As previously mentioned, the owner of Freedom Bikes in Quito said there was a route he was working on but hadn’t done. The theory was that you could get big motos onto a boat in Coca and run them 6 or 7 hours up the river to Misahualli. The big problems are that there are no ramps or boats set up for it, and that the upper reaches of the river are very shallow and require a skilled and experienced operator in a flat bottomed canoe.
I had suggested this route to Ben optimistically thinking this could all be sorted out somehow. It went sideways on us a bit to start with, but it happened and ended up being a great day.
Here’s the day’s river track. It didn’t occur to me to turn the GPS on until we were well upstream, about 15 miles back in Puerto Francisco de Orellana (Coca). The track length is 77.7, so a total journey up an Amazon river of about 93 miles. A damn long way considering how sketchy it got up river and how long it took to get going
We’d chartered the boats a couple of days earlier – two different boats for two different jobs. The first guy, who introduced us to the second guy, gave us assurances that there’d be no problem.
This morning we waited at the agreed place and it was a no-show. Rather than bore you with a huge quantity of detail we eventually met up at a new location on a small dock. The boat looked fine as it was what we expected.
(all the shots of loading and unloading were taken by Maddie)
We wait about 15 feet above the river for the boat guys to get their stuff together while the locals look at the bikes
A precocious kid
Trying the bike for fit
Then we go and have a chat with the boat owner at the bottom of the ramp about how this is going to go
We chuck our gear in the boat. I leave my cans on for a few minutes so I can get my feet down on the ramp if it’s slick
Then down the ramp. We’re not sure about the surface so Ben stands ready in case it gets weird
The bottom step. Simple, no problems obviously. It’s the boat that bothers us.
Ben’s shots are in Ben’s camera and he’s gone to Banos as I write this, so I’ll update it in a couple of days.
Both bikes down, we think about the next step after my boxes are off
There’s not much to think about. Put a ramp in the skinny canoe
Back her down
And twist her in, after dropping the rear off the ramp
Roll her back
And tie her down. I pick the drainage holes which aren’t wide enough apart and Ben picks canopy rails which look to me to be too weak. As it turns out both work fine
Done! Not too bad
We go over to the riverbank while the owner gets gas. That’s our boat in the middle. We have a crowd all morning
Which he floats out
Then we’re off! The owner has two helpers and his girlfriend along. We’re going to need the helpers at the far end
Life on a riverboat in Ecuador is very good
Get the customary Lucinda glamour shot out of the way
The river’s quiet and wide at the start and we settle in to enjoy it. The boat is fast but we’ve got at least 6 hours of river ahead, maybe more. Needless to say we’re pretty happy about it
We pass indigenous people fishing. From here on we only see traditional dugout canoes except at the village 40 miles away
It’s an uneventful first two hours and we just enjoy the view
Then the sky goes dark and we’re in a huge rainstorm. The driver puts on a bike helmet. Cool
It’s beautiful when it dies down
There’s one chance to buy food in the 90-ish miles and we stop. The bikes look great in this context I think
We eat at the place on the right
One of the two streets. This is a river servicing village I guess
Then back to the river
Then the fun starts. We start running out of deep water in places. This goes on for a couple of hours.
Two guys watch the water depth and use hand signals until they get nervous, then they give direct instructions. In the video to the left, we’re close to bottoming out the boat and he asks us to get our weight forward
Testing water depth
At one point we’ve bottomed out then the engine dies and we drift fast backwards towards a bank. It’s all smiles when it re-starts. The guy furthest forward is the mechanic. He has to fix the engine twice. It doesn’t take him long
Another Lucinda shot since this is all about her having a new experience
There are mild rapids, but nothing of consequence since (according to the GPS) we’ve only risen 490 feet all day.
Navigation becomes the thing for the rest of the day as we travel through this exotic place, completely removed.
At about 5 o’clock we reach our destination, bank the boat and beach the gear
Then start figuring out how we’re going to get the bikes out of the boat. We have several ideas. The only thing that seems to make sense is somehow getting the bikes onto the front platform. What we do from there we’re not sure about at first. Finally it’s obvious. Lift them off in one heavy drop.
Moving them onto the platform requires a small ramp and a bit of luck. The benches are from a previous idea. Some locals hanging around the beach jump in to help (we later give them 10 bucks to split)
Then, when on the platform, a careful drop to the ground
It’s been a perfect day
As bright as the last pictures are however, by the time we get the gear back on the bikes and leave it’s getting late. We ride to our lodge in the dark and demolish a vast quantity of the local pilsener, sharing the recent memories.