25 February 2010

From Nieva to Sarameriza via the Pongo

20/2. Saturday. Walking in the early morning over the plaza of Nieva, a man came to us asking whether we could give him a lift to Sarameriza. We directly agreed. He then brought us to his Café and ordered his wife to bring us coffee. It was Washurú Merino Trigoso Pinedo, an Awajun indian, born in Nieva, who hed attended the three-day meeting and had to start working again in Sarameriza. 

In Washurú's coffee shop with Eduardo and Frans.

After breakfast (where we met Max Druschke, whom I gave the booklet of San Francisco Station in Ecuador, which he would send to my home) we embarked on a "deslisador", a rapid boat suitable to traverse thje Pongo. Warashurú brought Maria, who also had to work in Sarameriza. So, together with the silent "motorista", we were 7 persons. We first had to go to the village Juan Velasquez, to fetch our last belongings from Eduardo's car. 

Eduardo Tapia taking pictures in the "deslizador", the boat in which we are going through the Pongo.

Then the great moment has come, we head for the Pongo! The guiding is now taken over from Eduardo by Washurú. He tells us many stories about the Pongo. According to him, the solitory wave had not occurred anymore in the past 15 years, probably because the waterlevel had been too low. Also, in 2002, a large stone called the "piedra Charapa" had fallen into the entrance of the Pongo, perhaps due to an earthquake. The huge stone had later broken as it was moved further by the water.
Nearing the entrance of the Pongo!

When we entered the Pongo we remarked the whirls of water occurring everywhere and moving our boat sideways. Maria was terrified. Because of all the whirls it seems hardly possible to estimate the flow rate of the brown water. But when leaving the Pongo again, we were amazed by the broad, streaming river in front of us: did all that water go through the 50 m-wide Pongo? (La Condamine measured the flow to be about 13 km/h).

Through the whirls of brown water .....

After having passed the Charapa-stone, Washurú commanded the motorista to stop: we climbed back over the slippery stones to the Charapa, where some years ago the best motorista ever had drowned. Washurú explained that you should always take the boat through the middle of a whirl and nót along its side....A scary idea.
The walls of the Pongo were high and impressive. They were covered by trees so you could not see the rocks anymore,as depicted in the etch of La Condamine.  Somewhere in the rocks there was also a tunnel which had been studied by Japoneese scientists.

Washurú at the Piedra Charapa looking back at the entrance of the Pongo.

With Washurú at the Charapa stone.

Somewhere there high up in the rocks is a tunnel; nobody knows why....

It started to rain with huge drops and we climbed back to the boat. After a short ride during we which we saw the Cerro Campanquiz rapidly disappear, we arrived around noon in Borja. Here we found the measure of the water depth: 16 pieds. When La Condamine came to the Pongo it had a depth of  25 pieds! But the water level was rapidly decreasing causing almost a disaster to his "radeau". La Condamine writes: "Mes yeux, accoutumés depuis sept ans a voir des montagnes se perdre dans les nues, ne pouvaient se lasser de faire le tour de l'horizon, sans autre obstacle que les seules collines de Pongo qui allaient bientôt disparaitre a ma vue."

Measure of the water depth in Borja: 16 pieds.

Eating Sapote-fruits in Borja.

Washurú seemed to know everybody in the village. He let us buy a large fish, a Manitoa, and ordered it to be fried for lunch by the wife of another motorista, Primitivo Alvan. While waiting, we drank beer with the Alcalde, Domingo, using one glass and filling it and toasting according to local rules. The Alcalde offered us Sapote fruits that were opened by Washurú; they were delicious, mango-like. After eating the fried fish, rice and patatas (bananas) cooked in the Peruvian way we had to wait for the motorista, who had been visiting his girlfriend. We left around 2 p.m. for Sarameriza, where we had to say farewell to Eduardo and Frans. But not before they had made another interview with Washurú, Hilbert and me.

After the interview on the plaza of Sarameriza.

Washurú had organized a good room for us in the only hotel in town. After taking a shower we had dinner with him. He tells us how the indigenes are being discriminated, not only socially, but also politically. In politics the greatest problem is lack of money. Nevertheless, he hopes to make a fair chance for becoming alcalde of Nieva during the coming election in October.

