Published: August 19th 2011August 18th 2011
After one final, and very heavy, night in Mancora, I was on a 9am chicken bus (bad seats, no air-con) outta there. Long story short, so as not to dwell on it (I just deleted this paragraph as it sounded to negative!) , this, the next 15hour night bus, and the taxi rides (more the taxi drivers - they are just bad people) made me somewhat irate - more than any other journey I had taken this tour!
Anyway I arrived at Yurimagus, and more importantly, I arrived at the time I wanted to, which is to say, I arrived in time to catch the boat. I did not even know there was going to be a boat that day, nor what time it would leave, so Lady Luck was definatly on hand for that one! I bought my ticket and boarded, for what I envisaged to be a rather interesting 3 day trip..... how little did I know!
There are several classes of boats which travel the Amazon and its large tributing rivers. Some are all cabins, often with two or three dozen crammed on. Sometimes they are luxury cruisers, with 6 large on suites, and a servants quarters for those who would wait on that upper echelon of Persons of Quality. Then there are the little speed boats, quite long and narrow, skirting the bigger boats like minnows. Occassionally, there are speed boats, twin Yamaha 200´s sprinting them across the glassy water.
Then there is the boat I was on. A passenger boat for sure - 250 soul's made passage on it in fact. On the big, hulking monolith, sold from China or somewhere when it had failed its boat-equivalent M.O.T. Deisel fumes pouring from both the exhaust end, as well as spilling out of the cracked pipe itself. Dints on dents on patches covered the hull, so that its origional shape was bareley recognisable. Patches of the origional metal - or rust - showed through the various layers of paint. The fenders had long been cast off, after all, what was the point? In short, I felt compelled to carry out a quick estimation of my survival chances when it inevitabley sank.
To describe the boat itself - it was of a very shallow draft for a ship that size. Probably no more than about 1m deep. On this flat bottom, at the prow, for a length of about 1/4 of the boat, was a flat bed, and here cargo (rice, spare parts, other food stuffs, building supplies etc) were loaded on. Behind this was the engine room, a dark place where men fear to tread. Up a flight of steps from the flat bed deck was the lower hammock deck and kitchen, along with 4 cabins. And above this deck, was the upper hammock deck and the captains wheel and another 4 cabins.
The accomodation, was of course, divided in to classes. Naturally, the cabins were first class. These cramped and airless metal boxes held only one boon over the two lower classes: privacy. You will note, when I come to describe the situation for the ext two classes, that that was something in more scarce supply that gourmet food on this boat!
The next class was Upper hammock deck. I had not realized when I purchased my ticket that there were two hammock classes, but inadvertantly YT had payed 2punds more for the privalidge of this class. For once, I was glad. Be that as it may, I was by no means in luxury. The deck was a single floor space, with 4 railings running the length of the metal roof of the deck, and from these railings one could sling ones' hammock. In this class, I estimate there was about 80 of us. The deck itself cannot have been more than about 17m long, so as you can imagine, this was very much shoulder to shoulder! The roof was reasonably high, and the open sides allowed the breeze to ruffle the swinging beds, and there were a couple of narrow wooden planks on either side which acted as passable benches.
These last aspects were the luxuries the lower hammock deck did not have.
The lower hammock deck was visited by everyone 3 times a day, to line up and traverse the obstical course to reach the kitchen, to have whatever they were serving dumped in your mess tin. The tangle of ropes here, made the tangle of ropes on the upper deck look like nothing at all in comparisson. The cealing was just over my head height, and here, there was about 140 people crammed into the same space. It was chaotic to say the least. You could not walk through, for you would surely be garroted. Even to stoop, you must stoop so low that crawling on all fours like an animal would have been easier. There was no breeze here, and so the stench and the heat eminating from this place gave the apperance of some fresh hell.
I will not sully these clean sheets and write about the toilets, suffice it to say there was about 60 people for each. And they were not cleaned.
