After 3 days and nights of river-isolation we see some giant pylons in the far distance. Telecommunication towers, that is. Clearly visible for 10km in this endless flat jungle. That must be the famous tri-border. Two-and- half cities are situated at the tri-border. Leticia is Colombia’s input with some 30.000 souls, Tabatinga is Brazils enclave with some 50.000 people and Santa Rosa is a town in Peru, located at an island 15 minutes across the river in front of Leticia/Tabatinga. With the massive military presence and a busy set of drug-traffickers that probably aren’t counted, the tri-border hosts almost 100.000 people. The biggest city our raft has ever seen.
We arrive as the sun is setting and choose to land in the Peruvian town of Santa Rosa. We have several things to do here at the tri-border and one of them could prove challenging. Convincing the Brazilian Authorities that our home-made bamboo raft is adequately secure to venture into Brazil. With the endless isolation, violent storms and the widespread problem of piracy on the Amazon.
So first things first: Stamp out of Peru. Ask for immigration office, but are guided to the police station. The police guide us to the correct immigration office. The immigration office informs us that we need to go to the police first. “We were just there, and they took us here”. “No, no, no stamp from police. We go back to the police, get the mythical stamp and return to the immigration office. Passports, stamp, stamp, done, smile, gracias, de nada.
It is the second time in 6 months that I leave Peru, I have spent a total of more than 4 months here. From Pacific surfing beaches to Andean peaks soaring nearly 7km into the azure sky. Cold, high, mountain-plateaus, immense Amazon jungle and ancient, remote Inca cities. Some part of me are deeply annoyed with Peru, almost hates Peru. That’s maybe why I love Peru so much, because that part reminds me of something inside myself. Peru has taught me something, something that I don’t dare to bore you with in length. I do want to tell you, that it is an impressive country in so many ways and you will never forget it, if you were to visit Peru. You might even like it, though that is not guaranteed. Most people do, though.
We had some nice days at the tri-border. Maybe it was just the thing about getting back to civilization again with all its comforts and lures. Maybe the thing about reaching the border with Brazil. I splurged a bit of money and went to sleep in a cheap hostal for 3 days to get my dose of civilization, cold beer, internet, a shower . And loneliness, to be honest, the raft gives you a bit of cabin fever. I craved loneliness.
We spent some days drifting around Leticia and Tabatinga. It is a funny place, as it is basically one city with an imaginary border between it, marked by some rusty road-blocks on the main road and some sleepy cops. No check-point, totally open border. Spanish on one side of that rusty road-block, Portuguese on the other. We drop into a typical South American “water hole”: Ice-cold beer served at plastic tables while local music is played at a noisy level that makes you comfortably forget any idea of a conversation. Shut up and drink, seems to be the concept. But you can’t be a Gringo here, without talking, because quickly someone will start to talk to you and then you talk back. So we make friends quickly.
The image of one guy is burned into my memory forever: It is midday as he enters the bar. Messed up face, spaced-out look on his face, flickering eyes, few black teeth, spitting and no t-shirt as this was being used as a cloth to wipe running blood from his cocaine-swollen nose, dripping steadily. “Soy trafficante” he proudly informs us. “I am a drug-trafficker”. No shit, Sherlock. He was a man of my age. In dire condition, double-trapped by the drug that also financed him, heading quickly towards death. I really felt bad for him. I think that is a legitimate feeling.
Most of our worries at the tri-border evolved around the permission to enter Brazilian waters with our raft. Getting paperwork ready to enter Brazil with you own homemade bamboo raft is a story in itself, stay tuned.