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Boating down the Amazon

It started with an early start, but then again, it always does. Anneliese and I have come to call these days where timings have to be adhered to, as “work days.” I know some people would be in utter disagreement with this but for the level of relaxation that we have both experienced throughout this trip, these travels days can be likened to the “dreaded” Monday morning! So, off to Cusco Airport it was.

On arrival in Iquitos and walking from the plane, it soon became apparent that Anneliese’s hunger for some hot weather to remind her of Dubai was going to be satisfied. A new spring in our step and a good hounding from some “Moto taxi” drivers for our business, we were off to the centre of this Amazonian Jungle Mecca, to find ourselves a hostel and something to eat.

We did the usual, find a café and get a small bite to eat and a beer, while we then proceeded to use as much of their internet bandwidth as we possibly could to organise the next few days of our lives.

We found a great little hostel and very well priced (until Anneliese spilt Potassium Permanganate from sterilising the mosquito bites on her legs, all over the sheets, for which we then had to pay almost an extra night accommodation to replace!). We managed to obtain the information that we needed about the, at this stage seemingly ever illusive, boats that navigate their way down the Amazon in the direction of Brazil. And so it was, a reliving of my former amphibious days was to begin…

That night we enjoyed a hearty meal and a beautiful sunset over the Amazon and thought about the Amazonian adventures that were to come. The next day, we utilised the time in the morning to stock up on things that we would need for the boat and visited a very “third world” but also great market in the centre of town. With one hand on our wallets and the other grabbing food that would last the trip, we gathered and prepared ourselves for the next 10 days. A quick stop for lunch and then it was back to the Moto taxi and head down to the port.

On arrival at the Port, we were both aghast to see the reaction of the local ticket touts. As we drove through the gates, they began to pull at our limbs or anything else they could get a grip of; screaming at us to buy the tickets for the boat off them. Those that know me well know that I am not one to tolerate this type of behaviour and am normally quite quick to react. My saving grace was that an “explanation of acceptable behaviour” was not needed, as the touts soon turned on each other and started punching one another, in an attempt to get close enough to us to tell us their price for a ticket!

We finally got on board and life was very different immediately. With the ranting crowd on the jetty without a ticket sale between them, the crew on our boat were very relaxed and pleasant. We paid our $25 each and found the upper deck, where we hung our hammocks and settled ourselves in for the night and the next 3 days. With all our kit organised, we turned to the bottle of rum which we had brought with us (we felt being part of the sailing community that it was our duty to share in their customs). Turns out it was their custom and we were the only ones drinking.
The next day brought our first Amazonian sunrise and the true beauty of what we were experiencing was beginning to dawn on us. During the day, we made many short stops picking up various people from local communities and cattle! The day was spent reading and enjoying the ever changing views from our hammocks.

Over the course of the next day and a half, we made friends with the two Peruvian women who ran the only shop on board. They soon became our temporary guardians through cooking some amazing fish dishes for us and giving us advice on local things whenever we needed it. Our evenings were spent enjoying the sunsets with a couple of beers and retiring to our hammocks around 7.30pm for an early night.

On the third day, we awoke to notice that we were coming into another Port. Chilling out in our hammocks knowing that we didn’t have to summon any motivation for another 24hours, we wondered what this new and larger port was. On looking around we noticed that the amount of passengers around us had diminished considerably. Anneliese decided to ask what port we had arrived at; when she came back in rather a hurry, it dawned on me that we were in fact at the end of the first leg. With some “panic packing” carried out, we then spent the next hour and a half wondering through the jungle on a very unmarked path, searching for the Santa Rosa Immigration Office and our Peruvian exit stamp. With this all sorted out, we then summoned a small boat and asked him to take us across the water to the other bank, thinking that we would be entering Brazil and a town called Tabatinga. The coxswain of the boat kept on talking about this place called Leticia, neither of us had heard about a place called Leticia in Brazil; no surprise really, as we had actually just landed in Colombia!

Although it sounds as though we had caught the wrong boat, we actually hadn’t. The border is split between Peru, Colombia and Brazil. The next two days proved rather frustrating, as we entered Brazil and Colombia about 3 times each trying to organise a place to stay and our next leg on the Amazon.

