Tuesday, July 11, 2017

Finding a Guide for the Amazon in Nauta

The Town of Nauta
Walking into the Town of Nauta felt like passing through a small town in the American Wild, Wild West a hundred years ago. Nauta was a small, rural town, and it was invisible to the outside world. Thus, my guide book didn't mention it, and in general, I couldn't find any information on where to stay the night or where I should eat.

I paid a local, who drove a Moto Taxi (more on that later) $0.67 to drive me to a cheap hotel. He took me near the river, and I found a hotel for $4.61 a night. Imagine knowing you have to go somewhere you know nothing about and having to find a place. It's a different way of traveling.

My hotel was dirty but not filthy. In the room next to me looked like a worker with his girlfriend and new born baby. The baby screamed a lot, but I couldn't hear the baby from my room. All the lights were were the white fluorescent kind, like the one hospitals use.

It looked like my room wasn't cleaned in ages. Their were cobwebs sticking to the high ceiling and the walls were purple. On the walls, people left their phone numbers. I wondered if it was for prostitutes. The toilet didn't have a seat cover either. That made using it somewhat difficult. The bedsheets looked clean enough but not clean.

I only thought to myself, I'm glad I'm traveling by myself. If my brother or anyone else was with me for that matter, they would most likely complain about bringing them to a place like this. Then, I would feel burdened by it all.

One time, I met my German friend Volker in New York, after I was released from Russian house arrest; true story, no exaggeration. We had a clean place, but it was a hostel and not of luxury and it was in Brooklyn instead of Manhattan. So, Volker's friend complained and pouted and was mopey about the whole thing. His complaining and prince-ness ruined our time in New York. Really, even a dingy hotel would suffice for the kind of trip we did in New York, because we hardly spent anytime in it. We were site seeing most of the time.

In any event, going back to traveling alone. I wasn't that bothered by the cheap hotel, but for peace of mind, I could have stayed somewhere just a bit nicer. If push came to shove, I could've stayed at the dirty hotel. But, what's a few dollars more (and I literally mean a few dollars). But at that point, I had no choice. I didn't want to walk around town, looking like a tourist. The people in town already know I'm a tourist by how I look physically.

I'm glad I don't have someone around me complaining about it, though. I remembered a conversation I had with that Spanish girl. She wanted me to take her for coffee. So, I did. And at the cafe in Iquitos, we had a whole conversation in Spanish, and it was good enough to talk about politics and immigrations. (It was then, I knew my Spanish was improving.) She asked me if I always traveled alone.

And I told her in Spanish, "Not always. Sometimes, my brother comes. Do you know who Hemingway is?"

She didn't.

I told her in English, "Hemingway once said, 'Only travel with people you love.' That's what I do."

After remembering that conversation, I walked to the center of town and found a nice hotel. It only cost $17 for my own room, and it was the best hotel in town. But he didn't have a spot for me for the few days I needed. He recommended a guide and another hotel.

I walked around town to find some food. When I came back, the guide was there. His name was Michael.

Michael was chatty and charismatic and chubby. Seems like most people in this area get fat and chubby after the age of 25. Must be the food. (I mentally noted it.)

He talked up a storm to me. I didn't want to hear it. I just asked him in Spanish, "How much?"

He explained to me all the reasons it was going to cost so much.

I looked bored. I was bored. And I asked again, "How much?"

He wanted $167 for two nights, three days.

I told him, "I couldn't afford that. I was really poor. I had no money. Look, I'm staying at the cheapest hotel in town. Do you think I have money? This is also the end of my trip."

(Now some of you might think I'm lying, but think about this: When does my trips ever end or begin? Self-lawyering habits don't ever die, I guess. Regarding being poor, since I made no money for awhile, my government has classified me as poor.)

I already knew that the price should be around $30 a day. That was the cheapest any of the other travelers paid, but they all hated their trip for that price. I was hoping it'd be better for me, because I was already near the heart of the jungle. The others, who paid $30 a day, stayed closer to the capital for their tour.

People who paid $50 a day seemed much happier. So the price range for a three day tour was about $90 to $150.

He said, "$133 then."

I said, "$100."

"Fine. But you need to pay half now."

"I can't now. I don't have enough." (Notice how he's pressuring the buyer to make a decision immediately.)

"Ok. Tomorrow, then?"

"Let me think it over. I'll give you my decision by noon tomorrow."

He drove me in his fancy Moto Taxi. He showed me where the town's only ATM is. (My receptionist was wrong. The ATM looked about 5 years old; so, he hasn't been here in awhile.) He also drove me to another hotel that was clean and had a peaceful air about it. It cost $12.34. It's three times the price I paid originally, but I could afford it - I thought.

