by Eugene T. Aldridge, Jr.
I started out at noon on June 27, 1987 on one of the greatest adventures of my life, going to the Amazon River Iquitos, Peru to collect tropical fish, by leaving for Dulles Airport. The first stop was Miami where I was to meet the other members of the group. My flight did not leave until 2:15 pm but I wanted to get to the airport with enough time to get something to eat, check in, pick up my seat assignment and get out to the mid-field terminal that United Airlines has at Dulles. I got something to eat at the snack bar as the sit-down restaurants would have taken too long. My carry-on luggage was a small bag containing a camera , a 28mm wide angle lens, two pair of underpants (to cover potential problems during 22 hours of flying or sitting in airports) and three pair of socks. All the rest was checked in a large cardboard box with two styros or in a medium size duffel bag. This included another camera, 20 rolls of film and other clothes and extras.
The flight left Dulles on time on time but it was six hours later that I landed in Miami. A normal flight takes about two and a half hours. We got to Miami on time only to get caught in the edges of a terrible thunderstorm. We were sent way out to sea in a holding pattern and were told that the airport had been closed because of the storm. After circling for about an hour the pilot told us that the airport had reopened for fifteen minutes but had closed again and he was going to have to land the plane somewhere to pick up fuel. From past experiences I knew the situation was not serious but the plane could not continue to circle for an extended period. We landed at West Palm Beach Airport for refueling and then sat for an hour. A little after 7:00 we left West Palm and arrived in Miami at 8:00 without further trouble.
A Sky Cap with a wheelchair picked me and my luggage up and took me to the Faucett Airlines ticket counter to check in get reissued tickets. Originally we were supposed to go directly to Iquitos from Miami and our tickets had been issued accordingly. However, two weeks before leaving we were advised that we would have to go though Lima. The Sky Cap took me to a closed counter and went behind to find a clerk. One arrived and asked me what I wanted. I told him and he took me away from all the hustle, told me to wait and he would be back in a few minutes with my tickets. There were people in droves waiting in line for tickets and seat assignments so the place was a madhouse. The Sky Cap needed the wheelchair so he found me a chair and left. In about 15 minutes the Faucett clerk returned with my new tickets and baggage checks and asked me to wait until 10:30 when someone would pick me up. It was now 9:00.
I did not see any members of my group, so I decided to I should get something to eat at a nearby snack bar. I ended up with an oversized hot dog and some lemonade. I took my time and watched all the traffic going to the Faucett counter. A few minutes after I finished eating I saw John O’Malley, one member of our group. I followed him to the ticket counter and, as there were no chairs, sat on the floor with many others. Shortly all of our group members had arrived except Paul Loiselle. There were ten of us going: Chuck Davis, Lee Finley, John and Jay Stankevitch, Gian Padovani, Wayne Liebel, John O’Malley, George Fear, Paul Loiselle and me. I watched all the carry-on luggage while they stood in line. At this point a young lady representing Holbrook Travel arrived to see if she could to see is she could do anything for us. During this time Paul arrived. With an hour before the airplane was to start boarding we went to a nearby bar for a drink. I had a Lite beer and took my time drinking it as I did not want to spend all night running to the john.
Close to boarding time we walked down to the gate. Luckily it wasn’t far from the bar. I found a chair though most of them were full. At about 11:30 the started to board but since I had seat 2C, I was one of the last to get on the plane. The plane was a 727-200 with some 200 seats, all filled. The plane was so full that they asked whether someone would give up their seat. Not understanding Spanish, I asked Paul what happened later. I was after midnight when we finally got off the ground. After we had all settled we were given drinks and a light dinner. They had NO beer but the alcohol was free. For dinner we had a slice each of cotta-type salami, turkey and cheese with some coleslaw. After eating I tried in vain to get to sleep. Part was my fault for eating right before trying to sleep, part was that the seat size and foot room were smaller than I was used to. Finally, behind me there were and man and wife with three teenage kids. The woman had been very loud telling the others where to put the luggage in the overhead racks with particular emphasis on where to put the one with the medicine. Then to make everything VERY NICE, every fifteen minutes or so one of them would get up to go to the bathroom or rummage around in the overhead compartments for something for the rest of the night. To keep from completely going nuts and doing something I should not do, I started to to write notes, in the dark, on what had happened so far.
