20 October 2012

The Rio Napo

After a tedious and frustrating search, we buy 2 canoes in Nueva Rocafuerte, Ecuador, and head for the Amazon River via the Rio Napo. After securing our transport, we load the motorcycles into the boats and make a hasty departure.  Our impatience to get underway easily transforms into a giddy, reckless abandon once we are moving downriver.  We will pay dearly for this attitude.  The steamy and buggy jungle drifts slowly by as the 9 HP and 5.5 HP motors chug away.  A glorious self induced breeze sweeps the sweat and bugs away from our skin.  We stop to float in the silence, slowly spinning in circles.  The jungle looks back, a solid green wall teeming with life.  We cook rice and lentils on a camp stove.  The sweat and bugs return.  We begin to chug along once again.  We camp on a beach and sleep under a million stars.  We cross into Peru, evading the sleepy authorities at dawn.  The trip begins to flow...

beer and reversible miter gearboxes get me dreaming.  you too, huh?

gaston's all about the tea-bagging.  literally.

old yellow, not so much

In Quito, I got to work in Bernardo's workshop

Bernardo works the plasma cutter

Bernardo is a talented sculptor. 

His specialty is converting line drawings into 3D

Suzi getting peed on in front of the 50 tonner

Long day...

The andes melt into the steamy flat jungle

jungle water spigot

Examining the patterns of reflections in the river, I was reminded of my friend Leah Wilson, who  paints from this inspiration.

Vinnie and I went down river to check out some boats

Are there holes in the roof?

We finally made it back to Coca, the biggest town on the river after several days.

only to find olli in jail for assaulting the guy who had his flashdrive with all his pictures.  He didn't get the flashdrive back.

Olli was in better spirits than some of his cell mates.

bug bites

Vinnie and I share some brewskis on the bridge to talk about our options.

the call of the river cannot be ignored

2 points if you can guess what they sell here.

olli free, we loaded the bikes on a boat and headed downriver to  Rocafuerte

Boatloads of stuff and people

Fishing for a deal.  No luck

Meet the cargo boat. 11 meters, 5.5 HP motor. 

Meet El Campeoncito.  9 meters, 9 HP motor

We traded this guy some gasoline for bananas, papaya, peppers, and some other fruits with forgotten names.

The honda engine with the propeller is called a peke-peke.  I think they were invented in Thailand.  They have a long tube that bolts to the engine.  The drive shaft is carried by oiled wood bushings.  They have a small, cast aluminum propeller.

drinking aguardiente (fire water) and making a boat at 7am.  welcome back to Peru.  color filtered

underway.  pure heaven.

Adrian smiles as he learns for the first time that boats steer reverse. 

The engine frame broke and we almost lost the motor in the river.  Sooo, we ''fixed it'' with motorcycle parts and assorted boat junk. 

and then we put the raging fire out...
 As best as I remember, we wave to a family on the side of the river and pull up to their shore.  Vinnie and Adrian are driving the other boat.  We want to trade some sugar or oil for yucca.  He wants to buy gasoline with money.  We reluctantly agree to sell him a gallon-- we wanted yucca.  Olli holds the jug and funnel and I overfill the jug.  I set down the bigger container and put on the lid. The boat erupts in flames.  The stove is lit in the bottom of the boat.  Like idiots we were cooking near the gasoline.  Like idiots we pour the gasoline close to the stove.  The heavy vapors settle onto the floor of the boat and drift back into the stove.  We jump out of the boat.  Olli has a tighter position and burns his foot and lower leg in the process.  The family on shore stares in horror.  The women jump out of their canoes and climb the bank.  I yell at them to get back, because I fear the other 100 liters will explode.  I yell for a shovel, but the bank is hard packed clay- there is no way we can throw enough dirt.  No shovel.  So we grab a bucket and cook pot and begin to throw water on the fire.  The gasoline spreads to other parts of the boat on the rising water.  But the water keeps the boat from burning so quickly.  The boat begins to drift downstream.  I yell at the boy near the front of our boat for pulling the stake out, thinking he is worried about the flames burning his nearby canoe.  Probably, the rope burned through.

