Rio Napo – Diary Days 8-9 Vencedores (Peru) and Nuevo Rocaforte (Ecuador)

Our last days with Gerson and the crew on our little boat are suddenly nearly over as we make good time and near the Peru Ecuador border. We still have little idea where we’re going to end up or how we’re going to make it to Coca (Puerto Franciso de Orellana) where we’ll end our river journey. We’re not sure but we hope that our Peruvian boat and crew can at least cross the border and take us as far as Nuevo Rocaforte – the Ecuadorian border town, some 25km up stream from the Peruvian border town of Pantoja!

Misty dawn as we leave Ango Terra

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As we continue our adventure through Ecuador, learn Spanish and prepare for our volunteer and school program in the Galapagos, I found this great set of travel quotes, ringing very true and reminding me what its all about … so I’m sharing it here!

Me Gusto Mucho Papas Fritas! (or ‘Chippies vs Chillies’)

Being four and three quarters and the one child in the family who inherited her Mum’s fussy streak instead of her Dad’s more adventurous, gluttonous one, it was interesting to get her thinking about her favourite foods in our first three months and four countries in South America!

Mo’s cousin Val is a head teacher and the children at her school have been hearing about our adventures in their assemblies. They sent us some questions and Lara’s was about her favourite foods, so we decided to do a Lara interview to try to answer this one!

Mum : So Lara, what’s been your favourite food on our journey so far?

Lara : Fizzy Orange! You can’t get fizzy drinks in England can you?

Mum : of course you can but we don’t have them very often and you’ve had a lot more whilst we’ve been travelling !!

Lara : Yep – I’ve had coke and fizzy orange (that’s my favourite) and Inca Cola in Peru which was bright yellow and Guarana in Brazil.

And I learned how to ask for a straw in Portuguese  – it’s a ‘Canudo’ – and now I have to ask for it in Spanish and its a ‘Popote’

Happiness is drinking through a canudo!

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Rio Napo – Diary Days 6-7 Rumi Tumi and Ango Terra

We pack up early and leave, hoping to gain back some lost time and distance on the river.

Beautiful sunrise at Nuevo Vencedores

Rio Napo – Diary Day 5 Nuevo Vencedores

Ben is still sick and pretty weak and exhausted! The girls aren’t terribly great either! Martin and I feel shattered, he is suffering too and we’ve had a sleepless, stressful night! We agree pretty early with Gerson and the crew that we should stay put today and spend another night here.

Its still quite early and we see about 7 or 8 teenage girls and kids are gathered at our doorway (there’s no actual door). They’re just concerned, but it give’s very little privacy. Not wishing to appear rude, I move one of the tents across the room and try to make a cool, comfy place for Ben to lie behind and be sick without an audience! The are there on and off through the day and later on, Zoe and Lara sit with them and make more bracelets.

Village Girls with our girls making bracelets

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Rio Napo – Diary Day 4 Nuevo Vencedores

We’re relieved to clamber out of our tent onto the beach before 6am, just as its getting light. The rain has stopped and it’s beautifully cool. Poor Frank tells us they were freezing on the boat!!

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Rio Napo – Diary Day 3 Isla Rango

We wake early – its been raining hard for 3 or 4 hours. Martin and the kids go out and buy umbrellas and shop with Frank for some more provisions and I watch them (and guard our stuff – its a tough job but someone’s got to do it!) from the dry balcony of the hostel!!

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They return with fresh(ish) bread, real butter in a tin and a jar of strawberry jam and we sit on the balcony eating breakfast together.

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Gerson and the crew are intrigued to try the butter which they’ve never tasted and which Martin had to persuade them to buy over margarine so they try our ‘western’ breakfast just this once – their typical breakfast would be rice and fish/chicken – much like lunch and dinner! We’re really grateful to have the ‘western’ option for a change!!!

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We pack eveything up and everyone helps carry bags and kit back down to the river.

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Then we finally get sight of our boat for the next 8 days – it’s pretty big, open sided with benches, a mostly tin roof, simple but adequate… Though I can’t help wonder just how wet we and all our stuff will get if this rain keeps up for the next week! It takes a while to load up and Martin does a stock take of essentials provisions with Frank. They have a good supply of meat, eggs, fruit and veg plus a selection of herbs and spices that bodes well. We go buy quite a lot of extra bottled water and a bag of bread just in case!

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It stops raining and eventually we get going upstream. It’s relaxing, cool and slow although not most comfortable! However that is soon solved when we put up our two hammocks across the boat so we can take turns lounging very comfortably indeed!

