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First and foremost, I would like to say a big thank you to everyone who has donated via Paypal or to the Fundrazr campaign to keep the expedition going. I realise I probably couldn’t have chosen a worse time to beg for money, post-Christmas and in the grip of a global pandemic! The amount I have received will enable me to continue my journey (lockdown permitting) and pay the expenses of a guide which will make the 4-5 week traverse to Atalaya safer. The Fundrazr page is still open for donations, and please remember to share it if you can, at any reasonable opportunity.
Apologies for lack photos, hopefully my next blog from Atalaya will make up for that.
Incredibly, nine weeks have passed since i arrived in Pucallpa. During that time, while surviving on a budget of 25 soles – about £5 per day – I’ve blogged, planned the tricky route ahead, found a guide, held meetings with indigenous leaders and the Peruvian navy, received two very much needed new inflatable boats from Canada thanks to Piotr Chmielinski, managed to retrieve all my spare gear that had been gathering dust stored downriver in Requena for the last 11 months, started a crowdfunding campaign, and walked the first 70km of the next leg along sun-scorched dusty roads. Unfortunately the latter was then interrupted by another lockdown.
Asháninka and Shipibo
I was very kindly given documents of permission from Berlin (Jiribata), President of the Asháninka, to pass all pueblos ahead, and had the pleasure of meeting his family, who after dealing with the Covid pandemic (see video below) are now understandably concerned about the proposed Chinese-funded “Hidrovía Amazónica” which they fear will cause many problems for the Asháninka and over 400 other native and mestizo settlements along the proposed river route of the project. They fear it would disrupt their lives, kill many fish (their main food source), contaminate their fresh water, and interfere with the natural flow of the rivers, potentially also releasing huge amounts of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere.
Berlin Diques Ríos, president of the ORAU, explained that they decided to file a lawsuit against the project due to the serious impacts that it could have on indigenous territories.
“We have filed this lawsuit because “we believe that this project will have great impacts on the way of life and the ecosystem of indigenous communities,” he said.
Like the Shipibo-Conibo the Asháninka have been battling against outside intervention ever since the Spanish conquistadores invaded their land five centuries ago. The Hidrovía Amazónica is just the latest issue they are having to deal with.
“During the rubber boom (1839–1913), the Asháninka were enslaved by rubber tappers and an estimated 70% of the Asháninka population were killed. For over a century, there has been encroachment onto Asháninka land from rubber tappers, loggers, Maoist guerrillas, drug traffickers, colonisers, and oil companies.” (Source: Wikipedia.)
I also met with Jeiser Mayans the brother of Shipibo-conibo President, to get updated documents allowing me to pass all the pueblos between here and Atalaya 300km upriver.
I had already met Jeiser (Shipibo), his brother Ronald Maynas and their extended family, on a previous logistics visit to Pucallpa, and filmed a family funeral, where his mother sang at the service. I was deeply saddened to hear recently that she herself was a victim of Covid.
“Many Shipibo have lost loved ones from Covid19. The Shipibo-Conibo community has been hit very hard by this pandemic. I miss my mother immensely” said Jeiser.
Pucallpa feels very different since my first visit before the Covid outbreak 18 months ago. Many people here are struggling with the knock-on effects of the pandemic. There are no tourists here, no social events, no fiestas. Before, many people would gather every night in the main plazas, socialising.
Currently, here in the district of Ucayali, there are some limited lockdown restrictions; but in Lima, Cusco and most other areas in Peru, including the area ahead we need to cross, they are now on maximum alert and lockdown. As you can imagine, with the impact of Covid and the economic fallout in Peru, begging on the streets has become more obvious, and many people are without employment. The government of Peru has been helping the poorest people with money, and they queue outside the banks for days on end to claim financial assistance under the supervision of armed police and marine military guards.
A few days ago I received a call from Pizarro, my previous Kapanowa guide, who walked to Pucallpa with me. It was the first time we had talked since he returned home, and he wanted to inform me that people in his village were gathered around a TV watching a news channel that was showing an all-day live broadcast, tracking a plane flying to Peru from Europe with the first batch of Covid vaccines. ”Pedro, la vacuna esta llegando en Peru!” – ‘the vaccine is arriving in Peru’ – Pizarro said in an excited voice. “Si – alas de esperanza” (yes – the wings of hope) I said, after remembering the inscription on a memorial to Lansa Flight 508 I had walked past a few weeks earlier. Read about and the incredible survival story behind the memorial here.
