Tuesday, March 4, 2008

A Clearing in the Bush

I left this saga last, in the jungle town of Coca, where we departed Ecuador on the Rio Napo to Puerto Rocafuerte. The speedboat was full with 70 people, a lot of bananas, oranges, eggs, a generator, and other thick bulsas of various cargo. It took 15 hours to reach our port, and we stumbled into a half organized mass of habitations with old broken lamp posts lining the few streets. We found ourselves lodged in a small, filthy room with a peruvian military immigration guard on leave, hammocks, mosquitos, rats, cochroaches and a chorus of dog fights all night long. Upon early rising the next day, and a fried fish and papas breakfast, we nearly emptied our pockets to pay for the gasoline to get us the hell out of Ecuador and into Pantoja where we could get a Peruvian entry stamp in our passports. This ride was brisk, and our driver Juan Carlos drove us purposfully into some river bushes numerous times to collect small fruits which look like green beans and taste like sugar water in cotton, mmm. As we were occupied in the bushes, with VERY big braches looming around our heads- so that we had to dodge under, over and around as the river current pulled us along- a storm rolled in and Chuzo (Juan Carlos) pushed the motor to the metal as we screeched into Pantoja around noon.

Pantoja has no streets. Being so far upstream on the Rio Napo, there are no vehicles, and villagers were working hard at carving their canoes on the shore. We hiked up a long hill to immigration as the rain came pouring down. We have more luggage now than ever because of all our ¨neccessaries¨ (primarily 20 liters of agua and crackers) which really arent all that neccessary for the jungle after all (rubber boots, mosquito nets, pots and pans, bowls, cups, towels). We found ourselves sleeping on the Lancha which had only just arrived a few minutes before us. This was lucky in some regards. Sometimes travelers wait weeks for a ride to Iquitos. Also, it was a free place to sleep. BUT the banos are in horrible condition, and by the time the Jeisawell set sail on Thurday morning, I was already sick of her. One day I awoke at first light to someone sweeping, only to realize in my groggy-headed haze that they were pushing blood maggots off the floor and overboard, sort of. Those nasty critters were EVERYWHERE, including my socks which I had lazily left on the floor the previous night.

As we sailed southwards, the lancha stopped at every jungle establishment for cargo. Cargo in the jungle means pigs, pigs, pigs, chickens, turtles, corn, bananas, pigs, pigs, Oxen, ducks, roosters, pigs, and pigs. The smell was overwhelming. The screams of the animals was horrifc. I tossed in the cold jungle air enlessly through every night. Hammocks were crammed one right next to other, I had not two, but four sleeping partners. A person on every side of me, spooning my head, shoulder, hips, and feet. Food was served in the gallows near the pigs, and right across from the mess of a bathroom. Fish guts and maggots littered the floor, and even local villagers made clear their protests by refusing to eat those meals cooked of river water on the worst lancha in the Amazon.

I spent my time drinking aguardiente mixed with an orange crush type soda or citrus tonic water. I would climb onto the roof (though it was speedily filling up with chickens in cages, and the metal was too hot on their feet to avoid their rampant rejections of squakings and cockadoodledoos). I took pictures, observed cargo loading methods (nothing like watching a village full of men, plus the ship crew, and captain haul an oxen across a small wooden plank suspended 4 feet in the air above the river from the grassy bank), talked with my friend Nara from Iquitos who is a biology major at University, crochet with llama yarn bought at the Latacunga, Ecuadorian market, read Mary Oliver, and then mixed another drink.

We evacuated the lancha on Saturday evening just aftersundown. It was a nice farewell. Nara and I sat on the roof, looking at the vast variety of stars in the southern hemisphere, and chatting together of Spanish and English phrases.

Santa Clotilda is another jungle town, smaller than Coca, and larger than Pantoja. There was a single motorcycle who navigated these streets among the scattered ramblers of the sidewalks of the evening town frollick. We stayed for free with our hammocks in the loft above a wonderful little family restaurant. They fed us well, and we spent a day taking pictures, exploring the networking pathways through palms, old fountains, covered bridges, along the river, and around a plaza in the hot hot sun. The evening held magic for me as I found some neighborhod children to play at dancing with, and then a friendly face from the lancha to meander a bit down the main strip with her three small children.

From Santa Clotilde we found ourselves disembarking on another speedboat, smaller than the rapido out of Coca, but much larger than the hand carved canoe from Nuevo Rocafuerte. This trip was 5 hours to Masan, and I sat next to a large spider.

Masan was an unintersting little town, hot, and covered with some kind of workforce who were singing near the docks. This is where I met Anderson. He is a driver of a mototaxi. A motorcyle with a trailer attached at the back for a seat. He took us on one of the funnest rides Ill ever have. It was winding sidewalks, poorly maintained with potholes and half paved with rocks and dust. The 20 minutes we held on to our bags in the back of his cab were spinning with banana trees, jungle ferns, thatched huts, and villagers, then a darker part of the forest, into sunlight, and around a bend to Indiana where I saw the Amazon river for the very first time, flowing strongly, and pushing huge masses like islands along in her current.