10/7/19 – 10/8/19
We were up at three forty five on October seventh. I sat on the porch of our hotel watching the moon reflect off the river. I could see a flashlight moving deep in the jungle, miles away.
The boat took off just as it began to get light out. I appreciated that it was mostly empty and sat by the window waiting for the sun to break through. Jungle river villages. Everyone comes out to watch the boat pull in and out. Children playing in little dugout canoes from solid tree trunks. Grasses growing out of the saturated hulls. Lifejackets were strictly enforced on all boats in Ecuador. In Peru it is not clear whether they are even on the boat.
Mostly smooth cruising. Captain cuts the engine around 2:00 and runs to the back to inspect it. We're moving again soon, but it sounds strange. Stop at a muddy village to fill up gas. Sick man in front of me rubbing Vicks all over his body. Wife wraps him in a blanket. Boat putters along. Another one pulls up next to us. I fear we're going to have to move to it, but they are bringing us a can of fuel.
The boat stops in Santa Clotilde for the night and a hotel room is included in the ticket. The mattress was a bit mossy, but everything in the jungle is mossy. The town is a bit livelier than Pantoja and we wander the streets for the short period that there is electricity. There are no cars, just motos and three-wheeled moto-taxis. A little boy rides a bike with no tires down the road, rims all bent, but miraculously shiny.
The boat leaves at two thirty the next morning. It’s mostly empty and I stretch out across a few seats for some broken sleep.
Nine o’clock landing in Mazan and have to push the bikes up a tower of steep and narrow rotting and slippery wooden ramps 20 feet to street level. Quick six click ride to the other side of the peninsula to Indiana. Narrow concrete roads like double wide sidewalks. No cars, only motos and three-wheeler carts. Pavement crumbling and my bottle falls off, then Soph's fender. No time to repair it so we toss it in her bag. Make it to town, ask a moto where the port is and follow him. Boat captain is waiting for us with everyone else on. Throw bikes up top carelessly and barely strap them down. I take comfort that there is only one more boat from Iquitos.
We fire down the Amazon for an hour or so. The river forces one to conjure up Hollywood images of tough little men in loin cloths tracking exotic game through the jungle and laying waste to it with poison blow darts or perhaps a spear, thick jungle brush, and anacondas the size of a fire hose. The reality is starkly different. It can be over a mile wide at some points. In the distance along the banks you can see houses floating and fishermen tossing nets into the current, beached tankers that have been turned into homes, and massive shipyards with men running around in hardhats welding colossal ships together. In the distance there are plumes of smoke from little forest fires. Sixty foot motored canoes pass us, completely filled with bananas and the brim just inches above the water, just inches from sinking.
Turning the corner into Iquitos you pass through the industrial zone on the edge of the city. Logging ports, military ports, municipal ports, water taxi ports. The river here is a boulevard lined with high rise tankers, commercial fishing boats, and navy vessels. At three thousand seven hundred kilometers upstream from the Atlantic, it is the world’s furthest inland deep ocean port. In addition to exotic fruits and timber, there is a booming trade in illegally captured animals, plants, and of course drugs.
The boat drops us at a dock that could accurately be described as a pile of shit held together with rusty nails. There are a handful of reprobates rubbernecking our gear as we unload. A toothless drunk offers to carry my bag. He reaches for it before I can answer, but I pull it from his soiled paws.
“Estoy bien, gracias amigo.”
The dock was about sixty feet below street level. We had to drag everything up three flights of stairs unsystematically assembled from Amazon hardwoods so strong that most of the nails appeared to have bent when being hammered in. We lock our bikes to a post and carry all of our bags at once. Soph waits with them at the top. As I return there is already an overly interested man eyeing up the bikes. I drag mine up the stairs, taking note that two crusty chocolate faced kids are following me. They look disappointed when they see that Soph is there to watch it once I put it down. I return for her bike, we strap our bags on, and hit the streets.
There is trash everywhere. The side streets are dirt and in the jungle rain they have that garbage sludge mud look and stench. The roads are overrun with three wheeled moto-taxis. One offers to take our bikes to a hotel. We tell him no thanks but he won’t let up. Eventually we start riding in order to lose him, but he follows us. Every time we stop in front of a hotel he tells us he can go in and talk to the owner for us. We turn the wrong way down a one way so he can’t follow. We find a coffee shop so we can take a moment to catch our bearings and shoeless kid with mud on his face wants to watch our bikes. He offers his hand while assuring me he is a reputable man from a good family, but he appears to have blood all over him and smells of bladder fluids. I didn’t know what to do but sigh, walk inside, and get a seat in front of the window where we could see our things.
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