Wednesday, November 16, 2011

"El Romantico" Boat Ride to Lagunas

"El Romantico" could not have been a more ill-fitting name for the snail-paced wooden thing conquering the Huallaga river by inches. We were supposed to be on the express boat that morning but our seats got give away, so our only alternative to go from Yurimaguas to Lagunas was this 11-hour boat ride. I'm sure I could have swum faster. Instead of seats, the boat offers wooden beams and each passenger brings in their own colorful hammocks and sets up their own spot. One man had a sack full of fish, another barged in with chickens swinging off his back, their feet bound and their faces placid, accepting of their fates.
Vendors roamed onboard before departure, hocking everything from bread to scissors to condoms. “Don’t get pregnant on the boat!” the man yelled as everyone tittered. One old lady who was reclining in a hammock snapped something sassy in response.The hammocks were stacked so closely together there’s an inevitable amount of bumping into people as you try to carve a path through the sea of cloth and feet. In the bathroom, the wood was so moldy mushrooms had sprouted. Above a dead spider, furry and thick-legged, dangled like a Christmas ornament. Ants crisscrossed the planks. Around 1:30pm, they brought styrofoam boxes with lunch: dry rice, beans, tasteless plantain and a piece of chicken. 

The thought of doing nothing for an entire day terrified me but it turned out to be a rather pleasant, lazy adventure. The boat made several stops, part of the reason why it took so long, and at each stop, people unloaded and loaded cargo: moto-cars, sacks of beans, crates of chicken, blocks of ice for preserving fish... Dangling my feet over the front of the boat, I felt like there was so much more sky here. The water was of a lazy brown that captured every cloud, lining and beam of light, like a relentless mirror that has darkened with age but retained all the clarity of youth.
From the top of the boat, we chatted with the boat owners and the only other foreigner, a French architect who had been traveling around the world for the last 15 months. We watched as the sun gave in to darkness, though not before unleashing a slew of colors and light behind the shadows of the boat.