The wood buying saga

It took me weeks to track down the specific wood appropriate for my boat. I was looking for Katawa Armarilla. According to Hildo, my neighbour and boat building teacher, that’s the best wood for a row boat because it is light.

Step 1– Ride your bike to sawmills. There are many sawmills around town. Most are located down a sludgy dirt road that forks off from the main road.

There! a pile of wood planks. Shout out over the fence to the neighbour-lady who’s out back washing clothes and ask ‘Is this a sawmill?.’ It is not. It is wood for a house. Get back on bike and pedal on.

PeruAmazon wood

This is not a sawmill

Step 2-Ask at every sawmill if they have the wood you’re looking for. ‘No hay,’ ‘No hay,’ they say. Steer your bike down a steep trail, wood houses on either side. Leave bike where the land turns marshy. That sawmill doesn’t have the wood either. Push bike back up slope. Strain.

You are pointed to a man shuffling down the road. He looks pensive and raises a finger to his lips. ‘I’ll have the wood Monday,’ he says. Yay.

Step 3-Return on Monday to that one sawmill. Ask if the Katawa has arrived. No. Come back tomorrow. Take a phone number to try and save yourself the walk. Be efficient.

Step 4-Call the following morning. Phone calls are ignored. Walk to sawmill and ask if the Katawa has arrived. Um, yes. He gestures back to a great pile of logs tumbled over one another like slumbering elephants. The log won’t be cut until the day after tomorrow, come back then.

Step 5-Return the following day with Hildo to corroborate that the log is Katawa and not a look-alike. Hildo says they have tried to scam even him, and he knows wood. Arrive at the sawmill. Man in shirt flails his arms like ‘shoo, shoo’ and snears. He says dismissively ‘I told you to come tomorrow.’
Hildo takes a look at the log. It is Katawa, but the log is too small. Plus it is cracked. It is raggedy and discarded. ‘No vale,’ says Hildo. We decide to boycott this acceradero. They don’t treat their customers well, Hildo says. I agree. The boss is an asshole.

Step 6-Check at the acceradero two doors down. Hildo knows people. This is easier. A man says he has a Katawa on his property. Tommorrow he’ll prepare the wood and bring the planks in. Come the day after tomorrow in the early morn, he says.

Step 7-Two days later and Hildo steers me out on his boat 20 minutes upstream to pick up the planks. ‘Que emocion!’ I am excited. Hildo docks the boat round the back of the acceradero where they haul the logs up from the river. Some logs are in the water. Others are half way up the slope of the bank. Fat slugs awaiting the chop.

Frowning puzzled faces. ‘Oh, him, he has Katawa.’ Someone points. The man emerges. ‘I got up before dawn yesterday,’ he says. ‘But the log was underwater, what could I do? I couldn’t cut it while it was in the water.’

Step 8-You have to wait for the river to rise so that the log can be floated to the sawmill. The Katawa grows a way up the bank.

Step 7.9-They tell me that in a few months when the river is up the sawmills will be full of Katawa. A few months? ?

Step 8.5-Sit at the hospedaje staring out at the river hoping for rain. You want a torrential storm to batter down for days and days. You want the boyant logs bobbing in to the sawmill. You look out and try to tell if the river has risen. The water in the well where you bathe looks higher. Is it time yet?

sawmill Peru

A sawmill where I did not get the wood from


Step 9-Seraphine says he saw some Katawa in the sawmill nearby. We walk together. Yes, it is Katawa. ‘Here is the famous Katawa you are looking for.’ But they are 3m planks. On Tuesday he’ll have 4m planks for me. It begins to rain. We sit under a roof. We talk about mad gringos, piranhas and anacondas and how you should smear motor oil on yourself if you swim in the river to avoid becoming prey, (the anaconda sniffs the oil and goes away) and how governments want to destroy the coca plant though its the rampant cocaine consumption in the developed world that’s the problem, not the coca plant sacred plant of the Incas.

Step 10-Tuesday. Get news that the wood won’t be ready until tommorrow, late afternoon. I go by the sawmill to confirm. They tell me the belt on their machine broke. Tomorrow.

Step 11-The next day Hildo and I steer out on his boat to collect the planks. Arrive at the sawmill. The owner says the log was twisted, very hard to cut. Not all of them are shungo, from the core of the log. This rots faster. That’s okay, but we look through the planks and nearly all are cracked. Good for a house, no good for a boat. We leave the wood. Motor back to the house. Gloom.

sawmill ownerPeru

Sawmill owner. ‘soy profesor, soy titulado, pero prefiero esto.’ he told me. (‘I’m a teacher, I have the qualification, but I prefer doing this.’)

Step minus 3 -Must not cry. Only break down crying when applying for visas or over visa-related issues.

Step 12! -But that night Hildo tells me that he saw Katawa logs floating outside a sawmill upriver…

Step 13-The next morning walk to the acceraderos. Yes! The man beckons me in. He has five Katawa logs. I should come by at midday tommorrow, he’ll have the wood ready.

Is this really going to happen? I walk to the sawmill to confirm. Come at 4pm, says the lady working.

Step 14-At 4pm I am waiting at Hildo’s doorstep. We need to go in his boat to collect the wood. He’s not there. It is 4.30pm, the sawmill is open til five. I am impatient, jittering on the spot. The family is sitting outside their house looking out over the river. There he is! they say. A black point far away coming around a penissula. Black point enlarges slowly. At 4.50pm the boat is at the house. Hildo disembarks holding up a catch of fish. Soon we are on our way to the sawmill. Workers are loading wood on to a big cargo ship. We have to circumvent it. I run up to the sawmill as Hildo ties the boat up. I flail excitedly up to the woman sitting on her wood stump stool. She looks up at me and says dryly ‘Tommorrow.’ My jaw drops. ‘Look, the log is big, they can’t fit it into the machine.’ she says. The log is fat it is jammed up against the machine and they are slicing parts off the top.

‘Why did you say today if you knew it wouldn’t be ready? Three times I’ve dragged Hildo out expecting to pick up wood.’ She laughs.

Step 15-Monday I go early to the sawmill. They’re slicing the planks. I walk fast stride back to Hildo’s house. We whirr out on his boat. The planks are ready! Some are cracked, but we take the best ones. We load them onto the boat. I carry one at a time and wrestle with them and brandish them around. I am covered in sweat and sawdust. Back at the house Hildo unloads the planks part way. Leo and I carry the wood to the hospedaje. I prop the wood up to dry.

See, got the wood. Easy.


Posted on March 24, 2014, in Boat building, Preparation. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

  1. Emile !. After reading your wood story , I wonder if Noah had the same work as you do to build his arc before the big flooding ….
    Amazon is long , hard , and dangerous , yet very special , hope you get your goals and share them with us ! .
    We just got back from London after staying with my St’ Johns wood high street family ! .
    Barrie told us about your plans , we wish you & Puppy all the best on this Adventure ! ,do not forget to report on all beautiful sites you will see ! .
    God bless you , keep well , Carole & Yacov Weiss from Israel .

  2. Sounds a lot like Brazilians….”It will be ready tomorrow” means “it will be ready in two weeks.” “it will be ready in two weeks” means “It will be ready in two months”. “Its going to take awhile” means “It will never, ever be ready.”

  3. Emille ! .
    Knock on wood !!!.
    Yacov .

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