Canoeing Amazon, Tamshiyacu to Atlantic
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I´ll leave what´s here, but we´re moving the blog exclusively to the TripTracker page. Our SPOT, after a weeklong period of functionality, ended up dying completely. All tech support can tell us is, send it in under warranty and get another. Since we´re in the middle of the Amazon, this isn´t really an option. So, out of frustration with the situation, we´re abandoning SPOTAdventures. If you´re interested, you can go to http://triptracker.net/trip/7225/ to check it out
First off, sorry this took so long to get up. We´ve had a busy ten
days, and most of our time in internet cafés so far has been spent
trying to fix a problem with the SPOT tracker. Once we get it
figured, we´ll throw up a link that shows you our progress each day.
However, for the time being, SPOT is causing a lot of problems for
us—right now it´s looking like the choice will be between waiting
around in Iquitos for a week while a new one gets shipped to us, or
not having that progress link until we get to Brazil.
Here´s what´s been going on so far, as told by the both of us, though
written from Logan´s perspective:
May 11, 2010, Iquitos, Peru
The journey from LAX to Iquitos was as problematic as it was
exhausting. Despite seven hours in layover time, we only managed to
snag a 20-minute nap in Bogotá. From lost luggage (we´re still trying
to figure out what happened to our paddles between Miami and Bogotá)
to flawed itineraries from Orbitz, we spent most of our airport time
just trying to make our connections.
From the airport in Iquitos, we travelled by motocarro (a sort of
open, three-wheeled taxi) to APECA´s office in the city. The twenty
minute ride through the cool and humid night air was loud and bumpy.
Gina, APECA´s founder, yelled over the wind and engine in order to
play the part of
tour guide as our driver wove through traffic, a chaotic mix of
motocarros, busses, and the occasional automobile.
We´ll sleep here tonight, then head upriver to APECA´s study center
at El Fundo tomorrow.
1. In Lima, we managed to get our bags, go through customs, re-check them, go through security, and find our gate in under 45 minutes.
2. APECA´s house in Iquitos is very pretty, with a lot of richly-colored wood.
3. Gina cooked us a nice chicken dish when we arrived.
4. The SPOT tracker worked.
May 12, 2010, El Fundo (near Tamshiyacu, Peru)
It was evening before we made it to El Fundo; the first part of the
morning was spent giving interviews. Rusty and I overslept—the
expedition is just me and Rusty, by the way: Andy had to drop out due
to personal circumstances out of our control—and I had just enough
time to wash my face and suck down a cup of instant coffee before the
reporters arrived. So my first confused, broken attempts
at recalling high school Spanish happened to be broadcast on national
television in Peru. It wasn´t especially pretty.
After the interviews , a little shopping for last-minute items (chain
for the boat, mosquito net, rubber boots, etc.), and a brief lunch of
soup and majás (a jungle rodent; it was really tasty), we left
APECA´s office for El Fundo.
My first glimpse of a river here wasn´t the Amazon but the Itaya.
Iquitos is located just below the confluence of these two rivers. I
followed Pablo, APECA´s program director, down a hill littered with
garbage. Pablo and I got in his aluminum boat, picked up Rusty and
Gina, and rolled out. It took two hours going against the current of
the Amazon to reach El Fundo.
1. El Fundo is APECA´s Study Center; this is where they host health trainings for the Promotores de Salud, among many other things.
2. The Promotores de Salud are elected by their communities, and they are required to attend 3 days of training 3 times a year.
3. It was extremely challenging to get the meat from the majás into my belly; utensils proved useless, and I ended up having to use my hands and do a bit of gnawing.
4. Pablo is among the manliest men we have ever encountered. From now on, expect to find Pablo facts scattered around.
5. One of Pablo´s floating ribs is currently broken.
6. He showed us the boat tonight. It´s a graceful 6.5 meters, painted green, two seats. I paddled it in a circle in the small pond.
7. As I did I felt my mind letting go of questions like, Is this doable? and, What can stop us? We made it here, and I´m ready to fall into a rhythm of long slow days on the biggest slow brown river on earth.
8. We´re excited.
9. Pablo made the seats.
May 13, 2010, El Fundo (near Tamshiyacu, Peru)
We got up early so we could join Pablo and Bella (the cook) for
some shopping in Tamshiyacu. As we walked around the town, two giggling local boys took to following us around. To entertain them, I gave Rusty a bunch of flat tires, which they thought was pretty good.
Although Tamshiyacu apparently has a new marketplace, it was closed today. Instead, people laid out blankets and set up tables on the street and laid out whatever they were selling, from fish to corn kernels for popping. We obtained a ridiculous amount of food on the cheap by US standards: something like 7 soles (less than 3 USD) for yucca (a starchy local staple), fruit, and some rice.
After returning to El Fundo, Bella cooked up a delicious breakfast: fried yucca, tortillas (essentially omelettes), papaya juice, and salsa. We sat around the table long after we finished eating, drinking coffee and practicing our Spanish while Pablo and Gina told us stories from the area.
