Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Trinidad, Bolivia and boat trip on Rio Mamore

[A brief reminder that my book, An Occasional Walker, is available at this link.] 

This is going to take all day to finish, so meantime, here is an update on the first version. Much more to come later today. Here's some music to accompany the photos.

I landed in Trinidad, Bolivia after much time and worry, the whole idea of going to the east coming late in my travels in Bolivia. For no good reason I hadn't even thought of going to the Amazon till I found myself thinking it was time to move back to Peru. But a chance look at a map showed me I had missed something that I might like, and looking into the east I read a bit about Trinidad, according to a Lonely Planet guide, the only thing worse about the city's open sewers and stench would be the ten foot long anacondas swimming in the mire. I had never seen such a thing, and thus I determined not to leave Bolivia till I had gone to Trinidad to experience this for myself.

I know enough not to trust Lonely Planet. Yes, their mistakes are far smarter and better informed than mine, but mistakes they are. So, rather than rely on experts with experience I took the hardest possible route from La Paz to-- Coroico, a lovely village in the mountains to the east. There I stayed for a week or so, coming to love the place and the folks I met and would have befriended had I been there long enough to establish myself as a real person rather than as some transient just passing through and not therefore worth knowing.

At Coroico I met the town hustler who sold me a bill of bus goods for an outrageous price I couldn't better anywhere else to my knowledge at the time. My bus took me to a dirt patch, San Borge, halfway to Trinidad, and there I hopped into a minivan for the next and difficult leg of the Trinidad trip.

Landing in Trinidad I got what appeared to be a very expensive hotel room for a few nights, though expensive is relative, Bolivia being dirt cheap compared to the other areas I have been in Peru and Paraguay. From the luxury of my hotel with hot water and wifi I moved to the cheaper place close to the coffee place I sat at to write the prose account of this journey. Below is a shot of one of Trinidad's numerous bridges. The land is a low flood plain in the Amazon,

and thus there are rivers and swamps and, yes, storm trenches that probably fill with sewage and snakes in the rainy season.

It's not the end of the world. Were I a different man I think Trinidad would be one of my top five destinations to live and work in Bolivia.Look at how they treat birthdays, as one example of how cool is life in Trinidad!

It might not be the prettiest city I've seen, but it has its charms.

One of the city's great attractions is, for me, not just the fine dining available to discerning gourmets but the fine art that adorns public spaces. I have an eye for this kind of thing, trust me.

One eats, and in time one is eaten. The bugs in the Amazon hold their own. Sentimentality is fine, maybe, but when one sees the reality of the law of the jungle, eat or be eaten, eating is the better option.


Trinidad has it's rainy season, making boat travel essential. Sometimes, though, one sits and gazes at the world.


Life in Trinidad was made somewhat easier with the company of Ward, "The Other Tourist" as I write of him in the prose version of this account. Thanks to his efforts I got a boat ride on the Marome.

On the outskirts of Trinidad is the Almacen area where boats dock and load for the trip up the Rio Mamore. Here's main street, makeshift power poles giving an indication of the ingenuity of people making do with the available.

Exploring Almacen allowed me some insight into the interests and values of the locals and to contrast that to the interests and values of those I'm more familiar with, i.e. the Freak Show of Modernity. Here we see the interest rural people have in tits. I find this a striking contrast to the Modern.

I didn't actually get a Royal Norwegian cruise on the boat I took up the Rio Mamore, but a river boat trip is still better than walking. We checked in with the river customs office, leaving copies of our passports at a place with a very pretty logo. It's the small details that give me comfort that should I disappear in some such place they will make every effort to locate my self and inform my friends who will thus inform this blog's readers of my demise.

Some of the lead up the the actual boat trip looked pleasant. This is one of the boats I wasn't on.


I don't know that it would have been nicer in fact than the liner I was on.  I was on this one instead.

The boat I was on looked more like this.

That's because this is the boat I was on. That might look like fun but it was less than so for me due to my leg being less than working. I had to crawl and howl. But I did so without complaining. That's part of what made the trip worth the while.

I didn't have a suite of my own but I had a view of the crew's quarters that made me glad I had at least some space for myself.


 This is my place on the lower deck. I had many comforts of home, including this lovely mosquito net to cover my hammock and keep me from many of the bites I would have had from the mosquito clouds in the night when we pulled into the jungle overhang on shore.

I had some space outside my hammock, too. This is what I might call the "wardrobe area."

Space on a cargo boat is at a premium, and thus one finds the laundry vying with the crew's dinner. We mere passengers lived on rice and pasta boiled in river water if we weren't prepared in advance by bringing our own food.

