Iquitos – gateway to the Amazon Jungle

We landed at Iquitos Airport, if you can call it that (it’s so small) and met by a driver to take us to our hotel, La Casa Fitzcarraldo .  How nice!  So much better than having to fend for ourselves to find a taxi, then negotiate the fare!

When we arrived, we got a bit of a culture shock.  The climate for starters is the opposite to Quito – it was sticky, sweaty, hot and humid.  Cars on the road were rare, instead tuc-tucs or as they are called in Iquitos, motokars, are the normal mode of transport.  They are essentially motorbikes with two rear wheels and a seat for two or three at the back.  They are noisy things, but dirt cheap to get from A to B.  Iquitos has a real Asian feel about the place with houses on stilts and motokars everywhere.  It also was obvious we were in the third world.

Our room at Fiztcarraldo was actually a suite and was huge – but basic.  Nothing much luxurious about it, yet it was the same price as our posh boutique hotel in Quito that was uber luxurious.  Hubs was not happy, not happy at all.   She wanted to leave – and I had to gently remind her that this place was rated a close number 1 on trip advisor and that many of the hotels in Iquitos were not the same standard as those in the city.  She calmed down, but was still not happy to start with….

La Casa Fitzcarraldo is not a typical impersonal hotel. Secluded behind the high street-facing wall is small almost rustic hotel and almost a mini private jungle. As it turned out, it was the perfect place to unwind after a day out in the steaming tropical heat of noisy bustling Iquitos.

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Trees, palms and ferns are home to many local birds and colourful butterflies. The pool is clean and inviting and surrounded by hammocks amid the trees as well as in the three-story tree house. Easy listening music is piped through the garden stereo system, making for tranquil afternoons by the pool to willow the afternoon away. The relaxed vibe is complimented by friendly smiling staff on hand throughout the day.

The best kept secret about La Casa Fitzcarraldo is the food. Proprietor Walter Saxer prides himself on serving fresh, delicious meals, his speciality being the BBQ. The marinated chargrilled chicken is succulent and zesty and the leaf-wrapped BBQ fish cooked with tomato and onion easily flakes away from the bones. The star of the menu however is the BBQ steak, served with fresh salsa verde. It simply melts in your mouth.

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Walter said that food is the most important thing to him and he does all the shopping himself. “I have had so many guests get very ill from eating bad food in other places,” he said. “All the food I serve has to be fresh!”

His passion for fresh food means that at times not everything is available.  “I get the steak from a guy who imports it from Argentina and it is very good quality – but I can’t get it every day,” Walter said.

It is well worth waiting for the steak, Hubs and I had it done night and it was so good, we had the next night too!  I  made Walter an honorary Australian since his BBQ skills were so good!

The bar – ah the bar – it serves ice-cold local Pilser beer that comes with a chilled glass straight from the freezer.  Oh the joy to have an ice cold beer at the end of a steamy hot day!  I haven’t enjoyed a beer this much in ages!!

Walter’s hospitality makes any stay memorable. The Swiss born proprietor’s previous career was in the film industry – he was the executive producer of the famous 1980s film “Fitzcarraldo”, touted the most difficult movie ever made. If you haven’t seen it, just ask him and he’ll happily screen it for you at his outdoor cinema on the upstairs deck.  We watched the film – all 2.5 hours of it – and it was..umm..interesting.  It wasn’t boring, just a bit long and the story a little far fetched.   In the film, the main character arranges to haul a massive river ship over the top of a mountain, using hundreds of indigenous as labour and vines as ropes and pulleys.  Quite a feat! 

Staying at La Casa Fitzcarraldo was the perfect introduction to the Amazon Jungle. In the large cage near the entry are two jaguars, pets of Walter’s. There is also a resident K9, a new mother to a litter of 11, and friendly domestic cat.

Because Walter recounted several stories of guests who were hideously sick from food poisoning after eating in Iquitos, Hubs and I decided to sit under the bar pagola and eat there.  We met Canadian Paul, or Pablo as we called him, and he recommended the grilled chicken.  I had a beer – mmm nice and cold – then another.  It was good.   After eating, Pablo joined us and it was an enjoyable evening chatting over a few drinks. 

We ventured into town to book a jungle stay at Muyuna Lodge – initially we were going to do four days at the lodge, but Hubs thought five days might be better, and I agreed.  We had a couple more days in Iquitos before leaving for the Amazon Jungle.

