Saturday, July 16, 2011

Getting connected to the Amazon or getting lost in Amazon

Thanks to the night under the bridge while being in Himalayas I managed to establish unique connection with Himalayas and Zanskar river and I knew that the adventure like this might happen also in South America. But I did not expect that I would get lost in the biggest tropical jungle and literally in the waters of biggest world river....

I met great people on the slow boat from Yurimaguas to Iquitos. Gildas (the film maker) wanted to meet a curandero who lived in a small community some hours from Iquitos. Me, Paulina, Maria and Mathias (the puppy) decided to join him for this trip. We wanted to stay in the village for 5 days so we needed to get food for four people for five days. We got 3 kg rice, 3 kg pasta, 3 kg tomatoes, 2 kg onion, some sweet potatoes, salt, sugar, garlic. For the curandero we also bought some amazon jungle tobacco for mapachos and batteries for his radio.

Beginning trip on the big
peke-peke boat.

The curandero was living 20 minutes walk from the village Villa Esther. But this village was not easy to reach. Apparently twice a week there were direct colectivo from the biggest market in Iquitos, Belen, to this place. We wanted to take it, but early in the morning we were misdirected on the market and we missed this colectivo. None of us wanted to wait three days for a next colectivo, so we decided to find the local boats man to get us to the village. We found one, and we departed with all our belongings. All together we had lot of luggage, above all the food, all the cloths, everyone had his own hammock with mosquito net, Maria had puppy and a guitar (without one string), I had my own camera with three lenses, and Gildas had his camera with additional lenses, gear to record sound, two big tripods... We were a bit overloaded with all this gear. But we were very happy to find a boatmen that promised us to get directly to the village. We set off on a small peke-peke boat. After three hours trip we figured out that the boatman does not know where exactly is the village that we were heading to. He got us to the proper neighbourhood but the local people told us that in order to get to Villa Esther we needed to walk for at least 45min. It was possible to get there directly by boat to this village but we would had gone completely other route by boat. And from this point it would take more than 6 hours on peke peke boat or 45 minutes walk. We decided to walk.

Small guide on a Canoe helped us to get
to the begging trek.
It was already a bit late, 3 o'clock in the afternoon, and from my previous experience I knew that if local people say that the road takes 45 minutes it translated for non-locals to at least 75 minutes, taking into account that we have lot of things to carry it could easily mean 90 minutes or more. And it was getting dark around 6 pm, so we did not have too much time for debate. We asked for a local guide to accompany us to the village, and it seemed that one person agreed to help us. But first we needed to get to the beginning of the walking path. Now there is a season of high water. In the Amazon the fluctuations of the water levels were huge.
Other canoe.
There were places where the difference in the water levels was 12-16 meters, so lot of places were accessible by boat during the rainy season and by walking during the dry one. Since our peke-peke boat was too big we needed to use two different small canoes and it took us 30 minutes to reach the begging of the trek path. And then we figured out that none of the locals decided to join us for the trek to the village.
Overloaded with the gear at the
begging of THE trek.

We were ensured by them that there is only one path and there is no crossroad on the way... Since there was not too much time before sun set we had to go fast on our own. The path was indeed clearly mark but was a very challenging one since there was quite a bit of standing water and a lot of mud. Very soon one stopped getting worry about getting shoes and trousers dirty, and shortly after wet, since there were places were we had to walk with the water up to our knees and the challenge was to keep the balance! In one place where there was seriously a lot of mud, Maria lost her shoe and was not able to find it....

There was a mud to our knees!!!
On the way we met one local, completely drunk person with the machete. He wanted to help us. He was so drunk that he had more problems than we to keep the balance on the slippery path. He accompanied us a bit until we came across his small path inside the jungle and than he left us. We carried on.

