Text and Photos by Matthew Barker
Lago Yarinacocha is a huge lake, dominated by Yarinacocha docks and studded with indigenous villages around its long shoreline. Through a number of channels and rivers, the lake is connected to the vast Rio Ucayali, which in turn connects with the Amazon at Iquitos, and then through Brazil all the way to the Atlantic. For this reason Yarinacocha is an important transit point for cross-Amazon shipping and commerce.
Boats arrive at Yarinacocha docks on a constant basis. The docks are informal and chaotic, with captains vying for space and sellers arguing over the best price for sacks of fresh produce arriving from the surrounding jungle. Plátanos come in and sacks of rice go out; even deep in the jungle the cogs keep turning.
Cutting the engine off for a few minutes we drifted downstream accompanied by a pod of river dolphins. With their upturned grins and impressive acrobatics it almost seemed like they were deliberately playing with us.
Once leaving the Ucayali you we entered a maze of narrow tributary rivers and natural channels. Here we were close enough to the banks to spot monkeys and sloths in the trees and, once night had fallen, we could navigate by the light of the fireflies along the banks – just like the lights on a runway.
Our destination, Nueva Utuquinia, is a small village several days journey from Yarinacocha. Here people live on and from the jungle and only rarely make the trip back to town. Life is tough but there is always time for some fun and the local youngsters have some impressive skills on the volleyball court.
Don Luis at the door to his house, surrounded by his flock of chickens and some patriotic looking laundry hanging out to dry.
Don Luis’ grandchildren were bold and inquisitive with their unfamiliar looking Gringo guests. Showing them their own faces in the display of my camera was like performing a magic trick that they couldn’t get enough of.
To recreate this trip, fly or take the bus to Pucallpa and ask around the docks at Yarinacocha for a boat owner willing to take you on a multi-day adventure. Some knowledge of Spanish is helpful. There are plenty of boat owners in town, a personal recommendation is Achiles Amasifuen Souza (firstname.lastname@example.org or (+55 71) 96172810)