Wednesday, March 12, 2014

The First Week in the Village: Dock Plans, Business, and Waiting Around

The flight into Leticia was slightly bumpy. We descended through rain clouds. Once out of the plane a gentle sprinkle fell, accompanied by a 90 degree temperature. After picking up our luggage and paying a $10 entrance tax, a taxi took us to the hotel.

My favorite hotel, Fernando Real, in beautiful downtown Leticia.

I always stay at the Hotel Fernando Real, located in the center of the city. It has 30 rooms all located on one floor, some with air conditioning, and none with hot water. However, hot water is not really needed as the temperature is usually in the 80s or above during the day.

Within an hour of checking into our hotel I received a surprise phone call from Gustavo, our main contact in the village of La Libertad. He was in Leticia with a group from the village doing errands and picking up supplies. They would be staying overnight and leaving the next day. This was fortunate for us, as we could more easily take up our baggage and supplies. We would also save on transport cost, as the fare for a group passage on a slow boat is $2.50 to the village. Much better than the $9 charged by the speedboat company, but as the saying goes, “Your get what you pay for.” Which in this case was a five hour trip opposed to a one hour trip.

The boat ride on the school bus to La Libertad
A girl sitting in front of me.  She stared at me for at least 3 of the 5 hour trip.

After picking up food for the week we carried everything to the dock. Gustavo and the other passengers helped us load it into the boat. After running around for last minute things like water and bread, we left the dock at 12:30. The boat belonged to the school, but was on loan to Gustavo to use for the community. So I guess it was a bit like us riding in the borrowed school bus! The boat was 9 meters long, was ¾ covered by a ripped plastic tarp, and held 10 adults, four children, and two babies.

Gustavo driving the boat.

30 minutes into the ride a heavy clunk was transmitted to the boat from the shaft of the motor. This was followed by a long string of Spanish curse words from Gustavo. Gustavo cut the motor and raised the shaft. Half of the propeller was missing. Usually this would not have been too big of a deal. However, Gustavo had forgotten the spare propellers in his house.

Propeller broken, waiting for the replacement.

We waited until Alirio, the former chief of the village, caught up to us. He had been scheduled to leave a half hour later. When he arrived Gustavo hitched a ride back with him to buy a new propeller. While waiting we took some shore time to annoy the local bulls.

Bulls are always fun to bother when you are bored.

A recently built resort.

When repaired and underway the rest of the trip took four hours. We luckily passed a rain storm before it broke, passed and were passed by many other boats, and saw the new construction and finished buildings of a 450 room resort. We arrived, without other mishap, at 5:30 in the village. We had a half-hour to unload before sunset.

The business leaders of La Libertad.

The rest of the week went fairly well. The villagers were almost unanimously in support of both our plans to build the dock and the plans to form the co-op business. Gustavo’s new son (now 10 months old) is much stronger and health. Chucky the monkey has grown. The guesthouse, kitchen, and bathroom were all in good working order. The next part: Leticia to start the process of incorporation for the business.

Stephanie holding Olmer, Gustavo's new son.

Chucky, the monkey.  Larger and as full of vinegar as ever.

We waited at the shore of La Libertad to start our journey downriver. The barco rapido (speed boat) was to pass at 8 am. As soon as it came into view the hopeful passenger must wave an item of white clothing. The boat would then make a stop and pick up the passenger. However, if the boat is full then it will pass the village. If full the options are to wait until the 11 am boat and hope it is not full, or to call by cell phone and request a pickup (for which they will charge an extra $5), or to seek a ride from a village boat.

Michael next to the backpacks.  He is very happily waiting for the boat.

The boat came into view a little past 8:30. It was a half hour late. Gustavo started waving a white, dirty towel. The boat did not change speed or direction. It passed the village. I had a meeting to attend at 11 am. The meeting was with the Camara de Comercio (government business bureau) to start the process of incorporation. Gustavo also realized the problem. We spoke briefly and Gustavo went to get his motor and borrow a boat. Forty minutes later we were on the river.

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