The food, was passable, verging even on tasty. Breakfast was a thin but sweet gruel, and if you drank the hot grey mix (prefrably down in one) then it was a very solid start to the day. Lunch was usually rice, with half a boiled potato and a couple of chicken bones thrown in for flavour. Dinner was my least favourite meal, for this was the above, but instead of the potato juices and potato, we had the worst (i imagine) of the 4 varieties of plantain. This one was very very hard and dry, and very tastless. Not the best thing I have ever eaten. This of course was supplamented with my own water supply, but I had not had chance to buy food before the ship left, which was a shame... On a side note, now, I will eat anything.
You would while away the hours swinging in your hammock (not too much swinging though, banging into my peruvian neighbour was a genuine issue. he was rotund, which made this more difficult. and smelly). Several activities could be enjoyed. Reading. Writing. Looking at the jungle, which as you imagine, did eventually become monotonous. And finally, I will put you out of your misery that you thought I was alone on a prison boa - talking to the 6 other Gringos who had had the same brilliant idea. 1 was a British guy called Ben, A Greek girl who I avoided refering to by name because I forgot it, and 4 Spanish people. The Greecian spoke very good english, and one of the Spaniards spoke enough to be understood, so between us, we bonded and got by. There was in fact a large divide - 2 of the Spaniards were Catalanians, and two were Castallan. The result was a large argument on weather Spain sould give independance or at least more devolved powers to its Northern state. I cam too ignorant on this and have too little Spannish to even enter into it, so I defended Macedonia (as when I travelled through there I thought it far more enjoyable and pleasent than Greece) and had a similar debate about territory with the Greek girl. Was enjoyable.
I enjoyed going and making a bodge on the front of the boat, and watching the various speed boats sidle up, throw a line on and then barter for food and fuel. On one such occassion, a crew member made his way towards a white bag tied with ayellow ribbon, which looked lumpy. I assumed it was potatos or onions, but he undid the ribbon and then made to empty its contents on the deck. I heard them before I saw them - the bag had been full of live chickens! Very bizarre. Carefully, he selected a dozen out and then callously slung them under arm into the moored long boat. When I had watch the boat cast off, still wide eyed in amazement, I looked back for the other chickens, but only saw the white bag with the yellow ribbon closing the top, a little deflated.
I also saw the occassional crane, a variety of other squaking birds, some enormous moths, a bat, and both grey AND pink dolphins. These were a big bonus, as I had really not expected that.
Anyway, I have got waaaay ahead of myself, so I will describe the more stand out events of the journey. Firstly, I got on board, and not a moment too soon. Or so I thought. For some reason, which remained obscure to me, sacks of rice were loaded on. Then their position shifted. Then they were unloaded. Then the boat marshalls came on and gave the all clear and we cast off. This was 4 and a half hours later than expected.
Now delays like this are not so bad when you are on a boat trip that is expected to take 72 hours. So by half past 4 the cheer rose, and we were on our way, and I was excited. The river wound on, dinner came and went, I set my mozzi net up and then set about going to sleep. When you are in a room with around 80 other people sleeping in hammocks, there is a cocophony of snoring and coughing going on throughout the night. It is also very hot. Nevertheless, I have had my practice at being homeless (thank you mum and dad) and was adept at falling asleep never the less.
Until at around 10pm, the boat shivered, and several loud concussions sounded from below. A few moments silence, and then the engines reved up, to the pitch of a jet enging (albeit a poorly one) trying to take off, and failing. We had run aground. How could this happen, on a modern day ship? This is a good question, and the answer is I don't know, because it wouldn't on a 'modern day ship'. This was however, a tad more archaic. The man who stoodat the front of the boat with a bit of wood, painted with 1 foot increments had seemingly fallen asleep on the job.
Several failed attempts later, and el capitan announced we would stay here the night and hope the current would push us loose. Condensation from the roof provided an element of water tourture throughout the night, but I was definitly asleep at 5 am. At 5 am in the moning when it became aparent to the captain he could wake us all up with the engines, he set to. But this was a welcome awakening - we were free! Another long delay, but we wer moving.
The next day was reasonably uneventful, but scorchingly hot by midday - hot enough to have a cold shower with clothes on and still dry out completely, only to be drenched in your own sweat again within half an hour, kind of hot. After the three meals, once again I settled into bed to read.
