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Border Reivers

Updated: 5 days ago

It was finally time for Yan and I to face up to the visa problem. Briefly, there had been no immigration checkpoint on our extremely remote crossing into Peru from Ecuador on the Pastaza River. This meant that, despite making the Police and Military aware of our presence, we had been in Peru illegally as we paddled the 1000 or so kilometres from the border to Iquitos. The best official advice we were given when arriving in Iquitos, was to sneak back into Ecuador, get exit stamps and then re-enter Peru via the well beaten tourist trail on the Napo River. At that location on the border, there was a town named Pandoja with a passport checkpoint. Frustratingly, this meant backtracking to a country we’d left well over a month ago, expensive boat tickets and a weeklong delay to the expedition. And of course, there was the stress of wondering if this would actually even work.

On the 18th of July, Moira and Cara flew home from Iquitos. That familiar, confused feeling, of loss at losing team members but relief at them leaving safely, washed over me for the fourth and final time. I felt especially bad for Yan as we buzzed away from Cara in a tuk-tuk. It would be months before he’d next be in her arms and I could see that he was clearly hurting.  From this point onwards it was to be only Yan and I to the end. The town of Belem on Brazil’s Atlantic coast, a mere 3700 kilometres to our East.

Our journey up the Napo was fairly simple. A day on a fast boat to Santa Clotilda (Napo) where we spent the night in a basic hotel, sharing a room with some bats. Then, a second full day covering the last of the distance against the flow of the Napo to Cabo Pandoja, at the Ecuadorian border. In two days, we’d covered roughly the same distance that it had taken us a month to paddle, although we were on the much safer tourist trail this time. I watched communities fly by on the banks and wondered if we’d have had the same trouble passing them as we did on the Pastaza. In the evening of the 19th of July, we arrived and immediately sought out a private boat to take us over the border first thing in the morning.

We found a man who didn’t raise an eyebrow at the request and settled in for the night.  At first light we left in the slender canoe, accompanied by three German lads who were travelling into Ecuador to do some volunteering work. The air was cool and a thin layer of mist lay on the waterline, shrouding the tree trunks on the banks before the dark green canopies burst free of the pale vaporous curtain. The water was flat as glass, from a bottle Newcastle Brown Ale. Yan and I were quiet, this had to work.

After 2 hours, the small boat arrived in Rocafuerte and we marched straight to the immigration office. The town seemed to prioritise one straight street, parallel to the water’s edge. It felt instantly like the wonderful Ecuador we remembered. A little more modern than the Amazonian Peru that we knew, slightly more official and slightly safer. I was embarrassed with myself at the thought. What kind of adventurer is pleased by a higher level of civilisation?

We walked with purpose, down the road then took a right, following the directions of our boat driver. In the office we were met with a very official looking gentleman who ran Yan’s passport through the system and stamped it without question. Mine wasn’t quite as simple, for an agonising 30 minutes he checked and rechecked his system and then refused to give me a stamp. As he began to ask more questions, I thought the game might be up. But finally, we realised that for some reason my passport had been reported stolen and so he only needed to see a secondary form of ID to identify that I was the man on the passport and not the thief.

I produced my driving license and was then overjoyed to hear the sweet thud of an official stamp, connecting beautifully with my paper. Relief level 5000! Back on the bank, our boat man was waiting so we headed down river to Pandoja. We arrived by 10am and had to wait till 1800 for the town generator to be turned on. The generator was the only way for the Peruvian immigration office there to turn their computers on and add us to the system. Thankfully this all happened without a hitch.

Fortunately, we had a job to do to pass the time before then. Because it'd only be Ian and I for the rest of the expedition, we wanted to turn our two canoes into a single boat. This would mean we could cook on the move and paddle for each other to allow rest. We didn't have any paper but Ian ripped open a Precio Uno bag that we'd taken from Iquitos and we began sketching designs. The design was simple, one that I'd envisaged two years prior when making the expedition plan; a catamaran, two hulls connected by two crossbeams. The beauty of this conversation was that now we could get down to the finer details. Yans idea to cut up a yoga mat to make rubber washers for example, allowing flexing when waves hit. A hoistable mast screwed to a door hinge on the front cross beam was another exciting idea. We enjoyed spending the afternoon figuring out different ideas. With the plan agreed on, it was only up to us to find the materials and build our ship when we returned to Iquitos. Arrrr

That evening we met a trio of lassies from America, Australia and Germany who were travelling into Peru, heading for Iquitos. They had been dotting down all over South America and we were glad to meet them, share some stories and have a laugh. The American and Australian didn't join us for a beer as they were cleansing their bodies in preparation for an upcoming ayahuasca retreat. The journey back was much the same, although slightly faster as we had the flow on our side. One day to Santa Clotilda and then another day back to Iquitos. I basically slept and finished off Ed Stafford’s Walking the Amazon in equal measures.

The last of the mountain of difficulties from Stages 2 and 3 had been taken care of; we were legal, we had all of our kit, and we were well rested. The future for Amazon Summit to Sea was looking really positive!

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