|The lancha deserves an entry in itself. Let me begin by directing you to the first photo. That is what I found when I arrived in Pantoja, Peru. It was my home for four days and four nights. At first I was optomiistic that the inside wasn´t as scary as the outside, but then I went inside. It was really like living in a tin can.
I got to Pantoja on Monday morning, and the lancha wasn´t leaving until Tuesday so I had a day to hang out. After walking the entire town in three minutes, I found a bench to sit on for the rest of the day. We´re talking hours. Eight hours sitting on a bench. Occasionally reading, but really just sitting. I actually amazed myself with my ability to sit. I don´t recall ever getting bored. I just continued to sit. I met a few people sitting there, mainly the five other people that spoke English. There were two friends from Bellingham, WA of all places, a woman from Chicago, a guy from Canada, and another German. These are the only other people that know the misery of this boat trip.
While I sat on my bench, the men of Pantoja began to build a wood structure at the front of the boat. At first, I thought it was more room to hang hammocks. But then they added horizontal pieces. Uh oh. It became a corral. For livestock. We were going to have livestock on our boat. Great. I accepted this challenge and continued to sit. Some village boys had the ingenious idea to go swimming to beat the heat. I joined them. Now, I consider myself to be a good swimmer, but the river almost swept me away. After fighting the current for about two minutes, I gave up and got out. The boys were just getting started. They started jumping off the new corral on the lancha. Then the second deck. Then the roof. Crazy boys! And crazy good swimmers.
I decided to sleep on the lancha that night to save a bit of money. I found a prime hammock location and passed out when they shut off electricity at 9 PM. When I woke up the next morning, I was surrounded by a hundred more hammocks and sweaty travelers. As always in Peru, the departure was delayed about two hours. I made one of the best decisions of that week, and got off the boat to pee behind some bushes. I wanted to avoid using the lancha bathroom for as long as possible. I hadn´t dared look for it yet, because I didn´t want to confirm the rumors I had heard about it. The time finally came later that afternoon to face the truth, and it was grim. Let´s just say there was a toilet bowl that emptied through a hole in the wall, and that hole was frighteningly near where the cook got water for our meals.
My new friends and I spent four days on this boat. Each day the food got worse and the space became more limited with each new passenger. Breakfast and dinner consisted of river water boiled with rice and milk powder, with a side of stale cracker-bread-doughnuts. The lunch was rice with mystery meat. Almost everyone was sick within 24 hours. I somehow managed to make it to day four without issues. Thank you, iron stomach.
I would like to direct you now to the second picture. Those are my sleeping conditions. I was constantly in contact with at least four other poeple, at times seven. Anyone that knows me, knows I have a very large and very serious space bubble. I am not a fan of physical contact, especially with strangers, especially when it is ninety degrees. I didn´t sleep particularly well at night, beeing kneed in ribs or elbowed in the face. Let me clearly illustrate this situation with an anecdote. On afternoon number three, I was taking my daily nap and awoke to a girl sitting in hammock on my face. I screamed, naturally. The girl´s mother looked at me, laughed, and left her daughter sitting on my face. Knowing I still had a day left, and I was greatly outnumbered by Peruvians, I restrained from lifting this girl out of her hammock and throwing her overboard. I simply switched directions so that my head was no longer under her ass. Problem solved. However, this lack of space got to me on the last morning. I had a panic attack. I was trapped in my hammock. I had someone´s knees in my back and someone´s hips in my chest, my legs were pinched between two adults and the girl was on my feet. I couldn´t move. I hiperventilated for a few minutes and then struggled out of my bed, waking up everyone else in the process. There was nowhere to go, though. I spent half an hour standing next to my hammock until there was a space to squeeze through to get out on the deck.
The worst part of all, was the livestock. The bulls were harmless, despite all their shit out in the front of the boat. The roosters crowing all night was tolerable and actually a lot like Chachapoyas. It was the pigs that were the problem. They would squeal during the night. I´m talking about a blood curdling scream. I thought either they were being killed or they were about to kill us. Very unsettling.
My five new friends and I elected to get off the lancha a day early in Manaus and hop on a speed boat to take us to Iquitos in an hour. Well worth the extra five bucks.
Lesson Learned #7: Lancha = death trap disguised as a boat. Also, BRING YOUR OWN FOOD.