Hoosier Expatriate Living in Iquitos Peru

by Captain Bill

Three years ago today I arrived in Iquitos Peru and became an expatriate from Indiana. I do not like the word expatriate. To me it implies leaving a homeland because of some dissatisfaction. I moved to Iquitos for the same reasons most travelers come here, adventure and romance.

I began planning the move five years ago today. During the two years before the move I visited Peru three times for a total of eight months. During that time I accomplished the three most important steps to make my new life possible. I received my Peruvian residency, officially started my business, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises, and started construction of my third boat Dawn on the Amazon III.

To put in perspective the importance of planning ahead it is important to know that Peru ranks 5th of all the countries in the world in the volume of paper work required for operating a business. To complicate life even more, the attitude of many government workers seems to be “no hurry, tomorrow is soon enough, in fact it is even better; tomorrow or the next day.”

When I stepped off the plane three years ago I stepped into the loving arms of my fiancée, Marmelita. What a special moment that was. We had been conducting a long distance romance for three years. We both risked a lot. We both did what we said we would do. We were able to trust each other. Trust is a good quality to build a romance and a new life from.

Marmelita kept her job at the La Pascana Hostel until I arrived, hurrying out at lunch, before and after work, buying materials for the boat builders, supervising and paying the crew, and making sure things stayed on track. She emailed me every evening with a progress report and lots of questions that all needed answering immediately from 2000 miles away. I wouldn’t have much without her. She is smart. Marmelita learned more about boats, saw mills, wood, hardware stores, and tools than any other woman in Iquitos. I wouldn’t trade her for a harem full of fantasy concubines.

When I was being impatient and frustrated by various government officials (never pound the Captain of the Ports desk) Marmelita was remembering their birthdays, baking cookies, making jokes, and making friends.

I know it seems obvious, but the best advice for someone attempting to become a resident and start a business in a foreign country would be, make friends. That is the way to get things done.

When I stepped off that plane three years ago I was already a resident, with a business, a web site, and my flagship three-quarters finished. It had taken the full two years to arrive on January 7, 2005, with a chance to succeed.

We had no home or office, and my boat was not finished. Except for those and a million other minor details, we were all set. We found a quiet, secure house with a spare bedroom to use as an office. Our office consisted of my laptop, two straight back chairs, and three cheap tables. We added a used printer, got a phone, and we were “in business.”

I am very proud of what we have accomplished since then. We started construction of a second wooden boat, and launched both of them together at the end of August, 2005. During that same time period we built a Jungle Cabin near the border of Allpahuayo Mishana National Reserve, on the outskirts of Llanchama village. A new tour and cruise company was built from scratch, on my terms. I had a vision of how it could be, and the vision became the reality, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises.

In the 80s and 90s, I traveled over a big part of the world and only used travel agents to purchase the plane tickets to get to my destination. I was an independent traveler. That has been part of my vision.

Rarely does a week go by without some big travel company emailing asking me to send them a schedule, itinerary, how much commission I pay, and how much they can add to my price. You can not experience Dawn on the Amazon by calling a travel agent. Cut out the middle man and contact me directly from my web site at www.dawnontheamazon.com .

I have been lucky. My boats are nicer than my vision. I expect to meet my first goal for Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises this August, three years from when the boats became operational. Marmelita and I are in love like we imagined we would be.

Our guests seem to like us. Many have become our friends. Some have returned the next year to share with us again. Journalists have written articles. We have a strong internet presence. Dawn on the Amazon has great reviews in the Lonely Planet Travel Guide, the Moon Handbook, and Iquitos, Gateway to Amazonia.

Now we have moved our office and home to a better location in the heart of the tourist district, overlooking the boulevard and the Itaya River.

I love my crew. I would have nothing except for them. There are fifteen of us working together on this project. Most of them feel a sense of ownership in building something special. I have never known such loyalty and dedication. Marmelita is the executive administrator. That is not an adequate title for her. She is the engine that drives the day to day details that make a business. She does everything. I could single out nearly everyone of our team for special attention.

