Stories from the Amazon

  • Dean rafting the Urubamba River
    Dean Jacobs, in the yellow helmet, rafts the Urubamba River, near Cuzco Peru in South America.

    After Rafting Down the Urubamba River, Jacobs Encounters the Friendly Shipibo People

    "I'm not sure if I would use that rafting company," said Sally Morris, a restaurant owner in Cuzco. "They tend to lose one or two people every now and then on the river."

    I had hoped to raft the Apurimac River, but now the rainy season had begun, filling the river and making it unsafe to raft for even the most experienced rafter.

    "The Urubamba River can be rafted this time of year," the agency clerk said. "It's close to Cuzco and can be done in a day."

    Perfect. The river eventually connects with the Amazon, so it will have to suffice.

    In my boat were a couple from Texas, two girls from Morocco, our guide and me.

    The company gave each of us a full body wet suit to help protect us from the cold water coming down from the Andes. Everyone also got a plastic helmet for protection from river boulders in case we fell in.

    Our guide often repeated, "Paddle forward, faster, faster, paddle backwards, harder, hang on!"

    We spent the day crashing through Class 3 and a couple of Class 4 rapids. (Class 3 rapids are moderate with irregular waves that are difficult to avoid. Class 4 rapids are powerful but predictable and require precise handling in turbulent water.)

    It was quite a thrill to have the entire raft dip down in a trough while staring at a wall of moving water directly in front of us.

    I was also quite thrilled that we didn't flip the raft.

    Apurimac River
    The Apurimac River slices through the Andes on it's way to become the Amazon River in Peru.

    Back on land, a zip line experience across the river topped off a fun day of adventure.

    The next day I boarded a bus to Lima. As my bus skirted along the edge of a large valley, I could see from my window how the Apurimac River had expanded the valley. This would be the last time to see the young Amazon River (known here as the Apurimac) as it cut through the valleys and high mountains of the Andes.

    My next destination was Pucallpa. The river here has the name Ucayali. At this point, the river already has entered the rainforest and has greatly expanded. Here it begins to take on the image people have in their minds of the great Amazon River - wide and brown. The river is filled with plants and trees floating downstream.

    From Lima, I had to choose either a 21-hour bus ride for $50 or a one-hour plane ride for $100.

    I took the plane.

    The moment I stepped off the plane, the heat and humidity hit me in the face. It was a big change from the 5 inches of snow that was outside my tent just a few weeks ago at the source of the Amazon.

    I also had the feeling that I was making progress. The last several weeks of following the river through the Andes didn't feel like the Amazon River (or what I pictured the Amazon to be). The tropics made the difference.

    Pucallpa is off any well-traveled tourist trail. Here my next challenge was to find space aboard a cargo boat heading down the river toward Iquitos. It seemed wise to spend a few days getting a feel for the process.

    As I adjusted to the climate change, I decided to head to the village of San Francisco for a night.

    While walking the streets of Pucallpa, several times I met people from a local indigenous group called the Shipibo.

    They were easy to recognize. The women always had coal black hair with straight cut bangs across their foreheads. They usually wore a brightly colored top with a stripe at shoulder level.

    I became intrigued because they were always so friendly, made eye contact and offered a genuine smile.

    Several times they told me in Spanish and used hand gestures, "Be careful with your stuff in Pucallpa."

    "For 50 soles (one sole equals 30 cents), I will take you to San Francisco," a boat tout (seller) said when I climbed out of the taxi.

    I responded, "No thanks, I'll take a collecto (public boat)."

    I asked how much as I boarded the boat with other passengers. "Three soles," replied the young captain who looked to be 13 years old.

    I sat down in the boat next to a young man who smiled at me.

    "Hello, my name is Miguel. But my friends all call me Mono, which means monkey."

    Miguel was heading to the village of San Francisco. He was on his way home for a break from university classes.

    I showed him my photos of Nebraska and told him about my journey as the boat slowly moved across the lake.

    "Come stay in our house. My mom would love to see your photos; you will be our guest," Miguel said. I accepted his offer and spent the day and evening learning about how they live in the village of San Francisco.

    Before leaving the next afternoon, I asked Miguel, "Why are the Shipibo so nice?"

    He replied, "As a culture, we just decided it was a better way to live life."

    Shihpobo home
    Miguel, a university student in Peru, shows his home in the village of San Francisco.

    Smiling man and cargo ship
    Rather then being afraid of a stranger, the Shipibo children in the village of San Franisco Peru find a new person fun to engage with (left).
    A Shipibo woman walks down the road in the village of San Francisco Peru (right).

    Fremont Tribune

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