The Javari valley

After Susana left I went back quickly to Narino to buy the nice canoe from the lady, the one was letting lots of water in. But from this point on I had unlimited time to do the rapir and it is still the best so far I have seen. For the work we needed 2 days at least without rain, which here is not that easy to achieve but we where lucky and for the next few days we only had a few drops but not the usual heavy downpour. I tried to help as much as I could but honestly I was rather useless around. They where really nice, the whole family helped us out to make sure it is ready in no time. I did not expected such a perfect repair, for me a quick fix would have been enough, but here in Colombia, if you make business with someone they will make sure they do their best, no compromise. People around here have this mentality that if you do something do it right. After 3-4 days the work finished finally and we where ready to splash. In the meantime I had a chat with Francisco, and he showed interest joining me, whats more he was really excited about the idea. Like a kid, he called me every few hours asking when can we leave for “travelling”. Obviously when the day came he was late with like 3 hours, but anyway, does not metter. I also tried to gather as much information as I could about the area and the issues around. According to the river itself, everyone had a different idea, some said that it is nice and flat all the time, while others mentioned 3m waves. One thing everybody was on an agreement about is the security. I was told that the Colombian side of the Amazonas is very safe, I can go anywhere, talk with anyone, there are no bad people or narco trading around, but the other sides, Peru and Brazil is extremely dangerous. Especially the area I wanted to visit, the Javari river. It is the border between Peru and Brazil, and the most prominent drog-traiding route around (most probably around the whole world). Back than I tought the locals are a bit too sensitive and there is very little chance to meet bad guy in the endless jungle, but that theory changed rather quickly later. 
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The first few days passed withouth any major happenings. Francisco is not a great paddler, every time I looked back he was ” navigating”, means he was checking the surrounding with his binocular or drinking or eating very slowly. When I confronted him, that “hey, dude, you are not paddling”, he always said “yes, you are right”.  but nothing changed. I did not mind at all at the beginning as I enjoeyed the canoeing and we where going downriver anyway. We met a few storms, Francisco was always freeking out, asking me if I’m scared or not, for me it did not really seemed any dangeurouos, it was abit harder to paddle, but the waves where not really bigger than half meter or so. He was quite scared, so we stopped sometimes to wait until the cloud passes. The bigger issue is usually the rain. Not the fact that you will get wet, as you are always wet anyway, it is the tropics, and you are paddling on a turbulent river, but more the amount of rain gathering quickly in the canoe, sometimes it filled to the top, and our backpacks where floating around, including all the electronics, like my laptop. Also the visibility is sometimes less then 50m. For the nights we usualy stopped at communities, one night we where sleeping again at Gilermo’s place. He was soo excited that I came back he visibly almost cried. People are soo friendly and welcoming here, they treat you as family. We went fishing again to have some dinner, and we had a long chat during the night. Its a good example that if two ppl really want to understand each other, they can do so without a common language. My spanish is still very weak, and he does not speak english, but still we had a nice chat for hours. I’m sure it would have been way better if I manage to learn spanish, but we enjoyed the situation, we took it as a game or challenge. Francisco was watching tv with Gilermo’s son. He is not too social. Usually if we have to ask direction it is me, as he does not like to speak with strangers too much, also he never asks the important questions, so I sparkled my spanish often. 
Finaly we reached Leticia again. I had relatively a lot to arrange, a Brazil visa, money issues, shopping a few supplies, also some gifts for the people we are willing to visit in Brazil… some fishing equipments, machetes, some knifes, a few basic medicines. We stayed here a few days. Francis was happy as his wife was here on holiday, so they could meet, and also he felt tired of the paddling, altough it was me who did it 🙂 Third time in Leticia, I was coming here like I would be from here. Some people already know me by name on the streets, at the hotel, I’m like family already. Start to like this place. It is busy and a bit chaotic, but also relaxed and friendly, also you can buy anything you wish… 
When I was done with the preparetions and planning we crossed the invisible border with the canoe to Brazil, and started paddling towards Benjamin Constant. Francisco’s wife came to say goodbye to the balsa, also to use the last chance to keep Francis back from travelling to the Javari. She was basically crying. On the way we met several pack of dolphins, gray and pink ones as well, I always remember when I was still living in the uk, one day I was siting on the train going home from work reading a book about the Amazonas. Infront of me two ppl, seing my book they started to talk about their experince here, explaining that I should not expect to see pink dolphins at all, they spent two weeks looking for them but no luck, they where convinced that the dolphins are just a fairytale. Well, I see them every day several times, they are usually at the mixing areas, where two river is meeting, if the streams are differently colored, like red-black and mud-brown, than it is garantied that dolphins are around… also usually they appear during the calm periods before the storm and quite often they just come up in the middle of nowhere, maybe just to say hello to us. 
