Ellen and I arrived in the jungle city of Iquitos early in the evening, and decided to get a room and relax rather than running around looking for internet to check if we’d been expected by our couchsurfing hosts. The city was full of touts trying to book us on jungle tours and expeditions. Since the cheapest ones were seven times our daily budget of $5 apiece, we weren’t particularly interested in hearing the sales pitches.

Upon failing to reach our host the next morning, Ellen and I grabbed a stack of brochures from an info booth, headed to a market area, and sat down over beer to make a plan. There were a few tourist attractions within our price range, so we had a couple of days’ worth of adventures to have in Iquitos. When we went to find a phone booth to call our host, someone called out Ellen’s name from a passing motocar. Iquitos, it seems, is small enough for someone to find us just by asking around. Walter, our couchsurfing host, took us to the waterfront to chat. Clearly, his idea of couchsurfing differed from ours – he immediately launched into a sales pitch for different wilderness lodges in the jungle. When it became clear to him that we couldn’t pay, he encouraged us to spend a few days at his uncle’s place, where we could fish and explore the jungle at our own pace. All we’d have to do was bring some food for the family. This we agreed was in our budget, so Walter was all set to take us back to the hostel. “Umm…” said Ellen, “Aren’t we supposed to be staying with you?”

Once that confusion was sorted out, we started in on the next one. What food should we take to Uncle’s place? Walter insisted on shopping for us, but wanted 200 soles – $70, more or less. That is well beyond a reasonable price for groceries. We talked him down to a much lower price, but the next morning when we saw what he’d bought, we knew we’d been ripped off. What we saw in front of us, a small bag of rice, some pasta, and toilet paper, couldn’t have cost more than $5. Clearly, Walter’s commission for sending us to Uncle’s was about 85%. We were pretty pissed off because it made us look like we were taking advantage of Uncle, rather than Walter doing so.

Finally, we got on a river bus, one of the local boats doing the chicken-run service from village to village. We felt half-excited and quite apprehensive. Was this all a scam, or were we in for the time of our lives?

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