Monthly Archives: August 2014
Row to Puerto Narino, Columbia. Its supposed to be an easy day but crossing the river is slow. Then we nearly get pushed the wrong way round a sand island where the current splits. Make it around the head of the island just in time, lucky.
Shriek at elongated thing rushing towards just under water’s surface. Giant snake!! WTF IS THAT ARGH. but it’s just the water skimming off a submerged branch and the current sweeping the canoe quickly towards it that gives the impression its charging straight for us. This the second time I think I’m going to have to battle a giant serpent.
Then i try to take us down a small rivulet, I think it’s the entrance to the town. The water is very shallow and we have to get out and do some pushing but get through then arrive at Puerto Narinio where Nina has a friend taaa daa.
day 16- Before we leave woman gifts us lots of maduro. (ripe platino that’s tasty grilled.) They have platino plantations. Stop early at raft outside Puerto Inca. Lived on a raft a while, seems we are used to squatting rafts. Nina looks for fish bait comes back with a fish. We catch fish with large expanding basket mouths. Look like mini whale sharks. There’s a fishing net strung out nearby. Seems like a communal fishing net. Throughout the day various people paddle past to check it and take out the fishes.
Gut the fish. It has layers of organs I have to cut the heart out of the membrane. Nina makes the fire. Drops gutted fish bringing them up muddy bank to the fire. By the time all the work’s done we’re not hungry. We chuck the food. We were also put off by the suspicion that the fish we caught are fish that suck up detritus and debris, plus we caught them near the raft bathroom. A dog bites Nina. We sleep on the porch of the raft where there is partial shelter. The room is locked. At nighttime the raft people return. It’s about to storm. We hear them wincing from mosquito bites. I hear a voice through the wall. The raft inhabitants tells us to come inside before it starts to rain.
Rainy sunrise. No good for travel. It’s a couple from Iquitos looking after the raft, it’s the woman’s sisters raft. They are sweet they swing together sweetly in the hammock. They invite us to go to Caballococha with them, a small city. We go to Caballococha and sit on a couch. The couch is lush. We walk around and buy stuff like lunch and cigarette and chocolate.
Drunk guy hitches a ride with us to San Pablo. Nina rows. Tries to hit us up for coins but Nina says that HE should pay HER for rowing him. Eat tamales in San Pablo. Take a narrow branch of the Amazon. Stop at a raft and duck into shade and take a bath off someone elses boat.
Float down river, its shady, lie back to take nap. Storm grumble then STORM!! See the dark rain sleet sweeping down the river towards us. Get under plastic. Too windy. Get soaked. Can’t see anything. Speedboat emerges from mist and rips through the water too close to us.
Stop at community but hardly anyone there. Mute old lady comes to chat, serious looking boy and girl and old lady. They wear headscarfs and are wary of us. Dock at port. It’s a religious community, their religion is called Order of the Cross. They wear plain cloth dresses. Angelic choir singing echos in the small hours of the morning.
day fifteen-Don’t really want to travel. Have my period. Make oatmeal, fish, etc. Eating session. Guy comes to play guitar. It’s Sunday. Nina goes to child’s birthday party and sings happy birthday. That afternoon go upstream to buy cigarettes and watch sports. These are prohibited in the religious community.
Very hot day. Arrive sorta woozy at a house. Bathe in little creek. We cook fish noodle carrot soup. Go to sleep at five pm like usual. V. tired. Sun lingers in the sky v. long here.
Another scorching day from sunrise. Pull up to a raft. Guy tells us stories of how a speedboat flipped but he survived. They’d piled the cargo on too heavy. Gives us unopened coconuts. On the canoe I grunt and hack at the coconut with the machete until we can drink the juice. Feel like a clever monkey. Can’t go anymore it is very hot. Jump into the water and submerge then climb back on boat to cool down. Before we were never nervous about swimming…only now that we’ve seen what’s in there Pirahnas <———————————————–THIS—————————————————->big and other freakish life like a huge translucent swimming worm that eats ducks that I saw in Iquitos when washing plates (Olivia said it ate the duck by sucking its intestines out of its anus.)
Stop at community and ask to to pitch tent. Old lady lying sprawled half out of her doorway on porch. Half pitch tent sorta mad and fainting. Drunk guy comes sit with us, he is mild. Hits us up for agua diente (sugar cane alcohol) money. Spider in the luggage try to kill it, its a biting spider, but too slow.
Can’t get cool. Burning up. Bugs. Can’t get cool. Sun has roasted us. Cook on fire outside. Don’t enjoy food, too exhausted. Discuss travelling by night but don’t have flashlight and don’t know the border and it’s the cocaine border. Nina gives painkillers to the old woman who is sick. Next day she asks for 10 soles, give her 20. We’re near San Pablo, big city, so money is coveted, there’s somewhere to spend it.