Underwater path.
Heavy rainy clouds appeared on the sky and it was getting a bit late. Suddenly on the right we noticed a canoe and the road seemed to be going more and more under water. We ignored it and continue for the next few meters but then it got obvious that water is deeper than our wrists so our rucksacks would get completely wet. We came back to pick up a canoe. There was no oar and the canoe was also too small for all of us to fit there. We put there all our rucksacks and since Maria did not have shoe, she jumped in together with the dog and we decided to walk aside the canoe and push it. In this moment it started to rain very heavily and suddenly our canoe started to..... sink. I grabbed my rucksack and wanted to push the canoe back. Initially Gildas wanted to continue since he thought that we are almost on the other site. But soon he realized that the water is getting even deeper and we all came back having our rucksacks half wet. We removed the water from canoe and decided to carry only our rucksacks in the boat. In this moment I realized that we were completely soaked because of the rain. We continue on our under water road and soon after we found ourselves swimming next to the canoe. After few minutes of swimming we encountered next challenge... there was a water crossroad!!! There was a small river on the left and bit smaller one going straight. We had chosen the road going straight and we were kind of sure that it was the correct one. The real problem was that it was ending in nowhere. There was no obvious access to the land from this place. We looked around and did not find any hint where to go, it seemed to be dead end. We decided to check the other road that went to left. Maria got some leg cramp so she needed to go inside the canoe. Paulina started to swim aside the canoe, so it was me and Gildas pulling the canoe. We swam back to the crossroad and turned. Soon we figured out that it was a start of quite big river. We decided to see if there was any house around the corner. We very quickly got around the corner. There was no house. It got quite dark in that moment. The overcoming darkness made me to figured out one thing. "Wait a moment" - I started to think- "we are in Amazon and it is dusk. Is there any chance that there would be a Crocodile here?" I asked Gildas about this, he told me that the chance was slim that the crocodile would be here. Probably there was not a lot of water in this place in the dry season and the crocodile were a territory animals. I was not too convinced about this, but I started to recall that during first visit at the market in Iquitos I had a chance to try freshly grilled crocodile (local people are eating it a lot) and I refused. So why should the crocodile eat me now, when I did not eat him? This argument convinced me that I should not have gotten worry about the crocodiles. For the moment I thought about danger to came across piranhas (people are fishing them a lot, and I ate one on the market) and snakes, especially anacondas. I did not share this thoughts with my friends as well as I did not got concentrated on them. If anyone got in panic it would not have helped our situation. I just proposed to come back and everyone happily agreed to this idea. During this way I got concentrated on my swimming moves to get back as soon as possible try not to think about all the animals that in other circumstances I would be happy to see. The way back was much tougher and longer since we had to swim against the current. Gildas told me later that in this moment he was not helping to much to pull the boat since he was fighting with his fear to water - he had recently painted in water and recalled this experience. Luckily we managed somehow to got back to the place that we found the canoe. It was completely dark, all of us were completely wet from rain and swimming. Our rucksacks were wet in three quarters or completely. Maria did not have one shoe. Mathias, the small poppy, was quite scarred. All together we had two function torches, the other torches stopped working because of too much water inside.... We knew that our aim village is close but we completely did not know how to get there. The only road that we knew was the way back which probably would have taken us at least half a night. This road back would have been very dangerous because of the high chance stepping on a snakes especially if not everyone has a torch. We decided to stay in this spot and since we had hammocks and mosquito nets to camp. It was not possible to find dry place, but what we really needed to find was a place with a few trees in a reasonable distance from each other. We found a proper spot and we dragged the canoe in order to store all our rucksack. We quickly set up hammocks and mosquito nets. The jungle was also preparing for the night. If you do not know, just after sun set lot of life is waking up. I also recalled a story that I heard about the village close to Iquitos. Local people there needed to sleep in a special very solid nets in order to protect them against bats vampires. But I did not share this story with my companions and hoped that this story did not hold true in our location.

Just before felling a sleep I wanted to check a condition of my camera, lenses, my wallet, my mobile and my passport. They were all placed in water proof back in my rucksack. I opened it and everything seemed to be fine. Just in case I removed the battery from my camera and my mobile. While I was packing back my dry bag I accidentally pushed my mobile and wallet to the water next to canoe!!!! I fish out it immediately. Luckily my passport was not in my wallet, but I was not sure if my phone would be still functional....