I think hope is the appropriate word to express how most people here are dealing with the situation – and probably how most people in Peru and across the planet feel – hope that the vaccine will work, hope that the pandemic will pass, hope for the future, hope for an economic recovery. For me as well, I have hope – hope that I can complete this journey, hope that the world is waking up to the reality of climate change and the urgency of changing to renewable energy, and hope that humanity can stop and reverse the catastrophic biodiversity loss.
“We have always held to the hope, the belief, the conviction that there is a better life, a better world, beyond the horizon.” – Franklin D. Roosevelt
I had waited for my new guide and walking companion Gadiel (Cho) to complete a contract of work, and then while his new son was born a few weeks ago. We were eager to start walking, but then, out of the blue, I became sick with a fever. This lasted over a week, and I initially thought it was Dengue, ruling out Covid as I had no respiratory issues, no cough, no other symptoms. It may well have been Dengue, or an intestinal infection due to drinking unclean water, but after treating myself, I was once again ready to go, despite feeling under the weather.
Three days into the crossing to Atalaya with Gadiel, we were stopped by a group of Ronderos at a road block, interrogated and photographed, and they also informed the police about us and said we couldn’t continue. Despite my careful planning I was unaware that the large province/area we needed to cross had only two days earlier declared strict lockdown restrictions. In the town 10km ahead I had planned to spend a day buying food supplies and prepping our packs for a 6-7 day jungle crossing. We were questioned for over an hour, but with no chance of getting past or other possible ways around the problem, we had no option but to head back to Pucallpa city to re-plan: had we tried to somehow sneak past the roadblock, we would have been arrested by the police ahead, fined and quarantined for the remainder of the lockdown
As I write this, the Peruvian government has just extended the lockdown for another two weeks, until 28th of February. Now I am hoping that the lockdown doesn’t get extended beyond the 28th of February, so that we can go back to continue from the point where we were stopped by the Ronderos. I will just have to lay low, sticking to my living budget of 25 Soles (£5) per day all-in. Fingers crossed that I can continue this final chapter of the expedition and that we will soon be on our way to Atalaya, borne on the wings of hope.
On a final note, I would like to thank the Peruvian navy for generously agreeing to support and watch our backs via satellite tracking and communications while we cross to Atalaya, and offering to help us out should we have an emergency. Thanks to AP Vice Admiral (r) Juan Sierralta Fait and my friend Guillermo Castro Escudero, in Lima, for arranging the meetings with Rear Admiral AP Edward Omar López Cazorla commander of the Fourth Navel Zone in Pucallpa and Nestor Urrutia Olivari, of the coastguard of Peru, at the Marina de Guerra (Navy) base here in Pucallpa. They were very friendly and hospitable and seemed genuinely interested in my crazy journey. Thank you indeed.
Again if anyone would like to help me out with a donation to my Paypal account to keep things going, please use the Paypal link below, which will take you to my support page. Any donation over £25/ $30 will earn you a signed, sealed and delivered Amazon calendar (when I get back home!) with exclusive photos from the trek and a listing on my partners page. Any technical problems donating, or if you prefer to help via a BACS payment, details are now on the support page also.
Walking on, “with hope in our hearts” and blisters on our feet, Gadiel Sanchez Rivera (Cho) and myself walking along a 60km road before we were stopped by the Ronderos.
Header Photo. The Memorial to Lanza Flight 508 i walked passed in Pucallpa. Coincidentally 2021 marks the 50th anniversary of the event. Our route to Atalaya will pass close to the location where 17 year old Juliane Koepcke was found.
The short film by Amazon Watch about Asháninka chief Jiribata his family and how they coped during the Covid crisis.
Hundreds of people queue at a bank for days to receive financial help, the queue extends around the block.
The newspapers showing the first arrival of the Covid vaccine.
Thanks to my Garmin inreach tracking Sponsors: Nina Plumbe.