River Marañón, starting in the snow-capped Andes of Peru, is the main source of the Amazon. Marañón is spectacular: it pushes its vast waters through deep canyons, carving up Andean valleys as it makes its way East to meet river Utcayali and give birth to the Amazon river in Brasil.
It's also terrifying. When it floods, Marañón gets out of control, its rapids becoming violently turbulent, its banks flooding and destroying everything in its path.
Some of the canyons and gorges of rio Marañón are so massive it's been compared to the Grand Canyon. The nature surrounding Marañón is out of this world, and travelers are now attempting to explore the whole length of the river by boats.
Somewhere along the river there is a small pueblo called Balsas. It's so tiny it's barely visible on the map. It's hot and sticky in Balsas; women sell fresh coconuts, mangos and bananas, and kids run around half-naked, chasing lizards. Derelict streets line a small plaza where dust-covered trucks stop for a cold coconut water and gossip.
Just a few kilometers out of the village, there is a narrow dirt track leading to a settlement on the riverbank. Right off of rio Marañón, there are a few clay-brick houses, makeshift huts, and a larger compound called the Rancho - a small clay-walled homestay.
Last night, having ridden over the mountain pass from Chachapoyas, we stayed at the Rancho. It's a simple place. The room was completely bare except for two beds and a wooden chair. There were mosquito nets on the door shutters - this is dengue fever region - but no glass in the windows. The yard was graded clay dirt, and all the washing was done outside.
The Señora made us some rice and pork for dinner, asked us to switch the outside light off for the night, and retired. Perhaps she was tired that night. We were, too. We fell asleep listening to the mighty Marañón whispering into the night.
In the morning, I was woken up by a giggle. As I headed for the sink, I saw a small boy hiding in the kitchen. The boy kept peering at me and laughing.