A Reflection of My Life after living in Uganda as a U.S. Peace Corps Volunteer

Saturday, September 3, 2011

South America Part V: Drifting Down The Amazon

Melissa loves the mountains. She couldn't stop raving about the beauty we were continually in and she felt deep peace and comfort there. I also love the mountains but it is water that brings me the most peace, contentment and life. It was with a bit of sadness for Melissa that we left the Andes Mountains and flew to Iquitos in the Northern Peruvian Amazon.

Ever since the very first night in Lima, I felt like I could breath again. A weight had been lifted that I didn't even know was on me. It was in Iquitos that life really fully came back to me. Iquitos was hot and humid. Everyone rode on motorcycles because the city is only assessable by air and water. Things were slower. Dinner didn't start until 8 pm. Tarp covered restaurants were crowded near the markets with outdoor cooking stands. The markets were busy and hot with flies dancing around. The water was brown. The sun beamed down and I loved it all! It was the most like the life I used to live. I got it. I understood it. I felt comfortable there.

We went down to the docks where there were no docks only cargo boats sitting on the sand being filled with goods. The first boat we went on was hot and dirty. The captain was indifferent to us. The second boat we checked out was clean and less hot. Again the man we talked to was indifferent to our wanting passage. The selling point for us was the butch woman we saw in the kitchen. We figured this Amazonian woman would be our ally if it turned out to be a boat of all men.

We booked three hammock spaces and 1 cabin (really just a closet with narrow bunk beds). I knew I wouldn't sleep well in a hammock and we needed a place to lock up our luggage so this situation seemed like a good idea. The boat was scheduled to leave the next evening at 5 pm. We were there at 2:30 to secure good hammock spaces. The boat was a live with a million and four activities with men loading the boat with cargo and passengers setting up their hammocks. Cargo was everything from Fanta to cows to motorcycles. Probably some drugs too but they were not visible.

It was incredibly hot on the boat while we waited for it to finish loading. I finally got off and sat on the banks in some shade and watched the loading process. At 5 pm they were still loading. At 6 pm they were still loading. At 7 pm they were still loading. At 8 pm they had finished loading and all passengers were supposed to be on the boat but they were still negotiating business with the so called authorities. At this point, we are convinced we are going to die on this boat from overheating. I went down to the open cargo area where the mothers with babies all stood flapping banana leaves or clothes trying to create a breeze to cool down their babies. I eyed the situation and slide up close to one mother hoping to benefit from her waving. With sympathetic looks I made friends with these women and offered to hold one of the babies. This was a selfish act. While I held the baby the mother waved her make-shift fan and I received direct fanning. While I did enjoy the slight breeze my torso soon became drenched in sweet from holding a hot little body and my arms became tired from the weight. But these were precious moments too. There is nothing like a little body resting in your arms. And there is nothing like a gathering of women suffering through a piece of life together in commonality.

The boat finally pushed off at 10 pm. The girls went to sleep upstairs in the hammocks and I opened my cabin door trying to get the finally moving air in. Within the first hour we had hit 2 sandbars. By the second hour we ran straight into an island. It was a pretty big hit and caused the boat to teeter. I stepped out of my cabin to survey our status and found all the men passenger pulling on as many life jackets as they could get their hands on. Some were wearing 3! Not one woman or child had a life jacket. There are some things that really make my blood boil and selfish men who care nothing for the safety and protection of women and children really gets it moving. Seeing we were stuck and the crew was out digging in the dirt trying to dislodge us from the island, I went back to sleep.

Storms can come up quickly and Santa Ana tropical storm hit with a force as we were still stuck on the island. The rain pounded in from all direction. I felt a slight mist from my bunk but found it refreshing. As I was about to drift off again I hear, "Amanda? We're coming in." And the three girls entered. We rearranged luggage and cuddled two to a bunk. The rain was raining in on the top deck and everyone had moved their hammocks and huddled in the middle trying to protect their belongings and stay as dry as possible. JaNahn said, "We're such Americans. We pick an adventure and as soon as it gets to be too much we go to safety."

Eventually we got off the island and continued making our way down the Amazon River. The rest of our trip was smooth sailing and pretty relaxing. It was very slow since we stopped at every village along the river to deliver supplies and pick up other goods to be traded or sold further down river. I enjoyed just sitting on a bench with other Peruvian passengers as we watched the efficiency and order of taking on and off of passengers, the loading and unloading of cargo and the boat's orders of operation. The kitchen staff brought us meals three times a day. We had porridge every morning with bread. Lunch was rice and beans, vegetables and sometimes meat. Dinner was soup. There was nothing touristy about it. It was a functional boat doing its job on the Amazon River. I loved it!

This stretch of the Amazon is the only place in the world you can see pink dolphins. We saw them! They were beautiful in their own way. Very interesting.

The Amazon River and jungle is an incredible place. I am very happy we spent some down-time here.
Passengers passing time looking out as we floated along
Tributary along the river - villagers coming to gather supplies from the cargo boat
Little boys hanging out in cargo rickshaw as we float along
Cute kids we met - hanging out in their hammocks
Melissa and JaNahn looking out as we float along
Packed hammock space on the top floor
Melissa with a stolen life jacket in my cabin
Cargo on the front of our boat, at a port unloading and loading
Village along the Amazon River
Unloading cargo

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