Saturday, March 16, 2013

Amazonian Nights 4

Our little canoe turned in the middle of Amazon River and then suddenly I find myself under the water. Kid has pulled the canoe and is swimming with it while dragging it away from us. He is more concerned to save his canoe and himself.
Then I find Harsh’s head. I shout him to catch hold the boat but kid is pushing turned canoe away from us. He has oar in his mouth. He wants to rescue his boat and run away. Soon the boat is away from us down the flow and he is swimming with his boat while pushing it towards the bank that is at-least one kilometer away. Other canoe on which Rajiv is sitting comes near to us while we are in the currents of Amazon. Rajiv is shouting for help desperately because that rogue wave has thrown water in his canoe and it is about to sink too.

Amazonian rain-forest people

This Kid works hard with his paddle and brings his canoe to us and I and Harsh both hang at once at the same side wall of the delicate craft and instantly it also turns over. This Kids does all the efforts so we all four hang on the backside of this floating turned canoe. Kid is very smart and stays away from us. He warns us not to come near him but pushes the other end of the boat to us.

Making and testing dart blowpipe in a village
The sum of all my worse nightmares comes true as both Harsh and Rajiv get hold of me and cling to me. Now I calmly accept my fate or fate of us all three without any resistance. They both are kicking frantically and all kicks are landing on my stomach and I cannot even pull air in my lungs. I cannot even move my arms and boat slips from me and we three go under the water. My reflexes take over and my legs also begin kicking along with theirs and we again surface and this torture repeats several times. Each time I look at the sky one last time and say my final goodbye. Each time my reflexes take over, regardless I want to live or not and each time our head come out. We all three sucked some water also each time we go under. Each time I say to myself that it is enough and this was my final effort but body automatically takes over.

Amazon Canoe
Kid brings boat to us again and as it touches Harsh, he leaves me and grabs the boat. I also grab the boat and Rajiv kicking, struggling and still hanging to me. We keep floating for large distance and now I am feeling very cold. I only want to pass away.
Then we see some lights, soon we realize that it is a passenger boat. It is coming near us. Many people are shouting at us. They throw floats tied with ropes to us. I grab one. Harsh and Rajiv ignore the floats thrown to them but they grab me, we again go under the water while both are kicking but I am holding the float tightly.

Amazon Canoe
People at the boat have hard time to pull us apart, some even hit us to make us separate. Finally we are brought over.
Boat is going to Iquitos. We discover that kid opted to stay with his canoe and was swum along with it. Everybody on the boat is now cursing us and giving us lectures. They say they we were lucky. They caught the distress signal from the village and were going there and then someone spotted us in the river.

Amazon River Area
We arrive in Iquitos at 9PM and boatman informs police and they make a full report. They listen to our whole story and repeatedly blame both kids and want to arrest them tomorrow but we take all the blame on ourselves. After some fierce lectures they let us go with hard warnings.
Our passports are wet but intact except some inks from visas and stamps washed out. We are very cold and we have a cup of coffee in the nearest cafe. We walk to our hotel and buy salad, breads and whiskey from supermarket on the way.
Drinks sooth us up and we thank Gods to be alive. It is miracle whereas Rajiv didn’t even know how to swim. This was our last day in Iquitos.
Next morning at 5 AM we walk to the boat jetty. Our boat is about 30 feet long, back areas is for cargo and in the front are about 20 seats like a mini bus. We all get window seats. Our passports are checked and luggage is searched although we will be making to an immigration check point of Peru at an island of Santa Rosa in Amazon near Brazil and Columbia border. Amazon river makes border between Peru and Columbia for about 150 kilometers.

Amazon River Area
Boat runs amazingly fast, in the back only the mist of flying water is visible. Nothing much to see except water and sometimes forests come near and sometimes they stay far away. We see some villages on the banks and many tributaries or river and many islands.

A cafe by the river
Boat makes a fueling stop just before Columbia border and we are served packed meals and we go out in the village and relax for half hour. Then boat again makes a run and near Brazil Border River becomes several miles wide. At some times other bank is not even visible. We arrive at Santa Rosa at 4PM that is the last of Peru. Santa Rosa is hardly a town, more like a little village. There are no cars and they only have electricity from 6 PM to 9 PM by generator every day. There is a small hotel also in front of immigration office by the water. Office had just one officer and without looking at our faces or passports he stamps our passports. We have a cup of coffee in the only one small shop on this scenic island.

