PM

  • That picture of the Amazon on today’s post is AMAZING! I am seriously jealous.

    That riverboat ride would have been loads of fun, and possible boredom without Marita and Madalon. Sheesh.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/08  at  10:58 PM

  • Pepe:  How is the border crossing into Bolivia?  Just as crazy?  I think I might hold off until after New Years for a new country…  Might spend the holidays in good ol’ Cuzco perhaps…

    Dtella: Wow, that WAS fast!

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  01:51 AM

  • I’m excited for the trek.

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  02:26 AM

  • i wonder if it will be the same for you when you return to the US? from the pictures, i see: first class, “first class”, and VERY FAR from “first class” everything looks amazing so far smile

    all i can say is WOW

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  03:34 AM

  • I know! but I’m sad I missed the stranger that hand delivered it, i wanted to see if they were a weirdo wink

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/09  at  01:41 PM

  • Hola Erik,
    Getting in to Bolivia was nowhere like as nasty as Peru. We got on a nightbus from Cuzco to Copacabana in Bolivia. In Puno we had to wait a while (3 hours) until we figured out we had to change buses, but afterwards it was a breaze. The bus stopped in the last Peruvian town before the border, to allow everyone to exchange their soles for bolivianos. The immigration offices are actually at the border itself so you just need to walk from Peru to Bolivia and get your stamps. After another little wait we got on another bus (the first turned out to have bad brakes, not a good idea in Bolivia) to Copacabana.
    Am in Sucre now which is a great town (sorta like Cuenca, but nicer) but will leave tomorrow for Potosi and Uyuni and the Salt Desert afterwards. My buddy Arjen’s flying home tomorrow, but I’m meeting up with a couple of English lasses we met in Copacabana, who insist on seeing me through Christmas and Newyear on some beach in Chili, so ...

    Posted by Pepe  on  12/11  at  09:10 PM

  • Pepe:  where in Chile are you headed?

    Posted by .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)  on  12/14  at  01:07 PM

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This blog post is one of over 500 travel dispatches from the trip blog, "The Global Trip 2004: Sixteen Months Around The World (Or Until Money Runs Out, Whichever Comes First)," originally hosted by It chronicled a trip around the world from October 2003 to March 2005, which encompassed travel through thirty-seven countries in North America, South America, Africa, Europe, and Asia. It was this blog that "started it all," where Erik evolved and honed his style of travel blogging — it starts to come into focus around the time he arrives in Africa.

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Next entry:
Urban Jungle

Previous entry:
Tally Me Banana


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