Sunday, May 6, 2012

"I'm just gettin' on a boat" : sound asleep and malaria dreams

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.

6:50 am: sound sleep and malaria dreams

We’re both awake now – well almost - and it’s only 6:50am. I've just finished boiling our standard breakfast-for-two water ration on our ‘so far’ trusty portable gas stove. It looks like two canisters will get us down the Napo after all. I’ve discovered that having oatmeal and Nescafe ready is the only effective way of coaxing Daniel out of his hammock and mosquito net cocoon at this hour. My use of the word ‘effective’ here doesn't mean without his obstreperous groans and his pulling his face; both of which I can’t help but find adorable.

Clapping my hands and echoing my father’s authority, I try encouraging him out of his morning slumber.

“Feet on the floor, feet on the floor!”

More groans….. Maybe I need a different approach. Fighting hard to find where the mosquito net ends and the hammock begins, I effectively duck my head up and under Daniel’s mosquito net and cover his scrunched up face with as many wet kisses as it takes.

“I’m up, I’m up!” …….Not as many kisses as I’d thought!

Pantoja’s military base provides electricity to the village for a few hours every evening, starting from dusk., ‘Lights out’ is promptly scheduled for 10:00pm for all Pantojans who don’t have the luxury of a generator. Despite possibly being the most prosperous man in Pantoja, Ruperto just so happens to fit into that power-less category...... I don’t think he sees electrical generation as a justifiable expense for his family.

This means that as guests under his roof; there is nothing for Daniel and me to do after dark but to climb up into our hammocks and sleep the night away, hoping we can make it through the darkest hours by ignoring that inevitable bladder calling..... And without anymore embarrassing incidents like the one Daniel experienced the other night ! Our small sized hammocks are a perfect fit, if you can avoid locking your knees back; I've discovered the hard way that the straight-legged position isn’t accommodated very well by the inside curve of a hammock. Still, I’ve been having some of the best sleeps I can remember – except of course for the odd malaria dream. In honesty, there’s no justification for our reluctance – Dan’s in particular - to rise each morning, but life here is slow, and with no real reason to move, it’s too easy not to.

Sleeping in my hammock
Saying that, last night was different, and my reality was dominated by the ever increasing presence of my jungle-fear contrived ‘malaria’ dreams. For many hours I lay awake, paralyzed and - what I’d thought at the time - rationally convinced that we’d be murdered in our hammocks. I’d fallen into a welcome sleep much earlier than ‘lights out’ – soon after dusk, and I’d been sleeping soundly until past midnight when the jungle peace was shattered by an infernal blend of something like Techno-Cumbia and a monotonous drum beat that seemed to come from beyond the village boundaries, from some place deeper in the jungle – maybe somebody was lost and signaling for help by beating the large exposed roots of that special tree Dan told me about.. More dogs than I could remember began to bark their answers - strangely in time - to this insane beat, and all at once Pantoja seemed larger than life.

The noise disturbed another guest - perhaps José… or it could have been the man who relentlessly tries to sell plastic piggy-banks and batteries outside the front of the house every day. His footsteps were loud and stretched the entire wood decking that supports Ruperto’s and Hermila’s small guest-shack. I could have sworn somebody was already inside our room, and finally, reaching the peak of my fear, I capitulated and was forced to poke my hand out of my bug-free cocoon into open mozzie territory in order to prod a very unimpressed Daniel awake and ready in case of attack… How could he have slept through that incessant noise anyway?

Thinking about it now in the bright glare of the morning sun makes me giggle; I’m feeling a little chagrined about disrupting Dan’s sleep as well as my own; however, I’m still stubbornly relieved that we both made it through last night unscathed.

Hopefully today is our last day in Pantoja, assuming the Lancha leaves tomorrow like the posted sign and the Captain have been promising us. Anne's words of warning -coming from the only Napo account our pre-trip internet search came up with (we have a copy of the document with us, laminated to survive the trials of a river/jungle journey) - not to trust any promise of a schedule, is preventing us from raising our already-too-high hopes any further. For our last day, we’re splashing out on a makeshift jungle tour by subsidizing Ruperto’s petrol. In return for 20 soles, his kids are turning one of their everyday Napo-life errands into a sightseeing adventure for the benefit of their increasingly bored gringo guests. After four days of living on what I now regard as a jungle ‘island’ – our only way out is by boat - we’re desperate to stretch our sights further than the painfully small confines of our present home.

Looking up now, at the large beautiful web spun over the door to our room, I notice that our roommate is strangely motionless. Just a large black blob, with legs curled upwards tightly in a spider fetal position. It looks like our arachnid friend has died in the night. The grasshopper must have dealt him a lethal blow before losing the intense battle that had been our ‘live discovery channel’ entertainment yesterday evening. I feel absently sorry for the spider and a little concerned for myself having lost my first line of mosquito defense. Remarkably – and exasperatingly for me - on Dan, there is still hardly a bite to be seen.

The chainsaw has just started up. Rodrigo, Ruperto’s son, must be up and already working hard to build his father’s boat.

View from Pantoja

No comments:

Post a Comment