Friday, 26 July 2013
The first week
Look what happened on the first 7 days of the expedition (written by Mika):
Just passed Sushifindi in the Ecuadorian Amazon in the minibus we hired to get us and all our
equipment down to the where the boat was being built. Spent the night in Lago Agrio as we were
delayed by a landslide on the route from Quito. Huge amounts of oil palm plantations and oil
extraction affecting this region north of the Napo River. Military checkpoints for arms and petrol
rationing as only some 3 – 4 hours from Colombian border. Roberto in charge of building the boat
met us in Lago Agrio and we split up to let Daniel (in whose name the boat is) go with him to Coca
to sort out boat registry. The frustration of the bureaucracy is getting to us as it all remains unclear
what we actually need as we will be transiting the ecocanoa through to Colombia. Also was unclear
that we wanted built in fuel tank so that is being added now. We cross the Rio Agrio in a ferry and
that was a bit intimidating as running at over 12km/h. Hoping the Napo will be a bit gentler!!
Spent night at Porto Providencia, where boats was built and had the first run last night. Beautiful
craft and runs well with 15 hp motor. Last night I went with Daniel to buy the fuel – an adventure
in itself – and today we had the first practise run with the SUP boards to practise rescue and get
the group ready for paddling. Still awaiting a licence to carry the fuel (lack of this can mean 6 years
incarceration in Ecuador!). We are desperate to get started tomorrow so expect it tonight... yet
Early morning and the licence to carry the fuel arrives. Irritatingly it is the same licence that was
here 2 days ago but this time a photocopy is made at the port and we are ready to go. First day
on the River Napo and it showed us both its beauty and a taste of what it can throw at you. The
boat (Napatu – named after the Tikuna name of the destination river at the Amacayacu national
Park) is bobbing outside the tent at the waterfront of a village called Panacocha. The day was rain
free with the Yasuni National Park to our right and the Cuyabeno National Park to our left all day –
approximately 60 km covered in a magnificent paddle – the boards are holding out well and we are
averaging 8.7 km/hr with a big flooded Napo River beneath us. This is the end of the wet season and
from now the river drops to show a maze of channels and beaches.
The river also showed its teeth when Juan was paddling too close to the margins and got his board
caught in a left over fishing line and hook. With his leg still attached to the leash he was struggling
to stay afloat although the life vest certainly helped. The one that saved teh day was our Tikuna
companion Lorenzo who paddled up to teh fishing line attached to the tree and bit through it with
his teeth – his new name is ‘The Caiman’. We had discussed the pros and cons of using the leashes
and we are clear now that it is safer not to have them in a fast flowing river... a lucky lesson learned.
Our guide for this section, who we hired to help with the paperwork at the border (Nuevo
Rocefurte), suggested that we needed to get there before the weekend otherwise it might be
shut so we took the hard decision to motor to there tomorrow to see if we can complete all the
paperwork and not be stranded for a whole weekend at the border.
Information is a shifting commodity in the Amazon... and we head off all rather glum to deal with teh
authorities and hope that the paperwork given us in Porto Providencia would allow us to continue
our journey through to Peru. We left Panacocha that had been a kind and pretty stop, wher myself
and Marcia had camped outside the ‘hotel’ on the pretty bankside. The hotel had scared even
Lorenzo who slept curled up with a host of spiders inside his mosquito net! The 4.5 hour journey
took us past Tiputini and a section made up of a maze of islands. Just approaching Nueva Rocefuerte
we came across a homemade raft with an Argentinean and two European girls who were floating
down the Amazon! They had already been floating a month – taking it slow from Misuahlli. Seemed
the guy was craving male company and we said we would meet them in Nuevo Rocefuerte.
After all my worries about the paperwork the Capitanita (Marines) at Nuevo Rocefuerte could
not have been more helpful! They were extremely supporting of our trip and gave us a letter of
permission to pass and even organised a place with a roof where we could camp under for the night
– the Amazon rains can be so very heavy and a roof is a godsend. The sad news was that there were
a couple of primates as pets at the capitania that were bought at pantoja – and they did not know
what illegal wildlife trade was when we explained the objective of our trip was. It is going to take a
long time to address this side of biodiversity loss in the more remote parts of the forests.
Sam has given up smoking and is doing well so far.. so now it is 5am and we all get up – cook
breakfast, take down camp and head off at 8am... long days.
13/07/13 – Miraflores (Peru)
The border section between Ecuador and Peru was incredibly quiet. In Ecuador there was a lot of
activity with fast boats servicing tourist and oil and large barges transporting heavy machinery.
Peace and quiet for the morning paddle as we shoot by the banks of the river on a section of the
river that is hardly used. Saw my first grey dolphin today on a day full of parrots and butterflies
transiting between the river banks and the river islands. The islands form a unique environment for
birds and they are dynamic systems that grow and disappear so hold a complete range of flora from
pioneer to old growth and less predators. I was once again nervous about what we might face in
Peru at Pantoja when it came to paperwork. However, once again I was totally surprised – the local
Marine was fantastic and offered us assistance for our trip – South America never fails to surprise.
After lunch we launced again and paddled downstream some 30 km in the beautiful sunshine and
are now camped in a tradition Malloca at Miraflores. This is a beautiful Kichwa village of 100 people
situated on a small river running parallel to the Napo (we have passed through Hourani and Kichwa
territory and 2 isolated tribe lands so far). The Apu (tribal leader) welcomed us with a twinkle in his
eye – the price of stay was a go on the stand up paddle boards. We were left to our own devices to
a beautiful sunset and a good cook up. Still travelling at an average speed of 8km/hr and hitting our
Fuelled with goodwill we paddled Peruvian waters all day – no rain and sunshine. In the
afternoon while most paddled we discovered the sport of wake SUP and wasted a tank of fuel! At
about 5pm we approached teh village of Santa Maria on the right bank and realised it was a Sunday
following a regional football match – everyone was drunk. We arrived wary but the teacher was
sober and let us camp in the school hall – with nerves slightly on edge we settled down for the night
– no problems in the end and we left early at 7am.
Another full day paddling of over 60 km and we pulled in to Puerto Elvira. The kids
jumped about on the SUP boards and I had my first taste of Chicha – a maize brew fermented with
human saliva... they gave me a massive bowl... could not take it all – was happy to lose face as it was
an overfermented batch.... my stomach still feels a bit violated and I need to man up! After Chica
the teacher invited us to set up camp in the communal house and we settled in and Daniel started to
cook up. Dark and about halfway through his preparations I saw Lorenzo enter muttering that ‘there
was a problem’. Behind him was the Apu (the head man) furious that we had not asked him for
permission – at that very moment Daniels oil caught fire and a ball of fire headed towards the roof
of the school house... this was the time to explain that we come in peace.
Well after an entire night of grovelling and the Apu eating Lorenzos hard won gift of Peccary meat
(he was missing his fish and meat so much) the Apu ‘Authority maximum’ left us in peace. Today ate
the fruits of Inga edulis and saw more grey river dolphins. We had our first experience of an Amazon
windstorm and heavy rain paddling– this is a major risk to the boat as it has a canopy that can catch
the wind and flip it.
Lorenzo came down sick after being forced to drink more chicha... quite severe travellers diahorrea
and eventually we decided to start him on ciprolox to get him back in shape.