We have to make it. It will include a bunch of problems if we don’t manage to land our raft in Nuevo Rocafuerte, the Ecuadorian bordertown on the river with Peru. We need necessary exit stamps for our passport and, more importantly, we need some exit-papers for our officially registered home-made raft. It shouldn’t be a problem, we know the military and how they work, they are nice. But landing in the town could prove a challenge, as we do not have an engine.
Like normally, we wake up very early. The sunrise is lurking 30 minutes under the horizon, but already showing the first signs of a lighter sky. It’s 05.30 in the Peruvian Amazon, and we have slept the 10th night in a row on the river. We have gotten used to the life on the river: Navigating, bathing, cooking, sleeping, weather, crashes, storms and repairs. Yet another night in a stunningly, beautiful but isolated place on the Rio Napo, anchored to some giant driftwood next to a tiny island. Our water for the sacred morning-coffee starts to boil as I undo my mosquito net and Peycho are untying our anchor-rope from the stranded driftwood. “If you push from the front with a stick, I hope it will spin around with the current and if we are lucky we can avoid a collision with the next big trunk, over there” Peycho is speculating and pointing. The raft spins smoothly out of the giant pile of old, sweet, rotten driftwood and swirls along, tightly avoiding the tree trunk as we pull the oars. We “hang” horizontally in the giant paddles to move our monster raft, and it works, we are controlling it. As long as there are no wind, we maintain control.
We are floating through the quite morning alone on the river and are expecting, if all goes well, 3 hours to reach Rocafuerte today. Hopefully we can make it before the wind picks up:
A bit of civilization, maybe some fruit, a pack of biscuits. And a large, cold beer and maybe some local new friends to talk to: Peycho and I are getting along in a great, respectful, fun, productive, practical manner. We are a very strong adventurous 2-man team. Still, you run out of subjects, “so let’s meet and talk to some locals and drink some beers with them”.
The current is strong as we approach our mythic city of Rocafuerte. We have talked about it for 10 long and hopefull days on the river. We try to throw our rope to a local man and I swear as he doesn’t catch it. “Fuck!”. He runs along the shore and into another boat where he manages to catch the rope and tie it to a roof-post. He became our local friend, Santiago. The ropes and the roof are cracking as our 2000kg raft is coming to a stand-still in the strong current. We are here, we arrived in Rocafuerte, floating without an engine, first milestone.
There is nothing there, just 1000 people and some poorly stocked local shops selling the most basic stuff. But it is “something” not just jungle. We hear you can buy ice-cream, for an example, amazing. To us, Rocafuerte is New York.
We quickly make friends with a local man, he sells cooking-pots together with his 20 year old son. We also bumped into another group of Gringos on the river, a fun team of 3 Aussies, a Canadian and a Brit. They had bought a 10m boat in Iquitos and were now sailing upstream the Rio Napo for the love of travelling and for the heck of it. “We thought we were crazy, but you guys are on a homemade bamboo raft, without an engine, without experience”.
I guess that what we are doing is a bit different, but I honestly don’t consider it to be crazy. Honestly. Spending 6 months fulfilling any schoolboys dream of a homemade bamboo raft floating unsupported through the wild Amazon jungle is not crazy. Living your entire life with a dream that you never even tried to fulfill is crazy. That, to me, is entirely exhaustively crazy. But that’s another discussion.
The other gringo-boat is super-fun and they are also in the bordertown for some stamps regarding their vessel. However, it is X-mas, and we can host a grand x-mas dinner on our giant 10x4m raft: Cook on the fire, get everybody together, the locals too, play some music, drink some beers. Anette, one of the Australian girls from the other boat, sacrifices and slaughters her duck, which she had kept for a month on their boat for the special x-mas dinner.
On the 25th of December, my local friends Santiago and Paul arrive alongside our raft and quickly urges me to get into their tiny, traditional dug-out cano, a “casco” as they call it. I grap my camera as I now that something fun will happen. I sit dead-still in the middle of the overloaded and what appears to be, undersized “casco”. We are 4 people and a bunch of heavy pots in the “casco”, one single inch lower in the water and we would sink. So don’t move, at all. I understand that my local friends want to go and visit some of the indigenous communities to sell some of their cooking-pots. Or maybe “buy an animal to cook” as he says. However, he is also asking around for a big party that he wants to attend, probably to get insanely drunk. He is a fun man, Santiago: friendly but entirely disorganized. He can be insanely funny to monitor.
We visit the communities, but poor Santiago doesn’t manage to sell any pots. However, we manage to buy some smoked meat from a wild jungle-boar and some bananas. The locals also gifted us some dried fish. Spooky, small settlements, ghost-villages. Slow, shy, indigenous river-people. Friendly with an extreme relaxed relationship to time. The sun is roasting from a blue sky and the amazon insects are orchestrating a symphony. We often had to drink a cup or two of cold “Chicha” (an alcoholic, fermented yucca-drink), inside their house before we even start to discuss any purchases. I sat there listening to their discussions in indigenous language Kechua about buying some pots while intoxicating myself with the cold fermented Yucca drink, Chicha. Compellingly atmospheric: we sit on the floor of their wooden stilt-house, 3 meters above the ground without any walls under a neat hand-crafted roof of weaved palm-leaves. The kids are staring at the cooking-pots and the weird white man that has appeared in their house. A beautiful skin from an Ozelot hangs on the wall.
Back on the raft, the x-mas dinner is being prepared, as the Aussies follow British tradition of celebrating on the 25th of December, a bit foreign to Peycho and me from continental Europe who mainly celebrate the 24th of December. Delicious meal and evening, deep inside the Amazon Jungle at the border between Ecuador and Peru.
An interesting X-mas indeed.