Santa Rosa
We change currency here and then boat runs across the river to Tabatinga which is part of Brazil. Here we say good bye to the boat and take a taxi and go to Leticia in Colombia. It is amazing how different the three towns are. Going from Tabatinga to Leticia you cross a line on the ground and suddenly you are in Colombia, no border formalities and nothing and it really appears to be one continuous town. Of course there is the language difference with everything switching from Portuguese to Spanish. Leticia seemed to me to be a lot more organized and cleaner in a way. Since we are not going to Brazil so there is no need to visit Brazil immigration. Our taxi takes us to Columbia immigration office but it closes at 5 in the evening. Either we must wait till morning to get our passports stamped or go to airport and if immigration office is open there we can get passports stamped.
Not to forget; after this twin city is thousands of miles of impenetrable jungle in all three countries. No road comes here. Only way is through water or airplane. When we reach at the airport, to our amazement we see a flight ready to leave to Bogota. In Laticia we need to get our passports stamped again if we want to go to Bogota. We walk in the immigration office and find a white Youngman busy flirting with other three unbelievably beautiful girl staffers. Colombian girls are considered the most beautiful girls in the world. He asks us if we are planning to take the flight that is about to leave we say no. He stamps our passports.
As we come out of the airport we decide to take this flight to Bogota because we found Leticia a tasteless place. We run back to the terminal and Airbus airplane is being moved by a tractor on the taxiway. Luckily airline issues us the tickets but then we say we need to get our passport stamped. Airline staffers curse us and take us back to that white Youngman in the immigration office. He gets very angry and repeatedly shouts at us that we first said that we are not going to Bogota. He is angry that we distracted his flirting with the girls. When he sees restless airline staffers, he stamps our passports and we run to catch the airplane.

Leticia from airplane
Since airplane is now about 200 yards from the terminal so airstairs is again pushed to the aircraft and we board it and immediately it begins moving. When we catch height we see thousands and thousands miles of rain forests and rivers under us. Somewhere in the middle of the our journey we pass equator but under the airplane I see a mesh of rivers and forests till it gets too dark to see anything.
We arrive in Bogota at 8PM. Bogota is at 9000 feet above msl.
We catch a mini bus to the city center. City is deserted at this time due to drug wars. Bus drops us on the deserted main street in the city and conductor shouts us to make a run and we wonder why?
We are confused in Bogota at 9PM in the cold night of June although we are back in the northern hemisphere but we are at 9000 feet height. Whole city is deserted at 9PM, what to do now?
Our book says to look for hotels in 5th to 9th Calle (streets) as we begin walking we hear fire cracker and then we realize that it is gunfires. We hear crackings very near to us and then we hear a man on a balcony, he is shouting us to lie down on the ground. We lie down. Bullets are ricocheting and whistling all around us. Time and again plasters from walls fall near us.
After half hour it is again calm and police vehicles with sirens and lights are running all over. Someone from a window above shouts at us to run away from this area. We run past two shot people lying in the pool of blood with guns in their hands. As we find the first hotel and ring bell. Although we hear someone at the other side of the door but door is not opened. We give up on this hotel and as we turn back, the door opens and we are hushed inside and door is again locked. We are given a room and told not to go out. Whole hotel is smelling of coffee. At various places are placed roasted coffee beans in the bowls and also at various places Aloe plant is also growing in the pots.

Bogota, Columbia
We are very hungry, but we find beers and cold drinks in our room refrigerator. After some beers we come down and silently open the door and walk out to find food. There we find a drunkard, he is wearing suit. He points us to the street number 5 saying – Gobinda restaurant run by ISKON is there. We find it closed and we find everything closed. We return to our hotel and again go through the commotions to get the door open.
Now this man is very angry. As we enter in the hotel he puts a big lock on the door and we sleep hungry.
We wake up in the morning very hungry and come out of the hotel to find food. We find many people going in a street and we follow them. We arrive at a building and hear strange squealing noises. There we find carts selling coffee and buns. That building turns out an abattoir and people are lined up to buy freshly slaughtered pigs meat and blood. After coffee we decide to take a peak in the building and noise is overwhelming. Along with others we enter in the building. There pigs are being slaughtered by making a small slit on their throat. They all make extreme squealing noise. While some pigs are slaughtered, other pigs help cleaning up the place by licking and eating all the waste. This scene is too much for us and we come out and throw up.
We return to out room to take a bath to remove the smell that we carried from that building. We walk in this very scenic city but we find it tasteless and police and paramilitary is everywhere and our passports are checked several times on the streets. Next day we leave Bogota for Cali.
End of this series.

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