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Benjamin is rather a terrible place. Greenish-yellowish dirty liquid flowing on the streets, it stinks to the level I can not even describe it. After we arrived we did a quick round in the town, I was not happy about the place too much, bit looks like a favella, but Francis was keen to wander around. After a kilometer or so he started to feel unconfortable as well, so we turned back and visited Islandia instead, which is a neigbouring village. It is a better experience but only a bit, less dirty which is I think can only be thanked to the fact that there are no streets as the whole settlement is built on or above the water. 
We where rather tired, so wanted to have a coffe but actually nobody sells cf around and they where even laughing on our idea of having one. Other notable thing is that the only food we managed to find from here on our voyage is chicken on skewers. It is tasty, but after several days it becomes boring like hell. Also ppl are generally not too friendly, at the hotels they usualy try to charge you one more day, also by default everything costs at least 3 times more than in Colombia. 
Next day before we left the balsa some homeless looking gentleman spitted a nice big one on my leg, as a goodbye. From here paddling really become difficult as we have to go upriver and the Javari is very quick flowing. Atalaia our destination seemed unreachable sometimes, especially with Francisco’s paddling capacity. He become tired after every few move, it really started fustrating me at this point, so we switched place, I went to the back to keep an eye on him, but still was not a total success. He is a nice guy, but he forgot long time ago how to navigate along this rivers, if I listen to him we would have end up somewhere in Mexico maybe, luckily I managed to get the gps coordinates programmed to my sat, so more or less we went to the right direction. It is very apperent that logging is a serious problem in Brazil, the amount of large logs rafted and cleared areas are shocking. 
Other than this the forest becomes more and more remote, less and less villages, fishermans.. We usualy used shortcuts across the forest based on my maps, luckily the it is still flooded, so we where able to cut off large curves of the main stream. It is adventiouros, like small wormholes, you hardly notice them. We where only able to paddle a small portion compared to our plans, so now we started to understand why the locals always say, that Atalaia is far. One day we stopped at a tiny settlement along the Peruian side, people where generaly very nice, and it was way cheaper than even the cheapest hotel in Brazil. Only one room here, with two beds, and as a pet a massive spider, not a tarantula, but very simmilar plus zillions of moscitoes, even for Fran it was too much. 
I could sense, that deeper we went along the Javari locals where more and more scared from us, most of them immediately went away, if we waved to ask a question, even if they motored close to us they where very careful not to come too close. When they finaly understan that we just want information, everyone but really everyone started the sentance by mentioning that this is a dangerous teritory, and we should not be here at all. We also saw several small boats carrying tons of gazoline… Francis was convinced it is for Cocaine. 
When we finally arrived to Atalaia, it was clear that a completly different world begins there. Its a bit like an outlown town in the middle of nowhere, slightly better compared to the ones we saw so far in Brazil. Still very dirty, but a bit feels safer, and less smelly than the rest. It is absolutely normal here to see people on the street with massive wildboar teeth in their nose, some of them has a very decent facial tattoe, ear-piercings, whiskers from several small brunches. Not a surprise, it is the closest settlement to the famouos Javari indian reserve a stricktly closed forest where some estimates from 10 to 17 uncontacted tribes. One of the highest in concentration of the world. Next to the absolutely isolated ones, there are many many who is already has some contact with the outside world, but they still live according to their traditions. I tried to take a few pictures in town, but the locals went furious even from the question, and also the camera started to attract a bit more attention than what I wanted, so it stayed in the bag. I never felt really safe in any of the settlements in the Brazilian Amazonas. 