Once our plates were cleared, we headed outside to test out the canoe. After paddling around in the pond at El Fundo for a few minutes, we discovered some leaks in the boat. We spent most of the day fixing them, but when we slid it into the pond afterwards, water still found its way in—we´ll have to come back to it tomorrow.
1. Some detail on the fixing of the boat:
a. Step one is, dry out your boat.
b. Then, build a small fire. You want mostly coals or low flames so the tar doesn´t catch.
c. Put a paint can full of tar on the fire to melt it.
d. While it´s melting, take a kerosene blowtorch and old machete blade and work out the old tar from the inside of the boat. It´s dirty and won´t seal; you´ve got to remove the old stuff before you put the new stuff in.
e. Use your machete to make a spoon from an old soup can, which you fill with tar.
f. Tip the boat so that the tar will go where you want; namely, in the crack where two boards are fitted together.
g. Pour the tar from the spoon so it runs along the crack.
h. Have someone else keep the blowtorch on it with one hand. With the other hand, this person should take the old machete blade and smear the bubbles out of the tar, which will pop and later become holes.
i. Should you find any holes, fill them from the soup can.
2. We had showers today. All of the water at El Fundo is from a rainwater catchment system. All running wateris gravity-powered. “We practice what we preach,” Gina says.
3. Pablo will occasionally live alone in a hut in the jungle for a month or three in the interest of natural medicine.
4. Dinner today unfolded in the same fashion as breakfast: Bella working hard in the kitchen while the rest of us sat around sipping coffee and Milo (South American energy drink/hot chocolate) and talking.
May 14, 2010 El Fundo (near Tamshiyacu, Peru)
I woke up to rooster cries and the sound of knocking down by the bond. I peed, stretched, washed my face, and headed out to find Juan and Pablo already hard at work with the tar and blowtorch. We worked on the bottom of the boat today, so we didn´t need to remove the old tar, just mix it around a bit.
After the day of boat-fixing, Rusty, Gina, Pablo, Bella, and I all piled into the aluminium boat that had taken us from Iquitos to El Fundo. We drank cold beer and Coca-cola, a mix popular around here, and floated as the sun set over the Amazon.
1. Pablo and I converse in a mix of Spanish and English, both wanting to practice. Often he speaks English and I respond in Spanish, but sometimes it´s more one way than the other. His English is better than my Spanish.
2. There´s a lot of jokes going around about me and Rusty trying to impress the chicas.
3. Let´s keep in mind that Pablo´s had a broken rib through all this work.
May 15, 2010, Iquitos
Today was our last day at El Fundo. It started the same as our other days, except with an added feeling of excitement; today we were going out into the jungle. After breakfast and a few more hours of final touches to the canoe, Pablo guided us up a small tributary into an area of “virgin jungle”. It reminded us of Alaska´s temperate rainforest but hotter and with more varied colors. During the first leg of our hike, we passed through a chakra (a garden for the inhabitants of the jungle) and Pablo helped us identify some of the plants. On the boat ride back to El Fundo, Pablo told us that he thought “jungle life is the best kind of life.”
“For you?” I asked.
“For anybody,” he said. “In the jungle is everything you need.”
At dinner we were exposed to our first dose of regional natural medicine: aguardiente, an alcoholic drink made from sugarcane that is sometimes used to treat snakebites.
1. We´ve been trying to decide on a name for the boat.
2. El Fundo has been constructed by volunteer labor. It´s a very nice facility, with multiple dormitories, a chicken house, a wood shop, bathrooms, a place to shower, and a kitchen.
3. We saw a large turtle in the pond today. Pablo and Gina keep ducks in the pond, which also contains fish and turtles. The fish and turtles eat the duck droppings.
4. It´s been surprisingly cloudy and cool so far.
5. Participating in natural medicine around here can entail a lot more than drinking aguardiente from time to time, using poultices, or eating certain combinations of fruits or plants from the forest in certain preparations: there can be a social aspect to the strict diet as well. Pablo, for instance, has lived alone in a small hut in the jungle, without speaking to anyone, for a month or three at a go as part of a prescription.
May 16, 2010, Iquitos
We made our first meaningful strokes at 7:30 this morning. Paddling down the Amazon River was very similar to what we were expecting—it´s a big, brown river, so wide at times that it feels like an ocean. The plan for the day was to meet Gina and Pablo at a town called Aucayo, situated more or less halfway between El Fundo and Iquitos. Before we´d been paddling an hour, however, we took a wrong turn around a very large island and wound up below the town. This small mistake cost us; we had to paddle upriver for the better part of three hours to reach our said meeting point. Once we finally paddled into Aucayo, we were met with the heartbreaking news that Gina and Pablo had continued on when we didn´t show, hoping to fuel up and come back out to figure out where we were. Instead, their motor broke and they had to be towed the rest of the way to Iquitos. We ended up hitching a ride there ourselves in order to make it to APECA´s house on time.
1. The mistake with the island was the result of laziness more than anything: the fast current—which we were in—went around the left, and we´d have had to leave it and cut across a long stretch of river to make it to the correct side. So we had to sell it to ourselves a little.
