55. Puerto Maldonado II
I breakfast alone, enjoying the morning light and visiting with the green parrot who hangs around on the front terrace. Then I head for the Wasai to rent a room for the night. While I’m up at that end of town, I rent a motor scooter too. The shift system is wholly unlike what I’m used to from decades of motorcycle-riding, and seems idiotic; and I’m pretty idiotic too: I drive a block, feeling very unsafe and edgy, before I realize that something’s missing. There’s no rear-view mirror, and my uncertainty about what’s going on behind me is far from comfortable. I drive around the block, turn the scooter in, and get one with a mirror. It has two mirrors, but also a right foot-peg and rear-brake mashed too close to each other from some previous accident. Finally I’m off, back to the Don Carlos to pick up my stuff and take it to the Wasai.
My other errand besides changing hotels is to find the SUNARP office. When I bought the car in Lima, I put it in my name and Ragna’s, thinking I might be called back to the U.S. to work on a case and she’d be using or selling the car in my absence. Now I have to have her sign it back over to me alone, so that I won’t run into excessive red tape trying to sell it. Unfortunately I have no luck finding the SUNARP office.
At the Wasi, my new room has a nice view of the river. I lunch on the deck. I chat a bit with some Polish-Canadian folks on an organized tour, then read awhile and feel sleepy. The food takes forever to arrive, but tastes okay once it does. There are birds to watch, and river sounds to listen to.
I return to the room and fall asleep within minutes. A while later I awaken enough to realize I feel extraordinarily hot, but can barely make myself awaken fully, let alone move.
When I finally manage to get out of bed, I go first for an ice cream. I take a table near the window, to shoot more shots of families on motorcycles.
Then I ride the motor scooter down to the docks, determined to cross the river and see where the road goes from Triunfo.
I ride the scooter up a wooden plank onto the vehicle ferry. Of course my foreignness amuses everyone. As we approach the opposite bank, I ask the kid in the black T-shirt how much to pay, and he tells me to ask the older man who’s putting the pole in the ground to tie up to. It seems unlikely that he doesn’t know the answer, and I wonder whether he merely doesn’t know whether his boss wants to jack up the price because I’m a foreigner with a
camera. However, after confirming that it’s just the bike and me, no passenger, the man says S./ 2.50. Both his manner and the modest price convince me that’s the normal charge. It certainly seems reasonable.
The wooden plank rests somewhat sideways on a long concrete ramp that runs up the bank at a fairly steep angle. I will need to drive down the wooden plank, then quickly turn right to drive up the steep hill. I cross the plank successfully, but in trying to slow down and turn right I manage to take a small spill. The camera’s fine, though, and the boy in the black T-shirt is there to assist me before I even stand up. I thank him, turn the bike, and head up the hill, guessing the episode probably added a little to everyone’s amusement. Hope so.
I follow the main road. It’s a hard and bumpy dirt road. I pass a few homes and businesses and a grifo, then pasture and jungle and occasional glimpses of the river. It’s a long, dull, dirt road through the jungle, quite wide and quite flat; but for the little motor scooter, it’s treacherous and difficult. It’s hard and bumpy – then soft and gravelly, as if I’m back in New Mexico riding a dirt bike, except that this thing is a beat-up scooter. Keeping vertical takes more concentration than I might have wished. Often I think I’m going down, but manage not to. Sometimes a larger vehicle passes me, and I breathe dirt (which I don’t mind) and drive nearly blind for awhile (which makes staying upright even more of a challenge).
After awhile I spot the river off to my left, and pause to shoot a couple of mediocre pictures. I can also hear a small boat’s engine, and spot the boat progressing on the river from Puerto Maldonado. I walk a few dozen yards along a path toward the river. A pack of small dogs challenges me, barking furiously, obviously defending a small home against intruders while the family is off working or visiting. They aren’t a real danger, though, so I continue far enough to get the photograph I want, then head back to the scooter.
There’s also a spot where they’ve cut down a couple of huge trees and are sawing them up. I don’t know what kind of tree it is; but the smell as I drive past is almost like that of a slaughterhouse. The human figures, who look like ants as they scurry around attending to the huge fallen tree, and the isolation and the heat and the smell combine to leave me grateful I don’t have to spend my day working there.
I go what seems a long way because of the conditions, but isn’t, then return in time to enjoy a jungle sunset and check on where I’m meant to be when in the morning, to leave for Corto Maltes.
The Corto Maltes office is just across the street from my new hotel. They tell me I can take a morning boat or one that leaves about noon-time. Of course I choose the former, figuring I’d like to get out of the town and into the jungle as quickly as possible.
Two quite reasonable hotels are the Don Carlos and the Wasai Lodge. The former is at the far [South] end of the main street (Velarde) from the Plaza de Armas. The latter is on Billinghurst, the single street between the Plaza de Armas and the hill overlooking the Madre de Dios River. (Who, I wonder, was Billinghurst? Curiosity about that leads me to a photograph of the new bridge that doesn’t yet exist [see previous post] but which is described as El Nuevo Puente Billinghurst at http://www.panoramio.com/photo/2039979, although the green river in the picture doesn’t look much like the brown Madre de Dios. So I guess Billinghurst was sufficiently prominent to get the bridge named after him. Wikipedia calls it the President Guillermo Billinghurst Bridge. Further research suggests that he was elected to the presidency in August 1912, succeeding Augusto B. Leguia, and served until 1919, when Augusto B. Leguia succeeded him and served until 1930. Wikipedia adds that Guillermo Ernesto Billinghurst was born in 1851 in Arica — and that he served only until 1914. Congress wasn’t ready for his “advanced social legislation” and a military coup deposed him in 1914, when he was sent into exile to die in Iquique. He’s also described as a millionaire businessman, populist, and “reform-minded mayor of Lima” prior to his brief and turbulent presidency. “When Congress opened impeachment hearings against him he threatened to arm the workers and forcibly dissolve Congress.” It’s interesting that he’s remembered so long afterward. But Colonel Oscar Benavides, who headed the successful coup, has a main street in Miraflores named after him, while I had to get all the way to Puerto Maldonado to hear about Billinghurst. )
Probably the Don Carlos is the “better” of the two, but I liked the feel of the Wasai. It’s also closer to the Plaza de Armas, if that matters. The Don Carlos is far from everything, but if there isn’t a moto-taxi lingering outside, the folks at the desk will have one there pretty quickly for you.
At least for a fellow who doesn’t eat meat, Puerto Maldonado was not a delight — yet I got a couple of good fish suppers, one at each of the hotels. There’s a pizza place on the Plaza, and also a nice restaurant-bar on the north side of the Plaza that seemed appealing and tasteful but had no fish on the menu. I should note that I didn’t try the inviting-looking ceviche place on Velarde that I photographed every time I passed it, and that I heard tales of a couple of good restaurants not near the Plaza. Somehow evenings in Puerto Maldonado I felt too lazy to explore beyond the pizza joint.