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As Santa Clotilde disappears from sight we pull up on the riverbank and to our surprise our boat driver, Rocky jumps out and another jumps in with a younger guy who will help out – so now we are ten altogether. No worries about extra food as Rocky looked like he ate for 3!

Minutes later, we realise why we’d been warned about low water when the boat runs aground midstream and half the crew have to jump in at knee level and drag the boat off the hidden sand bank! Lucio our new driver is taking a back seat and letting the younger guy steer and learn the river, should the boat have ‘L’ plates?

Not long after, Zoe spots a pink dolphin splashing around where a tributary joins the Napo. These are the spots where fish are more plentiful and the dolphins ”hang out”. They put on a bit of a show for us!

Lunch is ”Juanis” – Peruvian classic food-on-the-go, bought in Santa Clotilde – cooked rice, egg and chicken wrapped and tied in a ball of banana leaves – welcome and tasty!

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Gerson tells us stories of how these were named after John the Baptist as they are wrapped in a ball vaguely resembling a head on a plate?! He tells us something of jungle village life and about how one goes about setting up home and building a house! You choose a site – possibly across the river a little away from your parents (!) and agree this with the village chief, invite all your friends and family to meet one Sunday, everyone shows up and spends the day together in the jungle with machetes and axes to gather all the wood and materials needed to build the house! You provide a great feast for everyone to enjoy together and then invite them all back the next Sunday to help build the house and share! Typically, houses are one or two interconnecting rooms, raised a meter or two above grounds, a corner of one room set aside for a firepit and cooking station, walls a meter or so high then open up to the thatched roof which overhangs enough for rain protection.

We chug slowly upstream, winding carefully between sandbanks and shallow waters, often passing a few houses, people washing/ playing by the river – we pull over for loo stops and find a convenient tree or fallen branch, taking a lighter to burn loo roll!

We snooze, watch the world, read and chat through the day. Zoe and Lara paint everyone’s nails with their new pink and purple nail varnish. The crew are very accommodating!

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Then we pull up late afternoon on a island beach in front of a jungle house. There’s rice growing on the beach! It’s part of the spread out village of Isla Rango, with homes dotted around either side of the river and on the central island. Gerson chats to the owners, who come, greet us and agree for us to camp on the beach.

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Ollin makes a fire and starts cooking and Ben and Zoe attempt to make their own fires, watched intently by the young children who’ve come out and huddle together to look at the strange children with blonde hair! They speak Spanish but are shy when we try to use our few Spanish words to chat to them!

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We sit on a log and eat the delicious chicken stew that Ollin has prepared…

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Then it’s suddenly dark and the locals are gone and the crew are putting up a two man tent for us – they are going to be sleeping on the boat with all our bags and stuff and a couple of them in the locals’ house tucked away in the trees but the tent gives us protection from mosquitos – we have sone blankets plus our two thermarests which pack down lightly into a tiny space but provide considerable padding when inflated. Martin and I commandeer them to the kids great objection!

Gerson explains that the boat driver is also a pastor, they have a little gathering of prayer and song on the beach and he tells us they’ve been praying for our safe and good journey!

We walk up the beach to find a quiet spot to brush teeth and pee then turn in for the night – (it’s only about 7pm but with no electricity anywhere, you wake with the daylight and sleep when it’s dark. We lie like 5 sardines in our tent, sweltering and glad of the slight breeze that is trying to come through the built in mosquito net windows. I write my diary and read for a bit and eventually sleep, waking to high winds and rain some hours later and rain starting to come through the mossie net window. There was no top sheet!

Then suddenly, torchlight and urgent voices approach us and the crew are there slinging plastic sheeting over our tent which they pin down with logs to protect us from the rain! I feel well cared for we stay dry but we’re airless and breezeless and by morning it feels as if we’re in a sauna!

Rio Napo – Diary Days 1-2 Mazan and Santa Clotilde

After a busy morning packing, we’re met by Gerson around noon, say goodbye to our hotel friends…

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… and head in the hotel’s mini-van to the waterfront where we climb down the steep steps to the rickety pontoon to where there are waiting speedboats but there seems to be a mix up with ours and to Zoe’s horror have to sit in a small, grubby floating cafe with a single table and a couple of broken stools…

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Amazing Amazon – Diary Days 23-26 in Iquitos

Our three days in Iquitos are a pleasant mix of relaxing by the pool, preparing and shopping for our Napo River trip, hanging out at some of the friendly ex-pat owned cafes and restaurants for a leisurely lunch or supper and enjoying a film or two on the huge TV in our room whilst we catch up on some email and planning.

