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By bus, boat, and motocarro…

The dining hall at Eladio’s

November 21, 2022

I’ve arrived in Iquitos without mishap, despite the fact that the Lima airport closed for a few days due to an accident. The airport remained closed right up to six hours before I was scheduled to leave, so it was a bit of a nail-biter to see if it would reopen in time for my flights to continue as scheduled. In the end, everything was as perfect and as on time as it could possibly be. 

It feels exhilarating to be traveling internationally again after a few years away from it. When the plane arrived in Iquitos, I didn’t even mind stepping off the plane into that initial blast of hot, humid air (not being a heat-friendly person, typically that moment of taking my first steps into an over-hot, over-moist environment is overwhelming for me, feeling as though I’d just been wrapped in a hot, wet blanket). As my plane landed, I could see all the lush jungle greenery that surrounded the city in dense patches of deciduous trees. The airport was small enough that my plane was the only one on the tarmac. 

At my hotel, I meet with the other three people who I’m accompanying on this adventure (for privacy purposes, I will refer to them by their initials: PW, PC, and LY. PW is the facilitator and organizer of our group). We’re all sitting in the hotel courtyard chatting when Don Eladio comes in and joins us. Eladio is both a well-known and well-respected curandero and shaman around these parts—he will be our host and teacher for the next 10 days. He’s 60, with a kind and open face that looks like he could burst out laughing at any moment. I’m not sure what I thought he’d be like, but in my imagination I suppose I expected someone dressed in a more indigenous way. Eladio is wearing a smudged ball cap and Columbia Sportswear hiking shirt and pants–the very picture of jungle practicality. He greets us all with a warm embrace.

After meeting and talking with Eladio, we venture out into the city to take care of some necessities, such as buying rubber boots for the jungle. As we leave the hotel, we run into Frankie (name changed for privacy reasons), a local who will be our translator and go-to person on this trip. He accompanies us to the markets to help us make our last-minute purchases. 

Nov 22, 2022

A local boy helping to move us on our way

Today we leave for Eladio’s place. I purposely take my time getting ready, knowing this is the last air conditioning I will have for the next 10 days. Unable to languish in my room any longer, I reluctantly close the door on all that delicious, cool air and we all commence on our journey: first a bus ride, followed by a boat ride—about 4.5 hours total. This time of year is hot and wet in the jungle, so by the time we leave the boat, it’s raining hard (which helps bring the temperature down, but not by enough to be comfortable, IMHO). As we disembark, we hurriedly get under cover so we can change into our rubber boots, then we all hop onto a motocarro (a 3-wheeled transport similar to a tuk tuk or motor rickshaw)—a vehicle that is ill equipped to handle the thick, red jungle mud. Only 2-3 passengers fit into each motocarro, so there are a few of us making up a random procession, each with a young local boy (or two) hanging from the back. At first, I thought the boys were just hopping on a for a joy ride, but then I realized there was a purpose—when the vehicle got stuck in the mud, they hop off and push from behind. We go on like this–bumping and swerving in the clay-like mud, the boys hopping off and pushing, looking like they’re having a grand ol’ time–for about 30 minutes when we finally get to the path that leads to Eladio’s place. We hurriedly walked the last bit to get under some shelter. 

Eladio’s place is more of a compound of buildings, all made from the roughly hewn wood of jungle trees, painted in turquoise and white, and topped with a thatched roof made from jungle leaves. He owns 30 hectares of this land and built his compound over the span of about 20 years. There’s no electricity out here, so what little electricity is available comes courtesy of a generator, which provides light for about 4 hours each night. As we enter the compound, I see three large buildings to the left, one of which is perched above a small lagoon. One of the buildings houses the kitchen and dining hall and the other two are sleeping and communal spaces. To the right is the maloca, octagonally shaped and with a high ceiling. The maloca is the most important structure in this compound because it’s the sacred space where the ceremonies take place. There are several more buildings, all of which appear to be more lodging and storage. Toilets are in stalls off to the side of the maloca. We inspect the toilets and note that only one has an actual toilet seat and naturally, it’s also the only one with a massive brown spider lurking at the top of it, practically daring us to sit down (thankfully, we later discover there’s a composting toilet in our building…whew!). Next to the toilets are the showers, open concrete structures that are fed by a water tank. 

The four of us are the only guests here, but there are lots of people who are here to help Eladio accommodate us. He has several sisters and 10 children, many of whom are with us (and many accompanied by their own children). They’re all incredibly friendly and smiling, clearly happy to be here to support their father and brother. The retreat is a family affair, with Eladio at the helm.

We are shown to our rooms, which are sparse and consist of a twin bed covered with mosquito netting and a table. The walls and floors are thin and made of the same bare planks, providing no sound protection or even much floor stability. When anyone walks on it, you can feel the entire floor vibrate. 

My room

It’s been a while since I was last in a jungle environment. I remember it being a place that tested my levels of comfort, not only because of the incessant, unrelenting heat and humidity, but also because there is simply no refuge from the life contained within it. I typically love being in the great outdoors, where I feel grounded and at peace, but the jungle feels like a different beast altogether. In no other place on earth do I feel so much like an intruder. It’s said that man has dominion over the earth and perhaps that’s true in some places, but the jungle couldn’t give AF about anything man has to say on the topic—indeed, it even actively fights against it in the form of bites, stings, and the myriad ways it makes itself uninhabitable for the average, pampered first-world human. All of it simply keeps on keepin’ on—massive spiders lounge on their webs; birds, frogs, and insects layer their calls upon each other, weaving a tapestry of sound; monkeys laugh and play in the treetops. The jungle is absolutely teeming with biodiversity and full of every possible plant, animal, and insect life, all of which continue its merry cycle of life with absolutely no regard to my presence—and more pointedly, no regard for my personal space. Unlike the mountains, which feel as though they are inviting me in, the jungle makes me feel like an unwanted guest repeatedly being shown the door.

As you can see from that paragraph, being in the jungle is uncomfortable for me. I’m not a lover of all creatures, particularly ones that are constantly assaulting you with their noise, bites, stings, or just their sheer goddamn creepiness. On the other hand, the outdoor-loving part of me is fascinated by it all and appreciates being ensconced within the bosom of nature, surrounded by life in all its fertile glory. The jungle makes me feel small and inconsequential and it’s nice to be reminded of that on occasion. There’s loveliness in it.


About colleen finn

Colleen Finn is a globe trotting, sight seeing, day tripping, frequent flying traveler with a penchant for voluntourism.


2 thoughts on “By bus, boat, and motocarro…

  1. I find your comment about feeling like an intruder in a jungle environment. What do you think leads to this?

    Posted by Ted Scheinman | December 13, 2022, 11:31 pm

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