0:12.9S 78 Beyond the black stump

Wed 20 Apr 2016 13:16
Stalin drove us to Quito airport from the hotel down the steep and bendy Ave de Conquistadors,  the entry route of the invaders over 400 years ago. A few minutes onto the 3 year old motorway and beyond us, in the far distance rose the beautiful snow-capped Cotopaxi, (coto-neck and paxi-moon) because at the solstice the moon sits on it like a head. It is the highest active volcano in the world when measured to the centre of the earth.

Thirty five minutes after take off we landed at Coca airport 100 miles east of Quito and much lower down. The air was humid once more as we waited at the Quay to board he 16 metres twin outboard engined canoe with Pedro at the helm.

Coca was a sleepy little Amazonian port back in the 70s then oil was discovered and in the 80s the population rose to 50,000. Oil prices fell in the 90s and again recently as we know so many people have already left.

The hotel at the quay is fine with swimming pools etc but it is permanently empty.

We sped along at what seemed a fast rate until one of the enclosed oil personnel launches overtook us rapidly on its way to the field. Raoul our guide told us that out of the three exploiters of the jungle, mining, lumber extraction and oil the latter is the least intrusive as the oil is passed by pipelines that have been sunk below ground and soon covered by undergrowth.

The water is pale brown with mud and full with tree trunks and sand banks. Pedro snaked us towards the Manatee and occasionally we would stop so he could clear the propellors of weed and branches.

The banks of this Amazon tributary, the Napo River, are thick jungle from the shorter growth rising to bamboo, palm and balsa to name but a few and behind, standing shoulders above the rest the lofty fig trees and very occasionally, a kapok tree, the tallest of all, with a vast perfectly domed canopy spreading from its thick trunk, like the tribal wise man of the trees. Useful for stuffing life jackets in the past.

The Napo basin extends into Peru and is one of the greatest bio diverse areas in the world.

Finally, hair fixed horizontally after the speedy ride, we rounded a bend for our first glimpse of the Manatee, a 35 metre river boat who along with her bigger sister, the Anaconda are the only live aboard Ecuadorian river boats. 

She can take 30 explorers but we were just five, Marcel and Andrea left their two young children at home in Guayaquil and Norma is from Mexico and speaks perfect English after being an au pair for a Cambridge Don years ago.

As soon as we boarded our short term home our captain eased her from the muddy bank she was glued to and we set off east while Juan Carlos the black bearded ship manager talked with us about routines and arrangements.

All the meals we had on board included fish, fruit and vegetables from the homes of the Kichwa natives who live and farm on their ancestral, riverside land. Some of the crew, husbands and their wives ran the kitchen, boatwork and housekeeping on board.

In the fading light we approached the bank once more as it is not safe to travel at night with all the obstructions in the water. A crew member ran along a fallen  tree and attached the bow line around a black stump for the night.