Fr En Es De

A lucky day

I slept poorly last nigh. It's five in the morning and I get up. A few minutes later, I am already weary. I can't seem to get rid of my worries. The temperature, which had fallen during the night, begins to rise again. There is a lot of humidity in the air and my breathing is more and more difficult. All my blueprints are warped along with the calendar paper, but today I don't need them. It’s September 24, 1978, a traveling day for me. I think of Polanco. We have an appointment at 8:30 am at the port of the village on the north shore of the San Lorenzo river. He promised to be there but I know him well, he will be late. Before going to the port, I will smoke a cigarette to awaken myself and make my bed. This small house has neither water nor electricity. I was not aware of my previous cushy life! Yes, just the simple act of turning on a faucet and feeling the water flowing softly over my skin has been a dream for the last several months. One slowly gets accustomed to a semi-savage life; I know I can build a system more suited to my reality, but I'm just passing through. My time is limited and my trips are frequent, so I find that to adapt is more efficient than to build. As I make the bed, I realize that this mundane routine does not make sense today: I’m going to be already in another village before dusk. But, how can you skip a fifteen-year-old daily tradition!

Outside, dawn heralds good weather. There is not a cloud in the sky, only the mist that rises, offering the enigmatic spectacle of the Amazon jungle. I look at the old thermometer hanging by the door: 27 ° C ... Wow!... in six hours the mercury column will exceed the 40°C mark. Two buckets and my towel around my waist, that's all I take to "the bathhouse". It used to be called “the clean well” but, due to a bad drainage system, it has become “dirty”. I share that well with about ten villagers. To wash myself, I fill my buckets with water and let it run gently over my head. Luckily, I got up early and no one is there yet. The floor covered with wooden grates is not slippery, the water is not muddy and the solitude is very soothing. The place is visible from all sides. The women who come here to do the laundry have put up wooden poles and a thatched roof. They take possession of the place in the afternoons and then the well becomes the spot for chatting, laughter and probably solace. On the way back, I go to another well, this one is reserved for the kitchen and everyone knows that it is forbidden to bathe in it. The latter is far from the other to avoid underground contamination. I fill one of my buckets and go home. On a kerosene stove, I enjoy some coffee to recover from the sleepless night. It's odd, drink coffee in the evening to fight sleep and thus work harder during the night and in the morning, drink another coffee to recover from the bad night caused by the coffee.

At my boarding house, breakfast is served only after 7:30 am. There are no restaurants here, but there is a tavern and a handful of private houses that offer food to outsiders who are increasingly scarce. The owner of the boarding house must be about 65 years old. He has 11 children, but in the house we only see his wife and his youngest daughter, Consuelo, a very friendly teenager with big black gazelle eyes and a gleaming smile. Last night, she handed me free smoked meat for my trip and a bottle of masato (a local drink made from fermented yucca). I don't like it very much, but for Polanco is going to be like manna from heaven. He will say as usual "Dear Engineer, what doesn't kill you makes you stronger”. I have been told that he is the best navigator in the region. With his large motorized canoe, he has the monopoly of the heavy transport. The guy is huge, the kind who can break the neck of a bull with his arms. However, what makes him pleasant in business is his friendly and familiar demeanor.

To get to the boarding house, I cross the airstrip, a large flat space made of compacted earth that prevents the expansion of the town to the south. My accommodation is in one of the few small houses on the south side of the airport. A small DC-3 aircraft that flew during World War II is currently the only link between "civilization" and us. I am in Iberia, a small town in the Amazon rainforest of Peru. The plane comes in here twice a month. The pilot is a former pilot of large commercial airlines and today he has dedicated himself to serving these forgotten routes. People call him "Capitán DC3". All merchants rely on him for basic food supplies. Later, they do good business reselling the products, although it is the beer with its golden price that serves to pay off the cost of the flight.

Years ago, this town lived on rubber. Most of the people worked on harvesting the sap from rubber trees. But since the last rubber rush in the 1940s, the market has gone bad. The only thing left in the minds of the locals is the hope of a return to better times, that kind of hope that knows neither abandonment nor fear and that prompts people to live and die here while they wait for the beautiful days to come back.

To be continued...

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