Ellen and I spent five days on a riverboat, on our way to the Amazon Jungle. We’d wanted to visit the Amazon but hadn’t thought we would have time. However, as the Andes were getting a little cold for us, we decided to head east into the jungle and see where we ended up. We arrived in the river town of Pucallpa last Saturday, where boats trundle their way toward the Amazon. The locals were quite insistent that we leave right away, as there wouldn’t be a Sunday boat. Ellen and I resisted for a few minutes – the Amazon is north, and we had planned to go south – but in the end agreed that a trip into the Amazon jungle would be pretty awesome. The trip was to cost $30 each for four days’ hammock space on the deck and food. This was a little over our $5 a day budget, but we splurged on the experience.

We were packed in tightly, but not as badly as I expected. Three rows of hammocks lined the decks, most of them thick cloth rather than the woven tourist hammocks we’d seen in Central America. Ellen and I had clearly purchased the bargain basement version – narrow nets of knotted cord. I lined mine with a blanket for comfort and to avoid mosquito bites, but it was too hot to sleep in and the angle of my back was too sharp. I gratefully lay out my bed roll on the cool metal floor and slept under my sarong instead. Ellen slept on the upper deck under the stars, an option I later decided to try when the weather cooperated.

Although the boat was almost a full day late leaving, people were in high spirits. The first night we had to go to shore to buy dinner because the boat didn’t provide meals when we hadn’t left yet. The guys in our section came back with beer and cigarettes that they passed around to all takers. Music played well into the night as groups sat up at the dining table playing cards until the power was shut off in the early hours before dawn. I slept restlessly – I’d had a sore back for days – and eventually gave up in favour of reading.

A variety of locals wander up to talk to me and Ellen throughout the days on the boat. They are eager to check that we’re having a good time and are getting a good impression of Peru. The resident children spend much of their time sitting next to us watching us play cards. They also swing wildly from hammocks and life jackets hanging from the ceilings, hare around the decks giggling and shrieking, and run through the captain’s steering compartment. Nobody seems to be bothered by them at all.

The journey is a mixture of relaxing and annoying. There’s no escaping the people. Whenever Ellen and I sit, a crowd gathers to watch us play dice or cards. When we stand and look out over the river, our tranquility is disturbed by a constant stream of people wanting to chat with us. It’s very sweet, but privacy and quiet time are clearly undervalued here. I moved out onto the deck to get some sleep, and someone stole my phone while I was unconscious. On the other hand, we had nothing to do on the boat but have fun. We had no commitments: we didn’t have to procure or cook our own dinner, as three tasty meals a day were provided to us. Our bags were not on our shoulders, and we didn’t have to set up camp for the night. All we needed to do was admire the scenery, nap when the mood struck, and play games. We taught our dice games to a group of guys, and spent many lively hours laughing, cheering, and groaning. They taught me a dice game in return, which involved rolling to win a house, then a bed, then one or more bed partners, the object being to win more lovers than your opponents. Much joking and laughing was involved. One guy insisted on me teaching him cribbage, which I managed to explain passably well – it’s complicated for beginners!

On our last days on the boat, we wished for a stop in a port. We ran out of water – somebody stole one of the several bottles we’d prepared – and the drinks on the ship were pricy. In the first few days’ stops, vendors sold water and pop, but in the last days they were absent. We stopped at a port in the middle of the night, and several of our gaming partners decided to get off to buy beer. The boat left without them, and Ellen and I felt grateful that we stayed in bed. We, at least, arrived in Iquitos, in the Amazon jungle, as planned.

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