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Rusty Shuping: Amazon alive

Laurie always says, “Check in early.” Tim made the flight from Lima to Iquitos but Richard and I missed it. Thankfully we caught the next days and our team of Americans and Peruvians all connect in a huge city that has no roads in or out. This was going to be an interesting adventure with slightly flawed planning but we were only traveling up the Amazon. Anibal, our interpreter’s English was supposed to be about ninety percent, according to Shunkis, the fellow who initiated the Missions work. A day into it and “plans” were shifting to the point that a highly regimented person could be on the edge of losing it. Me, I was so into the newness and excitement processing everything was enough to keep me from getting antsy.

Iquitos sat on the edge of the Marañón, the mainstream source of the Amazon. Huge, three miles wide, it was as much alive as any place on the planet. Outfitted with supplies, all was loaded onto the Eduardo, a steel boat, sixty five feet long with low draft and able to pull right up to the river bank without a dock. We were a privileged few to have the top deck. Hammocks were slung and we were in an Amazonian paradise. All of the senses were, using a cliché, put into overdrive. Warp 5 would be more realistic. The big boat was not very fast but we were comfortable and felt safe. Night came and it was time to relax. We sat on short wooden stools talking. Me with my broken Spanish and George with his English that was just as bad. It was more the communication that doesn’t require words than anything. I intently studied George’s face to grasp what I could and BAM, as in slow motion, we both flew off our seats and skidded across the blue painted steel floor. It felt like the big boat had stopped dead in the water. I grabbed my flash light and ran to the side to have a look. We were still moving to my surprise. Someone spoke up saying, “We skimmed across a sand bar. It happens all of the time.”

Richard blurted, “Doesn’t this boat have a depth finder?”

I reply, “Sure, there it is,” pointing to a round chunk of steel with a line hanging on the guard railing. He gives me one of those looks. I fight to keep my laughter hidden.

The following night the big boat eases up to the river bank. The Anger III, a forty foot wooden craft is waiting. The supplies are transferred to our new ride. I was impressed how they manhandled the 55 gallon barrel of fuel from one to another not losing it into the river. A second engine was mounted. Now the wood boat has twice the power, a Peki Peki with a straight shaft on a 10 hp Briggs and Stratten and a 15 hp Evinrude, enough to push us farther up the river at the intense speed of four mph.

The wooden boat was pretty neat. It was long and narrow, built strong and could carry more than a ton of equipment but no room for lifejackets. Our Urarina Indian friend is at the stern manning the two odd couple outboard engines while one Peruvian team member steers from the front. Anibal is on top of the tin covered pilot house cooking rice over a five gallon bucket while the sparks from the wood fire drift over the thatch covered roof behind. Things settled down to normal and we’re into the second leg of the river cruise.

Rusty and his wife Laurie live in Rowan County. They are in the travel business.

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