One dusty day after about 5-hours of chewing dirt and bottoming out bike forks I came across a river just outside a small town called San Borja. It was a Sunday and apparently I wasn’t the only one looking for reprieve from the 34oC heat. I made a u-turn on the bridge and headed back down to the river. This event unsettled the calm afternoon of a few couples and local families as a rolled up on my big gringo bike and immediately started peeling off clothes until I hit my boxers, slipped on some shorts and ran for the water.
A few hours later I decided I’d just camp under the bridge for the night. Well not long after that thought crossed my mind a couple of boats made of lashed together logs and people in make-shift shelters came floating down the river. One can never assume too much, however they appeared to be indigenous looking people whom I assumed lived in the Amazon reign. I could not stop looking at them as my curiosity rose and well that feeling seemed mutual. Everyone else on the shoreline seemed pretty keen on them too, so I assumed these 40FT long make-shift rafts we not an everyday sight. They came to shore and started and slowly unloaded the kids, bunches of plantains and their shelters. My curiosity was almost unbearable as I wanted to ask them so many questions. I wasn’t sure however that they spoke Spanish. Finally, after about half and hour they began to unlash the wood to bring it to shore. I decided to help them in the hopes of also learning a bit about who they were.
I asked in Spanish if they wanted help and one lady explained to the men my request. They didn’t seem overly interested and simply nodded, so I jumped in the river and got lifting logs. In all there was about 20-people in the group, from around 2 years-old up to somewhere their late forties. I began to pepper each on with little Spanish questions about what the wood was for, how far they floated from, if they were all family and basically anything I could think of. This yielded the interest of one boy about nine-years-old who knew Spanish and could not stop looking at me or the bike like we had just landed in a space ship. As well, I asked the lady who translated for the group and got to asking some questions, and she explained they spoke an indigenous language that started with an “A” sound I’d never heard of, and some also spoke Spanish. That was about it, the nine-year-old would answer my questions and no one else would even look at me, it felt very awkward.
By this time some thirty or so people had gathered at the top of the bridge, I’m not entirely sure if they were watching the spectacle of them or me helping them, or the combination of these out-of-place events around here. I wish I’d taken their photo, it was pretty funny to see a crowd staring down at us.
After about forty-five minutes or so another raft of latched together logs from the jungle came floating down stream, and they came to shore and sat to watch me help the group. The logs were hard-wood and likely weighed 50+LBS each, I was getting a bit miffed that no one wanted to be my friend aside from the kid. Now I began to get the impression they were quite suspicious of my motives, and I’m sure probably had every right to be. Random pale-white guy on a strange bike, offering to lift logs and ask all kinds of questions about them. I’m sure if they showed up out of nowhere at my family BBQ and started chopping wood for the fire, it might be seen as a little odd.
I now felt obligated to show that I was only there to help and wanted nothing in return. I felt like I was the first “westerner” interaction that the super-nice nine-year-old had ever had, and despite some previous possible mishaps his elders might have had with someone like me, I really wanted that kid to feel like outsiders could be trusted. Who knows, maybe I invented a huge dialogue in my head about some fantasy encounter I had. I was started to get pissed as more of the family was now taking a break to watch me work and not talk to me in any language, so I called it quits. I told the kid he should travel around his country, explained I was from far away and thanked him for asking me some questions.
They ended up setting up camp on the beach where I had wanted to, so I resolved to move back about 500FT towards the bush and make my camp there. Before I left, they thanked my for my help in Spanish and kept a glancing eye on my high-tech tent camp across the way as they worked long into the night.
My plan may have backfired or perhaps my motivation wasn’t exactly truthful, however, it made for an interesting days experience and likely gave a wide number of people something to talk about. The photos aren’t amazing with my current camera options and I didn’t want them to see me snapping pictures and seem even more suspicious. If you’re going to take the route less traveled, your are eventually going to meet the people less traveled across.