Breu Island. Pull up to land where there are many dolphins. small shiney eyed old man and grandson come down to the port. Old man plays merry guitar but its cut short because mosquitos swarm and sting. Many horseflies too during the day which hurt. These guys have an island to themselves separate from the community downstream, beautiful peaceful place (apart from the bugs.) Man tells us we have to follow the river on the right side from now on. On the left theres a huge whirlpool that spins you round and round and sucks you up. There’s a monster upside down with its head under the water that sometimes swivels upright and eats the passing canoes. From here on practically all communities are on the right side. We wonder if the left bank is dedicated to cocaine manufacture.
Stay at Breu island. Nina goes looking for eggs in the morning. She goes with the old man rowing in the canoe and asks the entire community downstream for eggs and no-one has them. Then the old man decides they should buy a chicken, and they go round the entire community asking for a chicken, but no-one wants to sell. Nina comes back hungry and pissed. Meanwhile I wash plastic and clothes.
I go fishing with the old man and his son. He has a tarrafa. Thats a net with a bundle of weights on the end. You throw the net in with the weights in a perfect circle, then haul it up and the weights converge and close the net and hopefully you’ve got fish inside. Catch four or five little ones. We also float the fishing net downstream opened up between the boat and a plastic bottle but don’t catch anything.
That afternoon Nina accidentally goes on a four hour hunting trip. I thought the old man said his grandson was going to shoot a turkey, a pavo, there are many turkeys around the house. But he didn’t say ‘pavo’ but the name of an obscure forest bird. They go machetying through mangled forest for 4 hours. Nina comes back pissed. Not a restful day. Very pissed now, what with the egg hunt that morning and now the accidental hunting trip.
We eat more fish soup with farinia. These guys hardly eat, just a little fish with farninia, and in the morning farinia drink with sugar. They are very minimalist. The old man stands up from his fish soup meal, content, and says ‘what more do you need?’
We stay one more day to catch some fish for the road. Check net. We’ve caught a stingray and 4 or five other fish. There’s a very big fish that looks like a monster. The stingray is round and brown and its edges frill up and stir and splash the water. Decide not to repeatedly bash fish over the head because they don’t die very quick and their gills seep blood. Don’t know what to do with the ray, it is very tangled. Then the old man comes up in his canoe with his dogs and rifle, paddling with a stick (not ore) with a cup of farinia beside him for breakfast. He’s going hunting for that forest bird. He cuts the tail off the ray with a machete. We untangle it. It has a human like, oval mouth on its underside. We gut the fish. Use the guts to fish more fish. Go back to house and salt fish and make fish soup porridge with big fish.
Stingray is not a traditional Amazon food and no-one knows how to prepare it. I try to gut it but it seems like there are many intestines and little meat and its bowels are overflowing and it stinks and I can’t make the soup. We throw the body back to the water. The next morning the old man throws a turkey corpse to the river. It caught itself in the fishing net that was bundled on the floor and died.
Paddle down to the community and get cigarette and soda fix. We see three kayaking gringos! They are strange muscular white pink chests atop red plastic cacoons. They power downstream with determined flushed faces and wrist swivels. They are mythical river creatures.
Back at the house. The young man talks loudly and anguishedly to the old man about his woman troubles as a storm brews and everyones lain on their respective parts of floor in the empty wood house that only has some walls (normal.) The girl he wants is with another guy. He wants to go into the forest and work on the coca fields and not languish here. These guys work on coca leaf plantations. There are many coca leaf plantations up to the columbian border. Lots of cocaine production in this part of the Amazon.
A cloudy day. yay. We make good distance and pass Peves where there is a military checkpoint. A story often told to us in Iquitos was of two or four Japanese people who floated downriver on a raft some years ago. At Peves they were detained and killed, possibly decapitated, by the military. Some say its because they didn’t have a permit, (there were many opinions on whether or not you need a permit to navigate the river if your boat doesn’t have a motor. Turns out there is no permit.) others say its because they were carrying $2000 dollars and the soldiers, who were just rowdy brutish boys in uniforms, wanted the money. Pass the military base half expecting a volley of shots to strike us down out of nowhere.
