Thursday, December 9, 2010

Rolling, Rolling, Rolling Up the River

As I lay on a hammock on a boat floating up Río Mañon, I couldn’t help but wonder, “Is this normal?” On the one hand, this is something I’ve dreamed of my whole life. On the other, it’s a crazy premise: “Let’s go on a three-day boat ride in a shitty boat and try to have a good time.” You might think I’m exaggerating. I’m not. This was no luxury ship, folks. The lancha, or ship, had two decks, both of which were chock-full of hammocks. Swinging side-to-side in my hammock, I would bump into my neighbor. There were too few bathrooms for the approximately 200 passengers and it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that they made my latrine in Paraguay look nice. I was particularly worried as my stomach hadn’t been doing so well (probably a combination of eating at markets and 5-sole-menu places where I drank the juices).

The upper deck was unenclosed but thankfully had a roof to protect us from the intense sun, allowing breeze from the river to fan us. Of course, there’s not much breeze when your boat only moves at 10 MPH. From our hammocks, we could watch the jungle banks passing by. A few times, we heard squawking and spotted a flock of parrots flying up from the tree tops.

The second day passed much as the first, full of reading and amacar-ing (“to hammock oneself,” yes, Spanish has a verb for that). The grand adventure of the day occurred when the boat stopped at the town of Santa Rita. The Argentine hippies, having devoted the whole day to weaving bracelets and smoking weed, decided to divert themselves by practicing juggling. Unfortunatley, one ball rolled off the upper deck of the boat and into the water. The Argentine luckily was sober enough to ignore his friend’s cries of “!Tirate!” (“Throw yourself in!”). Seeing this, one boy from Santa Rita ran down to the water and jumped into a boat. He didn’t even have an oar; he had to paddle with his feet. As the whole town looked on from the shore, a second boat, this one with a motor, joined the search-and-rescue mission. To the delight of the crowd of passengers on the boat and on-lookers onshore, the second boat returned triumphantly with the pink ball captured. The Argentine thanked the boat driver with a bracelet and then proceeded to drop the ball…Don’t worry, he caught it this time.

In the evening, the colors of the setting sun were intensified by the immense gray clouds. The wind picked up, threatening to throw our things overboard, and it started to pour. We ran for shelter, forgetting that we were on a boat. The only protection it could offer us was a plastic curtain and a leaky roof. I lay in my hammock journaling, as water dripped on me. The storm quickly picked up strength and speed and transformed from a welcome source of cooling air into a freezing, terrorizing rain. Large drops of water rolled down from the ceiling, soaking me. I hid inside my hammock, but it did little to protect me. A fellow Peruvian passenger had a br4illiant solution to stop the leaks: he placed life jackets over the holes in the roof to absorb the rain. I passed the night alternatively sweating from the heat and humidity and shivering from the waves of cold washing over me.

Around 4 Am the third day, we passed by Nauta, a town which marks the beginning of the Río Amazonas. Other than that, the third day was marked by a desperate urge to off the boat. I was not the only one who felt that way. As we neared shore, a bull broke through the wooden fence that contained it and swam toward freedom. I was tempted to do the same. It had been three days since I’d last showered and my supply of bottled water was nearly out. The brown sewage that surrounded the boat (aka the Amazon River) wasn’t an appealing option to bathe in. The phrase “Water, water everywhere, but not a drop to drink,” came to my mind.

We finally arrived at Iquitos, the largest city in the world that cannot be reached by land. It is only accessible by boat and plane. When we arrived, I spotted “cruise” ships (the South American version in any case) anchored at the port with air conditioning and individual cabins. “Psshaah,”I thought to myself. “They missed a true Amazonian river adventure!”

A lancha similar to the one I rode on:

The bottom deck, a storage deck for beverages, bananas, and bulls:

Relaxing in my hammock:

The lower deck was much more crowded:

Vendors entered the boat at every port:

Boats on the river:

The pink ball rescued!

A crowd of onlookers watches:

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