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My reason coming all the way here was to meet one of the tribes, the Matis people. They are one of the groups already in contact with the outside world since the70’s but still maintaining their original way of living. Still today, it is not easy to make contact with them as the Javari valley is a stricktly closed area to protect the different ethnic groups living there, especially the ones still not in touch with us. My only chance was to came to Atalaia, and sit tight until one of them are coming to visit the town for suply and than maybe I could organize a visit somewhere outside the reserve.
The hotel in Atalaia, the only one which was open was full with massive coacroaches, so big ones like a pig, it could have been a good dinner. 🙂 also lots of rats around, and when I hear the rats running all the roaches came to the room for shelter. Brrrrr. 
During the first night we went out for a dinner with Francis, for the usual chicken on skewers, and while sitting around the main square chewing on our sticks, I spotted an indigenous looking gentleman suggerating our food quite passionately. I invited him for a dinner, he was absolutelly surprised by the fact, and after a few minutes he went quite emotional, saying that here nobody invites an indian for food. As we started talking I realized he is exactly the guy I was looking for, Binan Tucum. How lucky I’m. But really. He is only in town for a day or two in every few month!! And I managed to bump into him on the first night! He explained that the last white people visiting them was several years ago, I think around 5-6 and it was an international documentary team (lets not name it :)) they where not allowed to enter the reserve as well (made me happy) so lots of people from the village came out to the bordering areas, and built up a large “fake” village to pretend that they live there and also they where asked not to wear any cloths. (Nice bended tv truth) I joked with him that please wear clothes while I’m here, othervise I would freak out if he would run up and down around me naked. He was laughing a lot about it. He is a nice guy, one of the leader of the Matis and as such he can have 2 wife, of wich he is very proud about, also he has 9 children. I met 4 of them, really nice fellas, always smiling, and the girls are outstandingly beautiful. 
I told him I came here especially to meet the Matis, and he agreed to show me around their forest and if I want we can go together for a hunt. I was excited to the core! When he realised I would like to take pictures as well, he wanted to charge me big-time… but with time and lots of patience finally he understood that I’m just a poor hungarian, and not a tv channel so by the end it is all good, we managed to find a deal which makes booth of us happy. What I learned that the problem here is that, when ngo-s and tv channels came they always leave here enough money to buy motorboats, and even houses in the town, generating a big need of money withouth a stable supply when the visitors leave. Also it creates big differences between the individuals in the tribe and by the end my experience is that the ones getting lots of money eventually will have a worth life as they think now money will flow, so they do not manage their large income to any level, but also their strandards will be higher from that point on, which leads to big disappointments later. It is not just here but happening everywhere around the world. I think supporting indigenous groups this way generates more problems than what it solves and we, outsiders should be more careful how to interfere with a traditional culture. There are other ways to help people, maybe on a way which is enjoyed by the whole group, and does not flipps over the othervise very fragile balance in their newly learned economy. Nice example of the problem was when I left after a few days, my friends told me from here that please call the tv channel to come back as we need more money. (As i’m white, so the channel should be my friend) also during our negotiation he mentioned that if I do not have money, he does not even want to talk to me as he only talks to white people if they have enough cash. This could sound a bit rude, but I know he is a nice guy, he just does not have any experience how to handle money and forigners. 
As other tribes could be jealous and not a great fun of photography, possibly could make some trouble we agreed that we should meet somewhere outside of the town. He told me to meet at the big yellow tree 2 hour canoing “that way” and he swinged his arm in a half circle. 🙂 also two hour for him or for me. ..