A little after 3:00 am the plane landed in Panama City for 45 minutes to refuel. We were allowed to get off the plane if we wanted. A few did though I did not. Close to 5:00 we were given a breakfast of croissant with slices of ham and cheese, a small sweet roll, a fruit cup and coffee. At this point I switched my watch from Daylight Savings Time to Standard Time. We land in Lima at about 5:10. I was picked up in a wheelchair and waited for a long time for my luggage. I was then told that some of the luggage had been off-loaded in Miami as the plane was too heavy. Both of my checked pieces and one of John O’Malley’s were in the off-loaded group. We were told that it would arrive in a few minutes as if had been loaded onto a cargo plane that left Miami at the same time we did. Well it didn’t get there. We were met by a charming lady from a local travel agency acting for Holbrook. She took care of all the running around associated with my missing bags then filled out the required forms for me. John and I had to leave our passports and papers with her so our luggage could be collected and passed through customs. She took us to the other end of the airport and got us seat assignments for the flight to Iquitos.
This time the plane was a 737, and I had seat 1C. Luckily no one was in seats A and B so was able to get some pictures of the Andes mountains. The window was a little dirty and the sky slightly overcast so the pictures are not the best. The Andes are a range of mountains, most of them being well over 10,000 feet high. In some parts there are plateaus at 15,000 feet. During the two and a half hour flight from Lima to Iquitos, we played Bingo with a top prize of a ticket on any Faucett flight. I am sure there were limitations on the prize but didn’t hear any. The numbers were called in both English and Spanish so you had to be careful and listen. The flight attendants on all the Faucett flights were both men and women and could speak English very well so getting any questions answered was easy. I was expecting Iquitos to be a small "back-water town" of maybe 5,000 people and was quite surprised to find out that this little "back-water town" was actually a city of 500,000. Oil had been discovered in the late 1960’s on the east side of the Andes, near Ecuador’s border, making Peru self-sufficient for petroleum products. The oil production and all that goes with it caused Iquitos to grow to this size in a little over ten years.
After landing there was no wheelchair so I slowly walked 200 or so feet to the terminal. My legs showed the effects of 22 hours in airplanes and airports. Those with luggage picked it up and we were then met by people from Amazon Camp, the group taking us on the river. We drove through Iquitos to the waterfront. The streets were in TERRIBLE with all kinds and sizes of potholes, some big enough to swallow a car. Luckily we didn’t hit any. We saw a lot of cars, trucks, and taxis. Most of these were three-wheeled bicycles with double seats for passengers and little one or two cylinder lawnmower motors. They acted like they were driving big Mack trucks. The traffic was terrible with no one minding the lights or stop signs.
On arriving at the river, I looked down a 200-foot bank made up of rocks, logs and dripping water. I figured I would wait for everyone to get down as we had arrived at the same time as two other Amazon Camp buses. I was told to come on and that I’d be help down. I had a man on each arm and a third telling me where to put my feet. Under the circumstances I made it down without any trouble. The ten of us from the U.S. got on the M/V Margarita at about 10:00 am. At this point John and I asked about our missing luggage. He said he would do what he could but couldn’t make any promises. He told us it would cost $200 for a speedboat to find us on the river and deliver the luggage. That was too expensive for me and others who hadn’t lost their luggage offered us things to wear. If my luggage was really lost, everything but the passport could be replaced so what the heck!!! I found out later that we were talking to the company "worker bees" not the bosses and was sure that someone would hold on to the passport.
We had been advised before the trip that there was no real need to change dollars to Peruvian money since dollars were accepted everywhere. I took $70 in ones and another $75 in fives figuring it would give me plenty of small bills. At this point we discovered that we would have another passenger, Pat, a charming young lady from the company who would take pictures for advertising materials. Some of the group were a little unhappy but there was nothing that could be done at that point so we just went along.
Close to Noon we started down the Amazon River with our first stop just outside Iquitos at the Naval Base. It was necessary for the Navy to check our passports and approve some collecting papers. Luckily I remembered my passport number and it and my name were put on a sheet of paper along with the others. A company representative that got off the boat and went to a shack where a Naval Officer was stationed to have our papers approved. In a few minutes the officer in the shack came down and got on board so I was expecting trouble. However, in a couple of minutes I saw him leave with a piece of raw red meat. A little further down the river we dropped off the company man. No we really set off down the river where we were to spend the first night.