At around 8 o clock, we all heard the same noise again, but somehow it sounded magnified this time, and the boat came to rest leaning precariously to one side. El capitan had done it again. However, after reving the engines for some time, he enlisted the help of the 250 disbelieving passengers - to run from port to starboard and back again (or was it the other way around?) in an effort to shake the boat free. obviously this did not work. He annonced that the problem would be delt with a la mañana.
5 am rolled around again, and the food bell sounded. Except this wasn't for food. To reduce weigh, in an effort to free us, at 5 am inthe morning, we abandoned ship to the near shore (not so near, as it is a biiiig river, and we were in the middle) on a couple of long boats. And there we were left. After an hour of sitting in the dark, listening to a group of Pentacostals praying, shouting, and talking about hell and damnation, light broke. We could see the boat floundering like a beached geriatric whale, but were left in the dark as to what exactly was going to happen. After a further hour of sat around doing nothing (all our belonings were waiting for us/theves on the Raft) a singlelong boat began the hour long process of ferrying us back.
3 hours later, we prepared for mutiny.
It was decided, by gringos who had flights that they may miss etc (I was not one of these) that things had got out of hand, and el capitain, and so the owner, should now that we, and some other disgruntled PEruvian tourists would be looking to recalim lost expenses. I went along with this as it sounded dreadfully entertaining and I was dreadfully bored. We lined up, on the various railings and on the flat bottom deck, pointing towards the captain (there must have been 50 odd of us) who was stood at the end on the phone to the owner, who was, and had been for the last two hours 'thinking' what to do. I wondered where we should affix a plank to the Bounty, as my mind wandered whilst we waited politely for his phone call to end. Then in a way not so much intimidating, as patient and calm,a Peruvian explained The Situation to him. Our serenity held a storm. (Incidently, 'storm' in Spanish is Tormenta - so this was inter-language word play). The Captain looked a tad exasperatted at this, but explained that a boat should arrive in 15 minutes to pull us out - this was good enough for us - but we vowed silently that like the Sand people from Star Wars, after a time we would be back, and in greater numbers.
This was not nescessary though as a big cargo boat did come, and our mutiny was abandoned to this new form of entertainment.
The huge cargo boat (complete with crane) was twice the length of our tiddly passenger one. Mssive in comparisson. And after a long time manouvering it, a steel cable was attached to it and us, and a tug of war began. This tug of war even involved the bigger ship ramming our stern in an effort to dislodge/sink us. literally ramming.it was an interesting experience. The steel cable snapped at one point under the strain, and so another was brought out and attached to use. Eventually, the passengers were once again evacuated off the boat, this time to the bigger ship, and eventually, our vessle was worked free, under cheers of jubilation. Now however, we were about 30 hours behind.
We stopped off at a small village to drop off and pick up, as we had done several times, usually for about 10 munites. Several gringos tried to find people to buy water off on shore, as they were worried they were about to run out - understandably they had only allowed for 3 days, and we were going to be on the boat fgor at least 4. The captain, seeing this, got his revenge on our coup by leaving them ashore. They did however, catch us up by a long boat only 100m off the bank. I found this highly amusing. They did not.
Another day came to an end, and I challenge that not a single person did not have the thought of "what time will the wake up be tonight then?" as they fell asleep. Indeed I woke up at 6am, but this gave me chance to see the awesome sunrise which is on my Flikr.
Eventually, we arrived at Nauta, which is 10hours upstream from Iquitos, but is also connected to Iquitos by the one and only road in the jungle - a mere two hours. So like a shot we were off, and on our way up to Iquitos, the jungle city of the Amazon.
And that is where I am now, my little adventure over. It has to be said I am looking forwards to some comforts now, as that boat was realy really slumming it. Tomorrow, hopefully I will be heading into the jungle for 3 days 2 nights which looks like it will be amazing. Then a visit around the floating markets of Belen, and that is my trip over! I will be sad to see it end, but hopefully I will be able to give you one last entry before I re-enter British airspace.