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Time arrived for Francis to go home from here as he found a job in Leticia. We where chatting long before the night he left, he was very happy about our adventure, and I also learned a lot from him about the forest and the new amazonian lifeform. Maybe he is not the most social man and not the greatest canoer, but I’m really happy we managed to share some time togother, it was a few week we booth will always remember, an adventure once your grandson will be happy to listen. Before he left we went around the shore to look for some canoes for him, as his beautiful one was stolen just before we left Narino. Canoes are way more beautiful on the Brazilian side, usually ther are made from a single wood, light and precisionally crafted. There are many from the 4 meter range, the ones I struggled to find in Colombia. Even a big 4 meter one is easy to lift to your shoulder, while mine is only a bit bigger, but I hardly manage to pill it alone on the dry. Needless to say that they are several times more expensive than the ones around Leticia. 
When the certain date arrived I started paddling with my canoe towards the direction my new Matis friends indicated. Within 3 hours and almost at the same direction he indicated I actually found a large yellow tree, so I setted up camp around and waited. Luckily it was the right tree and in a few hours they arrived, I fixed my canoe to a root, and boarded their motorized canoe. 
From here we went across big rivers, flooded forests, small wormhole like clear channels in the ever lasting dense forest. Here, you really feel the isolation… bird only fly away when you are an arm length from them, pirarucus and other big fishes coming up to the surface, monkeys are resting around the treetops. We travelled across the Javari, Itacai, Itui ant Isitu rivers, crisscrossing them across many shortcuts and small streams, flooded forest areas. Sometimes we had to pull the canoe, as the waterlevel already started to dropp. One of my best experience in life, crossing the legendary Javari basin with the Matis. Sometimes Binan pointed out directions saying that if you motor few days that way you can find the korubo people, or a 2-3 days ride to an other direction and you will find uncontacted tribes. Thrilling experience, really… you can feel in the air that hardly any people wander around here. The beauty of the jungle here can not be compared to anything or described by words. 
Once we bumped into 3 heavily armed locals unpacking big barrels of gazoline and some large bags infront of a laboratory looking small installment. Everyone get frightened, our only luck was that they where lifting a big bag just halfly out of the canoe above the river, so they could not dropp it to immediatelly shoot us, but it was close. We switched to hyper-speed with the peke-peke flying across the swamps, crashing to trees and fishermans without stopping, for hours. Altough it happened in a few secounds everyone was visibly nervous for hours. My first experience with a drog lab for real, so far I just suspected the presence of them or only saw ones which is not in use anymore. According to the locals there are hundreds of them around, some are labs, some are just a tranzit-station on the trade-route. We also carried a quite extended weaponry for some unknown reason, which later disappeared from the boat mystically. This fact does not made me too relaxed at the beginning, I even dropped a short satellite message to Susana, with the most important details of my whereabouts and the contact for my hosts is I disappear. It is a spooky feeling to go to the forest with absolutely strangers and lots of weapons.
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We stopped several times to hunt, first time to me to see their technics. Their blowpipe is massive, 4 meter, they do not use frogs for poison, but the sap of a special vine, he used a piranha teeth to do a small cut on the dart, so the tip brakes off on a hit, and stays in the prey. His poison was not soo effective, several monkey went off with 5-8 darts in their side. He admited, that the darts are not too fresh. It is already poisoned, they keep it in a bamboo tube in their neck, also containing the piranha teet, the cotton and a monkey jaw, which holds some clay, they collects at the beginning of the hunt to glue the cotton to the dart. Two ball of cotton, he prepares two darts, and ready to hunt. His hit rate is basicaly 100percent. He shooted a small bird while flying above the river. But we did not managed to hit anything edible as the monkeys went away with darts sticking out of their back like a hedgehog. ‎He was very fustrated about it. 
We made camp close to the place where they build up the fake village before. No animals whatsoever‎, no spiders, snakes, nothing, nice noises, but nothing came close. It was one of my best night in the jungle in my life, clear sky, I could see the stars next to the canopy sometimes. We where siting around the fire for a while, drinking a chocolate which they hated, as it was not sweet… any strange noise, he jumped out of the hamoc and grabbed the gun, I tought he want to hunt and some big animal coming, but next day he told me he never hunts with the gun, so I think he was looking for “visitors”. 