At this point Alfredo, the company trip leader, introduced himself, the "Tour Captain", Manuelo the "Boat Captain", Moises the Upper Deck Steward, Maria the Cook and the four guides. We were given a few rules for the road and told how were to get our drinks and be charged for them. Beer was one dollar for a 16-ounce bottle and soft drinks in the old-style 7-ounce bottles were fifty cents. It was a local Peruvian beer and tasted a little sweet to me. The M/V Margarita is a typical Amazon River tour boat, 76 feet long and 21 feet wide. The lower deck is used for embarking and disembarking, storage for the ship’s gear and small boats. There was a sign on the lower deck indicating that no shoes were allowed on the upper deck, only flip-flops or shower thongs. An exception was made for me for which I was very grateful as my brace had become necessary for me. The upper deck has four cabins with an upper and lower bunk and two cabins with three bunks. The bathroom facilities are communal with three toilet shower combinations and three sinks. The rest of the main deck is open. We selected our cabin mates. Paul Loiselle and I shared a cabin as we had on a previous trip to Costa Rica. Gratefully Paul took the top bunk so I would not have to climb. There wasn’t much room between bunks, maybe two feet, so I couldn’t sit up straight.
We are now going down the river at a fairly good clip of eight to ten knots. We passed by the place where the Napo River comes into Amazon. The Napo is a large, black water river which shows very clearly coming well out into the Amazon. Until you see these rivers you have no concept of the size of them. The Amazon River at this point is roughly two miles wide and some of its tributaries are just as wide. We stopped for the night at a small village called Oran one the river and tied up close to the bank, no more than five or six feet. The villagers all came down to see us and the boat. The crew seemed to know all of them so there was a lot of give and take talking. For dinner we had Pacu in a very good, mild cajun-type sauce, a local short-grain rice, a salad and fruit for dessert. The fish had been cut into one to two-inch cubes was very good. I wish I had gotten the recipe for the sauce, it was that good. It would also have been fun to try at home. We had some variety of fish at least once a day for the whole trip. Though most of the group got off to visit or to go for a walk through the forest, I did not go ashore, as the bank was 15 to 18 feet up over rocks and mud. I later learned that the walk was pretty rough even if I had gotten up the bank. Some of the men stayed on shore for a long time playing a game up on a field that I couldn’t see. Later on they had a celebration with the natives. The small children and most of the girls and women stayed on the shore by the boat until way after dark. They were quite good-looking, reminding me of the Western American Indians. Paul told me they were from the same stock coming out of South China ages ago and settled most of Polynesia. The young girls were quite nice looking and in my mind stand up to any of our girls until their late teens or early twenties but the hard life they lead takes its toll early. Most of the homes I saw were up off the ground on piles, with what looked like log floors and thatch walls and roofs. Most had a covered proch and maybe a window but with no glass or screen. Some of the houses were fancier than others but nothing like we’re used to. From what I could see, most were neat and clean.
Everything was quite lush and green giving evidence of a great deal of rain and moisture. We are now in one of the largest rain forests in the world covering about 2.5 million square miles, equal to the United States west of the Mississippi River. Every minute the Amazon River system discharges enough water into the Atlantic Ocean to supply New York City for nine years. The Amazon River is 4,000 miles long and includes a system of 200 major tributaries. Seventeen of these are more than 1,000 miles long and ten discharge more water than the Mississippi. The mosquitoes come out about an hour before sunset and stay for a couple of hours so there was an urgent need for mosquito repellent. Luckily, someone shared with me. Certain types of mosquitoes carry two strains of malaria so you have to be prepared. Any doctor can give you a prescription for malaria pills and something for the ever present and Montezuma’s Revenge. We were advised to eat only food on the boat, as it was carefully prepared, and to drink ONLY bottled water. The boat had water that came from the local Iquitos Coca-Cola bottling plant. Alfredo told us they did big business in bottled water. They would take the local water and do everything to it: filter, boil, chlorinate and purify it for use in soda. The bottled water tasted even better than the water we get in Arlington.
About a quarter of a mile upriver from where we stayed for the night there was a small, black water stream coming into the river. It looked like a nice place to go and collect fish, but we were told there was not enough time to go there. At about 10:00 pm I went to bed smelling terrible from sweat and mosquito repellent. I am very reluctant to go around much at night without my shoes so I just went to bed stinking.
In the morning the air was HEAVY and wet even without rain. It burned off as the sun came up. Very early we left Oran and went to the stream we had seen the night before to fill up shower and toilet tanks on the roof of the upper deck. Then we went down to the Apayacu River and tied up at about 9:00 am. We broke up into groups and went into various small streams to collect fish. I went with John S., Jay S. and Paul. Were in a 14 to 15 foot aluminum boat with a 25 horsepower outboard motor. We ended up in a stream about 45 minutes away from the main boat. The water was a little high so some of the tree roots were submerged, providing plenty of places for fish to hide. There were broken trees at the mouth of the stream and the water had a pH of 6.1 and a conductivity of 28 microsiemens (a factor relating to hardness). After going up the stream about 300 yards, the pH dropped to 5.8 and conductivity to between 8 and 9 microsiemens. We netted and kept pencilfish, several species of hatchetfish and several species of Apistogramma at each spot we collected. Our guide caught a beautiful Morpho butterfly that was as big as the palm of my hand. The top of the wings were dark sky blue with black edging and the bottom of the wings were paisley. We ended up back at the Margarita in time for lunch. After lunch the group went back to different streams but I stayed on the boat as I wasn’t feeling well. Sufficient fish of edible size were caught by various group members during the morning and afternoon trips to provide food for several days. Included in the catch were Pacu, Red-Belly Piranha, Cichla ocellaris and a big rainbow colored bass, one of which weighed well over five pounds.
A night trip was planned to go and look for Cayman. Those going were divided up into three boats and they left with flashlights. They went off in different directions so as to have a better chance at seeing Cayman. I don’t know whether they are endangered but special permits are required to get them out of Peru and into this country. In two hours the boats returned. All had seen Cayman but some only briefly. Chuck Davis came back with a baby, about ten inches long. After everyone looked at it, took pictures, and played with it he released it. While the others were away I took a shower and put on some loaned fresh clothes. It felt good to get rid of all the sweat and bug repellent. At about 10:30 I went to bed and slept very well.
We woke up to a steady rain called a "female rain" by the natives. A "male rain" is short, perhaps lasting ten minutes. The plan for the day day called for us to go to the Madre Selva Forest Reserve and Lake Atun Cocha for lunch, returning in time for dinner. The trip in small boats would have taken more than five hours. The way it was raining none of us wanted to go. It would have been nice but the rain made it out of the question for me; I didn’t want to get wet. It rained all morning and very hard at times. During this time Lee Finley caught about fifteen Red-Belly Piranhas. After Noon it cleared up so we made plans to go to some local sites.
After Lunch I went with Paul, John S., Gian (John) P. and Alfredo to a new lake-type area off of the Apayacu River. Paul and John S. went ashore to observe and collect specimens for an hour. The rest of us went out into the middle of the lake and fished with rods and reels. Alfredo was the only one to catch anything: six Cichla ocellaris (10 to 12"), two Chocolate Cichlids (3" and 6") and two Red-belly Piranha (6"). At the agreed time we picked Paul and John. Another group stayed close to the M/V Margarita and using one of the small boats under paddle power went up a small black water stream. They caught a dozen twelve to fourteen inch plecos. After everyone saw and photographed them they were given to the local kids that were always around the boat. Some of the kids were no more than two or three years old and those as young as six or seven were fishing. At this point I took a shower. Alfredo had told John O. that Maria would wash some clothes for us if we wanted. We both did so I got some things ready for her.
In the late afternoon, after everyone had returned from the various trips, a great deal of trading went on. A dirty T-shirt with any sort of design on it was worth a used canoe paddle. New paddles took a little more. Since I didn’t have any T-shirts, Chuck gave me one with a St. Patrick’s Day party logo from a North Jersey beer joint so I could get a paddle. Mine was well used and is a super reminder of the trip. In the end we all got paddles and some even bought local woodcarvings. After dinner the trading went on. Another group also went out looking for Cayman. They were successful but brought none back. My paddle is now dried out and was been painted with poly wood sealer so it will not crack. They are made out of a type of rose wood and are okay when they are new or wet, but when they dry they crack and break up. The water around the boat is full of Prochodilus insignus (red-striped) and P. taeniurus (silver siders, no real color). There were also many Hachetfish. After spending a good part of the day in the sun, I went to bed at 11:00 and got a good night’s sleep.
In the morning, we left the Apayacu River to return to the Amazon River and then went up the Oraza River and stopped. We were to go in the small boats across the river to see birds and water lilies. There was a great deal of walking to be done so I stayed on the boat. It would have been fun to go but I had to be careful not to get my choes wet. The left at about 9:00. The bank at which we were tied was 12 to 15 feet hight and it was clear that the water had been 12 feet or more. The bank also had many catfish holes, many of them six inches in diameter or more. I was borrowing clothes from the half the group so I could at least put fresh clothes on daily. The half not helping wore a size too small for me. Lee Finley was good enough to loan me 5 rolls of film, so at least I could take some pictures. I spent most of the time getting my notes up to date. In the three days we were on the Amazon and Apayacu Rivers the water level hs dropped 18 inches and it showed on all banks. Alfredo brought back with him a big blooming lily. We kept it on the table for a couple days and watched beetles come out of the open flower. Everyone returned to the boat at about 10:30 so we continued up on the river toward Oran, the village where we spent the first night. It took three hours to get there.
There were two activities planned for the rest of the afternoon One was a four or five mile walk through the jungle with some fish collecting; the other was a small boat trip up the little black water stream we had seen on Sunday. Chuck, John O., Paul and I went in two boats with Teddy and Hernando as crew and Sandigo as a guide. We went several miles upstream and pushed and pulled our way through patches of river junk, cane and Morning Glory. We went by a lot of rain forest jungle so I got to see and be close to the jungle without actually walking in it. Along the shore we caught and kept Whiptail, Banjo and other catfish, Apistos in breeding color. We also returned Hatchetfish, Pikes, Piranhas, shrimp and freshwater crabs. No Corys were found. The consensus of the crew and guide was that we were about two weeks too early for Corys. While we were in a clearing beyond the river junk we saw a large bird that we found out later, after looking in a bird book, was a Opisthovomos hoatzn, a large scavenger. I was quite majestic with its black feathers and long neck. The noise it made was hard to believe, much like the honk of a car horn. On returning to the M/V Margarita we had to push and pull the boats through the same junk. . On the return trip it started to rain and we all got soaked. My shoes got waterlogged but good. Before I forget, I should mention that my cane came in very handy in loading and unloading the small boats when we close to the big boat. I made for a nice extra arm (about three feet longer) with a hook to grab with. It was much appreciated by all. I was also given ALL kinds of help getting in and out of the small boats. About 5:30 I took a shower. With my shoes as wet as they were it took about 30 minutes to get them back on.
After dinner a small group, Wayne, John S. and John O. went out to find Angelfish. Wayne was trying to get as many different Angels as he could from different areas and was trying to figure out what way to cut or nip the fins so they could be separated when all in one tank. The rest of us stayed on board and settled the affairs of the world. We spent some time with Alfredo talking about ways to improve the service offered by the M/V Margarita. We suggested providing tanks or vats for fish that we had needed and didn’t have or other types of specialized items depending on what type of group was using the boat. It was all a friendly give and take. We had been told by Holbrook that there would be tanks to hold the fish but there were none. But this wasn’t Alfredo’s fault. Had we known, we would have arranged our luggage to hold small plastic tubs. Considering what I saw coming from Miami, I could have gotten a 50 gallon tub down without any trouble. I went to bed about 11:00 and kept a pair of socks on to keep my feet warm and dry.
We left early in the morning toward Marupa Island and the village of Marupa on the Amazon River in the vicinity of the mouth of the Napo River. It took nearly an hour to get my shoes on in the morning, they were really wet. Shortly we left the big boat in the small boats to go up the Napo River. The M/V Margarita continued on toward Marupo. We asked the local natives if we could collect some fish and after a lot of talking they said NO they did not want outsiders taking their fish. So we went up a side stream up into a lake-appearing body of water. I do not know if it was a lake or just a wide place in a river. We found several good places where fish should have been, but there were none. We also saw some of the side effects of the recent earthquake in Ecuador. Something had come down and took the whole side of the mountain with it, breaking and pushing everything flat to ground. Mud, rocks and trees had been pushed down into the water. The edges of the lake were a mess with all the junk. This was why the water in all the rivers and streams wwas full of so much junk and debris. We went to another stream. Here we used the seine and caught several fish we had never seen before. The seine was set up in a little stream (about half as big as Four Mile Run) then the others went up about 200 feet to flush fish down to the seine. It was not easy as there was a lot of cover over the stream, making it difficult to even move. After picking the seine clean we packed up and returned to the M/V Margarita, now anchored at Marupa Village. To save my few clean clothes, I had started the day out with the wet clothes from yesterday. By the time we got back to the boat, everything was dry but my shoes. The top layer of them got dry but not the insides. We could not have asked for nicer weather with the sun out all the time and hot.
