Excursion on Lake Yarinacocha

December 10, 2008

I finally went on my first boat excursion! Ever since I came to Pucallpa I’ve heard about the beautiful Yarinacocha lake and the Shipibo tribespeople who populate the area.  I’d been itching to finally see the lake and take a boat tour and last Sunday I got my chance.

Lori and I – a Kiva fellow in town for a couple of weeks working for another organization – took a mototaxi down to the waterfront in the nearby city of Yarinacocha.  From here dozens of peki peki boats are docked along the lake waiting to take passengers to nearby lakeside towns.


The day started out cloudy which – trust me – is a blessing.  We started to putter out onto the lake with Miguel “Pituco” on his boat also named Pituco meaning “that annoying guy who doesn’t have any money but huffs around like he’s got tons of it.”  I love that word and asked Miguel if there is a Peruvian word for the annoying hippie kid who acts like he has no money but actually has gobs of it… There wasn’t one as far as he knew.


I got to drive the peki peki for a little while which had us meandering back and forth across the lake in a wildly wasteful zig zag.  We’re paying by the hour so I give up soon enough to get this show on the road!  We have some wildlife to see!  Here we are looking for iguanas and sloths in the trees lining the riverbanks.  It’s impossible to spot an iguana as far as I’m concerned.  Miguel had to cut the motor and double back with the oar just so he could point out their forms in the branches.  They’re huge, but without “jungle eyes” like Miguel, there’s no way I can spot them on my own.  We were super lucky though and got one awesome glance at a sloth.  Miguel whistles him awake and he slowly slowly sloooowly lifts his head and swings it around to look at us. i want to hug his happy smiling face – he’s so cute!


We also saw alot of different birds and some dolphins! (albeit from afar).  The lake is a gorgeous storybook setting:  wide expanse of peacefully lapping waters, birds swooping and diving for fish, eagles soaring hundreds of feet over head and lush green trees bordering the lake for miles.  It was especially nice when Miguel cut the outboard motor and we could relax to the the sounds of the jungle.

After about an hour we made our first stop at the village of Santa Clara.  We docked and what to me looked only like a grassy opening in the brush, but what Miguel called the Santa Clara port.  We were the only “ship” to “dock” there this afternoon.  From here Miguel lead us up the embankment and straight into the jungle.


Here is Miguel leading us through shoulder high grasses.  Thank goodness I was in pants, Lori ended up getting hundreds bug bites on her legs.  So through the grasses we crashed, striking through the meadow in the full sun and heat of the day.  To say I was sweating is an understatement.


We also spent a smaller portion of the walk traversing these rickety footbridges where the plain was flooded.  The Shipibos built all this so that they can transport their daily catches of fish inland from the lake.

We came across a woman doing just that when we were returning.  These fish look super scary: like smaller catfish with sharp fins and longer whiskers.


Finally, we popped out on a dirt road lined with banana trees and ran smack into a young man carrying a machete and a barefoot woman.  Their young bull, a juvenile seven months old, was following along behind them without a leash or any physical touch.  Miguel – who has lived on the lake his whole life doing boat tours and who has also run for mayor – knows everyone in these parts, including this family.  He introduces us and asks them if we can stop by for a visit.

The man agrees and we follow along behind them just a few minutes walk up the road to their family complex.  There are four or five thatch shelters spaced out in a cleared area just a couple of acres in size.  The man and the bull (he knows his place too) moved off to the middle building to go hang in the hammocks with another couple of men.  We were led to a second building off to the side to meet the rest of the women and children.


Here we are seated in the shelter that seemed to me to be the living room.  At least, this is where the grandma, sister and the kiddies were seated relaxing when we arrived.  The structure is totally open to the elements which here include torrential rains, floods and blistering heat.  But inside under the thatch, I feel great.  The roofs are elevated at least fifteen feet from the platform and all the hot air rises to the ceiling.

Once we arrive, we are offered seats and the two younger women spread cloths on the floor and begin to lay out all of the bead work and embroidery they have been working on for the past few months.  I wonder if Miguel brings every tourist group here and when I ask him he shakes his head emphatically,  no.  He says he alternates towns he visits so as not to overwhelm the people and outstay his welcome.  He hasn’t been to this hamlet in two months.

The ladies tell us they go into town seldom and only then to sell their wares and stock up on supplies.  Even though the boat ride is just an hour and a half to the town of Yarina, the families live secluded for weeks or months at a time here in Santa Clara.  The embroidery work is gorgeous and Lori and I are both in love with it.  Grandma is sitting off to the side working on a larger piece that she started a month ago and will take her another month to complete.  In the end, she will charge the buyer $30 for her efforts.

Lori and I browse through the different necklaces, purses and knick knacks they offer.  Of course it feel obligatory that we buy something during our visit, but there is also a lot that we like and genuinely want.  We make some purchases and continue to chat for a while about the embroidery work and the beautiful skirts the women wear.

Someone (not Lori or me, we’d never have the audacity!) suggested we try some skirts on and before we knew it, Grandma was stripping down to nakedness to hand off her clothing for a dressup session.  The other women pulled modern clothes off shelves and changed their outfits so that we could try on their blouses and skirts.  The children seemed to think it was quite funny – I agreed 🙂 .

A photo shoot commenced and Miguel had us modeling inside the building, outside in front, with just the children, with just the women, seated, standing… everything we could do pretty much.

And, here’s our best shot (props to anyone who can guess the TV reference).


Lori and I managed to get behind the camera ourselves and take family potraits of all of the members together – digital cameras are an instant hit everywhere I’ve visited in Peru.  We had a lot of fun and by the end it wasn’t just the children who were giggling.

When it came time to go, the women of the house presented Lori and I with several of the bracelets and necklaces that we’d been pouring over before.  I was definitely touched and the cynical me admitted that perhaps the enjoyment of each other’s company was mutual.  I had – when we first arrived unannounced – felt like we were encroaching on their quiet afternoon.  But Miguel says that among the Shipibos, “when gifts are given they are from the heart.”

So we said our goodbyes and promised them we’d get their family portrait printed and sent back to them with Miguel on his next trip out.  “Send candy too!” they added as we waved goodbye.  Miguel says they love chocolate and he has a trick to keep it from melting.  I love both of these ideas.


And as if the trip couldn’t get any better, we launch out onto the lake just as the sun starts to set.  The birds are in full flight, taking advantage of the buzzing insects and bubbling fishies of the late afternoon.  And we’re puttering back at a snail’s pace enjoying the last of our afternoon.



  1. Sounds like a great day and a memorable experience.

  2. sounds like a very fun, touchy, sweet and once in a lifetime experience. they seem so loving and generous. you are sooo lucky!! i hope that you truly send them photos and chocolate in return.

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