So the publishing of the diary is a little behind, for which I apologise – we’re almost a month I from here and just flown from Quito to the Galapagos. I’ll blame it on wifi (lack of) internet connections (lack of) Spanish lessons (a lot of and hard work making my brain dredge up what I learned 30 years ago at Kings Manor Comp! General family life on the road / not on the road (which after all is for living not blogging!) Oh and the random deletion by my iphone of my Napo River diary so that it all had to be re-written and remembered – gutting! I’d spent many hours in my tent keeping up to date! But finally, here’s our last two days on the river traversing the great continent as far as Puerta Francisco de Orellana, aka Coca!
Of course there is still a little way to go to fully cross the continent – about 170km to Quito and from there another 170km to the coast. Our journey is by road to Quito and onward by air to the Galapagos islands, but our river journey of 3172km as the crow flies and nearer 6000km or more of meandering river, had a natural ending in Coca, partly because of its being the starting point in 1541 for the first recorded journey the other way by river across South America to the Atlantic. And not to mention, you can’t really travel up into the Andes by river!
We awake in the Ecuador border town of Nuevo Rocaforte with a day to kill/fill. It’s a hot, one street town on the river with a couple of one-dish restaurants (that’s food not satellite) and a couple of hotels which are clean and functional. it’s the starting and stopping point for travelling up and down the river so the best thing about it is that there are interesting people to chat to over breakfast or coffee or a beer or just in passing down the street.
We meet the two guys who spent three weeks on a boat they bought in Iquitos, making their own way up the Napo. One of them is Argentinian, the other a Brit and the friendly bikers who have bought their boat to head downstream tomorrow. We meet some fascinating people who live in Ecuador too including a team who’re involved in various Amazon conservation and protection program’s and are just embarking on a journey to rediscover the places of Francisco de Orellana’s original Napo and Amazon journey of 1541 – which they’ll record at http://www.rediscoveringtheamazon.com
We sort laundry and enjoy getting really clean although we’ll be very happy to get all our stuff in the laundry in Coca or Quito. Martin’s first shave in a while results in a very short lived goatee. Once he saw this picture, it had disappeared in 10 minutes!
Then we pack again and get an early night as we’re going to be up very early and anyway the water goes off at 9 and electricity goes off at 11
Today is the last day of our river journey across S America – it’s been 37 days since we flew into Belem at the end of August and boarded the Amazon star to head west across this vast continent. Much of the journey has been relaxed and easier than expected, there have been unexpected highlights and opportunities and some has been difficult and even scary and yet immensely rewarding at the same time. There have been some fantastic family bonding moments and sometimes some moans, whines and squabbles (and that’s just Martin and me!)
Today the alarm goes off at 4am. We have to shuffle around in the dark packing the last of our bits then wander down the road to the river to find the public boat to Coca that boards at 4am and leaves at 5am. It turns out it’s not exactly the speedboat with semi-comfy aircraft type seats we anticipated but a long simple wooden craft with benches each side and its a slow-fast boat – it will cover 182km (as the crow flies) and will take about 11.5 hours.
The good news is it’s not too crowded, we can hang a hammock in the middle and its relatively cool. The bad news is that it’s a long boring day with little to do, boring rice and chicken served from a tiny kitchen at the end for breakfast and lunch, no snacks and nothing else apart from cold coke but we just imposed a week long dizzy drink ban so the kids are drooling watching other people enjoy a cold coke while they are stuck with warm bottled water! We brought no other snacks – eek! The sides are mostly covered so its hard to enjoy any view so we pass the time snoozing in the hammock or on the benches, tracking our progress on my map, reading, chatting with and listening to our travelling friends play guitar and quena (a beautiful s american flute-recorder – same fingering as a recorder and similar blowing as a flute which we try but can’t get a sound from – I vow to buy one and learn, imagining being able to play the Mission theme tune!)
I spend several hours recreating my lost diary from the last 10 days and when I’m done, play silly games on my phone such as enhancing photos of themselves with goggles and mustaches!
Eventually the city of Coca comes into watching a determined cockerel stuck in a sack with his head out of the top repeatedly escape but then struggling to decide what to do with his newfound freedom before his owner puts him back inside the bag!sight with a beautiful bridge and sky framing the silhouette of the town.
We dock on a rickety pontoon that sits at almost a 45 degree angle to the water, tipped over where the water levels are so low. Trying not to lose any bags to the river or thieves and with grumpy tired coke-less kids in tow we clamber and drag everything/everyone up to the town square where we decide I’ll stay with children and bags and Martin will find a hotel.
He’s not that long and comes back to take us along the riverside some 10 minutes to the surprisingly large and lovely Hotel Le Mision, complete with three swimming pools, waterslide and considerable menagerie of semi wild animals wandering about! Martin has haggled for a great rate and very pleasant family room overlooking the pools and river.
As dark falls we all head outside for a swim and whilst Martin and I enjoy a swim in the bigger pool we watch the kids head for the next one and up the steps of the water slide – then we hear blood curdling screams and realise Lara and Ben are having a too close encounter with monkeys!!
Ben scarpers back down the steps – an ever gallant brother! Lara is frozen and keeps screaming. Martin has to swim and leap across two pools and up steps to rescue her whilst I follow imagining my poor mauled daughter but thankful again for the rabies injections.
It turns out the monkeys are very friendly and curious about another small creature. One had touched her bottom but thankfully the blood curdling creams had provoked neither fight or fright!
Calmed, showered and refreshed, we headed for the hotel restaurant and were delighted to order delicious ceviche, avocado prawns, delicious steaks, burgers, chips…. Everyone happy and amused by slightly less intimidating white rabbits hopping round our feet eager for a dropped lettuce leaf!! I seem to be the only one to whom it has occurred (so far) that it’s a shame we have a one week fizzy drink ban when it would have been kind of fun to have a Coca Cola in Coca! I wonder momentarily how to get around it without Martin passing comment on my pathetic parenting!
I hadn’t expected this kind of luxury in Puerta De Francisco de Orellana – meaning Gate of Francisco of Orellana – Spanish explorer who left here in 1541 and after many skirmishes and adventures, made the first recorded journey all the way to the Atlantic. Along the way he and his crew were attacked by (apparently) wild female warriors and much later recounting his adventures to the king of Spain, the river was named Amazonas after the Greek mythology all female Amazones warriors.
It’s all the more fascinating to read about when you’ve just completed the same journey (albeit it in reverse, and without the female warrior attacks – just a few monkeys in our hotel, a hairy tarantula on the Napo and some piranha and a caiman in the Amazon that we definitely got the better of!)