After, I sat at the town square bench. I took a cigar from my pockets. I lit it up. I breathed it in. It felt so good.

The town square was full of young people. They were staring at me. They knew I was foreign.

Eventually, three young girls came and sat next to me. They giggled every time I looked at them. I thought - these young people have nothing to do here. After my cigar was exhausted, I put it out and walked back to my hotel.

It was only 10:00PM. I was tired though.

My other hostel was on one of the busiest street corners. The raucous morning traffic woke me up early, often, letting me only sleep six hours. It had a cumulative effect. I was tired.

When I switched the lights off, the room turned pitch black, like a photographer's dark room. I knocked out.

* * * *

The next morning, I woke up 08:00AM. Bravo. I slept 10 hours. That meant that the dirty hotel room didn't affect my beautiful and and sumptuous sleep. It was one of those sleeps that made me feel like a new person. And I really savored it.

I thought about how ironic it was that I paid $4.67 to stay in a dirty hotel to get a great sleep, and how much my friends have paid to stay at sleep clinics or have sleep surgeries or to have sleep studies done.

I grabbed my backpack and walked up to the hotel I visited yesterday around 09:00AM. The lovely owner checked me in. The hotel had wifi and a beautiful courtyard with an Amazonian garden and it was very clean. My room had a private shower too.

I asked her for a guide. She called up another guy.

Lorenzo was quite and humble and came in walking. He asked me what I wanted. I told him to see aquarium fish, especially the discus.

He said he could arrange for it. He said that he had to charge $155 for three days, because I was by myself and the cost of petrol was a lot to take the boat.

I believed him. There was something about him that was believable.

He told me he ran a a family run business. He had a website. He showed it to me. It was badly designed. It was called, Lorenzo's Tours.

I asked him, "Who is Lorenzo?"

He said, "It's my name. But I named it after my son."

That memory stayed with me.

I told him, "I don't have much. And I did the Amazon last year. And it was just ok. What about for $118?"

He said, "I won't make much, because you're by yourself. But I think I can do that."

"I just want to see my fish. I can care less about the monkeys and caymans. I saw them last year. I've been in the aquarium hobby now for 30 years. I want to see these fish."

He seemed surprised by this small detail. "Ok, I get it."

"Is there anything you don't eat?"

"No bread. No sugar. No pasta. Everything else is fine."

I could see he was confused by this diet. Only a westerner would have such demands, a westerner that knows about the hazards of processed foods.

I told him I was pleased to meet him and that I needed more time to think it over.

He said that was fine. I told him I'd have a decision later in the evening.

I asked the owner of my hotel about the two. She said Michael was more charismatic and talkative. She said Lorenzo was more quiet and shy.

I asked her only one question: "But who's more honest?"

"Lorenzo."

"That's what I thought too," I told her.

I texted Michael and told him I couldn't go with him. He wrote back that I was a liar. I didn't like that.

He came to my hotel next. He said he wanted to talk. I told him I couldn't go with him. What he said next was rapid and angry; so, I couldn't understand it. I shrugged my shoulder and went on with my business.

It felt like I was dealing with Cain and Able. And Cain was angry, because his offering wasn't accepted. I wonder, when Cain presented his sacrifice, if he had a beautiful and glitzy presentation to go along with it too.

I stopped. I reflected. I thought about how all the other backpackers go around town to find a guide. How are they choosing a guide? Am I choosing a guide the same way? 

Lorenzo seemed happy I went with him. I think he could see that I had to give it some thought.

I told him I'd like to leave not tomorrow but the day after. I just wanted to unwind more at the hotel, which I've been doing. Generally, I just read, take care of errands, and eat once in awhile. Some times, I chop down my own coconut, shred the meat to make coconut milk, and add it in my instant coffee so it tastes better. And it does taste better.

It was hard to find food that day. I thought it was Sunday, because all the shops were closed. Nope. The town was holding a demonstration against the local mayor and city council. There were a lot of people in town square, holding signs accusing the mayor of corruption and injustice. I laughed to myself and hoped that I brought the spirit of protest to this town. One guy was holding a stick with a huge rat attached to it by a string. I thought, Now, that's an idea. I need to put a real pig head on a stick, next time I go protest.

I've finished another book. Now, I'm reading Hemingway's The Dangerous Summer. I found a quote in it that I loved. I loved it so much, I changed my signature block to include it.

A great fighter must have: "[C]ourage, skill in his profession, and grace in the presence of death." 

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