Well… Where do I start?
Long story short: The expedition didn’t make it very far past Coca and now I’m doing other stuff…
If you want to look deeper then you will see a specific chain of events that somehow stopped the rafting adventure dead in the arse and turned my path a full 180. It surprised me actually… That project had so much momentum and potential, it seemed nothing short of a tragedy would stop us, but someone, somehow, played a hand that trumped any of the cards we held.
I guess I could start this story two days before we paddled out of the marina, at the Armada’s compound, speaking with the Capitánia. We had gone to the authorities to declare the expedition and register a crew list, but when we arrived we were faced with fierce opposition. Despite pretty much all the other military and armada personnel that we met along the way giving us nothing but encouragement and respect, once we got up the ranks we faced a different attitude.
I dunno what was up with the Capitánia, but she was bent on giving us trouble since our first encounter in the marina. When we went to present our passports she told us that we didn’t have permission to navigate the river, claiming it was too dangerous. We asked what we had to do to get the permissions and she started saying things like the captain would have to do a week-long navigation course that wasn’t until next month and that we would have to equip the balsa with navigation lights and even a warning siren… 8I … I basically told them thanks for wasting my time and see ya later, and told my crew to continue preparations for the expedition.
Skip ahead two days and we're paddling out of the marina; spirits were high and excitement abounded for the adventure ahead. It was sooo good to see the arse end of Coca; we had spent too long in the city and were all very ready to return to the wild.
Well… We made it half a day down the river to a beach where we stopped for lunch, but before we even finished our food, we noticed an armarda boat creeping towards us…
After we refused their request to hand over the raft and return to Coca, they called for backup. Twenty minutes later, a second boat arrives carrying more police and the fiscal (representatives of the mayor).
The fiscal made it clear that although none of us had committed any crimes, they had the authority to possess and hold any vessel on the river that was being used in a way they deem dangerous. It all seemed like a big joke to me, but they seemed to have us over the barrel.
Believing that flipping off the bird and paddling away would only lead to an eventual use of force from the police, I reluctantly told my crew that the gig was up and handed a towline to the armada. It was a bit of a sad moment, and we were all in shock as we loaded the expedition equipment onto the armada boat and set off upriver, enroute to Coca.
This is about the moment when the realisation really set in that there would be no more adventures today :( We wondered if they really did have the power to possess our raft like that, and thought maybe if we had fought some more they might have figured it wasn’t worth the trouble and let us go. This was, after all, South America.
I looked out towards the bank and saw the beach that we had just left from…. although we had been nearly 10 minutes on the motor, it seemed like we were moving through the water at the same speed as the current came against us, so we were actually going nowhere. The armada pilot pushed forward on the throttle and brought to life the twin 200 outboards that perched on the stern. All that power ran down the tow line and started pulling the nose of Muskuy under the water. I looked at our green barrels on the deck of Muskuy, now being pulled under the river, and just had a little moment… I guess.
It just sort of happened… like the thought and action happened at the same time… I grabbed the knife from my belt and stepped towards the tow line, which only took a moment to slice (lucky my knife was so sharp ;) ) and before the soldier guy standing there could grab me, I was off. Knife in one hand, bow line in the other, I dove over the engines and swam out to my raft.
So yeah that was fun! I wasn’t really thinking about what would happen next at all… just fucking loving every moment of it! Rowing down the Napo river on my handmade raft, in a less-than-dramatic slow speed police boat chase. Golden!
Sashi ended up on the raft too, so we were away into the sunset when I glanced back towards the boats, just in time to see Sofia bailing into the river tooooo XD
The next days were spent jumping hoops and chasing wild geese as the various authorities passed the buck around in circles. We asked what we would have to do to get the raft back and what safety standards we had to meet for permission to navigate the river, but solid information was well hidden under a blanket of steamy bullshit. The Capitánia told us that it was a police matter now and sent us to them, the police said they were only holding it under instruction from the fiscal, and the fiscal told us that only the Capitánia could give us the information.
We soon realised that we weren’t getting the raft back easily, and if we did it would be another $1000 and a month's work to comply with all their ridiculous safety requirements (they even wanted us to fibreglass the balsa logs…. Wtf?).
I dunno why… It looked like such an awesome project, adventure and life experience from where we stood, but the Capitánia had a different view and wanted it shut down. Any more resistance from us would be a waste of time and energy; it was time to move on.
The only way I could win from there was to walk out with a smile on my face. Yes, we just got fucked over by the cops, but we don’t need to feel imprisoned… The armada may have the power to take our raft, but we still hold the power to liberate our minds from that shit.
And so the crew of Muskuy disbanded, walking away from, and so overcoming, the conflict with the authorities. Kinga and Dagan found a canoe and set off down the river on their own expedition, Sofia continued her travels to Uruguay and I left the jungle to return to Quito... to get a new passport and scheme up the next adventure…
At the end of the day, I see the expedition as a success. I set off to know the spirit of the amazon… and although it wasn’t how I imagined, I still got the authentic jungle experience - because the jungle, at least in Ecuador, is just a shitty place. Any true shamanic, spiritual knowledge and practice has been lost to greed and selfishness. The jungle has been cut down to make way for oil mining operations and palm oil plantations, which poison the rivers and displace the indigenous tribes. The people living there are not happy and an overall low energy and feelings of unease blanket the area. The natural flow of the jungle has been replaced with industry, legality and protocol; a system of control which does not harmonise with the flow of the river, the wind in the trees or the breath of the animals… No, there's not a lot of harmony here anymore…only discord, friction, broken hearts and a vanishing culture… (you can’t even float down the river on a raft any more…as the people have done here for thousands of years)
The jungle cannot flourish in this part of the amazon any more. The trees are receding, the animals are dying and the indigenous people struggle under the new regime in place. Profits speak louder than the trees and the birds who silently disappear as oil prices rise… not saying it’s a bad thing… just next time you cook dinner on your gas stove, fill your car with petrol or catch a plane to go on holiday, spare a thought to the regions and cultures around the world that are being leveled so we, the lucky ones, can enjoy all the comforts of this industrial and technological age.
Super big thanks to Dagan the Dragon, Saber, Sofia, Kinga, Sashi, Los gatitos, the river, the indigenous crews, the guys in the park that gave us weed and everyone else who supported us on our crazy adventure. Xx