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!!
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.
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!!!
We pack eveything up and everyone helps carry bags and kit back down to the river.
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!
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!
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!
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!
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.
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!
We sit on a log and eat the delicious chicken stew that Ollin has prepared…
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!