Nauta River Travel

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Men in center are icing down freshly caught fish

Have been in Nauta for about ten days.  It takes a day or two to become acquainted with a new place, especially so if it has a life style to which you are unaccustomed.

Part of the particular style of any town is in the rhythm of it. There is a rhythm embedded in each weekly cycle. The only way to get to know that rhythm is to be awake and aware during certain key parts of each day in a week.

Most usually, the daily activity begins very early in the morning, sometime around 4 to 5 AM. The larger the city the more activity there is at any time of the day. The rhythm of a place varies due to the major activity of a particular town. Smaller rural farming communities have a different pattern than do retail, tourist, manufacturing towns, seaside ports, or government centers.

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Nauta riverbank and primary tie up location for boats

Nauta is unique.  Not only is it situated at the ‘end of the road’… The only public road in the Amazon basin is about 100km long and runs between Iquitos and Nauta. No more public roads exist until you get to Manaus, some 1500 miles or so towards the East, There are some oil company roads dotted throughout the Amazon these days linking exploration and drilling sites. Nauta, being a tiny port town on the Amazon river, is a uniqueness in itself.

The main activity hub of seaports or fishing villages anywhere in the world occur dockside or in Nauta’s case, on the river bank. The river bank in Nauta serves as the ‘dock’ for many varied vessels. The river bank itself is a reddish ocre colored dirt. The road alongside the riverbank turns to mud after a (frequent) rain. The top of the bank is not more than six feet from the surface of the river.

There are 5 floating gas stations, 20ft x 30ft x 5 ft, filled with gasoline and diesel fuel. There are old fashioned gas pumps under a metal roof. Not only do boats get their fuel here, the mototaxis do also. I have seen mototaxi owners carrying small plastic bags full of fuel over the narrow wooden planks to fill the tanks of their vehicles parked on the bank.

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One of several Nauta floating riverside gas stations

The total length of the river bank that is in use is about a half mile or so. Only 150 feet or so is dedicated space for the ‘transports’. The transports will have a stick of some kind that a crew member will manually sink into the mud on the river bank to which they tie their boat. In addition to the floating gas/diesel stations, there are larger boats that seem to be tied up semi-permanently.

You cannot walk directly on the riverbank the entire half mile. Sometimes you must return to a street that runs parallel with the river, but about 100 feet inland.  There are small peninsulas which return to the river. One such stretch is home to small sawmill. It is an area where boats of all sorts and canoes are repaired. I saw a few men building a balsa log raft, tying the logs together with a type of jungle vine that I was told was stronger than any rope they could buy, for the purpose. This raft was being constructed as a platform for a floating home, the type seen in the Belem section of Iquitos.

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Balsa tree logs tied with vines form a floating house platform

The rhythm of Nauta is specifically slanted toward the arrival and departure of boats large and small that have come from up or down the Amazon river or any number of it’s tributaries. Many such boats arrive from Iquitos or are bound there. These boats are usually cargo vessels. Local passengers… humans travelling to and from Iquitos know that they can save 8 hours by hopping into van and riding the Nauta/Iquitos road. Two hours to and from.

The fact that a person can save the time and discomfort by getting to Iquitos from Nauta and vice versa has given rise to an opportunity for smaller ‘rapidos’…  40 to 60 foot long  x  5feet wide flat bottomed boats with outboard motors to offer service up and downriver from Nauta.

It has taken me a week to figure this out. There is no detailed information about river travel in this part of the world. Even the locals are often baffled. The only reliable way one can discover the facts is to get out of bed at 5 AM every morning and to be riverside between 5:30 and 8:30AM. You have to ask a lot of different people an lot of questions.

Keep in mind that there are people who live in small villages along the shores of many tributaries. They do travel back and forth to Nauta (and Iquitos) from their villages.  Some to visit friends and family, some to go to school/college, some to buy needed supplies, some to sell bananas, plantains, maduros, chickens, mangoes, oranges, coconuts or fish, and some for other reasons.  The river is their thoroughfare, the boats are the public transportation for river people, known locally as ‘riberos’.

