Monday, August 20, 2007

Vamos a Rio Amazonas

The only bridge over the Morona River and the bus stop.
Peruvian army base.
The results of a night without a mosquito net.
The storm
The calm before the storm.
Our camping spot for the night.
Grant doing what he does best...scrubbing.
A friendly tucan.
One of the 5 motor changes along the way.

Another perfect camping spot by the Morona River.
The local bus.
Grant juggling coconuts.
Puerto America
Pink river dolphins on the horizon.
Welding the drive shaft back together, good as new!
Changing the motor after the drive shaft snapped.
The mighty Amazon!
Fireworks in San Lorenzo
The Disco tech in San Lorenzo.
My new found friends.
Kids chasing us down the street after the soccer.
The children of San Lorenzo.
Another brilliant save by the Peruvian goal keeper.
Team Ecuador!
The crowd singing the national anthem of Peru.

Our official welcome by the Mayor of the San Lorenzo region.
The banks of the Amazon in San Lorenzo.
The Amazon River.
Camping in the living room of a local family.
Puerto America.
One of the thousands of strange insects in the jungle.
The very windy Morona River leading to the Amazon River at the bottom.
The soccer game at an PetroPeru plant.
Inquisitive locals watching grant pitch his tent.
Captain grant.
The first of 3 beachings in the middle of the river.
The Peruvian military and us.
Document check at the closed border crossing.
A river crab.
Chicken on his last legs...
Our home for the next 2 weeks.
The Amazon Basin stretching 5000 km to the Atlantic.
Ben Vs. Tree: Tree 1, Ben 0.
Riding on the roof of the bus.
The road to nowhere...
12 hours in a bus on this road takes its´toll...
Guinea Pig anyone?
Pork maybe?

Face to face with the Mayor of San Lorenzo our eyes
meet as sweat drips profusely onto my Ecuador jersey.
One blow of the whistle and the games on! Ecuador vs
Peru. My mind races back ten days to a chance
encounter with an eccentric doctor who led me here.

I was looking for Spanish lessons in Quito, when I
meet Max. With his immediate enthusiasm it took no
longer than five minutes for me to take him up on his
offer to join an expedition to Peru by boat.

The boat was departing from a remote war ravaged
border region of South East Ecuador.

The objective was to strengthen ties following the
1995 Cenepa war and to increase awareness of the
Amazon jungle and it´s indigenous cultures.

On board was to be a Peruvian football team,
politicians, journalists, teachers and doctors.

With just two days to frantically prepare before the
twenty hour bus journey to the departure point, a lot
had to be done.

A quick search on google of potential health problems
in the jungle revealed a list longer than my left arm.
The biggest concern being ravid vampire bats, malarial
mosquitoes and small fish that like to swim up places
they shouldn't. Not to mention, stingrays, electric
eels, and piranhas that lurk in the murky waters.

Beginning a course of antiquated malaria drugs and
emptying the chemist of noxious bug repellent, Max
assures us he has everything else covered.

We knew we where in for an exciting trip when we
arrived at the office at said time to find it locked.

After 45 minutes nervously waiting the expedition
leader (Max) arrives in time to noisily deal with the
food poisoning he picked up at lunch time. With
another member arriving also suffering the same fate,
we wait patiently unsure of when we are leaving.

Finally everyone arrives and it´s a mad dash in Taxi´s
to get to the ten p.m bus. Twenty four hours later we
arrive in the dark jungle to a welcoming committee of
millions of hungry insects smelling fresh meat.

Drenched in sweat in the 30 C+ temperatures and
extreme humidity, loading ten big drums of fuel and
other supplies made us feel like we had run a

The following morning several vehicles arrive carrying
a spare motor and twenty cases of beer. In light of
the expected 50 passengers this didn´t seem
unreasonable. Until when we finally left there was
only 15 of us in total.

We quickly realised we were the Ecuador football team!
D'oh. By this stage it had dawned on us that things
were far from panning out as anticipated and
Ecuadorian organisation was a lot different than what
we were used to. But we departed upbeat all the same.

Somehow amidst all the chaos the correct paperwork had
been obtained from the Peruvian foreign ministry in
advance to smoothly cross the closed border.

At the fourth military checkpoint we picked up a
random Peruvian soldier who hitched a ride down the
river with us. Unfortunately for him and us the army
didn´t send him on his way with any food or even a
mozzie net... hence he became our liability.

On the second night after setting up camp in front of
an audience of inquisitive locals we were challenged
to a game of soccer. This was at a village that
existed solely to maintain a noisy petrochemical plant,
that pumped gas 24-7. This was a perfect warm up for
the upcoming international match in San Lorenzo.

Three nights, 28 hours of motoring and 540km´s on the
Morona river and we had reached the mighty Amazon, A
further three hours and we reached our destination,
San Lorenzo.

The first night in town was spent in the living
room/balcony of a local family once again cramped
together under our mosquito nets.

The festivities in the town begin with our party being
welcomed by the mayor and other local government
delegates. Ignorant to the fact that it was to be
such a formal affair, we feel a bit out of place in our
smelly dirty three day old clothes.

Formalities out of the way, our first official soccer
game is underway, watched by at least half the town.
After a fierce battle on the pitch the Ecuadorians
were overpowered by the skillful locals, 2-0. In
spite of our loss, we were mobbed by the local
children. To try and redeem ourselves we hit the
disco techs like demons on the dance floor.

The second night of festivities started with a bang.
But alas didn´t come to much after the fireworks, as
the town´s new Caterpillar generator ground to a halt,
a regular occurrence.

After a few hours a backup generator appeared in order
to electrify the band, the party continued into the

The next day was spent in a daze, searching shop to
shop for suitable boat supplies, for the return

With a cheerful goodbye from the local police chief,
we powered off. However after a mere ten minutes up
river the engine started screaming. We started
floating downstream rapidly.

With the current against us it was all hands overboard
paddling with bowls and pot lids to the shore 200
metres away. A quick analysis revealed a snapped
drive shaft. The next two hours were spent modifying
the hardwood boat to fit our underpowered axillary.

24 hours later back where we started with a less than
ideal welding job we powered off again. Unsure of the
quality of the repair we made slow progress with the
smaller engine.

The poor turnout had also meant that money was
limited. Limited money meant limited fuel. The next
five days were spent juggling engines, rationing fuel
and taking reprieve from the the heat with many river
swims at each toilet stop.

Several villages were visited where Max administered
medicine to the sick, whilst we played hacky and did
card tricks with and for the local kids. At one of
the villages we struggled to keep a straight face as
we drank a putrid alcoholic concoction made from
cassava root. Banana´s and chickens were bartered of
the locals to add to the limited food supply.

On the fourth day a controversial decision was made to
motor through the night. After just two hours and two
close calls with the bank the plug was pulled and we
spent the night watching an impressive tropical
lightning storm.

Day five... A round of applause goes up as we reach
the dock after a grueling 57 hours of motoring. Our
timing was impeccable as the twice daily bus was just
about about to depart.

The 20 hour bus ride back to Quito gives us plenty of
time to reflect on the environmental and social
issues facing the people of the Amazon region.

An example of this was the piles of plastic waste
being thrown straight into the river. A closer look
at the rubbish reveals the worst of multinational
unnecessary over packaged junk food is not helping
anyone a bit.

Back in Quito, struggling not to scratch our bite
covered bodies we contemplate on what effects the
planned highway through this virgin jungle could have.


At 10:34 pm, Blogger Ecotrackers said...

what a trip...... now if only we could get rid of these damn animalitos living in our skin!!


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