It took some time to understand our new life. A 2000 kg bamboo raft that drifts to a melody orchestrated by the wind and the river-current. With our newly added oars, we had gained some control, but La Balsa is a heavy lady to dance with. 10 strong paddle strokes and she would reluctantly move 2 meters. Time to re-think, observe and learn something new.
“Push, everybody”, we shout with our red, blood-pumped faces as we mobilize our entire physical strength to try to push the raft out of a shallow sandy area, where she is grounded. It is not the first time and I start to wish we had constructed the raft more light, more simple. She moves a bit, 1 meter. “Again”. Slowly, we manage to push our raft out of the shallow areas and into deeper waters. One afternoon, we spend 3 hours pushing and fighting with the help of a local villager who assists us. My entire body is aching and I have no energy left when we finally free ourselves. “I thought it would be an easy relaxed journey” I complain, “Haha” laughs Peycho, “Cycling across the Andes Mountains is easy compared to this” and I agree. It is much, much harder than we had ever expected.
Before departure, I had thought about the dangers of the river-life: Piranhas, Crocodiles, Electric eels and myths about tiny fish that swims up your penis and eat away you dearest friend from the inside. I find myself walking through the coffee-with-milk colored river with water to my neck, sometimes in the middle of the black jungle night. I feel tree-trunks against my bare feet as they walk me through the muddy river, and pray that I don’t wake up a 2 meter Cayman-lizard or some drowsy Stingray. We cannot afford to be afraid of the jungle, and luckily neither of us are. I can guarantee that all the rumors you’ve heard about the dangers of the Amazon river are comfortably exaggerated. Once you are here, the river is a wonderful, clean, beautiful and safe place to swim, play and enjoy life.
But on day 4, we get stuck. No, seriously stuck. We push the raft, but to no avail. We start walking around the raft in the close vicinity and the river water reaches our angels. No chance, whatsoever, we are royally grounded. The day is aging and the daily mesmerizing sunset is starting to materialize. “Guess we sleep here and wait for high water ‘cause this thing ain’t moving”. A giant soup is being slow-cooked on our fire as the sunset give way to a star-packed sky, a vibrant moon and the orchestra of jungle sounds. “I wonder when we will get going, we have food for months but normally the river gains waterlevel every 2-3 days”. Patience.
At the dark hour of 22.30 in the evening we have emptied our remaining alcohol into our stomachs and are comfortably tipsy, preparing to go to bed. Then something happens. We move. Just a bit, but it means that the river is growing and it is a matter of minutes before it will have lifted us the 20cm that we need to get out of the shallow area.
First we are ecstatic, as we don’t have to wait for days. Then the facts starts to surface: We will be floating in the pitch-black Amazonian jungle night without a clue of direction. We can’t avoid the tree-trunks and the fast currents as we can’t see anything. It will be impossible to find a calm, safe beach where we can park for the night. On your toes, keep focus, here we go.
Within 10 minutes we drift into a surging current and crash violently with some tree-trunks, acquiring more damage to our poor raft. We fight ourselves out of it and continue. The moon glides beautifully above us and the night is amazingly serene, amazingly real. Life is now very real, a bit too real, as we both want to end our current dangerous situation. The moon doesn’t have the power to illuminate the topographical features around us and we can’t find anywhere to park, we have to keep on keeping on. Randomly, we float through small side-rivers with roaring currents and back into the wide main river. We are tired, but cannot rest before we can park the raft in a safe spot. At 03.00 in the night, it appears that a beach is within our reach, 30 meters from us. “Is it a beach?”, “No. Yes. Maybe. We have to attempt it, this can’t continue”. We row and to our great relief a sandy beach emerges out of the black jungle night. We anchor ourselves safely, then laugh, jump and joke about the whole situation and collapse into deep sleep. “Don’t look for adventure, rest assured that adventure will look for you on this journey”.
We started to monitor the river and all the information that it was hiding: Where do the currents run, where is the river shallow, how do the tributary rivers affect the main current, what can driftwood and river-foam informs us, how does a high-river flow compare to a low-river. How do we avoid getting ourselves, and our little floating house, into problems. And we indulge in the one and only advantage that our physically weak specie, the Homo sapiens, masters: Intelligent Analysis.
And we learn. From 500meters away we can predict where we are going, and with a timely application of the oars, we learn how to control our raft much better. On day 6 we have practically learned to avoid the shallow sandy areas and the dangerous river-coast where the current is raging through huge tree-trunks that protrudes out of the river. We are not just floating, we are navigating.
“An emergency will teach a naked woman to weave”, is a common Danish proverb. We are now dressed.