The Marupa Village is not on the main part of the Amazon River, as it is only about 150 feet wide at this point. On getting on board the M/V Margarita, I found my luggage and one of the Amazon Camp owner partners, Al. I thanked him very, very much for bringing my clothes. We all spent a lot of time talking and he told us what was to happen the next day. My things were carried up to my cabin, so I went up and started to unpack. Customs had gone through all of my things and missing was my micro recorder, blank tapes, a flashlight and a knit shirt. There was really nothing I could do but complain, which I did. There is no way that something like that could be proved; luckily, my other camera and film were there. The only item that was very expensive, besides the camera, was the recorder, which cost $100. I took the tewo styros and the cardboard box down to the lower deck and left them for use holding fish. With no tanks or tubs, they were urgently needed to hold fish. I took an early shower, including washing my hair for the first time, and put on my own clothes.
I wanted to have Maria was the borrowed clothes, but they said NO. So I just returned it as it was, dirty. Most went into the village. From what I could see, it was quite nice. A few clapboard buildings and a few houses still with thatch. With the river bank being about 20 feet up, the houses were not very far off the ground. Al left in the late afternoon to return to Iquitos in a speed boat with a 150 horsepower motor. Once started, it could really move out, doing 40 knots without trouble. After dinner, a local school teacher was brought on board by Alfredo. Her name was Julie and she was quite nice-looking. She understood a LITTLE English, about as much as several of us understood Spanish. John P. and Alfredo provided the necessary interpretations. She left in about 45 minutes. She was interesting to talk to. We found out on Friday from Al that Peru requires all teachers to spend two years in Amazonia and pays their salaries. All the villages have schools up to a 6th grade equivalend. The village must provide a free house equal to local housing and provide them with food. There are regional schools above the village schools. If the teacher feels a child has ttheability to go on, he or she must leave home to go, at no cost to the family. As the culture is so family-oriented, not too many leave for further education. We also learned a little about local government here. Their equal to a mayor is called a lieutenant governor, then the town elders and the teacher. The teacher is the main recorder after the lieutenant governor. Being able to read and write makes a teacher a very important asset to the local villages. After the teacher left, some of the boys went back into town. The clothes came back from Maria. About 10:30 p.m., I went to bed and slept very well and happy.
At 10:30 a.m., we left the Marupa Village for Iquitos. The trip as far as the naval base was uneventful. This time, the naval officer came down to the boat, I assume to check on what we had caught and would be taking out of the country. He left the boat and, about 30 minutes later, we docked at the Amazon Camp pier. I left everything I planned to leave with Chuck in a locked cabin for future use. I told him to do what he pleased with it. Al came down with several other company people to meet us and get us registered at a local hotel to spend the night. While we were walking toward the base of the hill we had to climb, I asked Al if they had been told about my being handicapped. He said yes, they had been advised and were prepared. He then asked me how I had made out and was I treated right by the boat crew. I told him I was treated very well and could not have asked for a better time. I told him that I was not able to go on the walking trips, though I would have liked to, but I went on the boat trips. During this short walk, I also asked Al if they had gotten our passports. He said no, but they would call Lima when they reached the office. They helped me to the top the same way as going down. With my cane in my left hand and someone holding my right, and someone else periodically grabbing my belt and lifting. Whoever it was must have been talk and strong, because lifting 185 pounds with one hand is not easy. I did not see what it was, although Al and his partner were the only ones big and tall enough to have done it. After getting to the top, we walked across the street to the Hotel Tuistos, where we were to spend the night. Some got single rooms while others shared a room. I shared a room with Paul. We were told to be at the company offices around the corner at 5:00 p.m. We went to our room, where Paul took a quick shower and I washed my hands and face. Our room looked right out on the officers’ quarters for the local army detachment. There was a man on the door with a machine gun, so I felt it best not to take pictures out the window. Many countries get very upset when you take pictures of their military facilities and airports. We went downstairs to meet the others before walking around the corner to the company offices. It was roughly two blocks. I was the last one to be seated. Someone in the group remembered the name of the company the girl meeting us in Lima had on her name tag. That company was called and they said the same girl would meet us on Saturday with the passports. We both thanked them very much for making the call.
