New Stories From The Road

Martin Lobigs
Send to a friend

Send this article to a friend.

As far as the eye can see

On Monday, I explained how it was that I found myself on a boat headed down the Rio MamorÉ in Bolivia. It is January, and I have been forced for logistical reasons to temporarily stow my bike and take a boat as I make my way from Argentina to the Amazon.

It is my second major cycling adventure. This one began in October and should end when I reach my destination in July.

Author Martin Lobigs kneels in front of the Don Adrian. Photo by Martin Lobigs/Special to The Telegram

On Monday, I explained how it was that I found myself on a boat headed down the Rio MamorÉ in Bolivia. It is January, and I have been forced for logistical reasons to temporarily stow my bike and take a boat as I make my way from Argentina to the Amazon.

It is my second major cycling adventure. This one began in October and should end when I reach my destination in July.

Before that, I cycled from my home in St. John's to Patagonia - a journey I chronicle in my book "A Life on Wheels - Biking Alone from Newfoundland to Latin America," published late last year.

Now, it is night and I am aboard the 30-metre Don Adrian, steered by Capt. Mario, where a crowd of passengers has gathered on the roof near where I've pitched my tent, to listen to the music provided by a group of young Argentineans aboard.

They favour rock 'n' roll, and drinks are being passed around.

Since the only toilet is two floors down in the stern, the males urinated from the edge of the roof. It is not surprising no one slipped in the dribbles - we were not stupid. The river was a brown torrent a kilometre wide and the Don Adrian kept to the centre where Mario told me the river's depth is between 20 and 50 metres. He feared the poles caught underwater in shallower spots in the river mud, invisible to us. They had the potential of spearing ships and swimmers. Then there was driftwood and on the shores were swamps where crocodiles and snakes were suspected, though we did not see them.

The shores were marked by human activity. A hut, cattle farm or small settlement popped up every 10 or so kilometres. They were on banks two to four metres above the flooding waters. These were the highest elevations I saw.

Most settlements were connected to a road but they were impassable at this time of the year. The only car I saw was the Jeep we unloaded in Puerto Siles. Long stretches of shore were impenetrable vegetation walls with climbing plants snaring the trees. Rarely did I see an impressive tree, and I saw no rubber trees. The rubber tree (Hevea brasiliensis) can get 40 metres tall and is generally 20 to 60 centimetres in diameter.

One passenger, a businessman, told me that raising cattle is popular here because it provides the easiest method for farmers to trick the government and hang on to tracts of unused land. He said the government prescribes that land used for cattle must have at least one head of cattle for every five hectares. To meet that requirement, farmers help each other out by lending each other their cattle when inspections are expected.

The businessman said few ranchers own more than 1,000 heads of cattle and the average price for one head of cattle is $150. He said few farmers had money in the bank and the cattle and land represents all their riches. Therefore, apart from the land, a rancher's capital rarely exceeded $150,000.

For that reason, the businessman concluded that separatist elements which were making a lot of noise in Beni - one of Bolivia's nine departments - could not succeed.

Beni, with 400,000 people and a density of two inhabitants per square kilometre, is the least-populated Bolivian department. Benianos would not have enough cash to finance an army or police, let alone state institutions.

Most trees along the shores had the diameter and grey bark of poplars. I was told they were Ambaibos. They belong to the Cecropia family, pioneer plants that need much light to grow. They spread north into Mexico. Their branches are hollow and Indians used them to make a sort of trumpet. Medicinal properties, to help fight diabetes, for example, are also imputed to that tree. Its presence suggests that most of the shore forest, which once contained mahogany, was harvested or burned decades ago.

Apart from the flocks of birds forming a Nike swoosh against the sky - parrots, cranes, loons, hawks and vultures - the wildlife that caught my attention were the river dolphins locals call "bufeos del agua dulce" (freshwater dolphins).

The species (Inia geoffrensis) formed when the ocean retreated at the end of the Miocene period five million years ago and laid bare the Amazon basin. Cut off from the salt water, the fish adapted to fresh water. They travel in schools.

In one little port I counted a dozen. They can spout water like whales do. Some jumped and before they plunged back I saw they were almost two metres long and a dark pinkish-grey. They can grow 2.8 metres long and weigh 150 kilograms. Lore has it that they rescue people and because they stay in deep water their presence helps captains avoid mud banks.

Perhaps there are still so many bufeos because for most locals it is a sacrilege to consume this royal fish. The males have a penis similarly shaped to, but much bigger than, that of their human counterparts.

Organizations: Nike

Geographic location: Bolivia, Argentina, St. John's Newfoundland Latin America Puerto Siles Mexico

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
  • 5

Thanks for voting!

Top of page

Comments

Comments