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Stage 3 - Big Yellow Barge

Updated: Feb 4

We left Castilla on the 25th of June 2023 and made good speed down river, racing against a giant barge that was slowly gaining on us all morning. It was a hot day, with no cloud coverage so we we’re regularly dipping our shirts into the water then donning them to keep cool. The river was around 2km wide at points with the faster flow at the edges and just as we caught some fast flow near the southern bank, the colossal yellow boat eventually caught up to us on our port side.

The green lush green vines and branches were flying by on the riverbank to our right, contrasting the huge piece of industry with its loud rumbling engine, chugging its way up to our left flank. Once it was close enough, were surprised to see it was a large flat hulled tug pushing two humongous barges loaded with stones and a digger. We had been talking about the barge all morning and imagining the respite from the sun it would provide. Turning towards them, we called out hello and asked if they were headed to Nauta. To which the reply was, "Si, Nauta!" and to our delight we were invited to come along side. Vigorously, we paddled the last few meters and threw our bow lines aboard to the deck hands. Our canoes were fastened, like two tiny fish latching onto a whale for a ride. The kit was hauled up onto the sizzling, sun-baked deck and I hopped about in MY bare feet looking for my flipflops amongst the bags. We greeted the kindly sailors warmly, thanking them for taking us aboard, all three of us were over the moon and the crew seemed equally as intrigued to see us. This was the moral boost we needed. We'd be in Nauta by nightfall!

Previously I'd discussed with Yan about how we wanted to complete the journey. We had talked of hitching, and it was agreed that this was the only way we were allowed to use engines to cover distances. We had already had to hitch for a stretch of the Pastaza when the community of Topal refused us permission to pass in our canoes, that section was done on another barge (The Walter Junior 1). But, as we approached the Amazon River, where the Marañón connects with the Ucayali, I strongly felt that we should paddle the whole of the Amazon section without help. Far greater feats have been achieved after all. We had travelled this far almost completely using our own power and I had regretted the few hitches we'd taken. My expedition rules didn't stipulate how we'd travel, but we would not be paying for a service like a tourist boat to take us anywhere, but hitching felt like cheating too even though it was a great moral boost. On the other hand, reason I felt hitching was OK was because, 1: it meant meeting people and 2: it meant using our conversational skills, intuition and bootneck charm to get a leg up when we needed it. After a few days of thought, Yan had agreed that once we reach the Amazon, we’d finish the 3000km of the Amazon using paddle power only. So, we were happy to have flagged down this giant yellow barge in such fashion. It would take us to Nauta and save us half a day. Nauta is a town that sits on the north bank of the Marañon, just before the river meets the Ucayali and becomes the Amazon, so this would be our last free ride!

The crew of Hatches 1 were all extremely friendly and the elderly, kind captain took special interest in us. He was slim and weathered and had spent a lifetime on the river transporting goods from Peru as far as the Atlantic Ocean. We were honoured by his interest and tried hard to show him every courtesy despite our terrible Spanish. He invited us up to the top deck were Yan and I filled out our names in the ships log. That moment felt quite surreal as the last time we had filled out a ships log together, we had been two Royal Marine Commandos, barely acquainted, bobbing about in the Indian Ocean.

We showed the crew how we made dinner on our multi fuel stove. It was an online purchase from China and worked well enough, but the valve wasn’t the best and most dinner times were started with a small unleaded fire spilling out and engulfing the pots and pan. The crew looked a bit shocked until we got it under control, then laughed at us. Later, as the heat of the day subsided, we stood outside the wheelhouse, far above the river appreciating the breeze and watching the rainforest go by.

From our vantage point, I studied the cargo for the first time. Hatches 1 was transporting river rock from somewhere in southern Peru and it dawned on me that I hadn't seen a single rock for a month. Since leaving Ecuador, the terrain had been flat, and the banks were made up of reddish mud and sand. Seeing round pebbles gave me comfort, taking my mind off to somewhere distant: mountain rivers and a cool breeze, or pebble beaches, the sound of them rolling and knocking together in the cold, clear waves back home in Scotland. The murky brown waters of the Marañón weren’t as inviting. I was not surprised to see the crew scouring the cargo in search of nice stones to take home, any that might once have been here have long since sunk beneath the mud and silt. It occurred to me that some people born in this area will go their whole lives without ever seeing a rock.

As the evening closed in around us, we were standing on the roof, 15 meters above the waterline, and even there we were assailed by mosquitos. The ones that wait their whole lives up there made the most of their meal; sweet, tender, gringo flesh, delivered to the door! There really is no escaping them and we made for the safety of our hammocks.

Just as I was getting comfortable, a crew member approached and told us that there was a change of plan, and the boat wouldn’t be stopping in Nauta. We rushed to the canoes and threw them over the side on lines, it was dark now and the lights of Nauta were approaching. We quickly loaded the Laura and Joyce and then hopped in. It was all so rushed, with the crew members ushering us on, we waved goodbye to them and unfortunately didn’t see the captain to say goodbye, then began paddling towards the dazzling lights of the town. Between us and the far bank, huge columns of lilies had bunched together creating a barrier on the Nauta side of the river (where most of the flow was). These floating gardens had been slowly accumulating since we arrived on the Marañón, and they created a beautiful setting when out on the open river. They were slightly less beautiful in the dead of night when we needed to paddle through them. As we approached a particularly large collection of lilies, Yan called out “ramming speed” and we turned into three Greek sailors, ploughing our Trireme though the vulnerable side of an enemy vessel. The canoes, which were tied together, scraped over the top and into the water on the other side. We had made it to Nauta.


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Jan 15

I love how detailed the blog is! I got the feeling that I am also travelling through your words! I'll keep an eye out for the next entry 💪🏻

Replying to

Thanks so much! It's hard to know what to leave out and keep in so I'm glad you're enjoying the details.

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