May 14, 2006
NKM Adventure Day 5
Craig and I got up once again at sunrise to walk the rest of the way to Florida. Fransisco decided to join us and led the way. We thought we still had to walk about two hours, but to our surprise, Florida was less than an hour away. It's a tiny indigenous community of about 25 families located on the Rio Paragua. I was surprised to see that it was much more westernized than the native communities I visited in the mountains. Everyone in Florida wore western clothing, spoke Spanish, and practiced Christianity. In fact, the church was the most dominating structure in town. When we got to Fransisco's house, he introduced us to his wife and son, but we couldn't chat for long. We had too much work to do.
There were many questions to be answered: Was there anywhere we could sleep in Florida? Did we need a guide to enter the park? Could we rent bikes or a car? Would we need some kind of permission to enter the park? What were the main highlights to see in the park? Was the river navigable to Piso Firme with a canoe? Would we be able to buy a canoe to take down the river? If not, was there some kind of transportation back to the bus stop 35 K's away, or would we have to walk? How often did a bus pass the stop?
We found a place to stay easy enough, a family with some extra beds called an "alojamiento." However, we weren't sure if we wanted to stay there for the night because maybe we could still enter the park today. We dropped off our bags and took a walk around town.
Almost immediately, we spotted some gringos and talked to them for more information. They were in the park a few days ago and said that it was beautiful, but there is a large beurocratic process to overcome in order to enter the park. Entrance is free, but permission from the ranger is needed, and that can be difficult to obtain depending on what kind of mood he is in. We would also need to hire a guide to enter the park.
With that information, we walked to the park office to get the lowdown. A friendly man told us that we had to find a guide on our own. We could probably rent bikes and ride them into the park, but he wasn't totally sure how the road conditions were. Renting a car would be unreliable and prohibitively expensive. Also, two Hungarian volunteers were going to be returning to town from the park in the afternoon, and they could give us more info. We asked about buying a canoe, but the guy just laughed at the idea and told us that there weren't any available. There is a Brazilian boat that stops at Florida once per month, but he wasn't sure when. That meant we'd have to walk back to the drop off point thirty-five K's away to catch the once-per-week bus on Friday, as it was the only bus that came anywhere near Florida. We had already obtained a lot of info from the friendly locals and weren't sure what the tourists meant when they said the beurocracy was difficult, so we decided to relax until we could talk to the Hungarians in the afternoon.
Later when we were walking back to the office, the actual park ranger stopped us. He wanted to know who our guide was and refused to give us permission to enter the park without one. His demeanor was very rude and dominating. He let us know that we were in his world and at his mercy now. He must have been the person the other tourists had to deal with.
Back at the park office, the Hungarians told us that it would be pretty easy to ride a bike most of the way into the park as long as we could rent good ones. There was some vegetation growing over the road, but at least it was dry. This sounded promising, so we decided to try to find some bikes to rent later.
The beurocracy got worse when the ranger showed up at the office. He wanted us to get our guide but we had no idea how to do that. Suddenly, at least five grown men were arguing about how to get us a guide. After about thirty seconds, they'd lose interest in us and start talking about other things until we encouraged them to take care of our situation first. They said that they'd let us know tomorrow, but we wanted to get up and leave early in the morning, not sit around and wait all day for them.
Finally, they decided to get the guide for us and promised that they'd give us permission first thing in the morning. A few minutes later, Candido walked to our hotel and told us that he could be our guide. He seemed down-to-earth, so I think it should be a good experience.
Next, we went to Don Juan's house to take care of the bicycle situation. He promised to have three good bikes ready for morning. It should work well. We'll have four days to go to the meseta, the gigantic mesa 600 meters above the jungle that is the main attraction of this part of the park, and back to Florida. If we have the energy, maybe we'll even take a detour to see a waterfall along the way. Then we'll have a day to make our way back to the intersection where the bus should hopefully pick us up. Bits and pieces of information are still missing, but everything is slowly starting to come together now.