Updated: Oct 27
San Lorenzo sits on the banks of the Marañón, about 45km upstream from where the Pastaza flows into the it. We intended on spending 3 days there, from the 13th to the 17th of June, which would allow some time to let Yan recover from his illness, get some jobs done and blow off some steam after a very frustrating Stage 2.
In order to get there, we had to make a 14km cross country drive through farmland, heading Southwest, away from the Pastaza. We managed to find a man with a rickety old 4x4 to take us and our bags the distance along a bumpy road. The canoes, rations and some other items were stored at the marina at Centro Poblado Recrea del Pastaza for 10 soles per day. I sat in the stuffy air in the back of the truck alongside our new friends, the mechanics from The Walter Junior 1. Jake and Yan sat up top, on some makeshift seats in the flat bed. They bounced about laughing, Yan’s golden locks flowing in the evening breeze as the driver evaded familiar looking potholes.
We stopped a couple of times for him to pour coolant into the steaming engine and then suddenly, the dusty roads became paved, and the buildings changed from wood and corrugated iron shacks to multi story concrete structures. We are all at home in the wilderness, but freely admitted to each other the excitement that grew in us as we passed through town. The neon lights of bars and Pollerias were beginning to come on as a striking lass buzzed past us on a moped, her jet black hair flowing like Yan’s in the wind. Our senses were heightened, especially as the smell of perfume and cooked chicken mixed with the rotten stench of close packed humans in a hot environment invaded our noses. Actually, the perfume was coming more from the men. Their perfectly combed wet-look hair and immaculately ironed shirts sat stiffly atop their stout torsos as they strutted past, leaving heady aromas of old spice in the already thick air. What an interesting place we thought, the topless barge sailors, the immaculate Latin’s and the many indigenous people that had found their way to the city, and unfortunately, often found alcohol too. This small, isolated town in the forest, with a population of around ten thousand, felt like LA to us.
To our delight, we discovered that a festival was being held in town because a local indigenous politician had won office. A stage was set up looking overlooking the square, where a massive statue of a tribal warrior stood looking outward, clutching his rifle. Two scantily clad woman flanked a traditional Peruvian band whilst on-lookers danced and shuffled with mesmerising hip and feet combinations.
We were checked into a 3-story hotel, not far from the square, by a friendly old man who probed us with playful questions, wondering who the hell we were. In our rooms we each had a glorious cold shower and then made for a burger restaurant we had seen on the way in. The night ended up as you might expect; We finished eating and went straight to the square as insisted by Franco, the elder of the two mechanics. We sank Crystal (local beer) after Crystal because in the marines we learned that in foreign places you must act like the locals do, to avoid drawing attention to yourself. There was nothing else for it! Pretty soon we found ourselves in a karaoke bar and the decision was made to spend our last 100 soles on a bottle of Johnny Walker seeing as we’d get to a bank first thing in the morning. The rest of the night is hazy.
In the morning we woke to some pretty awful hangovers which were made worse with the discovery that there were no ATMs in town and the banks would not accept our cards. We wandered from potential bank to potential bank with no luck and soon we were feeling pretty desperate. Eventually I managed to find a Western Union and was told that the following day I’d be able to take out £300 worth of soles. Unfortunately, when the lads went to do the same, they were refused. Apparently, the bank wouldn’t give the WU agent any more money until Monday the 19th of June and so we were stuck with only £300 worth of soles between us for Stage 3.
Our hangovers were made much easier in successfully attaining a permission document from the local police station. The officers were very helpful and insisted we'd have no more trouble on the river between there and Iquitos which was very reassuring.
We made them aware of our immigration problem, having not been able to get stamps at our unorthodox border crossing on the Pastaza and they didn’t seem to think it’d be a problem. “Go to immigration in Iquitos.” They were very professional and helpful, wore legitimate uniforms and crucially, they didn't ask us for any sort of bribe or tax, unlike our experience in Andoas. Because of this we began to relax, feeling like we’d passed through bandit country, and it’d be plain sailing ahead.
We spent the rest of our time in San Lorenzo being tourists and admiring some particularly good looking cockerels. We walked around the streets looking at the goods for sale and had a long look at the Marañón River. It looked to be moving fast with a strong current which was exactly what we needed to make up some time.
We ate big plates of chicken and rice and had a movie night in the hotel and by the 17th, we’d achieved as much as we could. The only gringos in town left San Lorenzo on the morning of Sunday the 18th of June, a day late, but refreshed and eager to be back on the river. Our 4x4 driver took us along the dusty, dirt road back to the Pastaza and we collected the boats which had been well looked after, along with my jungle boots. I’d stupidly left them loafing under one of the inflation bags. Gratefully, I took them back from the marina watchman who made sure I knew how lucky I was that he’d seen them first. I tipped him well.
Stage 2 in a Nutshell: https://studio.youtube.com/video/AsVxrIiFFmU/edit