Thursday, May 17, 2012

"I'm just gettin' on a boat" EXTRACT 4: packing strategies

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.

8:00 pm: packing strategies

Only 8 o’clock in the evening, and we’re both already happily snuggled up in our respective hammocks, middle deck on the Lancha, complete with sleeping bags and pillows. There aren’t so many mosquitoes over the river so we’ve packed up our nets – I wish I’d known that a few days ago! Our packing and transportation mission has been a success! Everything we own is now strategically positioned behind the back wall of the crew cabins, front centre of the middle deck - not quite directly - beneath our hammocks. Our hammocks are hanging from the centre rail to the port side rail, offset from all of our possessions - a slight cause for concern! We’ve attempted to minimize risk by fastening everything together using old hammock rope and wrapping the stringed-together-luggage inside a large black waterproof sheet like an enchilada. Dan’s guitar is the furthest possession away from us - and incidentally his most valuable – so we’re hoping no one will be ballsy enough to attempt a robbery.

Getting items in and out of our bags is a delicate operation, one which we have a few days ahead of us to master. I’m in charge of the small green bag - the same bag that contained all my worldly possessions when I first set foot on South American soil only five and a half months earlier - allocated for: all necessary food items like crackers, bowls and - most importantly - Nescafe; entertainment i.e. books, sketch pad and diary; ablution necessities such as toothbrushes and TP; and all miscellaneous items that we can’t possibly live without for 3 days, and that hopefully no-one else would want to nick, items such as Dan’s glasses, sun cream and insect repellant. I’m also accountable for my medium sized blue bag – initially bought for trekking Machu Picchu - which now contains both of our limited wardrobes.

Daniel is our designated padlock-key master, responsible for the security of the big blue hold-all containing all semi-necessary items, more valuable possessions like our cameras, and his ‘Gregory’ rucksack half full of currently unnecessary items. Daniel also holds the key to the removable top section of his rucksack, housing his CD’s and player, which he’s keeping by his side. Passports, money and bank cards have been hidden deep inside the main section of Dan’s rucksack, in a place that we hope is completely and utterly inaccessible. So far we’re both pleased with our luggage system, and it’s a great weight off Dan’s mind in particular to have everything secured and ready for the boat departure in the morning.

Daniel is quietly attempting to read his pirated Spanish version of the latest Harry Potter he bought in Quito. I’m bored with writing in the diary, and like a kid on Christmas Eve; I’m far too excited about the next part of our journey to just sit quietly and relax. I want him to talk to me some more about our adventure and to help me brainstorm ideas for our book, so I keep pestering him. I’ve been asking him the most distractive questions I can think of; yet, all I can get out of him are faint murmurs that barely acknowledge my existence. I’m sensing he’s a little anxious about leaving tomorrow, a Paddington Bear trait I’m now very familiar with – I need to make him laugh, that should loosen him up a little. On top of this anxiety, he’s not yet completely satisfied with his hammock set-up; apparently the sides of the hammock are now looser than the centre. I suspect he’s afraid of falling out when he rolls over in his sleep.

Watching him intently has rewarded me with a begrudging shadow of a smile - or maybe I could be imagining it…. No, there was definitely a flicker of amusement. Come to think of it, I haven’t seen him turn a page for a while now….. It’s time to steal his book!

“Jo!” Dan reprimands, but there’s no real anger......... he likes the attention.

I smile mischievously. The diary is left open in my lap.
Boy in La Lancha

“You’re ornery” he accuses me...... Never before Daniel had I come across such a word…..

“I’m always horny,” I laugh at him, purposely ignoring his comment.

He pulls my hammock to his to kiss me - Making out really is the nicest thing in a hammock….

Eventually I give him his book back. I’m still not ready to go to sleep though, in spite of it now being close to my Napo bedtime.

“Why don’t you quit buggin’ me and write in your diary?” Dan suggests - I think he’s forgotten that the diary is supposed to be a joint venture. On a different note, he’s also discovered that he likes to swing our hammocks in sync while he’s reading. Maybe he’s gotten more reckless as a result of now having a not-so-fatal falling distance down to the deck. I don’t appreciate the rocking motion as much as he does, especially as right now my hammock isn’t hanging freely, and my bum keeps grazing the bags below me on each pass. It’s also impossible to write legibly! I resist the swinging motion by pushing my hand against the cabin wall. The close proximity of our hammocks means we both have to swing or neither can – Sorry Dan. The cute whimper of protest coming from Dan’s hammock draws a smile to my lips.

Before I go to sleep, I want to make an attempt at completing today’s diary entry about the afternoon’s packing venture…. Daniel has promised me he’ll make a contribution tomorrow…

While writing my previous diary entry earlier this afternoon, numerous inquiries from Daniel as to the whereabouts of this and that finally forced me to put the diary down and help him with a most worrisome task of his: moving and securing all that we have to our temporary ‘home to be’ for the next three days. To get the ball rolling – and to emphasize to Ruperto that we were in fact moving out today - we took our hammocks across first.

