When I arrived in Peru in October my passport was stamped with a 3 month tourist visa. Before leaving for Peru I investigated my visa options and found out there weren’t many since I am not studying here and I do not have a paying job. However, after arriving in Iquitos I learned that when entering the country, all I have to do is ask for a 6 month tourist visa instead of 3 months. If only I had known! With the 3 month mark quickly approaching I had to decide what to do. I considered going home for Christmas, and I was invited to Ecuador to spend Christmas with my host family in Quito, but both trips would be expensive, especially traveling back to Michigan. I could also go to the immigration office here in Iquitos, but I would only be able to get 3 months and maybe only one month at a time. The best option was to travel to the Colombia-Peru-Brazil border by river, leaving Peru for 24 hours and asking for a 6 month visa when I return.
Even though it is a safe trip, I didn’t want to go alone, so my good friend Cliver came with me. Cliver is from Iquitos and works as a guide with Explorama and does speaking tours each year in schools throughout Las Vegas, Nevada. Our boat left at 6:00 am from Iquitos, and arrived in Santa Rosa, Peru around 5:00 pm. The boat is supposed to be the fastest available, with a jet engine that doesn’t break down like propeller engines do due to all the floating debris in the river. However, the jets would get blocked so we’d have to stop every so often to flush them out (or at least that is my understanding!). I think Explorama’s boats are actually a little faster. Breakfast and lunch were served onboard; overall it was good trip, just really hot and really long! The views didn’t change too much from the window, lots of jungle! We did make stops in the towns of Pevas, Caballococha, and Chimbote, although we didn’t have a chance to get off the boat to look around. Mostly we slept and listened to music, and Cliver bought us coconuts to drink when we stopped in Chimbote!
The boat took us as far as the Peruvian border town of Santa Rosa. In Santa Rosa we had to head to the immigrations office to have my passport stamped. There was no strict passport control, if I didn’t need my passport stamped for my visa, we could have traveled between Colombia, Peru, and Brazil without ever entering an immigrations office! Cliver actually forgot his passport, he had his Peruvian ID card, but I don’t think he ever had to show it to anyone!
|Arriving in Santa Rosa, Peru|
After getting my exit stamp we took a small boat, first dropping off people in Tabatinga, Brazil and then stopping in Leticia, Colombia.
It was Sunday evening, so things were pretty quiet in Leticia. We needed to go to the immigrations office at the airport to get my passport stamped, but it was closed, so we had to wait until Monday.
|The Channel Leading into Colombia|
We walked around for a while looking for a hotel, then we dropped off our things and got some dinner. We made our own little “brew tour”, trying a variety of Colombian and Brazilian beers on our trip.
|Cliver and I happy to be in Colombia after a long trip!|
Leticia is a beautiful city, much more modern and organized than I expected. I figured it would be a lot like Iquitos, a bustling port city, but smaller. One huge difference is that in Leticia, everyone wears helmets on their motorcycles! Leticia has a beautiful central park with a large mural and a pond full of Victorian Lilies. Unfortunately we were only there at night, so my pictures aren’t so great!
|Lilies in Leticia's Park|
The next day we walked around Leticia and then headed to the airport to get my passport stamped. We had decided to stay in Peru that night to make catching our boat easier early the next morning. So, we asked the immigrations agent to stamp my passport with the entry stamp and exit stamp at the same time, to save a trip to the airport. He told us that he usually wouldn’t do that, but made an exception for us!
|Colombian Passport Stamps|
We then took a taxi to Tabatinga, Brazil. There was a welcome to Brazil sign, but nothing else to mark the border, no passport check, nothing. I guess Americans are required to have a formal visa to enter Brazil, not just a passport stamp like Peru and Colombia, but in Tabatinga there isn’t anyone checking, so there is nothing in my passport that shows I was ever in Brazil!
|Welcome to Brazil!|
We had a great lunch in Tabatinga, listening to Brazilian music, drinking Brazilian beer and listening to the other customers speak Portuguese. Cliver speaks a little Portuguese, but not really the most useful phrases, (maybe if we got into a bar fight or something)! We spent most of the afternoon walking around Tabatinga, it reminded me of Iquitos’s market area. It is a busy port city; noisy, dirty, and full of people. In Tabatinga everyone uses motorcycle helmets too. They also have motorcycle taxis, the drivers carry an extra helmet for their passenger.
|Lunch in Tabatinga|
We headed back to Colombia to look around a little more and then took a small boat back to Santa Rosa, Peru.
|The Boat Ride Back to Peru|
Santa Rosa is a very small town, not a lot of hotel options! We stayed in the best place in town, it cost about $10, it had a tv and a fan, but no water at the moment, and the power went out at around 9:30! We decided to stop at the immigrations office that night to see if we could get my passport stamped then, instead of waiting until 2:30 in the morning when we needed to catch our boat to Iquitos. We were in luck! The immigrations agent agreed to stamp my passport, however she was only going to give me 3 more months, not 6! Thankfully Cliver was there, and he explained that I am a volunteer etc, and she agreed to 6 months! I could have told her the same thing in Spanish, but not as eloquently as Cliver, he is kind of a smooth talker and continued to schmooze her after she had given me the 180 days, even inviting her to dinner with us! She declined at first but then saw us eating and joined us with another friend of hers. I’m sure she was eager to talk to some new people; I think she is originally from Iquitos so living in such a small town must be a bit of a challenge. I was so relieved to have my visa renewed! Mission accomplished! We got up the next day at 2:30 am to be at the dock by 3:00 am. Since the trip home is against the current, it took 12 hours instead of 11, we slept most of the way back.
|Santa Rosa Immigration Office|
|6 More Months!|