Days 2 & 3 Ucayali River Aboard the Henry 8 Vessel

P1040861 The Ucayali in mid flood stage. The trees, plants and animals have adapted to the fact that once a year the river will overflow the banks and spill inland, covering  the roots and low lying plants.

I must have dozed off again around 8AM. Did not climb out of  my hammock because it did not seem we were moving.  I carefully slipped out of the hammock shortly after 10AM. The ship was actually in the center of the river and moving.  We had departed Pucallpa.

To be clear: I had boarded a vessel on Sat afternoon at 2PM. that was advertised as departing at 3:30PM which it did not do. Was invited to hang my hammock and spend the night aboard, which I did. No money was requested nor given for the night aboard the vessel. Henry 8 did not cast off till late Sunday morning. (In town I was repeatedly told that no vessel departs Pucallpa to Iquitos on Sunday)

In effect; I spent 18 hours or so on a vessel that remained docked  stationary in Pucallpa. No food was offered for the evening meal nor breakfast the following morning. Apparently, food is  part of the deal ONLY after casting off and the vessel is underway.  No one (including the crew) is fully informed as to the actual departure times. As is the case on all water vessels, the captain has the last word and is the “decider” in these matters. (quoting  a particularly erudite past president of the USA)

The scenes of the passing shoreline were familiar to me from my previous river trips. This vessel allows for a much better view because of it’s size. Passengers have access to four more decks above the main passenger (hammock) deck.  From the top deck, the one where the wheel house is located, a passenger is 50 or so feet above the water. You can clearly see a few hundred yards beyond the shore if the trees are not too dense. The other (rapido) boats are nothing more than very long, narrow canoes. On such boats, a passenger’s eyes are no more than 3 feet above the surface of the water.

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Areas that look like lakes (lagoons in English) are called ‘cochas’ in Quechua. In such areas fish do not have to continually fight the current. Animal life is more abundant in cochas because all critters find it  easier to make a living.

At around 10:30AM a couple of young non uniformed crew members began going from person to person in the hammock area.  These men wrote out a ticket for each passenger as they paid their fare. We were informed that you needed to show your ticket to the kitchen staff before receiving your meal. After I paid and got my ticket I wandered around the boat and checked out the  upper decks, the bathroom facilities and the kitchen area.  Always a good idea to familiarize yourself with any new environment. Doing so expands your survivability quotient if conditions deteriorate.

A bell was struck several times sometime around noon. A line of people formed beginning at the kitchen’s half-door and tiny window. At the top of each (carbon copy) ticket there was a line with a repeating series of letters in boxes… D, A, C, D, A, C, D, A, C, D, A, C, D, A, C.  The letters stand for: desayuno (breakfast), almuerzo (lunch) and cena (dinner).  As the line moves forward toward the kitchen window, people leave with food in their bowl or platter. When it is your turn, you hand over your ticket, a man marks off the corresponding meal with a pen slash and returns it to you. You then hand another person your bowl and he hands it to the cook who laddles the food into it, and he hands it to another person who hands your filled bowl back to you through a barred window.

P1040871A small line of folks prepare to have their bowls filled

P1040872My bowl and spork with a sampling of the usual almuerzo fare

I ate every almerzo and cena offered. The desayuno I only ate once. Not because it was horrible, I just didn’t care for it. The desayuno was a very thin sweet liquid with no discernible grain particle of any kind. The watery liquid was ladled into your bowl and you were handed  three quite plain dinner rolls. The idea was that you use the rolls to sop up the liquid.  About two hours after I did not show for the second desayuno a kitchen staff member approached me and asked why I didn’t show for breakfast. I patted my stomach and frowned.

He was not offended but was concerned. He asked if I felt OK. He said that if I was not feeling well he wanted to know. If so, he would inform someone. What he was really saying was that they did not tolerate bad food being served. If people got sick, they would immediately get another cook. I assured him that I felt fine. I went on to spin a white lie saying that I rarely ate breakfast of any kind. He was visibly relieved with that response.

I ate every morsel of all other meals served me during the  four day journey and I never got sick.  It was plain food, but it was tasty and filling.  Almuerzo was always rice and a piece of plantain or yucca with small piece of chicken. Cena was always just a soup, also with rice and yucca and sometimes a small piece of beef instead of chicken.  There was a bar that sold bottled water or soda.  Most folks (like me) had brought their own liquids.

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P1040905On the morning of the third day there were some low peaks near the rivers edge.

P1040935Orellana on the Ucayali. Looking towards the bow of the cargo vessel

P1040954 P1040955The luxurious bathroom facilities aboard the Henry 8 vessel

At the stern of deck 2 which is the same deck which hosts the hammock and kitchen areas, there is a bank of six metal doors behind which is a porcelain toilet bowl with no seat and an overhead faucet for taking a shower, all in the same space. The water that comes out of the sinks and the shower and that fills the toilet bowl is obviously pumped directly from the river. It is the same brownish color.  Only three of the six metal doors allowed access. The others bathrooms were out of order.

There were two sinks on either side of the bank of metal doors. The sinks also had industrial style spigots.  After meals, everyone would rinse out their bowls in the sinks. I did the same. Women with luxurious long black hair would sometimes shampoo in the sinks. Some people washed clothes in the same sinks and would hang their clothes on the rails at the stern when it wasn’t raining.

Everyone aboard, including all the children and the older folks, appeared to be very well groomed throughout the entire journey. Their faces and bodies were gleaming clean.  They often changed clothing. Pride in one’s appearance is a cultural norm here, no matter the (to the Western mind) ‘primitive’ conditions.   It was obvious that everyone was showering in the bathroom stalls every day at some point, including all the 15 or so crew members. I took my first shower in this manner on the second day. It was a quick one, but it sure felt good. I saw many people brushing their teeth using the water from the sink. This, I could not bring myself to do. I brushed using a spare amount of bottled hydrogen peroxide I had brought with me.