A River of Gold

We have spent a week in Iquitos and though I loved the city, I am now craving to go back to the raft, back to nature, isolation and adventure. We head back towards the port with all our new equipment: An engine, a solar panel, fuel and food for a month.

A local family in Mazan have been guarding our raft while we were in Iquitos. We had also engaged an elderly man to construct us a 8 meter wooden boat, to enable us to venture upstream and do some multi-day trips into smaller rivers and communities. We thank and pay our local friends for their services and prepare for our next mission: To venture up the Mazan River, a 400km tributary river to the Napo River, where we want to change our the floor on our raft. Sure, we could’ve done this in Mazan, but Misha knows some local people in a little community and suggest that we go up there to do it: For the adventure and to bring a bit of work to these impoverished river communities.

Our new 8 meter boat, built in 5 days by a local man.

Our new 8 meter boat, built in 5 days by a local man. We tie it to our raft when we are floating and can use it to explore smaller rivers and to go upstream.

We install our new engine on our raft and start to move upstream the Mazan River. It moves slowly and it takes us 10 hours of noisy sailing to reach the community of La Libertad. The jungle isn’t the same with this engine noise and I am happy that we only intent to use the engine for special purposes and to navigate out of danger once in a while.

La Libertad is a wonderfull place. Joey is a local man that lives in the community of La Libertad, 20km upstream the Mazan River. We have asked him to provide us with some wooden planks, so we can change our floor on the raft. Our current plywood floor is in dire condition and has several large holes. It was the worst decision to use plywood, we did it to save weight, but it isn’t strong enough. As a civil engineer, I am embarrassed that we didn’t asses this correctly, some simple static calculations would have illuminated the weakness of the plywood. You live and you learn.

Joey cuts down a tree in the jungle and start to fabricate our wooden planks from the fresh, red wood. Industrial IMG_2292alogging is prohibited, but the locals can use their wood for house and boat-construction, as these small isolated communities hardly consumes much resources. Besides, it’s their land and they wouldn’t have an interest in over-logging their surroundings. Still, it was a bit sad to see this magnificent tree being cut to pieces. I take comfort in the fact that a new tree is now being made room for, as the wild jungle quickly regrows: the dead tree leaves an open spot of sunlight on the junglefloor and initiates a race-for-survival among the young competing trees: Who will make it to the top and claim a place in the jungle?
Joey operates his chainsaw in a confident manner and shapes the planks in beautiful, thin 20mm pieces. 2 days later our planks are ready. The locals transport it to us, and we engage a couple of the villagers to help us carry and install the floor: Not because we really need it, but because we want to contribute something to their community, bring some work. The locals have been very friendly to us, and as I wander around town, the men ask me if there is any work they can help us with. I love that: They don’t beg or ask for money, only offer their services to make a bit of much-needed cash.

One morning, 5 middle-aged men come to our raft. One of them presents himself as the “Alcalde”, which translates as Mayor. The others also hold some official positions. They tell us that they are the representatives of the surrounding communities and I think they just wanted to see who we are and make sure we have no bad intentions. Friendly men, they really liked the idea of the floating raft down the Amazon.

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Our freshly cutted planks

The kids of the community find our raft extremely interesting. They keep their distance, but slowly approach us. The second day, we make a huge pot of popcorn and invite them all unto the raft. They are doubtful, but when the oldest girl boarded, the rest followed suit. They appear a bit nervous but after 5 minutes they are chillin’ and trust us.

Yes, they came back for popcorn everyday, not much else to do in their community.

We invited the local river-kids for popcorn on our raft

We invited the local river-kids for popcorn on our raft

With our new floor, we drift downstream the Mazan River and continue our journey. The police in Mazan see our raft and arrive in a speedboat. They thought we were doing illegal gold-extraction from the river-sediment, as Mazan River apparently carries a lot of minerals down from the Andes Mountains. The gold-extraction is illegal as it involves many polluting chemicals. The police laugh when they realize that we are just an innocent raft and don’t have any gold-extraction equipment with us. Wow, a river of gold, the Mazan River.

We are still on the Napo River, but are approaching the confluence with the Amazon River. In 80km, we will arrive on the Amazon River with our raft. That’s a milestone.

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