The head of the fish department of the Iquitos Institute was introduced, then he gave us a short talk in Spanish about the local fish. John P. did a very good job acting as interpreter. I equate the Institute to a college or small university. After the talk, we went to the Institute and saw a super collection of local fish the department head had collected in the last couple of days just for us to see. After about 56 minutes, we returned to the hotel. We were told to be downstairs at 7:00 for the "Captain’s Dinner". I was so beat that I just washed my face again and rested, while Paul went out and shopped. We missed going to the local exporter that was on our schedule, as we were running late. Had we left the Marupa Village at 7:00 a.m. like we were supposed to, instead of 10:30, we would have had enough time.
At 7:00 p.m., we walked across the street and down a flight of stairs to a restaurant for dinner. We all had the recommended fish dinner. It was quite good but did not compare with Maria’s cooking. The fish was a little overdone for me, but the rest of the meal was pretty good. During dinner, Alfredo, who sat next to me, was very subdued. He would only talk when asked a direct question. The cause must have been being with the big bosses, as he was not that way on the boat. As we were getting ready to leave, those of us leaving for home the next day were told to be downstairs at 8:00 a.m. ready to go. Paul and I went back to our room as the stores were closed, so no shopping was possible. Some of the others went out on the town. The room was nice, considering where we were. The air conditioner was a problem and took several calls before we got it to work. Finally it started to work, but a few hours later it froze up and was solid ice by morning. I took a shower and went to bed. We found out later that the room only cost $11 a night.
We were up at 6:00 a.m. and got ourselves ready for a long day. The sign on the hotel restaurant door said it would open at 6:30, so we went downstairs at about that time. It did not until 7:00, and I am not sure if they really wanted to open it then. We had been told by Alfredo that the papaya juice was alright to have, so we both had it and toast while Paul ahd tea and I had coffee. The toast was hard and dry, not like we are used to, and it was necessary to cut the coffee with hot water as it came in a small pitcher thick enough to float a spoon. About a teaspoon made a normal cup of coffee for me. As we were eating, some of the others came down to eat. Before taking our order, the waiter was insistent on wanting to see our room key. It must have been to charge our room as it was taken care of by Amazon Camp. I do not remember whether we left a tip or not. On finishing breakfast, we went to the lobby. Paul told me to sit down and he would get the luggage. Shortly atfter 8:00, the van arrived to take us to the airport for the trip home. We all said goodbye.
On arriving at the airport,. the company people got our seat assignments and our luggage checked. There was some trouble with the customs agent concerning the fish boxes that John S. and Jay were taking home. The two boxes were clearly marked "Live Tropical Fish" so this appeared to be the problem. There were plenty of other boxes with no markings that were not questioned, so I am sure the markings raised the issue. Had they been plan, no one would have known the difference. After much discussion, they were let go. The flight left for Lima close to on time at 9:30. I had an aisle seat again in the second row. One thing I should mention before going any further: in Peru there were no loading ramps like we are used to in this country. They use the stair types like we used 30 years ago.
In Lima, I was met by a wheelchair and a pusher. I was taken up to the area the luggage would come into. It was a good 20 minutes before it got there. During this 20 minutes, I gave my chair pusher a $2 tip. While we were waiting, the gril from the travel agency met us. She gave us our passports and said she was glad not to be responsible for them any more. After all our luggage was accounted for, she took us to a Paucett Airline counter to get our seat assignments and to check our luggage to Miami. After this, we paid our exit tax, which was $10 American. On coming through last Sunday, I had seen the windows that said very clearly that American money was acceptable. This was not true in Costa Rica, where only local money could be used even though it was only about $2.50 or $3. With this done, we now had about 20 minutes before checking through on the next step. Immigration had to see that the tax was paid and to Exit Stamp our passports. John O). decided to stay close to me and suggested that we go to a gift shop. I liked the idea as I had not had any time in Iquitos to get anything. We went to one close by that looked interesting. I boguht two T-shirts, two small seven-inch dolls, a metal hanging plate and a tapestry. I used travelers checks to pay for them. It was at this point that I learned that they do not give change. Luckily, I was only due $4 out of $60, so I didn’t worry too much because the salesman had cut all the listed prices for me. I was happy with what I bought, so I did not push the issue. While my things were being wrapped and receipts prepared for me, I paid the pusher another $2 tip. We were now ready to get in line to go through and get our passports stamped. Instead, I was taken behind the line through a side gate and, after a few missteps by my pusher, everything was taken care of. Now we proceeded to the loading gate. In a few minutes, an airline employee took me away from the pusher and out the door we went. Just outside, she asked us to point out our luggage, which we did, then on to the stairs. I took my time getting to the top as my legs were beginning to feel the effects of a week on a boat. My seat was 1C with John O. in seat 1B and a young Russian in seat 1A. I stood up until everyone was on board to keep people from falling over my feet.
