A Near Disaster

May 29, 2006
Day 243
Remanso to Versalles Canoe Trip Day 10

Picture of Piedras Negras.

Piedras Negras, Brazil, where the church takes up half the town.

Starting before sunrise meant paddling in the cool night air, but it also spelled trouble almost right away today. We were navigating through the dark waters with no moonlight when suddenly a small island appeared in front of us. We tried to steer away, but nobody saw it until it was too late. We ended up crashing sideways into some trees that were partially submerged in the high river. I'm glad we got the heavy-duty canoe, because it held up well, whereas a smaller canoe probably would have sunk.

The rest of the day on the water was pretty uneventful. We didn't see any animals other than the occasional macaws making their usual flights over the river. There were only a few islands to navigate around and we didn't see any other boats. Weather-wise, it was very clear and hot.

We got to Piedras Negras after only 4.5 hours of paddling. It supposedly had a population of only ten families, but it still had a small store with cold beer, a large church, and diesel-generated electricity for the whole place all day. It's strange how much more affluent the communities are in Brazil than Bolivia, and that the people speak different languages, even though they live on opposite sides of the river.

We figured we could make it to the next town, which wasn't even marked on our map, with about an hour of daylight left, but didn't want to bother. We've learned never to trust the advice of the locals because they always estimate too low. I doubt that any of them have actually paddled a canoe as far as we have.

We got camp set up inside a thatched-roof cabana with a smooth concrete floor above the river. The owners graciously let us stay there for the night and played some great Brazilian party music from their loudly painted abode all day. The Frenchman was particularly enthralled by the music as he has had to deal with Bolivia's gut-wrenching cumbia for the last four months.

We tried to relax a bit in the afternoon, but that proved to be very difficult because of the bugs. All day long, sand flies invade and leave their wicked acid stings. Their only saving grace is that they don't bite through clothing. As soon as dusk hits, the sand flies leave and it's the mosquitoes' turn. They're aggressive and bite right through clothes. I don't know how the locals can stand them. They are already driving me insane. The church was the only bug-free sanctuary I could find, and I wrote in my journal and slept in it most of the afternoon.

Once again, we were told that we'd get to Versalles tomorrow, but we know better than that now. We figure we'll be there in two days, but we're not sure where we'll stay tomorrow night. There are no more towns listed on the map between here and Versalles, but apparently there are some more estancias along the way.

The photo album for this entry is here.

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