Monthly Archives: October 2014

Proclamations of death

Day 14,15 Brasil –

We are reluctant to make a stop at the next city though we need salt. As we deliberate I write a letter of complaint on Nina’s behalf to the company who manufacture NOS mosquito-proof socks. They do not work. They are added to our blacklist of shitty products. Also on the blacklist are a majority of Peruvian lighters (they melt if you keep the flame on for more than 4 seconds.)

Dear Sir/ Madame,

I recently purchased your product NOS socks. I was thrilled to have found socks that repel mosquitos from my ankles since my ankles are very delicate and go swollen when mosquitos bite them. So I did not mind the $20 price tag. On a recent Amazon trip I pulled on my socks eagerly at mosquito hour. The mosquitos alighted on the socks and bit right through! I thank your company very much for its false advertising and my raw blood streaked ankles. Infact I am still in the Amazon suffering each day and night and the socks are not magic mosquito socks I might as well have got a pair from a thrift store or tied some thin rags around my feet. Thanks a lot, I hope your company goes bankrupt.

Nina,

P.S

maybe you can redeem yourself with coupons or money

We never sent the letter but I am putting it here to warn ye who may read this.

We decide to take the left fork to the city. The decision has lasting repercussions. As we approach the city a pekky pekky turns and belines straight toward us. A fisherman and his wife pull up alongside. The man is called Wilson and speaks spanish. He offers us coffee, then puts on a serious face and tells us what we are doing is very dangerous. He invites us to his house to rest. We want to rest, but we tell him we don’t want to go if he is going to spend the whole time telling us we are going to die. He half chuckles.

Do you want to die SI or NO – he roars at us back at the house. He stands over us as we sit meekly at the table and drink lemonade, our clothes smeared with fresh mud, twigs in our hair.

Over the next 48hours, Wilson does the best he can to convince us not to continue. He brings in ‘witnesses’ who have been recently robbed downstream. A skinny old man comes in. Wilson talks to him in Portuguese then turns to us and rages on in Spanish ‘Yes they are assalting! They’ll haul you to the beach and leave you tied up in the sun and push the canoe to the middle of the river! Don’t deliver your lives to the bandits!’ He tells us he was going to fish downstream but changed his mind because he didn’t want to risk his family, but we’re still willing to put it down to hysteria until he indicates a precise point on the map where the bandits patrol. Then we’re worried. I formulate a plan to quickly learn Portuguese and advance little by little downriver, asking communities as I go. But Wilson’s wife wants us to leave. So between impassioned rages about death and danger Wilson tells us it’s best we continue the journey, good luck. He gives us a new fishing net, an ore to replace one that was stolen at the port (people are opportunist thieves!) He is still raging on about killers downstream the next morning at sunrise as he hauls us out to the Amazon, waves us goodbye, and leaves us in the middle. We float and bob in the big blue expanse. We realize our boat is shaped like a duck. A sitting duck. Wilson has instilled the fear.

 

bandit patrol

from the boca of espiritu santu downstream we are told there is a high risk of robbery or death

Feral people—Brasil days 11,12,13

Day 11-

Awake in the Yucca farm and roast the salted fish. We spend all day rowing down a blustery channel. Then, joining back to the main river, we see an airplane taking off from a huge ship!! I think a giant griffin has hatched and is soaring towards us. This is because I have been in Peru too long where the most advanced technology is plastic. A sad slave to addiction, I make us row half the afternoon to the city to by cigarettes. The city is called Amatura. It is pretty going by, it has a nice blue church. It is evening by the time we are approaching and a speedboat hauls us up to a raft shop. Next door is a brand new raft with a porch where we can sleep for free. The shop keeper gives us gaseosa. We go up to the city and manage to furtively shower in a hotel. It’s Saturday night and there and noise and music and teenagers shrieking and we don’t sleep so good.

Day 12-

That morning Nina wanders out to the port and poos behind a log. Out in the forest we are normal but in the city we are like feral people. Then she moves around gathering sticks and debris to make a fire to asado fish. We cook rice and lentils on the fire. People think we are hilarious. This is a nice place, a nice city where people have city jobs and wear leather jackets. Here people do not go to the toilet outside wherever there is space and then build fires infront of the prominade to grill their fish. It starts to rain and everyone dashes for cover but I stay out to tend to the fish. I see Nina putting out the bucket to catch rainwater, her favourite activity.