A friend of mine emailed me that she thought I was smart. Some days I get to feel smart. For the last couple of days I have been reflecting about living in Iquitos full time. Building the boats, the business, my relationship with Marmelita…my life has been interesting and exciting to me and I am happy. Tiny little, lita, Marmelita is a large part of making me seem smart. What if we had broken up two and a half years ago? Would I get to feel smart any days? Oh probably a few. But because this is the most love, appreciation, and trust I have ever experienced in a relationship, it still feels very precious three years later, and I get to feel a little smart.

Marmelita and Bill, with Edson and Alberto in Pacaya Samiria National Reserve

“Well, is true we had hard time building all this together but we did it. I must say we are a team that respects and admires each other even with our mistakes, so that is great.

For me I couldn’t have a better couple than Bill. He always says that he is not so smart, he is wrong, I am completely sure that he is. He has a great confidence in himself and in the rest of us. Bill has a lot of logic sense in all the things of life, and makes the things that are wrong, right. One of the qualities that I admire in him a lot is that he always is projecting and planning for the future, is true his brain stops when he sleeps, not like mine…ja,ja,ja but I consider that quality is one sign that you are alive, that your life is not over because you pass the 50th year, the life is here and waiting for you to enjoy it.

Now, after three years, we are together yet, liking each other, respecting and admiring each time more, for both of us it is a great experience living and sharing our lives. It is wonderful to have this feeling for someone, I am sure that if you felt that way before you will understand. I am deep in love and every time I can see his beautiful and loving eyes I feel that I am in the right place and with the right person. We are very lucky to have each other and we are thankful for that.

Thanks everyone that reads our story and be happy too.”

Bill and Marmelita, Welcome to Iquitos Peru, Dawn on the Amazon Tours and Cruises

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Julia Lieberman February 19, 2011 at 12:07 pm


Hola! I am a fellow hoosier thinking about spending a month or so in Iquitos, and after reading all that you´ve accomplished in Iquitos from your blog, I thought I could contact you to ask you a few questions.

For instance, are there cheap apartments or casitas to rent for a month? Would you recommend a certain area? What is Iquitos like in terms of living there…what kind of city is it, tranquil or bustling?

I am sure you are busy, but if you get a chance, I´d love to hear what you have to say, as we both come from the same place, I´m interested in your perspective.


Julia Lieberman (Lieberman.Julia@gmail.com)

2 Captain Bill February 20, 2011 at 8:40 am

Hola Hoosier Julia,

Thanks for reading my blog and planning on visiting our charming city. There are cheap to inexpensive apartments to rent. From $100 to $300 per month. Security should be one of your primary considerations. You will be perceived as wealthy, whether you think of your self as wealthy or not. For instance, do you have a camera and laptop. Wealthy. So you might be targeted by robbers. There is very little violent crime but don’t leave anything you value unattended or unlocked. Use common sense, like always.The city is bustling. I think for the first time here you should try to live within 10 blocks of the Plaza de Armas. Don’t drink the tap water.
I would also like for you to know about our restaurant, The Dawn on the Amazon Café. We triple rinse all of our fruits and vegetables in purified water, and we use purified water in all of our food preparation including coffee, tea, ice, juice, soups, and everything. We wash the egg shells in purified water. We are the only restaurant in Iquitos that uses these techniques, and the only cruise company that uses them on our tours and cruises. We have proven they eliminate or minimize travelers diarrhea. Equally important, our food is delicious, the juices and smoothies are the best in Iquitos, the beer is always cold, and the wine cool.
The Dawn on the Amazon Café, is located less than two blocks from the Plaza de Armas, on the corner at the beginning of Nauta Street and the Malecon, (or Boulevard) next to my offices. We have comfortable chairs on our sidewalk patio, overlooking one of the best views of the river. If you have time, stop in. Sometimes we have interesting conversation going on among the characters of the ex-pat community and other travelers like your self.
Bill Grimes

3 JF Trimble August 27, 2012 at 10:30 pm

What an adventure! I used to be in the Coast Guard, and sometimes considered moving over to captaining charter vessels. Instead, I now spend most of my time behind a desk. Even now, I sometimes look back and wonder if I should have gone the captaining route.

Having a boat built in Peru sounds like a massive challenge in itself. ..

Leave a Comment

{ 3 trackbacks }

Previous post:

Next post: