Sunday 23 August 2015

Goodbye to the Delfin II

It was our last morning on the Delfin II and it started as all the others have: by waking up to a red sun rising over the river, dolphins and people already fishing, and the skiffs waiting to take us on another excursion to spot more birds, and another attempt to pin down a rufous kingfisher in a photo - or, failing that, any other obliging bird.
After breakfast there was something different: up another side river were ponds full of giant water lilies, over a metre across with raised edges, some of them with big white flowers. Impressive, even if the water was stagnant – they don’t like movement.
Across the river was the settlement of Puerto Miguel, where the women make all the dyed straw woven creatures that have been decorating the dining tables on the boat during the cruise, and our bedroom pets (mine has been a large pink and green praying mantis – so much more preferable than the room next to mine, which I saw today has been graced by a huge black tarantula). First though I wandered round the village, where kids were playing boldly (one boy I didn’t see apparently running around with a live snake curled round his neck) or hiding shyly, men were having their hair cut, people swung lazily in hammocks, and sad dogs scratched or struggled. A chicken perched on a wooden grave cross, a fat duck ate a frog, roosters crowed, and modern Western pop music blared incongruously from a wooden hut while Chinese outboard motors made a loud clatter along the water.
Back on board, there was a pisco sour toast where the Marañón and Ucayali Rivers joined to form what Peruvians consider to be the start of the Amazon (don’t ask the Brazilians what they think), 4000km from the sea. Then, at Nauta, we left the Delfin II for the last time and returned to Iquitos, stopping off at a wildlife sanctuary for a too-quick visit to some rescued manatees, slotting water lettuce leaves into their soft, whiskery muzzles. Lovely, gentle creatures, they are killed for food by the jungle people; but they are being educated not to.
With time to fill in before our flights, the Delfin people sent two of us on a city tour. Iquitos has 600,000 inhabitants and in the rubber boom years of 1880-1920 was awash with money, but now it’s much decayed, the Portuguese glazed tiles on the outside of colonial buildings cracked and dirty, the streets rowdy with thousands of motorbikes and motorbike taxis, litter in the broken gutters, people everywhere on the streets, graffiti scrawled on the lime-green, orange and turquoise-painted walls, and large areas apparently under water in the wet season. 
Even Gustave Eiffel's building here - made, it seemed, entirely out of metal - looked down-at-heel; but out on the river at the floating restaurant with its floating swimming pool and cooling breeze, it was really very pleasant, and the food was good. And Edward, met on the return ferry trip, was friendly and welcoming. It's an odd place, though: a real frontier town with, to me, an unsafe feel, but certainly with its own particular buzz. Where else would you see a unicyclist juggling three pretend machetes in the middle of the road, holding up a block's-worth of motorcycle traffic on a Sunday night?

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