That evening we dock at a beach, but we feel more secure in the forest so I use machete skills to hack through tall grass to reach the forest behind. once in the forest I pitch my tent and Nina hangs her hammock. We put the fishing net. We chuck it in half-arsed and tie one end to a log and the other end to the back of the boat, but before nightfall have already caught one fish, boca chico, which Nina salts while I groom the trail with the machete. Back in the forest we eat the remaining rice and beans as the mosquitos swarm in. We fan ourselves with a fan that Nina got from Thailand. It is an effective method to thwart the mozzies.

Day 13-

Dawn in the forest and I hear a motor out on the river so pack up quick and trek out to the beach. It’s some fishermen. During the night the log we tied the net to has floated downstream and wedged near the shore. I pick up the net to check and it absurd, a massacre, there must be 100 boca chicos in there. Nina runs to the fishermen and asks for salt but only gets a tiny bag. Some of the bigger fish are dead already because they choke faster. Some are even already rotten. We shouldn’t be leaving the net all night but with all the rowing we are too exhausted to check it every few hours like fishermen do. We spend a long time taking out all the fish. We keep boca chicos and there’s also a pirahna and I also find a tiny hard-shelled catfish which I throw back. Since we are low on salt we salt fish but sparingly.

The vultures gather round. They line the beach picking over the fish carcasses. As we clean out guts baby fish gather around the boat. We can’t put our hand in the water without being nibbled by tiny fish waiting for guts. I guess nothing is wasted here in the Amazon.

I gather sticks and chop down pieces of firewood then stand in the sun in a cloud of sandflies cooking the fish. They cook slow I have to rebuild the fire halfway. I also eat some fish sort of raw. Nina takes over and finishes off the grilling. Finally we are done.

That evening we pull up to an island. Baby gray dolphins leap out of the water and stand on their tails. By that evening the salted fish are rotten, we hadn’t had enough salt. The wiff of rot is depressing. We decide we can’t fish so frequently if we want to row further. We will give fishing a break, and next time be prepared with enough salt to preserve fish for a week. It is cool this evening so we both sleep in the tent at the edge of the forest.

salted fish on canoe

Only photo on Nina’s phone. Here’s the first Boca Chico we caught the evening prior, the only one successfully salted. It’s lying in the front of the canoe along with our gear. All the others have rotted or been eaten

Brasil Days 9,10 – Unkempt raft and Yucca farm

Day 9 –

Leave Sao Paulo tired, not so comfy sleeping with head jammed up against the motors. Downriver there are dolphin swarms. Dolphin watching is supposed to be enjoyable but not when there are masses under your boat. They are huge (more than half the size of the canoe) bulky fish that leap out of the water. Will they jump into the canoe? (bad for both of us human and dolphin) Will they headbutt and smash the underside of the canoe? Must be a lot of fun to be a dolphin in the river though, there’s food abundant and play and freedom.

Feel tired so stop on a raft. Can’t go any further. Put the fishing net around the corner. There’s a man on the bank who sees us and eventually he comes down and pushes his canoe out to dock on the raft and he is calm says we can stay. We lie in the boat resting and then go check the net and there’s just a couple of mini palomitas. As we’re paddling back some guys pull up to the raft and start unloading big fish they stash in the freezer to sell. We’ve just enough energy to make oatmeal on the alcohol can stove then we put up the mosquito net and sleep early sleep deeply.

Day 10-

Go fetch net. There are many palomitas in it. The problem is palomitas are tall but not fat, they are like round discs, so very small ones can get caught. They also like to entangle themselves enmass, the entire shoal. They are yum though. Succulent ribs. There are also some sardines and my favorite the grimace face fish (though smaller with two long protruding fangs from the lower jaw) and a smooth fish with whiskers and a basket mouth fish which is taboo to us because of that day in Peru were we cooked and sweated and by the end were sick with no appetite. Also it looks weird it is blue and red and lumpy like blood has accumulated and bulged on one side of its body. Since its taboo we let it go and it swims away.

I gut and Nina tends to the fire. That’s the worse job because there’s no shade from the already blazing 8am sun. You get roasted from above and below. We salt the palomitas and sardinas and all the while we are getting attacked by sandflies. We’re trying to perform delicate procedures with the knife and all the while the sandflies cling. Nina has a cut on her hand that salt gets rubbed into nicely, typical.

A late start, 10am or so. That night we sleep on a Yucca plantation. While pitching the tent amongst the baby Yuccas I sing a song that goes MAKASHARA MAKA MAKA SHAIRA AAAARHHHHH. I scream the song delightedly over the river. Makashaira (don’t know how to spell) is Portuguese for Yucca. So far the words we know are Makashaira – Yucca, Peixe – Fish, and ‘Esta boa’ – ‘S’all good’ (We use this one all the time.) There’s only time to hastily eat one fish then mosquito hour is upon us. Trillion mosquitos. Retreat fast into the tent. It is too hot in the tent for two. Squish. It is a horrible night we are soaked in sweat practically suffocating but we can’t go outside or open up the door because the mosquitoes are hovering.