“Are we even sure that´s an island? That could just be a tributary…”
“I mean, even if it is an island, there´s no way it´s going to stretch all the way to Aucayo, right? We´ll just have to start working our way to the right after this.”
“Yeah, man, we´re good, it´s fine, let´s just keep going.”
2. We happened to be right next to another town, Gallito, while we paddled at a snail´s pace back upriver to Aucayo. So there were a lot of brief shouted exchanges.
“Where´s your motor?” People would yell.
“I have small arms, I need to work so I become strong like a bull,” I´d yell back.
“Where are you from?”
“What´s it like where you´re from?”
“The sun isn´t as strong.”
“Where´s your motor?”
They thought it was pretty funny that we didn´t have a motor, which was fair enough considering that despite the great amount of effort we were expending, we were moving so slowly 6 or 7 year old schoolkids could easily keep pace with us on from shore as they peppered us with questions.
May 17, 2010, Iquitos
After a good night´s rest at APECA´s house in Iquitos, Rusty realized he´d forgotten the camera charger at El Fundo. We searched around town for a new one but they were super expensive, so we decided that it would be best for Rusty to take a “rapid express” boat back to Tamshiyacu in order to retrieve the forgotten cord. It was about a one hour ride each way, so he had some down time to read and enjoy the river.
Meanwhile, I stayed in Iquitos to get our new machete sharpened and upload a few pictures (it takes forever). I also got to accompany Gina to a meeting with the governor of Loreto, the highest representative of the national government in the region. We visited to his office, which is located in a beautiful museum. He was friendly and had read about the expedition in the newspaper. He told us that we might even be able to help him out a little: assuming we get this SPOT tracker figured out, the government could use the coordinates of any villages we stay in, something they don´t have currently.
1. The museum where the governor´s office is located has cast-statues from full-body molds taken of indigenous people.
2. Internet here costs 1.50 soles/hour.
3. Last night, we returned from El Fundo from a bunch of messages from our parents—the SPOT tracker hadn´t been working since the first night we landed in Iquitos, although the lights on the device indicate it is.
4. So we called tech support at night, and successfully sent an OK message—so, so far, it´s work 100% of the time in Iquitos, and 0% of the time anywhere else.
5. So, for anyone looking at the SPOT Adventures page, that´s why all the image locations and times are so messed up—there´s no points to link them to, so I´ve just been mapping them randomly around Iquitos, though many were actually upriver a ways.
May 22, 2010, Iquitos
Just another day of hanging around Iquitos, waiting for the new SPOT tracker to arrive; it´s currently stuck in customs in Lima.
The story is: we tried to send another OK message after the one on the 17th from Iquitos was successful. All the appropriate lights blinked green in the appropriate ways—but this one didn´t connect for some reason. We need this piece of equipment to be, if not reliable enough to work regularly, at least reliable enough to tell us when it isn´t. Tech support had no idea, so we´re waiting on another.
So our expedition, for the last little bit, has consisted of fruit juices, lomo saltado, and wonderful TV experiences like soccer games and Superbad.
1. Iquitos is the most populous city in the world that can´t be reached by road--over 370,000 people.
2. But you can reach it by road if you live in Nauta.
3. "Fitzcarraldo" (1982) was filmed near Iquitos.
4. As long as I´m giving facts readily available on the Internet, here´s an APECA fact: APECA health programs (which works closely with Peruvian government agencies) address dental health; periodic vaccination and health visits to villages; the Promotores de Salud program, which trains a representative elected by the village in leadership and basic emergency medicine; and the training of rural midwives.
5. After much deliberation, we´ve decided to name the boat Laura
May 25, Iquitos:The New Plan
After all this waiting, we´ve decided to head out with our old, ridiculously unreliable SPOT tracker. Customs in Lima--where the SPOT has been held up for the last, like, five days--turned out to be too difficult to deal with. Today, we were made aware of certain applications and declaration forms that weren´t mentioned previously. We´re not sure how we´d get our hands on these forms in Iquitos or submit them, and how long the paperwork would be tied up afterwards. So, in the interest of not letting the expedition bcome the 2010 APECA Relaxpedition, we´ve decided to press on.
And of course, we have to extend our heartfelt thanks to Steve Holck for all his hard work in finding out this information for us. We´ve dealt with everything so far exclusively through him--which is to say, he´s dealt with everything so far, and then passed it on, as we have a lack of paperwork and phone access here in Iquitos. So, thanks.
1. The exchange rate is currently like 2.89, dollars to soles, and things are cheap on top of it.
2. I´ve become the stylish one of our two-man team after having purchased a blue New York shirt of a wonderful fabric that´s light, soft, and cooling. My excuse was looking hot for church Sunday night, but now my excuse is, if you´re not going to look good, why even go out?
3. I got it for like $10 USD. It was part of a gigantic liquidation in this one very well air-conditioned store that was playing the Red Hot Chili Peppers.
4. I intend to make Rusty photograph me in it, so you can know.
5. I ate a sweet piece of bread for breakfast today--I don´t know exactly what it was, but it was similar to a chunk of bread you´d get for breakfast at Starbucks--for like 17 cents.
6. We´re currently just pretty stoked on exchange rates.