We’ve been floating for some days now – I would guess 3 or 4 – without passing anything that would by any means be considered a real town (or even a proper village or community). Due to the lack of stores, we’ve been trading with the natives to ensure a ready supply of foodstuffs. Fish hooks, gasoline, and onions seem to be the big commodity here in the jungle, and knowing this in advance, I brought plenty of each. We can see the small huts of the indigenous people from up to a mile away, giving us enough time to row our raft toward whichever side of the river they happen to be on. By then, the natives are already standing, sometimes naked, at the edge of the river staring at us until we yell, “Si tienen frutas o vegetales, tenemos ansuelos para intercambiar (if you have fruit or vegetables, we have fish hooks to trade)!” Most often they just stare at us with a confused look; many of them not speaking any Spanish at all (only Kichwa). But occasionally, one of them will run into the woods with a machete and return with a child-size bundle of plantains, or dig up a canoe-full of yucca and come chasing after in his 6-foot dugout canoe. Just yesterday we traded a total of 50 fish hooks which cost me $1 on Amazon.com with four different canoes (ironically the Amazon is the only place that Amazon.com won’t ship to). Our dollar yielded us two huge and strange-looking pineapples (4 hooks each), the four most phallic-looking zucchini I’ve ever seen, twenty pounds of yucca (3 hooks), fresh peanuts (4 hooks), and 35 pounds of plantains (12 hooks)! One man was so desperate for fish hooks that he even offered us the only thing he had at the time – una cabeza de tigre (a tiger head)! We respectfully declined.
We’ve also lost two crew members and picked up 3 more in the past week. Anastasya and Sam went back to Ukraine and the US respectively, and we are now two Americans, two Colombians (a married couple), and a dog, Congo – also Colombian. We spend our days mingling with the natives in their tiny dugouts and practicing Spanish, English, and Kichwa with each other as the current pulls La Aventura Amazonica this way and that through the quilt-like network of hundreds of islands.
We usually begin looking for a safe place to spend the night an hour before sunset. On the few occasions we stumbled upon a “village” before sunset, we’d tied our 33-foot floating house next to the two of three eight-foot dugout canoes that line the river – the only things that suggest that anyone lives within a hundred of miles of our raft. On such occasions, we awoke in the morning to a dozen or so children hiding behind trees and staring into our tents. I’m not sure they know what to make of us. I’m pretty sure that we’re the first white people they have ever seen (perhaps they are unaware that people can even BE white). I try to imagine the mixed feelings of fear, shock, awe, and curiosity that I would have had at seven years old had a group of purple or orange people arrived in my town in a strange-looking ship – it really puts things into perspective.
On evenings where there is not even the smallest ‘pueblicito’ to be found, we settle for a narrow riverside creek in which to tie up, or any one of a hundred tiny uninhabited islands with plenty of wood with which to cook and make a beachside bonfire (if the mosquitos become as problem). On nights such as these, we are completely alone – the shooting stars as our television, and the sound of the occasional pink river dolphin surfacing next to our raft as our soundtrack.