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Full Circle

Day 192: On the Urubamba River

Michael Palin - Full CircleUp, a little before six, as dawn breaks. Waiting for me on the table at breakfast is my soap dish, retrieved by one of the children this morning. I'd never expected to see it again, and am quite excessively moved by it's return. Over coffee and French toast Barry shows us a satellite photograph of our river route. It shows clearly the line of a last rocky ridge, a final buttress of the Andes, through which the river cuts before settling into a sinuous, meandering course through the rain forest. It is here that we shall have to descend the fiercest of all the Urubamba rapids, the Pongo de Manaique. The Pongo (the word means a ravine, gap or gorge) is seriously respected and none of these boatmen would take us down it in the rainy season, when the river runs fast and full.

Leaving our camp-site to scabby nose-to-the-ground dogs and obsessively questing groups of hens and their young, we make our way to the river to see our boats for the first time. They are simple wooden canoes about twenty-five feet long, their hulls painted in a selection of bright colours, all now faded. Barry introduces me to Gustavo who is to be my motorista - my boatman. He stands a little shyly to one side, arms folded, hands thrust tight into his armpits. He has a square, scarred face, handsome in a way, like a middle-period Marlon Brando. While he looks after the outboard, his friend Adolfo, short and chunky, with calves like table legs, will be up front with the stick and paddle, testing depth.
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PALIN'S GUIDES

  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 192
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Urubamba River
  • Book page no: 259

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