Today was the big day where I would finally see what seven months of traveling in South America has made out of me. When I woke up in the morning, the only thing that stood between me and a comfortable hostel bed in Iquitos was two border control officers, a water taxi, a river boat, petty thieves, and my own nerve. I methodically packed my bags, leaving only what I thought would be absolutely essential in my day pack, which included toothpaste, wet wipes, water and a bag of heart-shaped lollipops. I bid my goodbyes to whoever cared to talk to me that morning and set out on the path to Iquitos.
Drama at Immigration
The first part to my journey was the formal part, clearing immigration in Colombia and Perú. Exiting Colombia was as easy as entering – no questions asked, a five minute review, which would have been two if the agent wasn’t texting most of the time and I was stamped and officially in international border purgatory. I grabbed my things from the hostel and set off to Santa Rosa, Perú by water taxi.
I landed in Santa Rosa, which was a bare bones rustic settlement, and was fortunate enough to run into a Dutch-Peruvian couple who helped me out by offering to share a ride to the immigration office by way of the fabulously feeble mototaxi. The first mototaxi we started in broke the chain on its wheel after about 10 feet. The second mototaxi didn’t make it to us as it toppled over in a patch of mud and wooden planks. I had to laugh as I was thinking about my two teammates for next year’s Mongol Rally. They plan to go on The Adventurist’s Mototaxi Junket this September to cure the boredom blues and will find themselves spending two glorious weeks trekking through Perú’s perilous countryside in this ill-conceived vehicle.
We finally made it to the immigration office in the third mototaxi that showed up and it was by far the most informal border operation I’ve seen to date. A young woman beckoned me into her office, which was a small room and a desk with a couple of forms and a visa stamp. She noted that I had already been in Perú and asked me how long I wanted to stay this time. I explained that I was just passing through without directly answering her question – I assumed she would give me the standard 90 days and I’d be on my way. But it seemed she actually wanted to haggle with me over this topic. Really? She started out with 7 days, but I declined. I intended to stay only 5 days, but who knows what could happen between the Northeast corner of Perú and the Southwest corner. She then offered up 10 days and I didn’t even ask, just said like a boss, “Nah, 90 days is fine, no worries.” She looked confused and then said, “I’ll give you 20.” Okay done, great doing business with you, Richard Gere.
I grabbed my gear and moved to the waiting room in the office. There was no one around and I didn’t feel like waiting outside in the blazing sun for my river boat to arrive. I laid back on the bench and took note of the yellow concrete walls, the bare bones bathroom facility, the dust covered bar-covered windows and felt like I was in a prison waiting room or something. This was not a good feeling, but before I could get too carried away, the border agent came in and acknowledged my presence. With her jeans and flip-flops, I probably wouldn’t have known she was a border agent if not for the simple polo shirt that “Perú Migracion”.
She pulled up a chair and asked if she could practice English with me. Okay, I thought, this would be a nice way to pass the time. Before I knew it though, she was bringing on the “girl talk” and had me invested in a deep conversation where she confessed almost in tears about this man from New Orleans who broke her heart. This vile man apparently made her wait for two years until he told her he was never going to come back for her. Firstly, I was still in shock about sharing such an intimate story with a border agent who just granted me passage into her country, but after, I thought, “Oh no you didn’t girl!” I couldn’t say this though. She seemed to be a genuinely sweet woman and I didn’t want to make her feel worse. I didn’t know what else to say so I pulled a Bridget Jones move from the Thai prison scene and recounted my “story” of waiting for a man who promised me the world and never showed up. And just for good measure, I inquired as to some of the details of this heartbreaker from New Orleans so that I could set him straight should I ever venture to that area.
There’s always drama in a Latin country
After the therapy session in immigration, I braved the heat and humidity and lugged my gear out to the river banks to await my river boat. I found a little tent with a few older Peruvian men and deemed it to be friendly enough territory with little to no possibility for drama. Oh LiLi, you’re so naïve sometimes…
I began talking with a water taxi driver and throughout the two hours I was in his company, I actually never once caught his name. He asked all of the standard questions a Peruvian man asks a gringa, “Where are you from, how do you like Perú?” And most importantly, “Do you have a boyfriend/husband?” I used to always respond honestly to this question. But I had not the patience nor the Spanish vocabulary to explain to him my current status and went with a simple, “Yes, he’s actually meeting me in Lima.” These days if any stranger asks, my “boyfriend” is always coming to join me traveling in two weeks. I’m simply done trying to come up with an acceptable story for why I’m 29 and still single for random people.
After we exchanged pleasantries, my new best friend who I’ll just call Rodrigo, offered me a small plastic cup of beer. He said it was necessary for my thirst. I wasn’t about to argue with free beer and figured it would calm my nerves about my daunting river boat ride. This, however, was no simple one beer offering. Rodrigo, not having much to do all day was here for the long haul and ordered bottle after bottle of beer to share with me and his friends. I didn’t want to be rude at this point and continued in with sharing the beer. In my mind, I was saying, “Okay, no matter how much you drink, do not get drunk, you cannot miss that boat!” Because of course it’s all about mind control right? I was actually doing fine and I noticed the Spanish was starting to roll off my tongue.
Rodrigo, then drunkenly calls over to a woman who is apparently his wife and beckons his “amor, querida” to come join us. She was not feeling so amorous about him and was having no part of this. She gave him the dirtiest look ever and turned away. Oh shit, I’m about to witness some quality drama! He explained to me that she was just jealous because he was talking to me, but I somehow doubted this. He later did manage to coax her over and in trying to present myself as a non-threatening likeable woman, I immediately started going on and on about my “boyfriend” and even showed her a picture I carry of my sister and her family, ya know to show that I’m a family-oriented woman with values. She loved this and smiled at me the entire time. It was only when Rodrigo addressed her that she turned several hues of red. She later went off and that’s when I told Rodrigo, “Yeah she’s not jealous, she just really hates you bro.” Note, the “bro” part of the sentence was actually said in English as I couldn’t come up with a proper translation.
After this, Rodrigo’s behavior started bordering on belligerent and obnoxious and I decided it was best to depart before I became an innocent bystander in some bar brawl. His lovely wife actually showed me to the boat, La Gran Loretana and I managed my best sober stumble onto the ship to begin my 3 day journey through the Amazon.