Tabatinga to Sao Paulo de Olivencia 6 days

Back on the river. Lots of Storm Dodging

Day 1 rowed. Slept in the boat, not so comfy.
Day 2 wake up to rain. Sitting in the boat Man comes to speak to us, he overlooks us from the bank. We don´t speak Portuguese. Nina nods and then descends a plastic over her face to shield from the rain. Conversation ends.

Take shelter in fisherman shelter leaf roof on beach just tall enough to stand in. Make coffee with alchol stove and wait for rain. clears up. That evening dock on a beach. I tie the boat badly, a storm is coming towards us slowly very dark, the wind whips up the sand, then the boat comes loose and I run after it in a panic, limbs flapping everywhere. Then we try to tie up a tarp secure to protect from storm but hard to put sticks firmly in the sand then I try and put up the tent but it is too windy and it seems the storm is already on us and OK were just going to wrap ourselves in plastic, last resort, but the storm skirts around us. Storms move around strangely in the sky.

Day 3

put roof back on (blown off by wind)

turn the corner then an island ends and we are right in the middle at a point where the river is massive there are masses of dolphins sometimes right under the boat, we row out of there as fast as we can which is not very fast. Storm is in the sky we pull over to the side. There are shoals of fishies jumping out of the water they do this because they are joyful. We debate how to put the net in and we havent even put it all the way when we raise it up and there are billions of fish trapped in it, a whole shoal of palomitas and some fat succulent yellow stripped fish and sardines. Then fishy rehabilitation, throwing back the smallest ones. We are very absored in fishy rehabilitation then look down at our arms and they are bloodsmeared from sandfly bites, we leave just as it gets unbearable. But we got the fish and the sandflies got us so I guess that’s fairness and the universe in balance and all that. Row over to the other side to the beach and it takes several attempts to get the canoe right up to the sand prodding in the water with the ore to test if the water’s too shallow and the boat will get stuck. Decide just to sleep with mosquito net and a plastic by us to wrap ourselves in case of a storm. Peru style shelter. Grill the fish, got 4 fat succulent yellow striped fish and palomitas are also yum which we eat with rice and beans and farignina. Very high powered torches scanning the beach makes us nervous, didn’t have those in Peru.

Day 4

Storm coming and we dart into fallen trees and take off the roof and wrap it over our heads. We put the basin out to collect rainwater and make coffee while waiting. cloudy day. Get to a beach which has water pools. A fisherman has half made his roof, has put the sticks up, so we string the tarp over and sleep under. There are billions of mosquitos and sandflies. We don´t eat dinner because we don´t make it before mosquito time (dusk) and had to hide in mosquito net.

Day 5

Just as many mosquitos as in the evening, make oatmeal and eat fish. feel sick today, think its from all the sandfly bites. Stop early stop at a beach that up the bank has little path into the jungle and a nice forest camp spot. I put up tent Nina puts up hammock. Put the fishing net, cook food, check net, got a pirahna and palomita, roast them with the coals. I am very very hot it is very humid there is a storm nearby, now I truely know the meaning of hot and bothered. I march out onto the beach illuminated by lighning and step over fissures in the land down to the river to dump water on my head. Can´t get cool. But once I´m in the tent I´m okay.

Day 6-7-8 Sao Paulo de Olivencia 

Arrive at Sao Paulo early afternoon.

ask people if there is a hotel raft but there isn’t, people at first raft say we can sleep in the roomful of motors, but they aren´t so friendly so we push off from there and row really hard so we don´t get sucked under a stationary giant boat, then, passing another raft they wave us over and we dock there and they bring us chicken and one of the guys speaks Spanish. Here we sleep in the room with the motors but it´s more spacious than the other.

Spend three nights at Sao Paulo. First night we put net out along the raft but the current sucks it underneath and I pull it up to arrange and there is a massive black armour fish caught! But since our net only has three inch holes only the tip of its fin was caught and it fell away as we were trying to haul it up. That night raft lurches crazily and I dream that the raft has come detached and is floating down the river.

The raft is a fish buying and storage business (with big ice boxes) and motor storage, boat storage, etc. Children at the raft fishing all day. Don´t seem to go to school. But caught 6 or 7 big ass zebra stripped fish that day.

the fish the kids caught at Sao Paulo de Olivencia.

the fish the kids caught off the raft at Sao Paulo de Olivencia. (not our photo though)

There´s a boat opposite. It was attached to a huge metal platform, they´d just delived asphalt to Sao Paulo. The crew of that boat frequently invited us to eat with them, then we´d pull a parked canoe across the water until it touched the platform opposite and use it as a walkway.