The boat settles 50 meters downstream against a fallen and submerged tree.  I ask a young man to paddle me to it.  I climb on the precarious branches and begin to throw water.  Another man comes from shore with another pot and helps.  He saves our motor with his efforts.  Olli joins the canoe.  He tells me he is realy burned.  We throw water and throw water.  I am out of breath.  It is really really hot.  My arm and back ache.  Gradually the boat fills with water and the fire subsides.  It begins to sink as the fire goes out.  Adrian and Vinnie help.  We remove the Peke Peke.  I lift the boat enough to stop the river from pouring in and they begin to empty the water from the boat.  I return to check on Olli's burns and Vinnie and Adrian continue to drain the boat.  I am exhausted.  After a while, I come back and we begin to sift through the wreckage.  Bits and pieces of things remain.  Curiously, one half of the cookpot is burned away.  In the other half remains unburned rice.  Everything is coated in black slime, a mix of burning gas, oil, tar, paint, and  grease.  Olli's motorbike is destroyed.  Despite our shock, sorting through our burnt possessions is interesting.  We take the boat to a beach and bury all the toxic stuff.  Knowing that that is what will happen no matter where we take it.  We set the boat in an eddy and continue downstream, still reeling.  It was a serious fire.  We were given a tremendous gift in this lesson about the dangers of gasoline vapors in closed areas.  Just lost our stuff and Olli got burned, but nobody lost their lives or limbs.  We are grateful for that.
olli's bike

and this was the end with the least damage

my helmet.  the patagonia stickers burned, but colombia survived.  a sign?

Adrian's backpack

Olli's foot

continuing by paddle

camping on the beach

olli's foot the next day

adrian says:  first time in my life i bury motorcyle.

pantsless polish pirate marks the spot

we made it to a small and decidely worthless clinic


sundown in Angotero

The dishonesty we faced on our journey was so frequent that it became comical.  This guy  had heard I could weld and asked me  how much to weld up something for him.  I said, buy me a beer and we are even.  He said no problem but then after everything was welded and cleaned, he gave me the classic BS phrase of latinos: ''mañana''.

not quite as fun crammed into one boat.

but all is good with the river

as the sun goes down, the browns and greens drift to black

with only a few dollars left, we bartered for bananas and other supplies

floating gas station

where the forest is going...

the Napo (right) meets the mighty Amazon (left). 

We turned west and headed upriver towards Iquitos

Adrian grins as we discuss our new river dream, powering a boat with a Lada Niva down the Yenisey in Siberia.

3 watermelons for a buck!?  Get outta town!

I never thought I would pass through Indiana, Peru before Peru, Indiana.

big boats on the hard

watermelon and grilled plantains with Iquitos in sight

what is left of my papers.  The picture of my family survived!

Have some watermelon and take a seat by the fire, my friend.  Let me tell you a story about the river...

Olli is recuperating after we got him to a legit doctor.  The boat is in Iquitos awaiting sale.  The boys are waiting for new documents and bank cards to arrive.  The motorcycle boat-drive mechanism was damaged in the fire and we never got to test it out.

"They have heard its voice and listened to it, and the river has become holy to them, as it has to me. "Have you also learned that secret from the river; that there is no such thing as time?" That the river is everywhere at the same time, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere and that the present only exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future."
Herman Hesse, Siddhartha


Anonymous said...

Olli's burns looked bad. Glad nobody else got hurt and that you all managed to live to face another day. Nicely written Matt, but couldn't help but laugh, although I am sure at the time it was no laughing matter. Those semi submerged logs can be a bit of a bugger I must admit.

sylvie said...

I like the text about the river. What an adventure he!! nicely written yes. hope you went trough all paper's and road's matters. BigLooov from cold and comfortable Belgium Syl :-)

Mike & Jill said...

Holy shit! Wow I'm glad you guys made it, sorry that it was at the sacrifice of motos, Ollie's leg, and most of your possessions. Hope you are still able to make Colombia, and that Ollie has healed up nicely.
-Mike & Jill (we had coffee in Zumba, Ecuador)

dd_traveler said...

I'm very glad the burns weren't worse - but the swelling and infection did look bad - I hope he's fully recovered... what an adventure...

Andrew said...
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