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Full Circle

Day 194: Camisea River, Urubamba

Urubamba River, Peru 
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Another riverside camp. Trim rainforest, increasingly crumpled traveller.
Michael Palin - Full CircleDiarrhoea throughout the night. Four times I reach for the torch and toilet paper, unzip my tent without making any noise (impossible) and tramp across the sand to the lavatory tent. Unzip that without making any noise (impossible) and then juggle torch and toilet paper while trying not to look in the hole, or worse still drop the torch in it. I'm not the only one struck down. As Basil trudges past me he mutters, 'If God had meant me to live like this he'd have given me four legs and fur.'

A cool, overcast day. Chilly headwind. At the mouth of the Camisea River we come across a tall red and white marker pole which is the first evidence of the petroleros - the oil men who have signed a contract in the last month to open up the vast reserves beneath the jungle floor.

Walking a little way up the shore from our new camp-site we come across a young Indian, in green cotton shirt and jeans, fishing with a bow and arrow. He stands at the water's edge gazing intently and silently into the river. When he has selected a victim he coils into an absolutely motionless cat-like crouch. After holding this for what seems like several minutes, he suddenly unleashes the arrow. He steps forward and reaches into the water. It has gone straight through the head of a small white fish. In return for a cigarette he shows us the arrow, made from a length of cana brava with a barbed nail as its head and the bow, made from chonta, part of a palm tree. The fishing's good now, he says, the water level is down and they're easier to spot. He invites us up to his village for the Feast of St John celebrations tomorrow.

Later that night: On my way back from a 2 a.m. visit to the loo tent I see lights approaching along the water and in amongst the trees. All sorts of panicky thoughts go through my mind, from the scene at the end of Apocalypse Now, to our supper conversation about uncontacted tribes further up the Camisea River, to a fear that the villagers will have presumed we are petroleros and come to wipe us out. Into my tent. Zip it up against the world and sit there bolt upright with my heart thudding, until they're close enough for me to make out that the lights are from fishing boats and the men are not looking at me but staring silently and intently at the water.
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  • Series: Full Circle
  • Day: 194
  • Country/sea: Peru
  • Place: Camisea River
  • Book page no: 264

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  • Using the lavatories
  • Day 18 
  • Around the World in 80 Days
  • Day 64 
  • Pole to Pole