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Stage 4. Pebas

The following morning, we repaired the bow tarpaulins and did our best to clean the sticky mud out of the hulls and off the equipment bags. Following this we packed the boats with our kit, untied and pushed off by 0500am. It was important to rise with the sunrise and make way in the early hours of the morning whilst it was still cool. Also, now that we had a catamaran, one of us was able to cook breakfast on the move, whilst the other coxswained us, using the speed of the flow. We made excellent headway and covered 78km to Pebas, a small town on the north bank.

As we approached the town there was a large military base on a hill overlooking where a small river named Rio Ampiyacu enters the Amazon. We were exhausted by this point but were thrilled to be joined by a pod of curious pink dolphins that, unlike others, were happy to surface as close as a couple of meters from our boat.

Unfortunately, Pebas was situated about 1.5km up stream on the Ampiyacu and this last effort, against a slight flow took it out of us. As we progressed upriver, we passed beautiful pasture to the north and quaint fishing huts to the south. Soon, the tell-tale floating gas station huts of an established town began to appear. Numerous local boats full of young men passed us heading down to the Amazon, we waved at them all and were met with blank stares. The feeling of unease intensified as we realised that we weren’t going to be well liked here.

We passed the floating huts, fruitlessly trying to catch a friendly eye to ask if we could tie up for the night. Finally, we decided to pick one that looked central and addressed the owner directly. “How are you Sir, can we tie up along side here for the night?” That man seemed nervous but welcomed us in before we explained who we were. After introductions we were told we could set up the hammocks in his petrol shop. These were always our favourite places to sleep because we’d meters from our boat and had a dry, mosquito free area to sleep. Aside from that, we’d be next to deep water and on a solid clean platform which made the nightly scrub much easier. The man was amazed by our story but told us it was not possible to paddle all the way to the Atlantic Ocean. Then he told us we would be killed down river. Warnings like this were common, but for some reason, this one seemed a little more real.

We took a quick stroll into town to get some supplies conscious of many eyes that seemed to watch us with disdain. Our last job was to fill up the drinking water containers, so I asked a lady who was sitting beside the front door of a hostel. She jumped to her feet and led us over a dirt road to a wooden house with corrugated iron walls and a concrete floor. She produced a large cooler (the kind you find in a gym back home) and told us to fill our boots.

This was gold standard for us, clean and cold! I thanked her and offered money, but she refused. We looked haggard and exhausted, and she only wanted to help, with one king gesture she wiped away our unease and we left smiling, grateful for her generosity.

Back at the fuel hut, we washed and cooked and made the most of the solid platform, away from the mud, to get the boat and equipment back to a standard that was acceptable for the next leg. Taking advantage of places like this was essential for maintaining equipment. There’s never much time to rest on expeditions but doing essential admin gives you a confidence for the next day, knowing that everything you need is in working order. Also, once all the jobs are down, rest comes even easier, safe in the knowledge that you’ve done everything you can possibly do to prepare yourself.

We left Pebas at 0500am the next morning resupplied and happy, but we couldn’t shake a feeling of impending doom. Yan seemed especially uneasy, and I tried to keep the chat light to lift our spirits. The narrow Ampiyacu took us back to the Amazon River and we immediately found a lovely section of flow that swept us away down stream into the unknown. It was my turn to do breakfast whilst Yan weaved us down river, staying in the quickest flow. We had made back rests, rectangular pieces of hard wood that could be tucked behind the seats at a 44° angle. When cooking, we’d pull it from behind us an lay it horizontally over the sides of the canoe making a table. On the table we could brew coffee and prepare whatever breakfast we’d be having. That day it was 4 mini rolls each stuffed with peanut-butter and jam, and a few bits of fruit. We savoured each bite. I think we both agreed that whilst we had break and peanut butter, this was the best meal of the day.

As we ate, the flow took us within 20 meters of the bank on a sweeping right hand turn as the river began to head south. Soon, we began to hear loud music, and this did not surprise us despite the hour. Peruvian Independence Day is on the 28th of July and these parties have a habit of going on for a few days. A relatively large settlement began to appear amongst the trees on the steep slope that we identified as Nuevo Pebas. Clearly, the people of this town were still hanging one on for a third day straight.

To me, the town was intriguing. Tall stilted wooden buildings burst up from the river in towers of around ten meters or more. The steep bank behind providing relative stability for three story buildings. The town looked rough, as if it had been thrown up hastily by a group of mutineers. Wooden buildings with blue roofs jutted out of the muddy bank and groups of men stood looking out towards us with soulless gazes.

We didn’t wave this time, and no one waved at us. But as we were coming to the edge of town, one man, standing in a group of three, looked at us and drew his finger slowly across his throat in a threatening manner...


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6 days ago

Oh no! Sometimes it is important to listen to the locals, and put safety first. Certain locations in Latinamerica have a very particular security situation that it could go beyond international understanding.

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