Right after talking with the tourist office and buying our boat tickets, we decided to head back to the hotel and rest. We had just started down the street when a creepy looking guy on a motorcycle, who had been parked on a curb beside the tourist office, started his motor and began following very closely behind us. When I looked back it was super obvious that he had his sights set on us (though, as usual, we weren't carrying anything valuable along with us - just a small backpack with our Lonely Planet and Mandrew's slimy handkerchiefs). Before long, we noticed a little shop across the street with two big guys stocking the display, and we quickly crossed to duck inside. We pretended to look around for a few minutes but when we looked outside he was still there, staring at us maliciously. I smiled back as if to say “ok, we are on to you, it’s not going to happen so move on!” but he just stared back. I went back inside and told the store guys what was going on - they agreed we should stay in the store, and found us a place to wait where we couldn’t be seen from the street. We ended up having to wait over 20 minutes before the guy finally gave up! It was brutal how obvious he was - what the hell was his game? The storeowner said he was shocked by it, especially in this part of town, but we had been feeling a bit of an unfriendly vibe since we arrived. For the rest of the day we left the backpack at the hotel and stuck to busy streets.
Coca to Nuevo Rocafuerte
After grabbing some food (rice and chicken for Mandrew, rice and beans for me), unloading some cargo (including a couple mattresses and a bicycle) and cramming on some new people, we continued on our way. From there on, the boat seemed to stop around every river bend to unload people or stuff, and bottomed out around every two bends. When the sun went down and we couldn’t see anything anymore we figured we would probably be spending the night on the boat. The load was finally lightening so we were able to stretch out our cramped legs after about 11pm. At around the same time we came to another town that looked reasonably sized, but of course, we were still a "few hours" away from NR. We may have previously mentioned, in passing, our general "Latino time" rule of thumb: (estimated time) x (two to three). In this respect, then, a "ten hour" boat ride taking only eighteen hours could be considered a relative success.
NR was pretty much as expected: a small river town with only a couple main streets running parallel to the river, and stretching a little ways along the bank. There were a couple of small stores, two hostels and even one place with wifi (though we never got to use it). Food was a little weird – there were a few little comedors with the usual two or three dollar rice and meat plate, but you had to arrive right when the food was ready or else they didn’t feel like serving you… That was a little weird for us especially since we were staying in the hostel attached to one comedor (the Chimborazo). One time, after denying us a meal, they proceeded to serve the next guy (a local) who went in, another time they told us to come back in 30 minutes, but when we did they were closed, and another time that we went they were angry with us for eating there and slammed our plates down when they served us… not such a nice vibe!
We ended up finding two other backpackers also looking to head into Yasuni and set things up with a local guide. Upon returning to NR after a few action-packed days of watching pink river dolphins, giant river otters, caiman, and countless birds, we heard some more rumours that a barca would be leaving Pantoja the following Sunday or Monday, giving us five more days to kill. We thought it would make more sense to cross into Peru and wait in Pantoja, though we had been told that there was nothing in Pantoja (no stores, no comedors, no hostel, etc.) so we weren't sure what to do.
Needless to say, that was our last night in Nuevo Rocafuerte. We decided to find a way to get to Pantoja the next morning (as long as it wasn't in a red boat). Expecting that Pantoja wouldn't have food for us we stocked up on groceries that night so we could be ready to hitch a ride on a whim in the morning (after getting our Ecuador exit stamps, of course). That evening we made some more friends, Diana, a travelling (since 2007) Colombian jeweller and midwife in training, Ernesto, an Argentinian fisherman/surfer dude, and Stefano, a funny Italian guy who made us pasta for dinner. Diana had used her gypsy skills to acquire a place to camp in someone’s yard by their abandoned house, so the five of us hung out by a campfire and ate some strange fruits and vegetables that Diana had picked from the trees that day. Later, Andrew and Stefano picked up a few beers and Ferrero Rocher chocolates to share. It was a very fun evening.
The ride to Pantoja was quick, maybe 40 minutes, and from the the second we stepped off the boats we loved the place! We first saw the military buildings on a high riverbank just outside of town, nicely groomed and landscaped. And then we came to the town itself, a bit smaller than NR, but so much prettier! Trees and green everywhere, and every single person smiling and welcoming us to the town. Such a drastic contrast to the brown, dirty and much less friendly Nuevo Rocafuerte. And, despite what we'd been told, there was indeed a hostel and a number of restaurants - we'd stocked up on food for nothing!
But when we found out that Nick, Marcos and Piotr had found themselves a guide into the jungle for 3 days, 2 nights for $130 total (less than half of what we'd paid from NR), we decided that we should consider doing the same.
The best part of this trip was the people we were with. We had all met at different points along the way but ended up spending the next leg of our trip to Iquitos with the same group. There wasn't anything anyone had that wasn't shared. We were like a family, in our own little way.
Diana is from Colombia but has spent much of her life travelling throughout South America. She makes enough money to get by through selling her hand-made jewellery and clothing, playing the clarinet, singing, and who knows what else, and she is one year away from becoming a fully trained mid-wife in Brazil. She is extremely generous and patient. She doesn't speak much english so it was a bit tough to communicate at first, but in no time we were chatting like old friends because she was willing to help us by speaking slowly in spanish and adjusting her talk to our level, and teaching us a lot as well. Ernesto is a super fit phys-ed teacher who always has a fishing rod in his hands, talks super fast and with a think Argentinian accent ("y" and "ll" sound like "dj") and has the same birthday as me. Stefano is a very Italian guy who's passionate about his pasta and pizza and always seems to be in search of authentic Italian cuisine (though he'll probably never find it in South America) and who is striving to experience jungle life from the perspective of the indigenous people.
Pantoja to Iquitos
One thing that was definitely tough to handle, however, was the amount of garbage simply thrown overboard. It seems to just be the way of life here, but it's completely obsurd! Every morning someone would sweep the deck, working their way toward the back of the boat where we were stationed. Once they had all the plastic wrappers, bottles, and other garbage in a neat pile, they'd simply sweep it all off the side and into the river. Even in towns, where there's an actual garbage bin people use, when it gets too full it's just carried to the riverbank and dumped in! Absolutely crazy.
Finally, after an interesting couple weeks along the Rio Napo, our final boat pulled into the harbour along the Amazon River at Iquitos. We'd survived to trip and were ready to celebrate with some cold beers and non-poisonous food, but first things first - a shower!