Contrary to Captains advice - he’d advised us to hang our hammocks behind the crew cabins to break the wind - we elected a corner spot, starboard next to the stairs connecting the lower and middle decks, as we were more concerned with the safety of our possessions as appose to being windswept, and we thought we’d be better able to guard our bags if they were in a corner. The captain came up to see how we were getting along. He saw our set-up and explained to us many reasons why we should move to the front of the deck, sheltered behind the cabins. He gave a very convincing argument, and because we were already really warming to him, we decided to heed his advice; after all, the Captain must know his ship best!

Before carrying anything more across, we decided to take advantage of the sun’s drying capability and wash our accumulation of stinky clothes at the watering hole. We also needed to wash the dried rice from our neglected lunch pots before we could pack them away. Hermila let us use her plastic bowl, and with only our gritty pink dish soap we set about cleaning the pots and clothes at the communal water supply at the side of the river.

José sauntered passed the watering hole on his way back from lunch, and on seeing us, he stopped to make fun of Dan’s scrubbing clothes. He pretended to be offended that we hadn’t invited him to share our lunch, but his permanent cheeky grin belied him of any true feelings of resentment, and rubbing his large belly he proceeded to gloat about the delicious lunch he’d just eaten for $1US a few houses up from Ruperto’s. Laughing we agreed to go there with him tonight.

After we’d finished washing everything, our arms and legs were itching from dried on soap splashes, so we decided to rinse off; however, we couldn’t resist throwing panfulls of the refreshing filtered river water all over each other to cool ourselves. We’d been at the watering hole for close to an hour by then and seen many villagers come and go: some to collect water in buckets for cooking, some to wash pots or clothes like us, and others to bathe themselves. Having spent this extended period of time sharing the communal wash area with a mixture of inhabitants from Pantoja, watching them cleanse their bodies with their hands beneath the clothes they were wearing, I felt my inhibitions draining away along with the soap suds. For the first time in four days I washed myself properly – not counting dips in the river - using our pink dish soap and clad only in bra and shorts. I finally had the courage to copy the villagers and intangibly wash my private parts in public. The experience was a delicious one – I’m proud of this newfound confidence to wash alongside all villagers; man, woman and child. I only regret it has taken me four days to have the nerve! We didn’t have our razors with us, so we agreed that before dark, we would return to shave all undesirable body hair in preparation for the boat journey ahead.

Girl carrying her washing back the watering hole
On the next trip over to the Lancha, I carried the ‘clean’ clothes and left Dan on the middle deck to start organizing our belongings while I headed up to the top deck to hang them out in the sun; however, I was abruptly overcome by an urgent toilet need. Oblivious to the whereabouts of the toilet on the Lancha I raced back to Ruperto’s house only to find him already sitting there, brazenly, with the door wide open for all family and guests to see! The sight of him shocked me, and I quickly retreated hoping that he hadn’t seen me see him – I doubted he would be embarrassed. Strangely I was more afraid that he would be angered at this invasion of his privacy – despite him openly occupying the only toilet in the guest house. The proof of somebody actually sitting on the seat-less bowl, that I was afraid to hover over and loathe to even stand on without rinsing my shoes off afterwards, was enough to take my mind off the formerly imminent diarrhea, and I managed to hold on and wait a very precarious ten minutes.

Once the emergency was over, I collected the miscellaneous items left in our old room and headed back on over to the Lancha to check on Dan’s progress. By this time Daniel had cleverly secured my mini rape alarm, a convenient gift my big brother bought for me a few Christmas’s ago, between his guitar and the big blue hold-all, now being utilized to securely house the majority of our belongings. This is Daniel’s ingenious solution to the problem of leaving our things unsupervised. The rape alarm is by no means loud enough to alert the captain – it’s doubtful it will even wake the person in the next hammock - but hopefully just its presence alone will be enough to dissuade any potential thieves.

We didn’t finish arranging all our belongings to Dan’s satisfaction until late afternoon, and we were left with just enough time before dark to return to the watering hole to shave. Our small palm held mirror makes it incredibly difficult for Dan to shave by himself. I’ve tried holding it for him, but as it turns out, it’s much easier and more intimate to shave him myself. After carefully removing Dan’s stubble, I quickly shaved my arm pits and legs while there was still sufficient light. Both shaven, together we returned to our hammocks on the Lancha, and side by side we watched the sun set over the Rio Napo from Pantoja for the last time. Swinging gently, we discussed the possibility of, maybe one day, transforming our diary entries into a novel telling of our Napo adventures.

Pantoja Sunset
I’m getting really tired now and even though there’s much more to write, it’s about time I put the diary down and close my eyelids. I set heavy eyes upon Daniel, still deeply engrossed in the realms of Harry Potter. I can’t wait for tomorrow. Tomorrow we’ll be embarking on the next part of our journey…..together.

“I love you.” I say…… He smiles back at me, but I’m already asleep.

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