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Amazing Amazon – Diary Day 22 Brazil, Peru and one night in Columbia

It’s been another long stretch without WiFi or phone signal, we’ve arrived in Ecuador, another 1000km+ of river and lots of draft diary entries lined up waiting to have photos attached and be posted, but I had a gutting technology crisis a few days ago when about 30 email and blog drafts simply ‘disappeared’ from my iPhone which has kept me and is still keeping me busy recreating them as our river journey has come to an end!!

So, to catch up. Back to Brazil and Day 22 of our journey along the Amazon….

We wake hot, tired and sticky about 8am in the Hotel Real, Tabatinga, complete with dead cockroach in shower, room bookings by the hour (nice!) and with Ben’s bed shoved against the door with a dubious looking lock! It was our last night in Brazil and cost the immense total of £6. We’ve had a good nights rest and it’s been nice to sleep all together in a huge room after our tiny cabin on the boat!

Door security at Hotel Real

Martin and Zoe set out to find out about a public speedboat for tomorrow and about passport formalities, whilst Ben, Lara and I get packed up again…drag everything downstairs and sit in the bar on the now buzzing high street where we arrived a few hours earlier in the dead of night!

Martin and Zoe pick us up in a taxi, having purchased speedboat tickets and we’re heading the 10 minutes or so across the border to Columbia and the town next door, Leticia. There’s an open barrier on the road at the border but cars drive and people walk freely back and forth.

The twin towns of Tabatinga and Leticia where Brazil, Columbia and Peru meet.

After some driving around and asking for directions in the unmarked roads of Leticia we find Malokamazonas guest house. It’s a little oasis tucked away just off the main drag where we have a lovely welcome from Francisco and are shown to our pristine two room accommodation hidden in a jungly garden with plunge pool and covered seating areas.

We head off for lunch as everyone is famished. Francisco walks us down the road to find us a nice restaurant and we find the bank for a small stash (just a few hundred thousand) of Columbian pesos to last us the day!

Lunch in Leticia, Columbia

A few hundred thousand pesos, enough for the day!

….then he arranges for his taxi driver friend Jose to take us off to get our passport formalities done.

First, it’s back to Brazil and the police HQ for exit stamps, then back to Columbia and down to the waters edge where there’s an almost dry creak which Jose leads us across some planks, through a village and sugar cane field and out to the river Amazon again where we walk across mud flats to a small pontoon and take a long boat taxi across river to Santa Rosa, Peru.

Walking the plank on the way to Peru!

As we cross river there’s a sudden pick up of wind and torrential rain comes from nowhere! On the other side we clamber out drenched and glug through mud and rain to a waiting mototaxi, trying not to lose flip flops! The taxi skids from side to side up the hill through more mud and still driving rain into the one street town and to the police immigration post! It’s a bit of a roller coaster ride but we love it and the kids squeal their way through it!!!

Crossing the Amazon

to Santa Rosa, Peru.

At the police station it’s a bit tricky to fill in the forms with rain pouring off us but we manage, the kids get stamps on their arms then run around outside seeing if it’s possible to get more drenched, to the apparent amusement of one or two bystanders, sheltering more sensibly from the rain. Welcome to Peru!

Outside Santa Rosa immigration office in the rain

We take the mototaxi back to the river and the boat goes around to the main docks in Leticia where we have another wade through sinking mud in the rain back to the town and wander back like drenched rats to our guest house!

Drenched girls, head back to Columbia!

By the time we’re showered and changed and the rain lets up we’ve missed the gathering of thousands of parrots in the local park and all feel rather disappointed but Jose comes back and takes us to a pizza place near his home and he and his sons join us for the biggest pizza we ever saw! We have a unexpectedly pleasant evening chatting with him, trying to get started with our Spanish, trying to stop using the basic Portuguese words that now come so easily. The kids play iPhone games together and Ben tries fresh mulberry juice which is delicious and declared ”just like Oma’s blackberry mouse’ at home”.

Our huge pizza, too much even for eight of us!

No language problems when you play iphone games!

Cheers! Delicious Mulberry Juice!

Back at Hotel Malamazonas, Francisco kindly offers sandwiches for our journey tomorrow since we’ll be leaving very early and missing breakfast. We set out alarms for 2.30am, aaarghhhh…

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