Updated: Oct 27
We were amazed and quite relieved to find a bustling wee town full of life. After 3 days in the field, we were keen to update socials, have a few beers and relax.
With the social media taken care of, we went to find a six pack at a small shop and met some local lads drinking outside who began telling us about Andoas. 40 years ago, it was contaminated by an oil spillage that decimated the population. The indigenous people there were still recovering but had recently been paid reparations by the Peruvian Government. The border town was rough and dirty with many unfinished buildings and a tired square in which bald scabby dogs chewed on chicken bones in the mud. We were sorry to hear about the troubles that had developed there, due to some distant oil company that had come in and destroyed nature and the indigenous way of life. Again, there was litter everywhere.
Some of the people stared right though us and we presumed that they held us in some way responsible for the damage done by the oil companies. Others wished us good day and some were very interested; we were the first gringos here in almost a decade and the people were fond of telling us about the last ones. A Canadian man travelling and a female doctor from the US here for short while nine years ago. No one could understand the concept of an expedition and why we would want to do it. Adventure travel just doesn't really exist in societies that live day by day.
That night we were shocked to find out that there were many bars open. They looked unique with a shanty town style charm, neon lights, corrugated iron and colourful spray paint stencil signs. Having been in the wilderness for a while, we were excited to have a beer and get a little loose with the locals. Once inside, it didn't take us long to discover that if you are out dancing after 2200 in Andoas, you are homosexual.
If fact a massive percentage of the men in town were either gay, or dressed and moved to appear gay in order to fit in. They were very forward, and we were driven back to the hostel early. The women seemed to be off the streets by then and the town took on a different dynamic. Slightly seedy to be completely honest. Ridiculously loud euro-pop played until 0400 every evening and we wondered how families with young children coped. We were not sure why the town has turned out that way from an anthropology point of view, but we guess that with mass oil extraction in the area and outlying native populations guarding their women closely, many of the men here must have turned to each other for comfort. They'd wolf whistle us in the streets and stare in a way that if a man were to do so to a woman, it'd be completely unacceptable.
Ed Stafford (in his book 'Walking the Amazon') has a similar description of Pebas (Peruvian Amazon), and I couldn't help noticing similarities. The men would be prancing about the streets, giggling and flamboyantly touching each other, then they'd take to the volleyball court and unleash hell on each other with powerful
spikes and skilful setts. Their level of skill and power on the court was far beyond my own. (And I've spent a lot of time on beaches). Then when a point was scored, they'd drop back into the mincing, bum shaking walk and giggle whilst they congratulated each other. Or squawk "Hola chico!" to one of us with a limp wristed wave. Because we are bigger and self-aware, they were harmless and at times quite funny.
But unfortunately we were told that communities like these are not entirely innocent and we heard later that they contribute to the child sex industry which is a big problem in Iquitos (Peruvian Amazon) for both young boys and girls.
In Peru the currency is soles and so I managed to find a shop to exchange the last of my dollars. We discovered there was nowhere to withdraw more money despite there being numerous agents of Banco de la Nacion in town. Between us we had roughly 1000 soles to get us to San Lorenzo (End of Stage 2). We wanted to leave Andoas as quickly as possible and aimed to do so on the 6th of June. Annoyingly, I fell ill again and was sick all night of the 5th, dodgy chicken most likely. So, we left on the morning of 7th and although I felt weak, I was glad to be leaving town and commencing a nine-day stint in the wilderness.
We loaded up the boats and began downstream grateful to be away from Andoas yet fond of our friend Aldhair and his family. We had bought he and his wife dinner and given him some excess equipment the day before. He left us with a parting gift of 4 lemons and some homemade sugar wine which he insisted
we try at around 0830 just before setting off. Strong stuff. We were all in a fine mood as we set off again, relieved to be paddling, self reliant and heading into what would be the most remote part of the expedition.