The Great Amazon River Raft Race: Day 3, More Lessons and 11 Hours of Pain

Tamshiyacu Travel Blog

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Breakfast at Porvenir (not my photo)

Since I had fallen down on the job on our first day by neglecting to help very much in building our raft, I appointed myself the responsible one to see about modifications to our raft, specifically cutting off the long ends of the balsa logs to help lighten it and go quicker.  We also needed new paddles to replace the clunkers that were so hard to use.  The organizer had promised that if we got up at 5:30 in the morning he'd have helpers there to saw and chop away the extra wood.  He also promised paddles.  What do you suppose I saw when I got up early (with Tim nudging me from his perch in the hammock nearly on top of me) and walked down to the river edge?  Just a few Peruvians working to streamline their own rafts before setting off.

Porvenir - after breakfast (not my photo)
  There was no promised help in sight.  Tim's other idea was formed from what he had heard about the previous year.  The Peruvian teams that finished well behind the leaders evidentely had dropped out the second day and sold their light, fast rafts to foreign teams.  So Tim was hoping that would be the same case this year.  We had heard rumors the night before that a team had dropped out already.  But the truth was that the team that had supposedly dropped out was still in the race.  They had been disqualified for having a raft that was too cut down and although they were given the prize money for finishing first the first day, they were out of the race for the rest of the purse.  After the breakfast of rice and hot milk and stale bread, the rafters were standing around discussing the situation with the organizers.
Home team cheering section (Robyn's photo)
  Mike Collins showed up and offered some suggestions.  He asked why it wouldn't be possible to just penalize the disqualified team a couple hours and still let them compete.  Or, another brilliant idea was to have the disqualified Peruvian team trade rafts with the foreign team with the heaviest raft.  A crowd was gathering and we were chewing over what Mike had said.  As much as I would have wanted a faster raft, I had started to identify with the raft we had built (ok, that Tim and Felix built).  Then Mike came up with the worst idea yet, "hold on, hold on," he said, "let's just number all the rafts and put them into ah hat and have each team pick a raft!"  That suggestion went down about as easily as our inedible food.
Support Boat (The Titanic?..BAD name)
  Nobody was having any of that and Mike was shouted down and relegated back to the support boat.  Clearly, he wasn't thinking straight about this race anymore.  What finally happened was...exactly nothing.  The disqualified team was penalized two hours and the foreign teams went down to the river bank to set off first.

Luckily it was another overcast morning, meaning we had some protection from the fierce sun.  Our raft set off at a better pace than the day before but soon enough we were passed by the others, and then too soon by the Peruvians who started off a half hour later than us.  Our only company was Ayahuasca Rick, the Tazmanians, AJ and his Chollos, and a couple others.  Morning passed and then we saw the coast guard boat waving us towards the shortcut on our left.

Primitive toilet (Robyn's photo)
  Rick's raft was in tow behind them and as we looked up to see Rick go sailing past, he just shrugged and beatifically said, "I have no idea what's going on!"  As we maneuvered into the smaller river a swift current took over and for the first time that day we laid down our paddles to enjoy it.  It was the fastest we were ever to move on the river.  We spent a nice hour or so living up to our team name and enjoying a well-deserved lunch, pausing every once in a while to dip our paddles into the water to correct a drift and keep us straight and in the current.  Rick and his team floated with us.  The sun had emerged from the clouds by then and we gave thanks that we had a day and a half of cloud cover because it was steadily roasting any exposed flesh.
  I just slathered on the sunscreen and hoped that my complexion would provide the rest of the protection.  As we rounded the umpteenth bend in the shortcut a bunch of boys jumped off from shore and swam towards us, all the while hefting papayas that they tossed towards us.  We fished them out of the river and in exchange, as they boarded the raft, we gave them some of our snacks, although I protested at the gift of the oreos, thinking we didn't have many of them.  Tim and the others laughed at my stinginess and I felt silly afterwards when they showed me how many packages we had.  We asked the adults on shore how much time to Tamshiyacu and they said, "us, 2 hours, you, 4 hours.
The Amazon (Robyn's photo)
"  It couldn't be!  It was already mid afternoon.  They must be mistaken.  We rounded the curve and saw the main branch of the Amazon ahead of us.  The far shore looked about an hour away in itself and we hoped the current was on the closer side. The other rafts seemed to be hugging the closer shore and that gave us hope.

The afternoon was slipping by as we struggled to find a current.  Nothing we had learned seemed to be serving us for finding the easiest route and we paddled and struggled and despaired as time wore on and the raft sluggishly edged forward.  The ladies on the shore washing clothes told us that the town was around the bend.  That gave us hope and we struck out for the point where the river started to curve.

Storm on the Amazon (not my photo)
  We marked time and gave ourselves goals by passing certain landmarks.  As we neared the point there was no town in sight, but we realized that was because the curve was so long that it would take another hour to get around it.  Our spirits sank and we had some petty arguments about where the town might be, whether we were going to throw in the towel and get towed when the coast guard boat hypothetically came by, and more.  We were all testy and tired and irritated and thirsty and I had a headache from lack of water.  For the last couple hours I hadn´t drunk from the bottle because the sun had heated it all day and I couldn't stomach the foul-tasting hot water.  As Tamshiyacu came into sight, we knew we wouldn't make it to town before dark on yet another day and that was severely disappointing.
Kids swimming out to meet the raft (not my photo)
  We kept paddling though, and headed for the far shore where there seemed to be a good current.  As light was fading the coast guard boat came roaring up and we pointed them upriver to find Rick´s raft.  He must be very very far behind by this point and who knows if they had gotten into trouble. They needed rescue first and we decided to go on and make the town by ourselves.  Eleven hours of paddling our second day!  We met Linda on the support boat having a beer and cigarette and she told us that we weren't far behind the others and that the majority clocked more than 8 to 9 hours on the river today.  I was comforted a bit knowing that we weren't hours behind the other rafts. 

More mud, darkness and mosquitos awaited us but we were just happy to pull in.

Now that's rafting in style! (not my photo)
  At the top of the steps leading up to the town we saw that it was a real town, not a cow pasture, and there was real food to be had, even if we had to buy it!  I really didn't care by this point.  My head was aching and I bought some water to take some ibuprofin.  I was also so exhausted that I could barely stand and I needed toothpicks to keep my eyelids open.  But there was a show that the local high school was putting on so I trudged towards the venue to show my support and see what it would be like.  It was a noble effort but the young girls dancing and boy reciting poetry wasn't enough to capture my attention and I stumbled back to the bunkhouse to lay down on the mattress and pass out. 

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Breakfast at Porvenir (not my phot…
Breakfast at Porvenir (not my pho…
Porvenir - after breakfast (not my…
Porvenir - after breakfast (not m…
Home team cheering section (Robyn…
Home team cheering section (Robyn…
Support Boat (The Titanic?..BAD na…
Support Boat (The Titanic?..BAD n…
Primitive toilet (Robyns photo)
Primitive toilet (Robyn's photo)
The Amazon (Robyns photo)
The Amazon (Robyn's photo)
Storm on the Amazon (not my photo)
Storm on the Amazon (not my photo)
Kids swimming out to meet the raft…
Kids swimming out to meet the raf…
Now thats rafting in style! (not …
Now that's rafting in style! (not…
Tamshiyacu
photo by: Belluomo