Next morning, we went hunting again, still no luck, same story, so we break the camp and went back to the canoe, few kilometers leter we saw lots of monkeys, hundreds of them.. so we stopped, and we went hunting again.. I hardly manage to follow them, they basically run with a 4 meter pole between trees… unreal.. my trousers were thorn to pieces by spikes and branches as running behind them. Needless to say I enjoyed being here with them a lot. He darted a monkey again, but had to use the gun to make sure we had sone food to eat, as I did not expected his son to join us, so there was not enough food. Monkey fall down, we went back, he shooted a few more birds, just to show off I think, I managed to hit a tree 😀 well at least I was aiming around that tree. 🙂 it was amaizing! They are really the masters of the forest. 
We stopped a bit further to cook, I stared to boil the water for some rice, Binan went to the forest for some fruits and I think also for some big ugly worms to make our lunch really disgusting. The monkey was a red mico like something, but not that cute luckily. His son was playing around with my fishing rod in the canoe, Binana came back very silently, and signaled me not to talk, and leave immediately… I was about to kill the fire and grab my stuff but he grabbed me… I was stepping in his footprints for silence, than we jumped to the canoe, and he started to paddle very silently but quickly… time again seemed to switch slow motion. After quite a distance he switched on the engine and went to race-mode again. My understanding was, that he saw some pople coming (which actualy I heared as well) and he suspected narcos or loggers. So we went again inbetwean trees and stuff quickly… for an hour, until we arrived back to the Itacai, and from there nicely went back to my canoe in a few hours. It was already very late, so I paddled quickly back to Alataia, and was very pleased to go back to the same hotel where the asshole wanted to screw me over with a day. Had a nice dinner of a guess what!? Chicken on the skewer. Ah, I forgot since I arrived to Banjamin my stomack is in a bad shape, same problem with Francisco. Food hygiene is a none existing word in the Brazilian side. At all. Pfffff, countryside China was better so as Uzbekistan. 
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I forgot to set my alarm, and I was damn tired so next day I overslept, wake up at 8, already too late to leave, and also my stomack was in a very bad state, so I extended my stay with one more day. Generaly all the guests in the hostel looked quite like a criminals… especially one guy. In the afternoon I went behind the building, there is a small siting area there, to have some satelite reception, I bumped into that shady guy, he pulled out a char for me to join him, he spoke english a bit. He had a bag of cocaine on the table, I guess around quoter of a kilo, but I do not know exactly, he offered me some, with a coffe-spoon 😀 I resisted, saying I do not like it, he snorted a lot while watching stupid television show. So we where siting there in this absolutely unconfortable situation… I tried to fiddle around with my sat, but was worried if it is a good idea to show that stuff at all. Later he offered me again, I resisted again, so he actually told me: “It is good one, I made it”. Strangeness of the situation does not improved greatly with his words. But he was generaly nice, although wearing a handgun of some sort. He asked me what I do here, I explained, what and where I want to go, he was laughing loud… repeating several times that I will die. 🙂 that made me happy a lot. He was saying that here one can find droglabs everywhere (I was doing my best naive look, did not wanted to mention that, hey I just saw one, it is even on my satelite tracker!)‎ and trafficers will shoot me for my canoe, I told him my canoe is older than me, he was just lifting his shoulder… he was saying as well that the Colombian part is safe, and from Brazil the Amazonas is only safe until it curves up after Tabatinga, but when it steightens it is very dangerous again. And all the rivers I mentioned as well, they are super not safe… he was saying that he would never go there alone, especialy without a gun. So he suggested to walk instead, than I will be less visible, or at least buy a gun, which according to him you can buy anywhere and everywhere here, but very expensive he said. I asked him what about Peru and the rivers there, he laughed again, saying that he can shoot me here, so I do not have to paddle all the way that long to die. By now my long term strategy of pretending more and more sleepiness has rippen so I escaped the situation rather easily, went into the room and locked the door, only went out for dinner quickly for a nice chicken skewer… pf… it is tasty but was already to much of it. The guy was nice by the end of the day, but still, it was a seriously wierd situation. 
