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    • 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.

    • As the Señora busied herself with our breakfast, the boy got braver and braver. At first, he hid in the kitchen; we smiled and waved at him, and he began inching forward. He had a small toy dinosaur in his hands and looked about five years old.

      Little by little, the boy got closer. He made his dinosaur "walk" on the wall, approaching us slowly. He was curious.

      Eventually, the Señora sat down to talk, and boy's dinosaur ended up in my plate. Despite numerous warnings from his mother ("the gringos will take you away on their motorcycles if you don't take your filthy toys off the table!"), the boy now felt comfortable around us and kept bringing his toys on the table: a water gun; another dinosaur; a toy sports car.

    • Sitting down for a moment, Señora chatted about life. Just like everyone else in Balsas, she and her husband grew limes. They had a lime tree orchard, and they would get a little over $10 for a fourty-kilo bag of limes. Once a month, trucks came from Celendin and Cajamarca. They bought all the limes in Balsas. Señora and her family also had some tomatoes, chickens, and potatoes.

      "Life is good here, in Peru", - Señora said. "On the TV, we see so many Venezuelans fleeing to Peru. Why do they all go to Lima? There are no jobs there, and so much crime. Once on the TV, we saw that young Venezuelan girls have to sell their bodies to survive. Is that a life! It's a tragedy, I tell you, an atrocity. They should come here, to Balsas. We would welcome them. They could grow limes, too", - Señora smiled.

      The little boy was now bouncing around our table on a blow-up duck.

    • "How old is the boy, Señora?", - I asked.

      "Three and a half, this one", - she said.

      The boy was very big and intelligent for his age; we thought he was at least five. He had the longest, thickest eyelashes I have ever seen. I asked him whether his toy dinosaurs had names. The boy shook his head.

      "Are there any other kids for him to play with here, Señora?".

      "Yes, but he doesn't really go outside much. He doesn't go near the River", - she said, quietly.

      "I had four sons. Two are teenagers now, they're in school. The little one is with me".

      "And my other boy is gone...He went missing. We looked for him for days. Finally, they found him, six days later... It was the Marañón. The River took him... He's over there now," - Senora pointed at a small shrine near the washing sink. In it was a big photograph of a boy, about ten or eleven years old, and above him, a painting of Jesus looking over. The shrine was decorated with plastic flowers.

      "And look, here", - Señora carefully unwrapped a red cloth which held a pound sterling coin. "A traveler left this for me once. Where is it from? Is it lucky?" - lovingly, she wrapped the coin again and placed it on the top of the shrine.

      Thanking the Señora and her family for their hospitality, we packed up our bikes. The little boy ran around giggling. His father came up to us to ask for a photo with the bikes. Paul lifted the little boy up on his tank bag. He sat very still before his father put him down.

      Thanking the family again, we said our goodbyes. Red earth clung to our tires and boots.

      As we weaved our way back towards the road on the narrow dirt track, on our left, the muddy waters of Rio Marañón snarled and foamed over the rapids.

      It was the start of the rainy season.

      Photo by Isaac Caffeina on Unsplash

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