From Imacita to Santa Maria de Nieva

19/2. Friday.. We leave poor and muddy Imacita at 8:30 h after having been told that it is 3.5 h driving to Nieva. Along the road we see very poor villages and houses, some military camps looking clean and installations of Petro-Peru. Sometimes a village looks véry clean and the people wave kindly at us: these appear to be 7th-Day Adventists. But there are also Evangelical pueblo's of mestizo's.

View from our hotel on the plaza of Imacita, a poor and muddy place.

After 1.5 h driving we hear at Wawico that Nieva is still 5 h driving!
We have lunch on the road, it is very warm, but shade is difficult to find with the sun right above us. We continue our road at 15 km/h. We are at about 400 m and descending slowly while the mountains disappear. After a while there are mountains again far away in the North-East: the Cerro Campanquiz, where the Marañon breaks through forming the Pongo de Manseriche?

Left: very poor villages along the road; here perhaps a school? Right: stop at Wawico where they offer us Nona-fruits. We hear that Nieva is still a 5-h drive....

Left Puenta Nueva, after a 4 h drive and 75 km from Imacita. Right: lunch without shade.

The worst road so far. Eduardo is doing a fantastic job!!

At 3:15 p.m. we arrive at the Rio Nieva in Juan Velasquez. We have been driving over the worst road ever and feel quite tired. We meet a taxi driver who recognized us since he had passed us. He drives in 8 h from Bagua, where he lives, to Nieva, where he sleeps in his car and then back again every two days! He points us at his tires: in the back he has special, thin tires without profile, in front normal tires for traction.  That is the secret of the (few) fast Toyota cars that have been passing us: the tires! He wondered how Eduardo had made it on his broad, heavy tires of the Jeep....
We now have to leave the car, take our luggage and cross the river by boat to Santa Maria de Nieva. We are helped by Don Ricardo Montenegro; he is 70 years (!) and kindly takes up my bag. Once in Nieva there appears no hotel room available because of a three-day meeting of the Awajun communities. Eduardo walks to our contact Ramón Levi, the brother of Elsa whom we met in Jaen. The bresult is that we can have two rooms in Hosteria Florelita right on the border of the Marañon. Here, we have a warm, humid night on hard beds with rats running around on the iron roof. But the sound of the rain on the roof and the fatigue make us sleep.....Two irregular stairs down are the baños, still high above the river; there is no light, but there is water.....

24 February 2010

From Zumba to Jaen to Imacita

From Zumba to Jaen
17/2. Wednesday. In rainy weather Eduardo drives us out of Zumba. The road out is difficult to find: "Un preguntita, amigo, donde es ..". The Ecuadorians often use diminutives (like in dutch: "een vraagje en groetjes"). After 1.5 h we reach the bridge over the Rio Canches, the border. It takes more than an hour at the emigration office. I hear my first "Grietjebie", the flycatcher, so common in Surinam! 

Coming down to the border Rio Canches.  Border between Ecuador and Peru: La Balsa.

Around 2 p.m. we have reached San Ignatio, where we have lunch. The GPS gives position: S 5° 8' 46'' and W 79° 0' 18'' and an altitude of 1295 m.
We drive on an average height of some 1000 m. Everywhere on the mountain tops we can see "huertas", small gardens, and houses. Why cultivating on these steep slopes? Is it a heritage from the Inca's?

The Rio Chinchipe; according to La Condamine "plus large que la Seine a Paris".

And then, after 2 more hours through the mountains, we see a broad Rio Chinchipe, used by La Condamine. When looking months ago with Google Earth at this region I wondered how we would ever get through these mountains. But Eduardo drove us over the small road that once has to become "Eje Vial #4", connecting the Pacific coast to the Amazon. After 3 p.m. we reached Parico where the road became paved: what an incredible luxury! There also, we passed the third security post, "excombatientes" of the Cenepa-war against Ecuador(1995). They gave an uneasy feeling, just as described by Carlos Correa in his "Bitacora". Let us hope that they frighten the robbers more than us. Eduardo gave them ~5 Soles for their service. At 6 p.m. we find a good Hotel in Jaen.

In Peru, more than in the south of Ecuador, the villages looked
poor and many houses were buil with adobe blocks.