All of us were very tired and we felt a sleep very fast. I walked up a few times in the night, but there were no vampire bats around. It was raining in the night, but just a bit, we did not get too much wet during the night.

When we woke up we started to shout for help. Luckily we were heard by someone. It took him almost half an hour to reach us. It was Diego, 20 years old guy living in the village which we wanted to reach. We were saved!!!! Diego was fishing when he heard us shouting. He came on a small canoe and luckily we somehow managed to fit on his and on the canoe that we found the previous day. We set off. Indeed the road was leading straight, the one that we had chosen initially the evening before.
Children from neighbouring village.
But when we reached the place which we fought was dead end, he took his machete and he made a road through the bushes. The other river on the crossroad that we went the previous night leaded straight to .... Amazon river after 4h of paddling.  Luckily we came back!!!
From this spot we had to paddle for the next 15 minutes until reaching the dry land. We would have never managed to find this path without Diego guidance and his help! When we reached dry land we still needed to walk for next 20 minutes to the first house of the village. It was a home of Diego sister who seemed to be younger than me and had already 7 children.

Children from neighbouring village.
We rested there a bit and felt a very warm and family atmosphere in here. Mathias, the puppy also felt a good vibration in this place, so much that Maria asked if they wanted to keep the puppy. Mathias was a very sweet puppy so they were happy to keep him for a trial period and see how much he would like that place. We left Mathias and continued our walk. We had to walkthrough half of the village (which consist of 15 houses) and then 20 minutes more through small jungle to find the house of grandpa, local curandero who lived there with a grandmother.

Finally after one and a half days of traveling, during we used six different canoes, we reached our destination. In future I need to correct the local time judgment: the 45 minutes trek, can take up to 1,5 days.....

Relaxing in the hammocks in the living room.
First of all we needed to start drying everything. All our things were very wet or semi wet. Luckily all my electronic items and passport were in a water bag but did not turn on my camera for the first 24h. The grandfather house was surrounded by deep jungle and there was not too many direct sun spots to dry our staff and the humidity around was surprisingly high. We needed two days to dry most of the things, which were not completly dry at the end...

Curandero house in the jungle.
The grandpa house was built on typical wooden legs which in case of heavy rain would protect it from floods. It consisted from three parts: living room, sleeping room and kitchen. Living room was the entrance part of the house and had a roof and beautiful huge view to the jungle. Due to necessary ventilation issues this room did not have any walls. In this part of the house all the day life took place. Here we got a possibility to put up our hammocks. In the middle of the house there was a small bed room where grandmother and grandfather were sleeping and this was the only part of the house that had any kind of the walls. On the other side of the sleeping room, connected by a small corridor, there was open kitchen. There was a designed place to make fire where all the cooking activities took place. We brought most of the food with us, and two times we also managed to organize some fresh fish from the local people, fresh platano and coco nuts. We were in the jungle during the rain season, so there were not too many fresh fruits there.

Grandpha: "Tranquilo i no mas"
We did not had too many activities during the days in the jungle. We dried our staff, I studied a bit of Spanish, we chopped a bit of wood, I walked to the village almost very day and Gildas shot a bit of material for his movie. Most of the time we spent hanging in our hammocks, enjoying that the time passes, recovering after intense adventure in the amazon jungle and talking with the curandaro. People that live in a great isolation in the jungle they have completly different life priorities. They have different worries, different aims. On one hand they life is so simple, they can live without so many modern inovations... on the other hand their life is so reach thanks to close interaction with jungle. They aslo live much closer to eachother. The life philosophy of our host, could be sum up with his favourite saying: "Tranquilo i no mas" (Peacefulness, nothing else matters).

On the way back.
On the way back we did not have to walk this same road. We managed to go the all way by boat which was much more convenient and easy. Mathias liked his new home and he stayed in the house in the jungle. After reaching Iquitos I dried my phone, and to my great surprised it survived the bath in the Amazon!!!

1 comment:

  1. Linda historia hermano!!! Ich habe angst wann ich denke das ein bissien mehr...!!!!!

    hermano! felicitation y gracias!