Book Travel

Crossing picket lines through Tarapoto and Yurimaguas to reach the Amazon


I was trying to make my way to the Huallaga River so I got several buses for short journeys and on one of the last ones, a Peruvian guy told me to go with another guy that was heading to Tarapoto so I had people looking out for me who knew where I was trying to go.

The last bus took us to the first line of protestors so we got off and tried to reason with them. One of my bus friends said ‘this is my friend Jen, she is a tourist will you let her through?’. They said no. There were people sleeping on the road and fires were burning. I thought we were going to need to sleep on the road with them.

Luckily another bus passenger knew a way through the jungle so we cut through making our way through streams and avoiding branches to get to the road on the other side. 

My new friend Den offered to carry my backpack for me and I duly let him. We walked to the road to Tarapoto and he said ‘One question – what do you have in here?’. I said clothes and he pulled a face about it because it was heavy. He showed me to a good hotel and said he was going to stay in a room downstairs.

I said fine and then he repeated it again. I think he either thought I was going to stay with or at least visit him but he gave up in the end and left. So maybe his intentions weren’t so pure after all, and it seems that neither was the other guy that helped me.

The next day I went for a wander around the ‘city of palms’ and bumped into the other guy who I will call Ben. I asked him where a good place for breakfast would be and he asked me out for lunch. I said ok and then I went for the breakfast in the market which was great.

I then went to the supermarket for supplies and holed up in my room to avoid this date. I felt bad but I was always worried about saying no. Hopefully he put it down to my bad Spanish. 

The woman and her son who ran the hostel knew about my situation so they would let me know whether I could get through the blockades or not. Basically, Peruvian people helped me no end during this portion of the trip and I am grateful for that. Although I would expect nothing else, as people like helping others no matter where in the world you may find yourself.

So I was trapped in Tarapoto for a few days, the hotel had Fox TV which made everything better as I binge watched Friends as well as some random films whilst reading crap in bed.

It is so nice to watch TV when you’re travelling as I hadn’t watched anything for months. This was this was before smartphones, iPads and wifi so it was either Fox, DVDs or Spanish telenovelas. 

Also worth a mention but not really apparent to an insider is that TP is the first port for drug smuggling as coca paste is send from here to Colombia for processing. You can reach Colombia by boat from here as well as by flying. Colombia then supplies the USA. Difficult to fight a ‘War on Drugs’ when your citizens are desperate to shove it up their noses.


After four days the path to Yurimaguas was as clear as it would ever be. The lady from the hotel took me to the bus station on a motorcycle and she palmed me off onto a Peruvian/German couple. I didn’t speak to them that much but we became a threesome for the journey.

This was good for me as it helped to have people to cross the picket lines with and in between pickets we took various tuk-tuk taxis and eventually got to Yurimaguas. They also negotiated a good deal at a hotel off the Yurimaguas square and we went to the boat to pay for our tickets together. It was leaving the next day.

On the boat the top deck seemed to only be tourists and the bottom deck was for people travelling for a purpose instead of pleasure, so we must have paid more. The fact that fewer people were travelling due to the strikes was good for us as we bonded well.

I met a Dutch guy called Daniel who was travelling with a British girl, three American girls who were in the Peace Corps and another Dutch guy who was travelling alone. The Dutch guy and British girl had flown from Tarapoto and then hired a cabin on the boat. Pussies.

The great thing about being on the boat was that they served you hot meals downstairs three times a day. The solo Dutch guy and I got stoned at the top of the deck and then got the munchies and bought tuna and crackers from the ship shop. We then played a game of chess whilst giggling hysterically. The crackers looked like shit but they tasted great.

I chatted to one of the American Peace Corps girls about her charity work and she said that her work was to encourage Peruvians to eat healthily as she was a health volunteer. I thought that sounded like a patronising load of bullshit.

Bailey, one of the other girls told me that there are areas where the Peace Corps send volunteers and advise them to take the pill. This is for when they get raped, not if, when. 

It was an enjoyable time on the boat over the three days, going in and out of the different ports along the river. They delivered bananas and different things as this was the primary purpose of the boat. The men on the boat caught some huge catfish, the same length as a person.

I had no idea they could get that big but there are many stories of giant creatures in the jungle. I made friends with the Dutch guy Daniel and we said we would go travelling together when we got to Iquitos as he didn’t like the British girl very much.

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