From Jaen to Imacita
18/2. Thursday. Jaen is a busy city full with "tricimotos" or "mototaxis", the typical Peruan tricycles that seem to transport people very efficiently over the most difficult and muddy roads.
When I paid the hotel bill to the lovely secretary, Mileybi, she had the disturbing news that there was no real road to Nieva. While Frans took her to the central plaza to shoot a "Peruan welcome interview", I asked another nice lady, the owner of the hotel, about getting to Santa Maria de nieva. She said that there was certainly a road and pointed to one of the guesta who knew the region. He gave useful information to Eduardo, while Hilbert and I met another guest, Elsa Aldaz, who had a brother Ramón living in Nieva. She wrote a letter asking him to help us. Many pictures were taken and there was a cordial farewell. One hour later than planned we left the hotel with a warm feeling for these helpful people and with more confidence in the road ahead.

Left Elsa Aldaz, giving useful information about Nieva where her brother lives. He would help us later with finding a "hostel" in Nieva. Right: Frans Mileybi and Hilbert at the Hotel desk in Jaen.

When we left Jaen we saw a group of young bicyclist escorting a couple (European?) on fancy bikes carrying camping equipment. These were the first (and last?) tourists we saw. We wished them "buon viaje" from our comfortable car.
It was a short drive to Bague Grande, still over a paved road. We passed a large bridge over the ..... Marañon river! This could have been the bridge where local indigenes fought last year with the Peruan police, resulting in some 80 mortalities. We pass again a post of the "Seguridad".
We passed several control posts of "excombatientes" of the Cenepa-war against Peru.
According to Hilbert, who was in the army, the bullets of such a rifle penetrate easily a car!

 At the tourist office the people were again very helpful and interested in our trip, but they did not know much about the Nieva region. They gave us a useful map for the first part of this day's journey. At a gas station we tanked extra gasolina; they washed the car and appeared to highly appreciate the little compasses on a keychain we gave them. They tell us that it is a 12 hour drive to Nieva! It is already 12:30, so we won't reach Nieva today.
Following the brown Marañon river on the east side north we drove through a green landscape of rice and cornfields. But soon the land became rough, dry and rocky. At 1:30 p.m. we reached the beautiful Pongo de Rentema, mentioned by La Condamine, who probably travelled on the west side with great difficulties having several accidents, and crossing many times the Rio Chuchunga (Tsuntsuntsa?). Then, half an hour later, everything is green again. We pass very poor villages in between beautiful bambu bushes, resembling Java.....

The Pongo de Rentema shortly after the confluence of the Rio Chinchipe, the Rio Marañon and the Rio Utcubamba;
the latter is called Rio Chachapoyas by La Condamine.

At 3 o'clock we come to a road bloch at pueblo Montenegro: we have to wait until 6 p.m. because of road constructions. We walk down to the border of the Marañon, where Eduardo inteviews us for the camera of Frans. Here I become bitten by sand fleas which I have to regret within hours...Some young indigenes watch us and Eduardo interviews them too. They seem very happy with our compasses. Position Montenegro: S 5° 18' 12'' , W 78° 25' 44'' and altitude 344 m.

Left:  Here at Montenegro, where we had to wait during 3 hours, we descend for the first time to the Marañon river.
Right: Indian boys that had worked here wait for a boat to bring them to their village downstream. Later, Eduardo would interview them also. 

After the blockade is lifted a long line of cars races over the unpaved road as if in a ralley. But soon we are passed by the white Toyota's with their narrow tires: they seem to fly over all the wholes and muddy ditches.

After the blckade was lifted at Montenegro we raced over the road under construction. Everywhere people were still working. The Jeep Montero 4x4 of Eduardo was no match for the Toyota's. the following day at Nieva we would learn why!

After crossing the Chiriaco river it was already dark when a man asks us to drag his broken car: "only 20 min to the next village, Nazareth", the place where La Condamine embarked on the Marañon. It took poor Eduardo more than an hour to deliver the car in the pouring rain. The 20 min applied to a Toyota in full swing, he explained later. Nazareth appeared to be a "Communidad" of the Awajun indians. The houses with typical roofs of palmtrees occur dispersed over a large area. In a tropical rainstorm we finally found hotel Cyndia in muddy Imacita.

Eduardo asks: "Amigo, are we in Nazareth?"

La Condasmine had good reasons for correcting the many mistakes in the map of Samuel Frits. We use three modern maps and the above tourist map obtained in Bagus Grande. It is remarkable how the maps can differ in names and locations! It makes it very difficult to reconstruct the route taken by La Condamine.