Stop past Peves. The whole community helps bring our gear into a nearby house. It’s occupied by a man and some boys. People tell us the man’s wife is in Peves. Man tells us he has no wife, only a dog and wants us to pair off with him and his little brother. He hangs in his hammock, his eyes lingering over us, and touches himself as he talks to Nina. Perve man. But apart from that he invited us to eat fish he’d brought from his net and it was delicious, succulent and flavorful. When the river provides the peasant fisherman of the Amazon eat like they’re fine dining in a gourmet restaurant.
day five -pass where Rio Napo empties out into the Amazon. We’d come down the Rio Napo from Ecuador in January. Do not recognize. Huge volume of water surging into another huge volume of water. Looks very turbulent. Woman at house before the junction said ‘go right through. But it’s feo.’ We do not go right through. We go all the way around trying to circumvent where the push of river is strongest. A dolphin leaps very close to canoe. The water is seething and hissing and making strange spirals and backcurrents.
We feel like we’re in the ocean. Big water reflects clouds. We often accidentally refer to the river as the ocean … ‘when we’re on the ocean…er… river’
Make it to Oran and camp outside town outside a big house of a man who seems to have servants. Yanamono had a toy-town feel to it because they were involved in community tourism. For example they had sit down toilets and those only get built for tourists. Oran is large and also sees outsiders. An American has a lodge there. It is ‘developing.’ They’re putting in internet, etc. The river was shapely there and not many bugs, could be a city soon.
Day six – At the port down by the canoes employee of house owner shows us how to salt fish. Gifts us the forteen palomitas and two others. Sad learning to slice fish open then bash the knife through its head because we can’t do it efficiently yet and fish dies a horrible death with a knife sawing it slowly open and its eyes bulge out with pain that’s passed the limit.
Row until afternoon until we feel we are about to die because of sun. Claw our way up a muddy fallen in bank. Young man is whistling and carving an ore. Ask if we can camp (exhausted) but says its better downstream at a nearby community. He gifts us a huge bag of farinia (fermented Yucca crumbs.) We sit a while longer and his wife who is tall and beautiful and a little girl appear and they all get in a tiny canoe to check the net and come back with a huge fish. Wife wants him to give us the fish but we decline but we are touched that they would gift us their meal.
Stop downstream. Have stomach problems still, have to be careful not to paddle too forcefully. Port has a very steep bank very muddy. Community is eerie perched very high up over the river that’s big and ocean-like here, and the sky is gray and someone is playing the flute and the rhythmic thwack of machetes in the grass and the children’s faces are mud smeared. People help us pile our stuff onto a house with no walls.
It rains from sunrise. We don’t leave. Nina has worst stomach pain these days. We are staying with a fisherman and a woman from Iquitos. She’d met him a month ago at the festival of San Juan and spontaneously abandoned her old life and returned with him to this desolate, tiny community (not even on the map,) escaping an abusive boyfriend and apathetic children. She said she loves him a lot, he treats her good, but he wants a baby and she’s afraid since she’s older now. She is loud and screechy but and merry and she screams jokes to the woman in the neighboring house (neither house has walls, all houses are more like impromtu shelter, wooden, slightly raised off the ground on stilts, partially built) and they fall about laughing raucously. We all lay in hammocks with blankets over us and put out containers to catch rainwater. The man doesn’t talk much. Only the rain stops that afternoon and I see him go out on his boat and he smiles at me a big broad smile, he’s so happy to be back on the river.
It shows they haven’t lived there long because the fireplace is underneath the house. You have to crouch and tend the fire like a cave creature. It is cold. I walk to the last house and buy a fermented honey concoction from an old woman that’s supposed to be a remedy for cold weather. It hurts our stomachs more. Wonder what’s actually in it. It’s supposed to give you diarrhea to purge apparently, oops. It is freezing we feel terrible. Fragile brittle bones, weak and frail, the wind blows through the house. Lie down and can’t move anymore. 5pm.
Water looks volatile. Think of primordial serpents. Paddle until the heat is intense then crawl under a tree at a community and eat jam. A group gathers to stare at us. A man on his way to the fields and an old lady speak to us. Bathe on canoe many times (dunk water on ourselves with cut off plastic bottle.) Arrive at a community called Yanamono, put up tent. Put the fishing net across a creek by the community. We are cooking and mosquito time comes around. I look down my hand and is smothered by mosquitos. Flee.
Haul out the net and can’t believe it. Abundance! about 40 fish are trapped. Spend about 3 hours untangling them. Haven’t learnt to salt fish so keep some for breakfast and dinner and gift the rest. We feed the entire community. Many people there are teachers about to go on holiday. The main school for the surrounding communities is here. They invite us to a typical foods tasting. There’s tortoise soup, jungle meat, juanes. We taste bitefuls. Secretly wanted to gorge on food. Lie in hammock. There are many mosquitoes here even during the day, horseflies too. Can feel venom circulating in my blood from all the bites. Hurts. That night sleep in the school room.