In the end, I ended up using the roadway and simply checked into one country and well “forgot” to check out of the other. Yeah, yeah I know what your thinking, well according to the internet I defiantly wasn’t the first person to use this method. Anyways, we made it out safe and sound and well a little sweaty.
My goal was the Amazon, a place of mythical lure I had been dying to see since as long as I’ve been watching National Geographic. About two hours across the border and there it is, in all it’s lush green glory, wall intertwined of beautiful trees, exotic fruits and oil field companies. Ahh WTF? Seriously I think part of my soul died when I came around the corner looking for the turn into the Amazon and perched on one side of the road is the oil conglomerate Halliburton and glaring from the other side, it’s dark shadow Schlumberger.
I’m from oil country, so I can usually deal with trees being leveled, holes being dug and pipe laid throughout the earth's crust in the name of energy. But fu*k, this is the Amazon, the beating heart of Mother Earth, not the dusty badlands of western Canada. All in all, I hit the throttle of my carbureted motorcycle engine that I’d just filled up for $0.43/ liter and passed by the oil field trucks a little saddened. They must have edited that part out on Nat. Geos “Wild Amazon” series.
Not really knowing where the hell I was going or what I was looking for, I turned through a little village towards the river to find a place to camp for the night. To my delight, a little old lady asked what I was doing and I explained I was looking for a place to camp. She laughed and said there is too much rain this time of year to camp. Instead, she cleaned out a large room for me at her place up the hill and well I found a place to camp. She was right, it rained rivers, not raindrops that night.
The next day in search of another dry place to lay my head I pulled into the yard of a curious family whom I don’t think entertain a large number of North American bikes. Again with the camping question and again space was cleared, in this case, it was the room used to dry corn and it would now be used to dry me. This was an Amazonian family at its finest, two parents and TEN children, they had created their own workforce.
The Dad Moises, a professor at the nearby school, came home later that day & greeted me with an open door, a door right into the family dining room. You could say that this house found the right family. A former work camp, it had around sixteen rooms, a block of five showers, a now converted massive kitchen and obscenely large dining hall. For them it was perfect.
Moises was delighted to have a native English speaker around, as the areas main dialect is Kichwa & second is Spanish. While they learn a bit of English there is really no place to practice. So I was invited to the school the next day to speak English with the students, little did I know it was going to be all 110 students.
One thing I am not is an academic teacher, sure you want to learn a little geography over beers or the best way to make a whole wheat pizza crust, sure I’m your guy. You want me to teach a bit of English when I can’t even understand the Spanish questions, well here’s the part where you get to watch me sweat.
Good to his word, the next morning I was paraded all the way from the littlest of five-year-olds right up to the seventeen-year-olds, class by class, and expected to entertain them for twenty to thirty minutes at a time with my native tongue. Ahh, a few teachers even saw this as a break to leave the class and so as soon as I walked in, they walked out! The kids would usually last for a good ten minutes while I asked them about colors, numbers and their families. I soon realized that not one kid in the class had less than six siblings, wow!. After are quick chats all attention was lost so I would bust out my camera and let them take photos, this however, was great fun.
For the rest of the week, I would find myself participating in odd jobs around the farm, I soon came to realize that tucked back in the forest they held over 100 acres of food crops. An impressive mix of cacao, plantain, rice, maize, yucca, cherry tomatoes, banana, and a host of foods I’d never seen in my life. Work started around 6am and finished before noon, then resumed again for a couple hours in the evening. Mid-day would melt your mind and they knew that was a good time to do other things.
Meat was however in low supply and I found the mother of the household fixing up a varied buffet of beans, rice, amazon only vegetables and plantain served a myriad of ways. I even learned that you could take green plantain, grind it into a powder like flour then use that for, well, almost anything you could use flour for, incredible.
A short walk from the house rolled a deep murky river, close to its peak in the rainy season. The kids told me where to fish and explained they almost always caught something. When they saw my fancy rod & hooks they seemed quite intrigued, explaining they only ever used a hook tied to a line with meat on the end. So every night for six nights 4-8 children would come watch me fish & on the final day as the sun was setting and the bugs were coming out for the night, I finally snagged something.
It seemed weird, I had just cast and I was sure I’d gotten the bite before the hook hit the water, so I started to reel. Oddly it was mid-line where the tugging was coming from, in the dim light a saw what looked like a bat with wings pulling on my line. Sure enough I’d caught a friggin bat, squeaking, flapping, trying to get away, he’d flown right into my line. I wasn’t sure what to do, I’d never caught a bat before and it seemed the kids hadn’t either. Well I didn’t really want to touch him, or eat him or have him break my line. So I reeled him to where he could get on a rock then left him to his own escape plan. Three or four minutes later and likely a little shaken, he was back on the road. The next morning so was I.