Next day I wake up early to do a self-check if I’m still alive or not. Not slept too much. Went quickly to the balsa for my canoe and left. (they charged me the correct number of days there, what a surprise!)
On the way halfway to Zacambo on the Peruian side I heard 3-4 times a row of automatic gunshots few kilometers away, and one explosion. I even have it on video… I was recording the nice noises of the jungle, and than managed to capture that as well. 
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Later I was paddling in a lake for a shortcut, a motorboat came close, some more armed guys, by now I already used to them (not really) they asked me what I do there… I did my best naive face by explaining what I do, one of them spoke a few word of english, and told me to go home, this is not for me, and I’m not allowed to be here, so leave quickly. Obviously they loughed a lot on me. Anyway at the beginning I was thinking this ones are the guys who will either shoot me or just flipp me to the water and take my canoe, but no… by now I was spooked out enough time to have my sat in my pocket and my survival tin in my other pocket, if I have to leave the boat at least I have the basics. Time went slow moo again ‎while I was talking with them, the only think I was thinking about is that -haha bastards I have all my important stuff in my pocket, so if you push me to the water I will still find my way back-. 
After this nothing notable happened, arrived back to the Javari, from here it is already a safe zone, but generally if I asked ppl where is this or that they usually freek out, and run away, or if they are nice they all are surprised that I’m there alone, and they all say that it is not safe to be here for me as I’m too white to be out there alone.
Next to this… rather… inspite of this I still enjoyed it a lot, this was one of my best adventure I ever did in my life. When I arrived close to the Peruian village I stoped for fishing, it was amaizing next to me dolphins where fishing as well, hundreds of birds too.. I managed to catch many nice fish in half an hour, so I went like a champion to the “hotel-hostel-room” giving them the fish as a present for dinner, but their room was already occupied by some Colombian guy, so I ended up with no other option but the jungle, I asked two smaller fish back, and I paddled a few kilometers upriver to the small stream next to the vilage, for a clean area, as I did not had my machete, which was left behind when we had to rush away before, I had to clean the place with my knife, which was not plesant. I made a fire, grilled the fish on some skewers, and had a lovely fish with bread… I filtered some river water, just for the fun of it… I felt like a king of the jungle, it was increadibly awesome. No animals, just a lots of moscitoes, so I deployed all the nets I had. 
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Next day I planned to go upriver from here, and then there is a lake, and from there there is a small river to the amazonas next to Leticia, it is a shortcut I just learned, did not indicated to any level not even by googlemaps, and the secound river is a downriver paddling, so would have been a charm, but the lake was dried out… the other road is to Benjamin and form there upriver in the superstrong current in the triangle, so it would take me 4 more days, but I was lucky once more, as a fishing-canoe stopped to see that what I’m doing in the dried out muddy ex-lake… I explained the situ, and they said they actually go to Leticia in an hour after checking the nets, so they can pull the canoe there (they where really nice, Colombian fishing family with a small kid) we tried to tie the two boat together, but did not worked out too well, they still insisted to do it, but the guy had to actually force the canoes to go halfly sideways, so I told him that rather not to do it, so I will leave the canoe here with the Peruian “hotel” guy, he is nice, and I will come with their boat. This is how I arrived back to Leticia again. The Amazonas adventure more or less ended for me here, I decided to listen to the signs, there are many nice jungles around the world where there are way less guns, bandits, narcos and illegal loggers.  
I have to say I love canoeing! I felt soo free I never felt like this before, especially the last days, whatever way I will go from here, in one way or another it will have to be on the canoe again!
I lost at least 3-5 kilos thanks to the food problems and the month of paddling and walking my shoulders are doubled, hope it is not just inflammation. 🙂
This was again times I will always remember, altough I did not managed to paddle all the way I wanted, but I spent a decent time out there alone, eating what I catch, crossing one of the best and last unexplored part of the big mighty Amazonas jungle. I paddled and walked days on end, all my cloths in pieces, half of my stuff left in the forest, sometimes I was hungry, sometimes sick or frightened, but I would not change any minute of this by any mean… it was a real adventure.. Hell of an experience. 
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