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!
We’re on the boat fairy early again and cover good ground through the day, stopping only for quick toilet breaks on beaches, we snack on biscuits and bread.
We realise we won’t make it to the border today and arrive at the spread out village of Vencedores late in the afternoon where we’ll spend our last night in Peru. We squelch our way through a pretty wet and muddy field and path to another large meeting house come dining hall where we can stay in our tents. It is concrete floored, has a fire pit for cooking and a long dining table and benches.
Wow – we get a really big welcome – lots of villagers pop by shake our hands and chat away to us. We can’t understand much but Gerson helps translate. One man tells us they have had just a few foreign visitors stop by before but they have never seen white/western children.
One very chatty man is overwhelmed seeing Zoe with her blonde hair and plaited pigtails and tells us how he recently went on a trip to a town to shop and bought a doll with the same kind of hair for his kids but now here was the real thing and he could look at her with his own eyes! It occurs to me how remote we are again and I wonder how many, if any, western children have made this journey?
Zoe sits with her head rested on my shoulder, somewhat baffled and embarrassed! We both feel quite rough so it’s difficult to show the same enthusiasm in return I’m afraid! The guy goes off to fetch his wife and kids ”to see the real thing” and promises Zoe he will bring a fresh egg as a gift. But he doesn’t return… I’m not sure if he was a bit drunk but I could imagine his wife, cooking supper, telling him to settle down and sit down for his dinner and refusing to gather her family together to go out at bed time and look at a blonde child!
Another man, who I think is the chief asks lots of questions – Gerson tells me that he’s introduced us as missionaries, heading through the Amazon to preach God’s word! The man is really interested and wants me to tell him all about our work and perhaps to preach to them! Alarmed, I ask Gerson if this has been his story at all the villages?! He assures me no, but he’s uncomfortable here with a few people a bit drunk so he’s decided to elaborate to avoid any undue pressure to pay money to stay!!! I explain that we’re very sorry but all the family is sick and I get away with not having to suddenly try my hand at some impromptu preaching! It turns out the woman at last night’s stop had demanded money – and Gerson had given her 10 sol (this is about £3.50!)
In the morning we pack early and are on the river again by 7am.
We notice how polluted the river seems with huge lumps of brownish foam and Gerson says he thinks there’s a lot of pollution coming down from Ecuador but this foam is due to river movement not pollution!?! Then as we pass by a tributary that seems cleaner Zoe shrieks and we get a fabulous show of lively grey river dolphins apparently enjoying breakfast but it seems just showing off for us – some almost jump out of the water in pairs and some are just a few meters from the boat. Everyone is delighted but we do yet another shabby job of capturing much on film!
After the dolphins have breakfasted and the show is over we set off again and make good distance and arrive by lunchtime at the Peruvian border town of Pantoja. Along the way, Lara has a good heart to heart with Frank and Ben drives the boat…
I have a visit from a policeman or army official who’s checking us out and tells me we’ve a good two or three hours upstream to get to Nuevo Rocaforte, the Ecuadorian border town and we’ll need to stay there as the public boat to Coca leaves very early in the mornings but not every day! I feel quite chuffed that I manage to stumble my way through our discussion in Spanish!
Martin and the others meanwhile have headed off to get our passports stamped, look around town and with the crew, visit a local house on the high street where they are invited to make lunch.
Bizarrely the man at the passport office is the same man from Santa Rosa at the tri-border point where we left Brazil via Columbia. He’s been transferred and has gotten here before us by speed boat. He recognises the family and stamps the kids arms again like he did when we arrived in Peru.
We set off again after lunch, wanting to make it to Nuevo Rocaforte for the night. After two hours, the town comes into view…. Everyone is excited although we have to pull over on a small island for a loo stop and wait a while as the rain and wind gets up – and then settles again. We watch another little boat sinking in deeper waters and Gerson starts telling us stories of the many boat tragedies he knows of, including his aunt dying in a big boat accident when he was a young boy.
I’m glad he held these stories back till we were nearly done with our river travel in the little boat! Although I must say nothing has been anything like as scary like the speedboat ride in a stormy Atlantic ocean to Morro do São Paulo – several weeks before!
As we arrive in this bigger and obviously growing (thanks to oil exploration) Nuevo Rocaforte, there’s a beautiful sunset – we have to rush through town to get our passports stamped for entry into Ecuador but stop to chat to a few travellers, some who’ve spent three weeks heading up river in their own boat, others who’ve just bought that boat to head back downstream!