Days 3&4 on the Ucayali Aboard Henry 8

P1040952Large trees are rare close to the riverbank. Takes less effort to get the logs to the river where they are then floated to market.

The Henry 8 vessel is over 250ft in length and about 35 ft wide. It requires skill and years of experience to handle a ship this size in the Ucayali’s powerful and swift current. The laws of physics apply. Mass in motion is continually in the domain of  immutable and unpardonable physical laws. Momentum is one of those principles. The heavier a vehicle (mass), the more energy is required to halt, slow or maneuver that vehicle.  The captain of a cargo vessel of this size operating in this swift river must be immediately and continually aware of the all conditions and must know how to maneuver his ship taking into account all of the above. It is no job for a careless person. Constant vigilance is required.

It is amazing how the Henry 8 vehicle would change it’s direction in the river.  On this trip the ship is going in the direction of the current. Wherever the boat stops to discharge or pick up passengers it must turn almost 180 degrees, such that the bow is pointing UPriver.  The reasons are that: 1. The propellers are in the stern of the boat, that is where the power comes from. 2. The rudder, the mechanism that controls the orientation of the boat is also in the stern. 3. The wheelhouse is in the aft (rearward) third of the boat and the person handling the engines and the rudder is facing towards the bow (the front). 4. The current.

The only way for the helmsman to maintain control of this craft while stopped on a riverbank is to point the bow against the current.  How it is done is that the ship begins to spin 180 degrees in middle of the river channel  before nearing the intended stop.  When the bow is pointed upriver the engines are revved up, needing to make way  against the current. Then, the bow is gently rammed into a very small area of riverbank that serves as the village ‘dock’.  These areas do not leave much room for error.  They were rarely more than 5 feet wider than the ship.  Sometimes there are other large vessels that are also docked.  Any contact with another vessel would be not only embarrassing, but expensive as well.

I witnessed the expertise of the captain (or helmsman) aboard the Henry 8 on at least 4 occasions. We made more than 4 stops but some of them were in the dark. This vessel does travel at night. The smaller rapidos do not.

P1040935 Stopping at a very narrow riverbank ‘dock’ in Orellana, Peru on the banks of the Rio Ucayali between Pucallpa and Iquitos. Looking toward the bow from the wheelhouse deck.

There is not a lot of equipment in the wheelhouse.  There is  a wheel (duh!), a large compass and what looked like depth indicating equipment. I did not see specialized radio nor gps equipment. The captain and all crewmen have at least one cell phone each. There are cell towers everywhere along the route. Looked to me like the predominant navigation method is dead reckoning.  Amazing, when you contemplate all that is required to maneuver a large, heavily loaded cargo vessel in a 7 knot current and make several stops in all kinds of conditions along the way. Several loaded Henry cargo vessels make the round trip Pucallpa/Iquitos route year round.

P1040957The small village of Dos de Mayo 

P1050049The petroleum town of Brettania. Henry 8 came within three feet of making contact with this very well appointed company houseboat.

Upon departure, the Henry 8 immediately reversed direction… very near the shore. The further the bow (remember it’s 250ft long) is affected by the current more and more. Very tricky maneuver near an expensive boat in a Brazilian dominated oil port. Maybe the captain was showing off. Maybe it was just business as usual. It was reported to me that this well site is owned and managed by a Brazilian company.

In total, I think we made about 8 stops before reaching Iquitos. The names I  remember are: Camana, Orellana, Dos de Mayo, Juanito, and Brettania. They are all very short stops, usually less than 15 minutes each.

P1040989My boots remained tied to my hammock the entire journeyP1050264Same feet six days after getting off Henry 8. Spent fewer than 4 hours per day on uncovered decks. Sky was overcast or raining most days. Solar radiation is powerful stuff within 5 degrees of the equator. 

P1040969Sunset on the Ucayali

P1050100Another lagoon

P1050080P1050089P1050083P1050081Cloud patterns on the UcayaliP1050130The channel to the left is the Ucayali. The channel to the right is the Maranon. At this confluence the resulting single river begins to be called the Amazon river.

Arrived Iquitos about 11:30PM Wednesday 19/03/14. It was raining. Some asked if they could spend the rest of the night aboard the boat and leave in the morning. I did that with about 10 other folks. About 6 AM the engines revved up and the boat repositioned it’s docking. Everyone was instructed it was now time to take down all hammocks and prepare to vacate the boat.  All passengers were off the boat by 7AM.  Got a mototaxi to a nearby hostel and was able to check in even though it was so early. Have been in the same hostel for six nights. Needed to recuperate a bit.

Travel is hard work. Not only on your body. Your mind needs time to process the new experience if you want to get full value from it. The best time to do that is immediately following a new experience. Otherwise, you just add one layer of new experience on top of another. Then, the new sensory input gets buried and more often than not remains unprocessed. Taking care to intentionally categorize and process new experiences is required if your intention is to make sense of your surroundings. Making sense of the world I inhabit has been my lifelong intention for as long as I can remember… and I have a lot of memories.

Internet speeds have improved radically in Iquitos from the month ago that I was here.  Have been able to upload photos and update the blog.  Am now planning the next phase. Continue downriver towards the three frontier area where Brazil, Peru, and Colombia join. Prior to that I will do a bit more local exploration of Iquitos and immediate surrounds.

Will spend a few days in the jungle with a man who’s father taught him how to survive there. I consider it a privilege of the first order to spend time with a man who bridges two distinct worlds. And who holds in his life experience, the centuries old legacy of handing down knowledge of the jungle environment from father to son.P1050166 P1050167Early morning Iquitos