The final night we drink and eat (peixe asado) and meet a Peruvian guy who tells us his stories. He was a stowaway for 8 days in a cargo boat to the US. He didn’t eat that whole time. When he arrived he wandered around like a lost dog (his words) for a week, then tried selling newspapers. But they were onto him and deported him immediately. He thinks they were watching him as he got off the boat.

He also told us a couple of decades back, in his youth, he had paddled the Amazon to traffic cocaine. People helped him along the way, hauling him with their motors, but they didn´t know what he was carrying. It was offputting to hear that people smuggled drugs paddling a wood boat like ours, since we would scoff when people had told us we´d be shot because they´d think we were carrying coke (to steal the drugs or something) (if we were smuggling cocaine we´d travel with a motor!). But back then he probably fitted in better paddling since motors weren´t so widespread.

Also guy on the raft who is quiet and subdued and seems stoned all the time tells us he used to traffic drugs but then went to prison and ‘sufri mucho, agora nao quero mais’ and that´s all he tells us and ever says to us except for asking us for a lighter 100000 times and when we try to avoid he sends the child to ask us.

We are a little nervous in Brasil. In Tabatinga and even in Puerto Narino many people had told us not to go because in Brasil many people die on the river. Drug wars. or random violence. or something, we never figured it out precisely. We hadn´t seen a single police boat on the river, it´s a huge lawless watery wilderness, the only laws are life and death

into Brasil – Puerto Narino to the border – notes up til that fateful day

Brasil marked a new phase. Things were different there. In Brasil fishermen catch huge fish for export, wherelse in Peru it´s small fish to feed the family. People also dressed more trendy.

We dodged storms, grilled fish and generally avoided people up until a fateful day (night) we got robbed by a child with a rifle. The camera was stolen. So sadly no pictures, apart from a couple Nina took with her phone. Also lost a video of Nina wielding a hatchet on the Iquitos raft. Sad.

leave Puerto Narino- 

realized that metal ore holders, now hammered in firmly, were going to corrode ores (before the nails would come loose and we´d have to bash them back in periodically.) slept on beach, put the net, at dusk water surface stirred with much life. tried sleeping in the tent it was too hot, drowning in own sweat hot. Slept outside of the tent with the mosquito net. Fishermen patrolling their net in the night. awoke to fishy massacre

Next day-

took out the fish from fishy massacre. strung them on strings to try to sell them in Leticia. but Leticia further than expected, have to go the long way round because other route dry. Infact by the time we arrive at the marketplace the fish are half rotten and a man comes up to us, looks at the fish, and frowns and wags his finger disapprovingly. Things rot so fast here. Try to take the turn into Leticia port but river almost dry so channel is very narrow. sucked into side of giant boat, people pull us alongside, upstream, hard going. people unloading beer. Nina says dame cerveza (giveme beer) and they give us beers. got stuck on sand in middle of traffic and boat coming out crashes into us and there are many boats going past in very small space with slashing motors and they don’t have brakes. Nina gets out and turns boat around then we rowed back out onto the Amazon downstream to Tabatinga, Brazil. Stay at a shithole raft with giant cockroaches and a polite rat and a massive spider about hand span.

Tabatinga

Went to Brasil Marina to try and get a good map and a man tells us not to go and they won’t give us the map and he shows us a form to get a permit and we need a satalite phone and a gps and all sorts of complicated things. Print out a google map. Hard to bathe privately on raft there are lurking men. Boy leaps eagerly into canoe to bathe with Nina. Have to tell him to sale de ahi like you would a dog. Man lurks at the door and tries to buy Ninas body. Seedy raft hotel.

Another day in Tabatinga, a sunday-

Get drunk and people give us things, lots of things it is bewildering, peanuts and candy and water and cigerettes and more beer, and everyone is drinking to music but it is very hot and everyone has glazed eyes and the culmination is the punk kids fight. (there are punk kids in Brasil) We make a fire to asado fish and some indigenous people come and take over the fire. They put their fish atop, it is a very indigenous-person attitude, no sense of ownership, they move our fire under their fish

yummy fish Amazon river

Fish we grilled in Tabatinga, a fav. Picture retrospectively taken in fish market because camera got stolen

Burning pizza crust

IMG_20140817_162514

that flame is way too high

Also in PuertoNarino

Also in Puerto Narino we made and sold pizza which was tricky because we had to cook with fire and avoid burning the crust. The solution was to cook the dough with coals. Then one of us had to run out and scream pizza in everybody’s face to sell before it got cold. But we think we were successful because once we went down to work on the boat and a child tugged on her mum’s sleeve and said ‘I want pizza.’

