Travelling to Iquitos is a regular feature of our diary – we have made the journey three or four times in the last two weeks. Occasionally it is uneventful but more often it isn’t.
It has been raining overnight and the first part of our journey involves a walk along the mud road from our Nauta home. The first part is not too bad but, where the lane joins the rest of the neighbourhood, a house is being rebuilt. The road going past it is a complete quagmire and we have to balance on planks of wood to avoid being ankle deep in sticky mud. Having negotiated that obstacle we pick our way between muddy puddles until we can flag down a motokar to the paradero. (This is the term for the area of town where the shared minibuses leave for Iquitos). We choose to travel with Turismo Jaen because, of the companies that travel the route, they have the better safety record.
We arrive at the paradero and are accosted by drivers wanting us to get in their vehicle. Our next decision – do we want to get to Iquitos sooner but sit at the back of the minibus (our least favoured option normally) or do we get in the next vehicle and have a potential 30 minute wait. Either way it won’t necessarily be a comfortable ride! On this occasion we choose to wait.
Squashed in with strangers we bounce our way onto the road. This is our fate for the next 100km. Overtaking other vehicles, dodging dogs, blowing the horn to announce our impending presence to the communities we pass through. We pass through a landscape of lush greenery interrupted by villages of wood, concrete and corrugated iron, scarred by brown areas carved out of the jungle to farm fish. The driver tries to choose the smoothest route, even if this means driving down the wrong side of the road, until forced to retreat due to an oncoming vehicle but even then we do not avoid being jarred from slumber by the uneven road surface.
Our driver stops part way along the route to buy refreshments from a roadside shop and some of the other passengers take this opportunity as well.
After about 75 minutes our pace noticeably slows as we reach the outskirts of Iquitos. We pass the airport and find ourselves three abreast (with only two lanes) competing for space with buses, cars, motorbikes and motokars. We often wonder that there aren’t more accidents. We crawl the last few kilometres, weaving through the traffic even where there doesn’t appear to be space. We take a right turn – only a few hundred metres more and we will have arrived – and then meet a checkpoint. The national police, fully armed, are pulling over all vehicles and asking to see the identity documents of everyone on board. They’re only really interested in those with Peruvian ID and collect up the ID cards to check their validity. After what seems like an age, but really only 10 minutes, they return everyone’s ID and we are free to drive the last 200m to the paradero in Iquitos. This is a regular, although not particularly frequent, occurrence and rarely in the same place twice but it wouldn’t be effective if it were predictable.
Hot and sticky, glad to have arrived safely, we disembark the minibus and pay the driver – no receipts today – then ignore the crowd of waiting motokar drivers, preferring to stretch our legs and recover our equilibrium knowing that we will be doing the journey in reverse in about six hours’ time.