We left Lima about on time, close to 1:00 p.m. The plane was nearly full, so there were a few empty seats. During the flight to Panama City, we played two types of bingo at the same time. The first was to fill the rows B, N and O with the second to fill the whole card. John O. won on the first game and shared $100 prize with two other people. They were asked if they wanted to draw for the total prize and they said NO. A third is better than nothing. We landed in Panama City for an hour while refueling and to let people off the plane to walk around. I stayed on the plane and had to use the restroom twice as something I had eaten had gone straight through me. After this, I had no other problems.
On the flight to Miami, we were given drinks and a light dinner. John did not eat, but the Russian boy ate it with thanks. We got to Miami Airport about 8:00 p.m. where I was met by a Sky Cap with a wheelchair. In Miami it is a long walk from the incoming gates to immigration and customs. The Sky Cap wheeled me onto a subway, up an elevator and down a long walk. On entering immigration, you see a wall of little windows with people standing in line behind them to be checked in and a small sign telling U.S. citizens to go to the right. Down on the right, there is one man who says open your passport to the picture page and hold it up beside your face. This done, we are waved through. At customs, we had to wait 30 minutes more for our luggage to get there. When it did come, it was collected and we went toward the actual checking area. As we approached the gate to this area, a gentleman stepped out saying he was a customs agent and asked if we were citizens. Could he see our declaration forms? We gave them to him. He asked each of us separately, twice, was everything we had to declare on the list. We both said yes, then he asked John about the fish. After a few minutes, the forms were signed and we were told to go on. We said "Thank You" and went on. On leaving the customs area, we separated as it was now well after 9:00 and John had to catch a 10:30 flight to JFK, New York. I was staying in the airport hotel, as all the flights for D.C. had left at or before 8:00. The hotel is right in the airport, so you can get there without going outside.
The Sky Cap took me to the hotel check-in counter, where I had to wait some 15 minutes to get checked in. During this wait, I gave the Sky Cap a $10 tip. After I was all checked in, she took me right up to my room. I thanked her very much. I then called my daughter, Susan, and told her I was in Miami and what time I would be in. We agreed they would meet me in the luggage pick-up area rather than have them come all the way out to the plane.
I went downstairs to find something to eat, but none of the close places were open at that time of night. So I went to a close-by bar for a beer. I had an interesting talk with the bartender and at 11:30 p.m. went to my room to shower and bed.
My flight to Dulles did not leave until 12:30 p.m., so there was no real rush to get anything done on Sunday morning. I went down and asked the bell captain where I could get something to eat and sit down. He told me a place that was only about 100 feet around the corner. I went there and the food was pretty good though the waitress service was slow and terrible. Then I returned to my room and watched TV until about 10:30 a.m. when I called the bell captain to have someone come up and get my luggage. In a few minutes, a bell man was there for my luggage. I checked out, then he asked what airline I was going out on. I told him and away he went, telling me to follow him, which I did at a slow pace. He slowed down when he found out that I could not run after him. At the United counter he dropped me off and I gave him a nice tip. The United girl was quite friendly, so we talked for a long time as she was not busy. I checked everything including the paddle. She said it would have to be wrapped as it was sharp, so she found a big piece of cpear plastic and wrapped it. I found a chair to sit in and read a book until about 11:30, when I walked down to the gate area. A little after noon, the plane started to load and it left on time for Dulles.
The two and a half hour flight to Dulles was uneventful and we landed at 3:00 p.m. A young United girl met me with a wheelchair and took me onto the tram to get to the main terminal and told me someone else would take me the rest of the way. That someone was not there, so she took me all the way down to the luggage pick-up area. There I was met by Richard, my daughter’s new husband. My luggage was picked up, then we went out to the car and home. About 4:30 we got to my apartment and I was glad to be home. My little bird friend Molly was very glad to see me. It was good to be home.
This article first appeared in PVAS’s Delta Tale, Vol 31 # 2-3 & Vol 32, # 1