The Amazon: On Surviving (Yet Another) Boat Ride

Nico: “The flight date you booked was 14 March 2018, today is 14 April 2018”.

Riana and the boys are standing in the queue with me, they are tired and fed-up from all the rushing and running in-between flights. We are on the Lima airport in Peru, just rushed off a flight out of Patagonia to make the check in for the flight to Iquitos in the heart of the Amazon within northern Peru. We want to reach Iquitos early in the afternoon in order to still make our 3 to 4 hour boat journey on the Amazon River to the Lodge, but now we do not have an airline ticket. It seems I made a mistake on our departure date when buying the tickets online 3 months earlier.

The boys’ rides (when available) to speed things up a bit in between flights. Needless to say, we always race one another and have had some close shaves (with fellow airport guests…).

Riana: The buzzing of our wake-up call dragged my tired mind from its deep coma at 3.30 am. We spent the night at a hotel near the airport at Santiago, Chile, after our flight from Punta Arenas the previous day. Now the long trek started for the next chapter of our adventure: the Peruvian Amazon. It included two flights and a boat ride, the latter which I knew the boys were apprehensive of after our Zanzibar experience. V especially asked me numerous questions about the size of the boat and the conditions on which we would be riding, i.e. will there be huge waves. I comforted him as best I could every time, not in the least bit worried myself.

After clearing customs into Peru we dashed over to check in for our domestic flight to Iquitos. We dashed, not because we were running late, but because that is how we roll at airports. Always. Like my husband will literally slow down the moment he clips in the buckle of the plane’s seat belt. And then it starts all over again once we touch down. Which makes for lots of running and laughing. And reprimanding. Because the boys will still see time to run backwards on every escalator, pretending it is a treadmill, with parents hauling carry-on’s and huge bags of discarded jackets (why in the name of all things pleasurable do planes and airports have to be THAT cold?!) and bananas and water. And of course everyone is suddenly thirsty just as we pop the last bottle of water in the trash before the security scanner. And need to pee when we fall in line behind 200 people to board.

Nico: Standing in line to try and buy another 4 tickets to fly to Iquitos on XYZ Air (name changed), the friendly, but Spanish speaking lady behind the counter does have available seats, but does not accepts card payments (and we are in a hurry to make the only flight for the day out of Lima to Iquitos). Sweat is streaming down my face, I rush to an ATM teller and draw some Soles (Peruvian currency), wait in line again, not enough cash, back to ATM, draw some more, back in line – give cash. Printer does not work – “are we on the flight?” I ask a bit frantically, but of course she speaks only Spanish.

Riana: With the boys riding on top of the suitcases I try to keep up with Nico between the counters. He doesn’t spend the time to take off his jacket so sweat and cusses pour equally from his front side. Somewhere years ago I have given up apologising to the poor unsuspecting travelers charged down by two crazy Africans with two yelping, exhilarated suitcase-riding  boys on top. I just divert my gaze in a general far-off direction and try to suppress my nervous giggles.

After about 30 minutes and an entire bag of M&Ms (the kids never complain about my airport-stress-induced emotional-candy-inhalation) we are back in the check-in line. 

Nico: Okay, “I think we are on the flight” I tell Riana.

Riana: Sweet relief! Aaaaand then we wait another three hours for a late plane with a technical problem. We are unsure if there would be time enough to make the 4 hr boat trip to the lodge.

Nico: We sit and wait, wait and sit, the boys are at least playing and does not seem to care too much. Riana is always positive and we keep on sitting and waiting. Eventually we board the plane and immediately realise that XYZ Air is Peru’s version of Air Watsisname in Africa – you don’t fly them or recommend them or speak of them. No AC on board while grounded, hot as a furnace inside and again we sit and wait, while the captain goes in and out of the cockpit. “Whats going on” but of course, there is no English aboard XYZ Air.

African style on board XYZ Air while grounded in Lima, waiting to take off to Iquitos.
Happy to be en route at last on board XYZ Air.

After much sitting while grounded (the boys without shirts – its seems to be okay to do that on XYZ Air) we finally leave for Iquitos, but make a stop at Pucalpa, which further derive us of time to get on that Amazon boat.

Riana: Once we landed in Iquitos the real running started. Only for the agent to inform us that we would have to spend the night in town. It would be dark soon and they didn’t usually make the trip to the Lodge in the dark. Ensues very persistent persuasion from my husband of how we are not about to pay for a night in a chummy part of Iquitos, eating bread if we are lucky, and that we are absolutely about to go on said boat to said lodge.