My neighbour and her son, the ones who slept on the sacks of onions next to me, were less than prepared. The boy, for example, seemed to be lacking a hat and pair of glasses till he found mine.


I got him a ball at a later stop. He gave up the hat without much of a struggle. 


It's likely impossible to see the tucan in the tree, but being aboard the boat allowed for such things as birds abundant, pink dolphins, caymans, piranhas, and Uruguayan anarchists fighting with the captain, the latter knocking one down the decks, others fleeing the boat and demanding their money back. In short, colourful at times.


I'm not one who knows about birds, though I enjoy the sight of them very much. Thus, from other travels in the tropics I recognised the bird nests hanging from the ends of branches. I suspect this keeps predators from the nests and eggs. It could be aesthetic, but only if there is a god looking over the world. I ettle for beauty.

We stopped to load and unload cargo at various places, giving the passengers a chance to buy water and food and to dance with the locals.

And there was entertainment that one might not find on a more standard tourist cruise, juggling all important things like beer drinking and pot smoking with getting oranges and bottled water to last till the next stop along the river.

At the tienda next to the one by the Naval Patrol building, the tienda that has a sign saying they sell cocaina, there was this gem of tropical philosopy.

One juggles as well as one can, and one must then hope. 

 We ate on the boat, true, but sometimes the kitchen was less than Club Med.


So at times it was a pleasure to sit on the outer deck and enjoy the view.

Sometimes small things went awry, like the canoe slipping away when somehow a line got loose. Luckily, one of the passengers and a crew member got it back, rowing heartily to bring it in.

Much seems to depend on who is in control of the small things that happen. One simply takes charge when the need arises. Thus, the world we live in runs pretty well, sort of. It's those steering the ship of state, I mean....


At various stops on the way we got off the boat and wandered around little settlements where we chatted up the locals and let them take advantage of us in small ways. Cyril made friends easily.

Others made money easily, or tried to. At one stop we split up, the anarchist hippies going off in one direction, the rest of us to buy food and coffee and such. The hippies showed their resourcefulness as well as their keen appreciation of nature by returning with armloads of cayman skulls for sale at $10.00 U.S. each.

Yes, they despise money but this is a money world, and they have to live with the corruption till they can overthrow the whole system and live ever after free and easy. Till then, it's cash only for skulls and croc tooth jewelry.

The locals are less Romantic about cayman competitors for the local fish catch. No tooth-on-a-string talisman, but butt-on-a-chair practicality.

One thing I like about anarchist hippies is how helpful they are and how free they are with good advice. One hippie told me not to bang my head on this bee hive. Why, I said: "Thank you for that good advice, Mr. Uruguayan anarchist hippie."

It was a bit of a challenge living so close to the hippies, we not being so much alike as bees in a hive. Still, I am just so thankful for his deep concern for my well-being and sh--tuff.

I´m not able at this time to use my laptop, so I can´t do more than add to what I have already here. In time I should have my computer ready to go and will make this more coherent and pleasing, I hope. For now my ad hoc efforts.

Here is another shot of the same boat. I have come to understand recently, now that I am in Peru again, that not all river boat trips are as primitive and dangerous as mine. A Belgian in Lima tells tales of relative luxury on the Amazon, which I hope to get to soonish. This is what I faced in Bolivia on the Rio Mamore.

This shot shows the youngest crew member on our boat trip, the something years old daughter of the captain. The girl had a cold and was crying, so her mother beat her.

Here is a shot of the older daughter of our captain, a pretty decent fellow in my opinion. The girl is nine years old, but because the Chilean girl is very popular and eight, this girl had the presence of mind and feminine sense to lie and say she too is eight.

Mrs. Captain treated me well, as did everyone on board. I have no complaints about anyone at all. However, not everything was rosy with those who were nice to me. Mrs. Captain, for example, got into Big Girls Mash-up on the upper deck one afternoon when they had to decide just which babe the captain had the most serious hots for, Mrs. Captain or the equally formidible Mrs. Other. suffice it to say that after some really wild duking it out, Mrs. Captain spend the rest of the trip strutting.The captain had the good sense to spit and say to both of them as he jumped ship for the riverbank, "This is women's nonsense. Leave me out of it!"

This idyllic scene comes from Puerto Almacen, our departure point. It bears no comparison to the rest of our trip.

I went for a walk when we arrived by car at Puerto Almacen on our first day to wait for our boat to load and set off. This is where I sat and watched stuff in the water kill other stuff and eat it. Very pretty.

More as soon as I can get my laptop hooked up to a land line.

Got it!

More photos of Trinidad, Bolivia, from where the trip begins, here:

Even more later.