Stories from the Amazon

  • cargo ship Linares III
    The cargo ship Linares III is followed by a thunderstorm on the Amazon River in Peru.

    Jacobs Finds He Has Plenty of Time to Pass as Ship Heads Down River

    “What is your dream?” I asked 8-year-old Rodrigo that question as our ship floated down the Amazon River in Peru. Asking questions was one of the ways I passed time during the four-day voyage to Iquitos.

    “My dream is to get to Iquitos,” Rodrigo replied with a smile.

    Good answer. That was probably the current dream of everyone on the ship.

    Rodrigo then talked about how one day he wishes to be able to help people in the world. A clever kid with a sense of humor is always a delight to be around.

    Our ship slowly moved down the river, occasionally stopping at small villages to deliver a box or drop off a passenger. Sometimes, someone in a small aluminum boat would dash to the shore to drop off something and then dash back to the ship, allowing the large ship to continue nonstop down river.

    When people on the riverbank wished to have the ship come ashore, they would wave large pieces of plywood — or anything they could get their hands on — to get the attention of the helmsman.

    For four days, these brief dockings were the only times the ship stopped.

    Passengers boarding the cargo ship Linares III
    The cargo ship Linares III docks at a small village to deliver and pick up cargo on the Amazon River in Peru.

    After the first day, the excitement of moving down the river began to wane. And after exhausting my limited amount of Spanish with the people around my hammock, I was left to fill my days with figuring out what to do.

    Only three things were for certain on the ship: breakfast, lunch and dinner.

    Once I finished one meal, the only thing I really had to look forward to was the next meal. This was a cargo ship, not a cruise ship, and that was my choice. I wanted to see how the locals lived and traveled on the Amazon River.

    One early evening, I sat in the bridge with the helmsman. He asked me, “Would you like to steer the ship down the river?”

    “Yes,” I replied, jumping at the chance to actually do something besides wait for the next meal to be served.

    As I steered, I could feel the power of the water pulling on the ship’s rudder.

    In broken English, the helmsman explained how he looked for landmarks to guide the ship down river.

    As I stood at the helm, I mentally noted there was not one navigational instrument on the ship’s bridge, not even a compass. It left me wondering how the helmsman could ever find his way in the night.

    Later that evening, I returned. Sitting outside the helm on a wooden bench, a crewmember held a spotlight. Every so often he turned it on and the light shone from one side of the river to the other. That was it — a hand-held spotlight to guide this huge mass of steel floating down the Amazon River.

    I chose not to spend too much time thinking about that.

    Helmsman on the cargo ship Linares III
    The helmsman on the Linares III steers the ship down the Amazon in Peru.

    Privacy doesn’t exist when one sleeps in a hammock on a cargo ship. After some creative exploring, I found a place at the very front of the ship on the lip of the cargo deck.

    Here, for small windows of time, I sat quietly alone and watched the rainforest bank pass by. Thick with trees and vegetation of every color of green imaginable, the tall giants would often have a bird perched on their treetops. Occasionally, a flock of parrots flew over my head, or perhaps I would see a river dolphin break the surface of the water.

    I would lean back against the stacked bags covered with black plastic and then listen to the water splash against the front of the ship.

    Right in front of me, large logs or trees that had become captives of the flooding river would crash into the front of the ship, only to be devoured by the massive chunk of steel surging forward. Often they would scrape the hull of the ship in one last defiant move before disappearing in the murky tan waters.

    If the wind picked up, it would create small waves that beat against the front of the ship and covered me with a fine mist of water. These were the moments I could hear, see and feel the Amazon River.

    These were my small windows of solitude that I cherished as the ship continued downstream.

    “Hola amigo, que pasa?” (Hello friend, what’s up?) He was a member of the crew.

    Solitude over. It must be time for lunch.

    Brother and sister on the Linares III
    Rodrigo (8), a companion on the Linares III, standing with his little sister, jokingly said "his dream was to just get to Iquitos." (left)
    Crew members return to the ship after going to the shore to deliver a package to a small river side village in Peru (right).

    Fremont Tribune

Copyright © Dean Jacobs 2019. All Rights Reserved.