We also put a roof on the boat to protect ourselves from the sun that half killed us in Peru. Our boat was popular amongst others for bathing and washing clothes since it had a back platform. So though I found it half full of water it didn’t have a hole in it. We also hammered in makeshift oar-holders so that both of us could row. Somebody gifted us an ore by hiding it under the floor planks.  I asked a guy to make two more ores since I’d been cheated in Peru. Nobody employ a man named Rogelio in Nauta, Peru! He switched the hardwood I gave him for oars for softwood and both these oars broke fast. This other guy thought he could sell me oars made out of worm eaten scrap wood but nay!

Puerto Narino

is up a city-town up a small river off the Amazon .

We rented a room from an indigenous woman named Alba who made and sold handicrafts. Her shop was a den tucked away on one side of the porch infront of the house. I never went in. It didn’t seem like a shop to me, more like a place where people secretly convened. Through the wood walls I’d hear Alba singing to her granddaughter. Once I told Alba she should put a prominent sign outside the shop because from outside you couldn’t really tell it was a shop. She shrugged and didn’t seem to care. That’s why I think the space had some other purpose.

Like many people Alba lived day by day and had no money. She hit us up early for the electricity bill. Her son brought her platino from his farm. They ate fish with boiled platino and farignia every day, breakfast lunch and dinner, and showed little desire to eat anything else. The only time I saw Alba nearly get mad was when she’d come back from the farm, hungry, and there was no fish on the grill (is there fish!? she roared.) They were very generous and shared food with us and I became addicted to barbecued fish too.

In Puerto Narinio the fishermen came with their catch at 6am and 4pm, and it costs 5000 pesos ($2.50) for 5 or 6 fat fish.

Alba mourns how everything is with money now. The handicrafts sell slow and she and Leonardo are old now and not so spirited to work. We chopped the firewood for the house. She spoke nostalgically of when she was younger, when her family’s house was the only house for miles and all around was rainforest. There were wild bird and boar feasts and fish abundance. They never ate sugar or rice before. Then there were more and more people and the forest was replaced by houses and houses surrounding the houses, and now, in just a few decades, there’s hardly any space to plant crops and there’s no game. So now, hemmed in by houses on all sides, the forest felled, the river depleted, the money economy is the necessary means of survival.

Leonardo, Alba’s husband, tells us about the Piropucu (approximate name), the largest fish in the river. Before the lake was full of them. Now there are none around here, they were over-fished.

But isn’t the town pretty with its tarmaced streets and leafy trees boughs bobbing overhead? We could be in the suburban United States. But Puerto Narino has a big problem behind the pleasant facade- water. The house is covered over with buckets and basins. There are big industrial containers on the roof, an assortment of containers, medium, large, sprawled over the yard. These are to catch rainwater. Rainwater is precious.

A series of scorching days. After 8 am you can lie comatose in the hammock or there’s a breezy spot leaning on the banister just outside the kitchen. The water supply wanes and wanes. When will it rain?

The drinking water tastes like soap. Someone got soap in it, made it undrinkable. Who did it? We are mad at each other. A full bucket’s waste of clean drinking water. When will it rain?

There is no more water to wash clothes. There is no more water to flush the toilet. We look nervously at the last water and plot our escape. Leonardo, weakened by a bout of dengue two years ago, must make arduous trips down to the tepid river water to collect buckets just to flush the toilet. You must wash clothes and bathe down at the port which is not luxurious because the water is dirty and feels like a warm gasoline mud stew on your skin. The river is not close to the house because this is a city.

Life needs water. All the little children sent by their mothers to fetch brown water, buckets swinging from their little fists.

People get sick in the summer because they drink the river water. They get fevers and diarrhea. A little girl dies and the word is that she had the standard fever but by some medical malpractice they gave her an overdose and she died. Alba doesn’t trust hospitals, she’s afraid of them.

So you can have all the tarmacked road you want and all the trees pruned beautifully and people employed to pick up trash and that makes it pretty for the tourists (Columbian tourists from Bogota come to Puerto Narinio) but if you don’t have access to clean water it’s an empty illusion.

‘Human beings adapt to every environment’ a man in a suit said to me as we overlooked the rafts under the Iquitos Bolevard, as if this was an excuse. People are very resilient and can scrape out a living in many situations. But there’s a difference between living and keeping yourself alive. People can put up with a lot, it doesn’t mean they should have to.

And they want to extract Petroleum nearby (surprise! surprise!)