Tamshiyacu (not my photo)
Last day! Today we were assured that we'd be covering the shortest leg and that it wasn't nearly as far to the finish line at Bellavista-Nanay port. Since the information came from the recreation director, the Peruvian that had been the most helpful all along, I was more inclined to believe him. He said that we only had a 5 or 6 hour trip ahead of us. We'd start out following a shortcut and then swing back into the main river before following a long slow bend all the way in to Iquitos. The kicker was at the very end of the leg, where the Amazon meets the Nanay river and where we'd have to paddle upstream for about 500 meters or so to the finish at the social club of Caza Y Pesca.
The same helpful Peruvian tracked down a saw and followed me to the raft to help finally shorten those long logs in back. He attacked the logs with the saw but they were so waterlogged that the saw kept getting stuck. An ax was brought into play and soon enough, one by one, we reduced the length of the logs and thus hoped for a speedier ride to the finish. By then we had gotten our stuff together and had a tasty breakfast of sandwiches with mystery lunchmeat and a really nice mixed fruit yogurt juice smoothie. No more rice and milk and stale bread for us!
Tim was in a foul mood and I was trying to stay clear since I knew a lot of the frustration was because of me. Steph and I even got a fright when Tim's souvenir paddle went missing and he brandished his machete and said, "I'm going to look for the #$%& that stole my paddle!" I didn't want to provoke him so I laid low and I knew it would blow over once we got on the river and made good progress.
Early morning..more mud
For the final leg, the foreign teams were told to leave whenever they were ready. We had been working on the raft and couldn't leave until it was finished but we weren't the last to shove off and with the reduced weight, a couple of better paddles, and good spirits, we surged into the middle of the pack. Everything seemed different today and we enjoyed being in front of some rafts for once. The sun wasn't too brutal yet and we were making good time, seeming to find the current without as much effort as other days. I thought to myself that we were getting the hang of this and maybe we wouldn't be the last to arrive today. I was hoping Olivia would be waiting at the finish and that provoked me to paddle harder all day as I wanted her to be proud of our accomplishment and not be embarrassed by a last place finish.
The ¨support¨ boat
We kept ahead of AJ´s squad and the Tazmanians. The Dutch team for Arco Iris Children's Home also trailed us but there was no sight of Rick's Ayahuasca champs. We assumed he got an early morning start with some Peruvian paddlers to replace the stricken members of his team, the one poor girl that had stomach issues, and a missing fourth teammate. The shortcut came just after Tamshiyacu and the coast guard boat came along telling us where to find the stronger current. We didn't totally pay attention though and prefered to follow the Peruvian boats ahead of us that were cutting a fast trail through the water. With some dedicated paddling we made it out into the great Amazon and struck out for the far shore, noting and trying to avoid the whirlpools that would slow us down and throw us off track.
Time for lunch and we deserved a long break after a few hours of hard work. The others where still behind us and we broke out the canned "perros calientes" that I had picked up. In addition to the delicious hot dogs we had ritz crackers and tasty sweet mini bananas, as well as oranges and an assortment of cookies. The poor Americans pulled up behind us and we gave them some of our stock to augment their sorry lunch of packaged something that they had been eating for three days. The were ecstatic about the cookies and crackers we shared. We then rounded a bend and faced the longest straightaway we had seen yet in our three days on the river. It seemed barely to come to an end but as I remembered from our boat ride from Yurimaguas
, this was the last stretch to Iquitos City.
Lightening the raft
We tried to mark the time by reaching little goals, and I tried to spark some conversation but neither really worked as we forged on ahead and became mindless automatons attached to paddles. We were in the zone and that was all that mattered. After hours on the river, you learn to put your mind somewhere else and just keep taking strokes with the paddle, forgetting pain and exhaustion or anything else. I tried to do it by distracting myself with thoughts and conversation with the others, but they were too focused to join in and I gave up. I was at least able to bouy our spirits by telling them that I recognized this stretch of the river and that we were close to the finish line. As we made our way down the long straight river, close to the right bank, we saw far up ahead that some of the rafts were heading for the opposite shore and I thought this was where the break was to get to the mouth of the Nanay river and the Bellavista port.
The Americans get underway
The other few rafts were solidly behind us and we were comforted knowing that if we kept up our pace, we wouldn't be dead last on the final day. Far ahead I saw the shape of a roof that I was pretty sure was the Club de Caza y Pesca that we were heading for. As we got closer, we saw what looked like a port, and that helped us to keep going. The end was in sight! We accidentaly took a detour towards the left and I deferred to Tim and Felix but I should have stuck to my guns and kept us steering for what I thought was Bellavista, because in the end, we fought a current and then ended up further away from our goal as a result of it. We had to get back into the mainstream of the Amazon and then head into the mouth of the Nanay and an upriver current.
Are 2 rafts anchored together faster than one?
We knew we had hit that current when we slowed to almost a dead stop in spite of our fierce, strong and coordinated paddling. It was incredibly disheartening to have paddled all day, and then, with the end in sight, to be paddling as hard as we could and look at the shore to see hardly any movement. It was almost like Satan was laughing and pushing us back. I couldn't believe how hard it was to move at all against the current! Our patience started to fray and before long we were yelling and shouting at each other and in general. The locals out for a Sunday dip at the shore looked up at us in amazement and amusement as we struggled with a heavy raft, sunburned, tired, and probably loooking half-human against that murderous current. Slowly but surely we managed to make headway.
Lunch on the river
There was no way we were going to let AJ or the others beat us at this point. Finally, with almost superhuman effort, we gained the far shore and landed and threw down our paddles. The small crowd that had gathered on the shore cheered us and we felt half like embracing them and half like telling them to shut up and go away. It was only a measure of the exhaustion we were feeling. The others came in and we gathered the things we needed from the raft and abandoned it to the scavenging kids who devoured the leftover cookies and grabbed the flotsam that remained. I got back to the support boat and looked for a phone to call Olivia, since we were two hours earlier than what I had told her was the commencement ceremony. There was no phone in the club but one of the Dutch participants had a cell phone and I was able to get through.
Me, asking for sunburn...
A final frustration was finding out that my sandals had gone missing. Stolen of course, this being Peru. I was tired and cursing about it, but then Tim handed me a cold beer and I decided that it wasn't worth the energy to be upset about it and I just let it go. That left the tally for things I'd lost on the way at a pair of bathing trunks, a lock and a pair of sandals. I guess it was worth it in the end. We drank the cold beer and went over to the club for the concluding ceremony. All the teams were called up on stage and we received a commemorative paddle for our efforts. The race was over. I had some of the teams sign my book and then we all left for Iquitos which meant civilization, a cold shower, a shave, clean clothes and lots of aloe vera for the sunburn.
Us...(not my photo)
When we got back to town and I had a shower, I looked into the mirror and hardly recognized myself. We met up later on that night and had a few cold ones, but everyone was completely wasted and our only thought was to get a decent night's sleep in a decent bed. So concluded the great Amazon River Raft Race 2007!