Pablo, a helicopter pilot waiting for his  gig to start in Peru, had rented a scooter, or his ‘hog’ as he called it.  Hubs was keen to do that too.  The three of us hooned around the streets of Iquitos for three hours one evening – in peak hour traffic, sins helmet.  It was fun, albeit slightly dangerous.  Hubs was loving it!!   We crossed over this strange wooden bridge, like a marina, that had shops either side of it – third world kind of shops that might only have in stock 5 bars of soap, 20 bottles of water, a couple of packets of batteries and some out of date dry biscuits.  Random stuff.  But that bridge led to a dirt road on the other non-touristy side of town.  It was quite bizarre – loads of people on the street – and a big group rallying for a political party.  We rode through and no one really blinked an eye at us.

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The next day Hubs didn’t fancy a visit to the Butterfly Farm and animal sanctuary. I read about it in the local tourist newspaper and it sounded good, so Pablo and I went.  A 20 minute boat ride on the Amazon River too us to a port where a motokar took us for a strange ride through a village, on roads that were more like footpaths than roads, to the entrance of the Butterfly Farm. 

We walked in and it was like walking along an enchanted path into the jungle.  It was lovely with great big trees and palms everywhere, colourful flowers breaking up the greenery. We arrived at a pergola type shelter and were greeted by two red-faced monkeys that seemed friendly, but I wasn’t sure.   A worker greeted us, reassured us that the monkeys were ok, and asked us to wait for a guide.  While we waited, a monkey called Princessa showed a major fascination with my velcro shoes, opening all the tabs on each shoe. I’d close them, and she would open them again.  Then she jumped onto me, hanging off my arms and my backpack straps!!  It was hilarious!  It was also a really special experience.  They are so human like with the same ears as us, similar facial expressions, and dexterity in their fingers and toes.  Amazing!

Our lovely gentle guide Armando took us around the animal sanctuary, showing us the big jaguar that ate 1kg of meat in 2 seconds, the butterfly enclosure, the breeding program and all the lava, caterpillars, and cocoons.  It was really cool and interesting.  We went to see a couple of other monkeys that were in huge cages, and one of them fell in love with Pablo – this monkey likes men and hates women – so I stood a safe distance away and took photos of the monkey batting her eyelids at Pablo and petting his hand.  It was so funny!

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The parrots and macaws were beautiful – I could have looked at them all day!  By this stage I’d acquired a new fan, Fabian the red-faced monkey who was male and showing his male-ness.  His pee-pee was sticking out and it was making me a little nervous, since he was chatting his teeth at me – a clear sign he likes me.  He started licking the back of my calf which was funny!  Poor Fabian – I tried to explain to him that Zorba had beaten him to the post, but he wasn’t really getting the message!

Pablo and I were the only tourists at the Butterfly Farm and animal sanctuary and that in itself made it special.  We had a great couple of hours there – I could have stayed all day.  Alas, we had to get back because there was a golf challenge on! 

Hubs, Pablo, one of the young guys who works at Fitzcarraldo and I jumped into two motokars and after a bit of confusion, the drivers understood to take us to the golf course, about 30 minutes away.  We set off, despite the grey clouds overhead.  It was not five minutes into our ride when the heavens opened up.  It was raining buckets, a big proper tropical downpour.  We were getting wet in the motokar with the rain coming through the open sides.  The ‘bang!’ Our motokar started spluttering and came to a quick stop. In the pouring rain.   Oh no, what are we going to do?  The driver said, “no problem, un momento”.  As he tinkered with the engine, Hubs and I were getting wetter and wetter.  We decided to make a dash for it to the motor mechanic’s garage just across the footpath.    I pulled out my travel umbrella – which proved useless for tropical downpours, let alone for two people! 

We got soaked as we made our mad dash – and bewildered the mechanics working when two foreign women barged into their workshop dripping wet!!  It was so funny.  We decided that even if the rain would pass, the course would be too wet to play, so we abandoned golf and headed back to Fitzcarraldo.  Walter greeted us with a big hearty laugh as he saw us walk in.  Oh well, not much else to do except drink beer! And on an empty stomach it only took one beer to feel ‘how’s your father!’.   We both ordered the delicious marinated grilled chicken from Walter’s and it took ages and ages to arrive – he had to fire up the wood bbq first…  We finally at a 4.30pm and as always, Walter’s food was delicious.  Worth the wait! It’s hard to imagine the golf club having food this good.

In the early evening, the three of us went for a walk – once the rain had stopped – so primarily get some cash out.  We walked to El Fueco del freo – a boat that takes you to a floating restaurant.  Pablo had heard about this place and was keen to check out.   When we got there we were pleasantly surprised – it was lovely!  It had a big pool surrounded by a nice deck and sun lounges.  The upstairs restaurant looked lovely and posh and the downstairs bar was all polished wood and beautiful.   Wow!!  Hubs and I were spewing that we had such a late lunch and were not at all hungry.  Instead, we ordered a cocktail and tasted Pablo’s dinner that he ordered.  Nice!

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The next stop:  The jungle! 

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