Eventually, with a boat organised and paid for (considerably more expensive than our lovely and much missed Peruvian boat) we embarked during a torrential rain storm. After the hassle of completely unpacking everything we had with us for the Brazilian Federal Police, who suspect everyone of being International Drug Smugglers, we set about setting up our sleeping area.

Anneliese at this point had said that she wasn’t feeling very well. With my usual amount of sympathy given (which basically amounted to saying “I’m sure you will get better”) we proceeded on our way. After not seeing her for around half an hour and assuming she was having some alone time, I was rather shocked to see a very poorly Annie approach me. I was a little astounded to see the amount her appearance had changed. She had spent the last half hour depositing half of her body weight over the side of the boat into the Amazon. Never one to panic, I felt it best to offer a little more sympathy than before and give her a gentle pat on the back, whilst she was being ill and tell her that all will be well.

It was evident that this wasn’t really going to make her better, as luck would have it a deckhand pointed us towards a medic and a make shift hospital located on board. After giving Annie several things to try and settle her stomach, which she through back up, he felt that the only option was the hospital in Benjamin Constance. The boat stopped soon after and while they loaded and unloaded cargo, a rather poorly Anneliese, the medic and I jumped into a taxi and rushed off to hospital. Annie seemed to be getting progressively worse throughout the trip and I was keen to get her to the hospital (especially after she told me she had to go to the toilet right now, even if it meant on the street!), until we actually arrived and I realised that I would rather have treated her myself in the middle of a London sewer, during the Great Plague!

After an initial assessment, we soon realised that we would have been able to have made more sense of the rats in a London sewer than the medic and doctor, who didn’t seem to have a clue what they should do. The language barrier of Annie’s Spanish (whilst puking) and their reply’s in Portuguese was making the whole situation extremely hard work. The doctor was adamant that admission and a drip, was the way forward. The medic was quick to point out that the next boat was in 3 days’ time and we would have to buy another ticket. After some discussion, we decided it best to take the much more practical option than a three day stay in the most rancid hospital I have ever seen, and that we would head back to the boat, with Antibiotics, anti-vomiting medication and the equipment for IV administration.

On return to the boat, the medic set about moving his wife and baby out of the “Hospital” and set up the room for Anneliese. Once he was ready, he called her in. This bit was the slightly more anxious bit; we were very unconvinced about the medic’s actual ability to cannulate. It is a while since I have practised it myself and cannulating; a 14 stone lad, with normal size veins who doesn’t mind a couple of attempts, is a lot easier than cannulating a very poorly, 7 stone Annie; who has veins the width of a strand of hair on my head and who from her experience wouldn’t have appreciated several goes, had things not gone to plan first time!

We decided to give the medic a chance and to our amazement he got the IV in first time. After much back slapping and the medics new legend status confirmed, Annie was at last starting the road to recovery. As with any case of dehydration, the recovery was pretty much imminent with the administration of the fluids. Annie was soon back to her normal self, although would remain on the drip for about 11 hours.

There was only one more tale to tell about the incident… Whilst connected up to the drip, Annie was still suffering from loss of fluid, but not orally! She announced that she had to go to the toilet and that I would have to hold the Saline bag. What went on in that loo is not really for the ears of others, if her dignity is to remain intact. All I will say is that after she recovered the medic came over to her hammock, plunger in hand, and rather crossly shouted at her for causing his toilet to block.

With the drip finished, Anneliese rehydrated (albeit with an arm looking like it was suffering from elephantitis because of her vein collapsing towards the end of the bag), we found our hammocks and settled into our “Normal” boat routine. We must only have managed about 3 hours sleep before the sound of a child badly playing a recorder woke us at 5am. On closer inspection it turned out not to be a child, but one of the cliché hippy group on board who was playing what looked like a carved out pear; much to the enjoyment of his leg-crossed swaying, incense stick sniffing, bangle braiding buddies!

The main things that we noticed during the rest of this boat trip were; how much we missed the Peruvian people and hospitality (the Brazilians seemed very much into themselves), we were on board with Jack Sparrow (hippy number 1) and Bob Marley (hippy number 2), and the continuance of the Amazonian beauty. We were fortunate to meet a lovely French / Canadian couple who shared the experience with us.
I look back on this whole boat trip and realise that the experience that we encountered could not have been pre-written and I would not have wanted to change it for the world, aside from the obvious health drama!

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