Monday, May 14, 2012

"I'm just gettin' on a boat" EXTRACT 2: dollars and doubts

Monday, 27th October 2003

Today is day six of Daniel's and my jungle adventure down the Rio Napo. Only two days after leaving Quito, Ecuador we crossed the historically dangerous South American jungle border, which separates Ecuador from its former enemy in the south, and arrived at our current location, Pantoja; a small Peruvian community sited next to a large military base. We've been living here for the past four days, standing by until the boat anchored at the side of the river – the boat we’ve come to know as the Lancha – departs, and the next part of our river journey across the continent can begin.

9:00 am: dollars and doubts

It’s nearly 9am now, and we’re sitting on the front porch of Ruperto’s jungle abode waiting for Rodrigo to finish sawing up the trunk he’s currently working on. He’s unnervingly skilled at handling a chainsaw. We’ve been watching him and his elder brother and cousin craft unbelievably flawless planks for Ruperto’s boat using a very large handheld STHL chainsaw for most of the morning. Rodrigo holds the record for speed and craftsmanship, averaging one trunk every ten minutes. He only has this last one to complete before he takes us out in the family motored canoe, so I thought I’d use the time to enter the rest of this morning’s events in the diary.

After breakfast, Daniel and I washed up our pots at the public watering hole, a task so far only seen to be done by the women and children of Pantoja. As always, Dan earned himself many amused glances from the male inhabitants working on Ruperto’s boat, all stripped to the torso and sweating hard from heavy exertion under the hot morning sky.

When we returned to the porch, Daniel gave Ruperto some soles to buy petrol. This money exchange prompted Hermila to ask if we could pay for the meals we’d already eaten, so Daniel gave her the Ecuadorian change that we’d set aside to pay for our meals in Pantoja. To our surprise and much to our dismay, Hermila said that we owed more money than we’d calculated; that her lunches were in fact double the price of what we’d thought and budgeted for. Adding salt to the fresh wound, she refused to take our Ecuadorian coins saying that she could only accept the Peruvian equivalent in soles.

After this confusion, I began to fear that maybe we had misunderstood the cost of our board also; after all, the cost of meals had initially seemed straightforward enough. We probed José first to see if a going rate existed. He told us that he was paying $2 US for his own room and a bed; he wasn’t sure if we were getting charged for two per person. Daniel soon discovered the unwelcome ‘truth’ directly from the horse’s mouth; that between the two of us, we owe $4 US a night; an expense we are trying to avoid by sleeping in hammocks.

Both misunderstandings could be blamed on the language barrier. This may even be Ruperto’s intention, but even with the strange and unfamiliar Spanish dialects here in the Amazonas jungle of North Peru, Dan’s Spanish is too good for him to have made such an error. We suspect it’s more likely an attempt on Ruperto’s part to exploit our assumed economic advantage by using this easy excuse - Ruperto is definitely giving these two travelers more credit than we deserve, we simply don’t have the cash with us!

Daniel tried his hand at diplomatic Spanish with Ruperto, earning us a total $1 US reduction from each night. We’ve decided not to eat anymore of Hermila’s overpriced meals, and we’re going to move our home over to the Lancha when we get back from our day trip. Somehow three more dollars seems quite a lot. The captain told us, on our first meeting yesterday, that we could sleep in our hammocks on board the Lancha until its departure, at no extra cost. We declined this friendly gesture to avoid offending our current host family.... perhaps a foolish sentiment. The Lancha is supposed to be leaving early tomorrow morning anyway, so in spite of the morning’s turn of events, it’s high time we moved our home over there.

But now we’re in a slightly worse-off position money wise than we’d hoped to be and we’re afraid that the Ecuadorian coins we’d been counting on will have no more value to us, being that they’re apparently already useless this close to the border …..Anne definitely didn’t mention that small detail! That leaves us with a fair way to go on a very tight budget of Peruvian soles, before we can get to a bank or dollar exchange in Iquitos.

In an attempt at appeasement, Ruperto has told us that we can take our Ecuadorian dollars on the boat trip upstream and buy food supplies, or maybe some fish hooks – I assume he means for catching our own dinner - closer to the border. At this we are feeling a little reprieved.

Rodrigo has killed the chainsaw. After four days on dry land, we’re happy to be ‘gettin´ on a boat’......

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