Nico: A bit worn out we are happy to be leaving the Iquitos airport for the Amazonia Expeditions head office and boat launch site. Note to self: If a remote Lodge again tells you not to take the boat trip into the Jungle as it will be dark halfway through, listen to them…

Riana: We finally find ourselves and our pile of suitcases on the boat. A rickety aluminium little thing reminding all too much of our capsized vessel in Zanzibar of a few months ago. As we push back from the docks out littlest one clutches my arm frightfully, not in the least bit comfortable with the situation. Z is quiet but also very big eyed. I don’t have the heart to tell them how long the trip is going to be, but I am apprehensive for what is laying ahead. And that is and understatement. It is just after 5pm local time. We have been up for more than 15 hrs after a short night of sleep. The last thing I am looking forward to is a boat ride on the Amazon. At night.

Nico:  Of course it gets dark around 6:30 pm, which is about the same time we get off the wide Amazon River onto the much narrower Tahauyo River.  Luckily V is asleep on Riana’s lap and we continue to ride between plaining fast and dead slow (to allow for other boats or obstacles) down the ominous river.

Start of the boat trip to Amazon from Iquitos around 5 pm. A bit weary from XYZ Air, but ready and rolling on the Amazon River. All happy and excited. – Nico. (Yea right! -Riana).

Riana: I don’t know if it is exhaustion or trepidation that made him pass out, but I am thankful that V is sleeping. We sit in the pitch black dark on a tiny boat in the middle of a deep and ominous river in a deep and ominous jungle, already incredibly apprehensive, when the noises suddenly change. There is a new addition to the humming of the little engine boat. First I think it is my imagination. I try to ignore it. Then later Z leans over to me and hesitantly asks: “Mamma, is it raining?!” Z’s little hand is clutched in mine. We just quietly sit. “Yes, Darling.”

Nico: It started raining. Now I don’t mean rain as we think of it – I mean buckets full (that’s Komatsu size Excavator buckets) and the captain does not seem to have a spotlight, or any light. We don’t see much outside as its pitch black, but every now and again you can make out the shape of the jungle lurking nearby.

Riana: We continue down the river in the pitch black, and cross our fingers that our Captain either has bionic vision or knows the river like the passages of his own home. Every time the captain suddenly pulls the power I think to myself “This is it. Obstacle straight ahead”. And it rains on.

Later (much later) the captain pulls out a very neat cigarette lighter-plug-in spotlight. But of course he cannot sit inside and and shine it through the window, he has to be outside for it to work properly. But he can only open the hatch once there once the pour-down let’s up a bit. So with one hand on the steering wheel and the other piercing the darkness outside, we continue our journey down the river.

I asked Riana a couple of times on board the boat if she and Z was okay, but she never replied. The only words she spoke was when she asked me to untie the rain sleeves again. The boat has these roll down see-through plastic sleeves, that tie to the inside of boat for protection against rain. I rolled them down and tied them fast when it started raining. I was soon after, firmly told by my better half to untie them. She told me later that this was in case we did capsize that we would at least not be trapped inside the boat, in the dark, on a river that has piranha (and caymen – and electric eels, and beeeeg leeeeches – ask V about those leeches…).

Riana:  And true as ?@&# the man then turns around and yells above the noise of the engine and the pounding rain: “The guide wants to know what we want to do tomorrow?” 


“LIVE!’ is all I can think to reply. “I want to be ALIVE tomorrow!” But I just keep quiet so as not to further upset our already wide-eyed little big boy. Into the darkness we continue as I clutch Z’s little hand tightly in mine and V’s little sleeping body close to my left side so he doesn’t fall off the seat.


Although this photo was taken the next day on another boat from the Tahauyo Lodge – seeing the narrow river during the day made us very grateful to have arrived in one pice the night before.

After just more than two hours we arrived at Tahauyo Lodge (not four?!), a bit shocked and bewildered (at least they had really good Chilean wine).

And of course on disembarking the boat V wakes up and asked “so when are we going on the boat ride to the Lodge?”

Our Captain and us on arriving at Tahauyo Lodge. Relieved (I think all of us).

One thought on “The Amazon: On Surviving (Yet Another) Boat Ride

  • 10 May 2018 at 5:38 pm

    Julle is ‘n annerlike nasie! Sjoe, ek sit en lees met angs en bewing. Net jammer dat die foto’s om een of ander rede nie wil oopmaak vir my nie.

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