“The trip will take four days, at the most!” the captain told my father and I as we boarded the hodge-podge of two barges tied to a boat. A few days before, we had traveled to the farthest point north in Bolivia to retrieve the belongings for a family of ten. We were to navigate the Mamore’ river in the Amazon Basin from the tip-top down to central Bolivia with about a dozen containers and a large German Shepherd named Sugar. We set up our hammocks and mosquito nets under racks of exotic lumber stacked to the hilt on one of the barges. After settling in our little spot, we looked around at our surroundings. We could see Brazil from the boat, but it all looked the same…..endless jungle. There were about twenty-five people on the conglomeration that was our mode of transport. This included a small group of tourists from England. They were intriguing to watch; since we were in such rudimentary conditions and they were all quite particular. We prayed for our trip and tried to think of ways to pass the time.
Meals on the boat were an adventure all on their own. We soon learned that diet on river travel is extremely basic. We ate what I called “questionable soup” everyday; sometimes twice a day. I was grateful to have the dog, because I could give her all of the questionable bits out of my soup. For breakfast we ate white bread and strong coffee. We drank brown water that they had brought from our place of departure. As the boat stopped to pick up new passengers, we would hope for an influx of fresh food. A couple of times we were blessed with recognizable chicken, but mostly I could not tell you what we were eating.
We soon began to realize the perils of traversing the river during dry season. The barges with their heavy cargo of lumber kept getting stuck on sandbars. A few times they had to completely dismantle the barges from the boat and unload all the lumber to pass certain extremely low parts of the river. The captain would stand at the helm and have his men poke long rods into the water in front to measure depth. His side of the conversation would go like this: “Is it shallow? Shallow or deep, tell me! Is it deep? Will it pass? Will it go? Ay! No, it’s very shallow! Go backwards! Try it over there! Oh, it’s good here. Let’s go.” We were never bored, however, as the wild life in the Amazon Basin is fascinating. Fresh water Dolphins, boto, gave us quite a show by jumping, and diving, and sticking their long noses out of the water. I gave up counting the numerous Capybara, the world’s largest rodent, on the banks of the river. There were so many birds that I had never seen before. We also saw cayman as large as fifteen feet in length. The scenery was gorgeous as well.
As the complications of low water increased, four days turned into eleven. My father came down with a bout of dengue fever from the clouds of mosquitoes that nightly threatened to consume us. I knew that the food we were being fed would not help him to recover. We prayed for relief and some nutritious food. In a few hours a small boat motored up to ours and tied onto the side of the barge. We looked into his small, flat boat and saw that it was full of oranges. We bought 100 oranges from him and we both felt the benefits of the vitamin infusion. We thanked the Lord for bringing that bit of orange hope to us in the middle of the river. I remember one morning waking with despair. I sat up in my hammock and looked toward a lagoon that we were passing just as the sun rose in the sky. With blazing orange and pink colors the sun highlighted a family of flamingos as they took flight. I felt renewed strength from the Lord at such an amazing sight. After twelve days, we finally made it home. It was an amazing experience, and I will always remember the oranges.