Every morning, along the red/ochre colored mud banks of Nauta are these 40 to 60 foot, very narrow boats. Most made of thin sheet steel or aluminum. Most have what you might recognize as plastic outdoor lawn chairs for seats, moveable, not attached to the bottom of the boats. There are life preservers aboard. I did not detect any bulkheads or flotation methods that would keep the boats afloat if they were somehow capsized.  These boats do have a plastic tarp stretched over thin metal tubing arches that extend to the gunwales of the boats. The roof keeps the rain and the equatorial sun off the passengers during the journey. There are clear plastic sides that roll up or down in case of blowing rain.

 

The schedules are not 100% reliable. Every morning, different boats have a chalkboard displayed aboard stating the departure time, day, and destination.  On Thursday morning, I saw a boat advertising that it would depart that morning at 7AM bound for Yurimaguas.  I heard and saw men talking up the departure,  encouraging potential passengers to hurry and buy their tickets and get on board. At 8:30AM they cleaned the chalkboard and put it away. The boat did not depart. There were not enough passengers to make it profitable.

Every morning, it is the same scene. Some days are busier than others. Saw a boat leave this morning with only a few chairs vacant, bound for Yurimaguas.  That journey takes about 30 hours.  All the boats that I have seen state 6:30 or 7:00AM as the departure time. I inquired as to when they expected to arrive in Yurimaguas.  Noon the following day was the reply. Again, remember, that every boat will stop several times to discharge passengers or cargo by the time they reach the final destination. I did not ask where they spend the night. I will, before I buy a ticket. Do not expect anyone to offer information. You must ask.

On Tuesday morning, there was a very large boat called the ‘Gilmer’ that arrived about 6:30AM and was gone by 7:10AM. Short stop. The Gilmer is about 150ft long, 30 feet wide and has 4 decks. Lots of open deck for cargo. The second and third deck is for hammocks. Packed in like sardines. The top deck is vacant. I am told it get unbearably hot up there if it’s not raining. I am also told that the stereo system aboard is played 24hrs per day and that it is loud if your hammock happens to be near the speakers. That boat also goes to Yurimaguas. The journey from Nauta to Yurimaguas aboard the Gilmer is about 3 full days… hence, the hammocks.  Looked to me as though the boat is pretty much filled when it departs Iquitos. Seems the best thing to do if using the Gilmer to get to Yurimaguas would be to either board in Iquitos (submit to the extra 8 hours on the river)… because only then can you be assured of getting a decent hammock space.

I have the phone number for the Gilmer. Tickets are arranged through the company called ‘Eduardo’.  I rode on a van to Iquitos to see if I could reserve a tiny cabin and have it vacant when arriving in Nauta. If I can do this, I will be assured of a somewhat more pleasant journey, have secure space for my gear, and a small cot. The fare aboard the Gilmer includes three (very basic) meals per day per passenger.  You must have your own bowl and utensils. The food is doled out military style… passengers form a line and the cook ladles the food into your bowl as you pass.

I remain undecided as to whether I want to ride the Gilmer or a rapido. I am leaning toward the rapido because I am willing to tolerate the discomfort for 30 hour to arrive in Yurimaguas.

Upon arrival in Yurimaguas, I intend to explore another very interesting place. It is called the Pongo de Manseriche.  It is reported to be a very, deep canyon, along the banks of the Rio Maranon. The canyon walls are nearly vertical and are 1000 feet from the surface of the river. At one point the river narrows to 100 feet or less, giving the impression that the canyon walls above are closing in on one another.

From there, I would hop a bus to Pucalpa. From Pucalpa I may get one of those very large cargo boats, like the Gilmer, and head back downriver to Iquitos.

Having accomplished the above, I will have experienced the main river routes from the Andes to Iquitos. I arrived in Iquitos by way of the Rio Napo. Nauta to Yurimaguas is upriver on the Rio Maranon and the Rio Huallaga. Pucalpa to Iquitos, downriver again, is on the Ucayali. This plan would give me firsthand knowledge of the life of the Western Amazonian ‘riberos’… and experiential data of all three (four actually) major Andes/Iquitos rivers joining with and forming the might Amazon, which continues Eastward and wends it’s way another 3,000 miles (more or less) to the Atlantic Ocean.

The adventure continues…

Here is a music vid from another place and time… the timeless theme of the RIVER: http://youtu.be/pSzYRo9j7YM