We wake up to the now familiar sounds of the jungle; birds and insects chirping, monkeys howling, and the constant drip of water. The boat is coming back to pick us up this morning. We were told the boat would arrive at 9am, so we’d have time to make it to our next destination. It shows up at 11am, Mexico time.
We pile into the boat with all our stuff and set off with Alvero driving from the back and Mateo in the front. We’re on a bend in the river where the current gets all mixed up, creating choppy parts and whirlpools, and there’s also tree debris that we need to navigate around. I have confidence in these guys. They live on this river. This isn’t their first rodeo.
On our way, we check out an area along the bank of the river where we spotted an enormous crocodile on the day we arrived. We see a much less impressively sized crocodile, the big one must be in the river.
From the start, the motor is working hard fighting against the current as Alvero jockeys it into position to navigate the bend in the river. I don’t harbor a ton of confidence in this boat, or more specifically, the motor. We are on a large river with a fast moving current, after many days of rain. We are in a very tiny boat with a propellor that could probably fit in my hand.
In the short list of things that give me pause, water is somewhere near the top. I don’t trust it. I don’t trust the things that live in it. I recently learned that there is a parasite in the Amazon that can swim up your urinary tract if you pee in the water. That kind of stuff just doesn’t happen on land.
But back to the current situation. The motor cuts out just as we enter the worst part of the bend, where the water is at its choppiest and fastest. We immediately feel how fast the current is as it whisks us downstream, likely toward rapids judging by the ruckus we can here in the distance. Almost immediately the boat rotates so we’re now riding perpendicular to the current. The force of the water starts to tip the boat sideways. It seems like it would not take much to roll this boat. In the little I know about boating, I know this to be a bad thing. I fasten my life preserver, pulling the straps tight. It may save me from the river, but I’ll still need to contend with the unaccounted-for enormous resident crocodile.
It’s about now I realize that we don’t have any oars. Mateo has a large bamboo pole that he uses in an attempt to push us toward the bank, but the pole is quickly lost to the river. Now we have no steering implements. I now know what it feels like to be up the creek without a paddle. Literally. It’s a bad place to be.
Fortunately the motor comes on just long enough to get us to the bank of the river and then promptly dies. We are now on the opposite side of the river from where we started. We’re on the side with all the howler monkeys, which are carrying on as they do. I’m convinced they’re laughing at us.
We play around on the beach while the guys try to fix the boat. Finally a call is made and another boat comes from upriver to rescue us. But just as boat #2 tries to navigate the turn, its engine cuts out too. He has an oar though, and is able to make it to the same beach we’re stranded on. Driver of boat #2 has come with a propellor and proceeds to install it on the motor of boat #1. During this time, boat #3 arrives filled with men and fishing gear and a noticeably larger motor which successfully makes the bend in the river and pulls up on our beach to check out the action.
After a very short test run, it is decided that boat #1 is fixed and we pile back in and head upriver. Things are going well, albeit very slowly, until the motor overheats and cuts out again. Luckily, we now have the oar from boat #2 and are able to push ourselves onto a rocky beach. At this point, boat #2 comes to rescue us again and it is decided that the gringos and their stuff should get in boat #2.
The new problem is where we’re now stranded is in the middle of another bend in the river where the current is very strong near the shoreline. It’s a difficult place to start because the boat doesn’t have any momentum. So Mateo takes off his pants and gets in the water which is surprisingly shallow in this part. He wades out, chest deep, while holding onto the front of the boat, digging his heals into the river bottom because the boat is pulling him downriver. He gets us into position so we’re in line with the current. The engine roars to life and Mateo jumps out of the way just as the boat blows by. All the while I’m wondering about the whereabouts of that crocodile.
We make it back without further incident, but it might be a while before I get in another boat.