|photo credit: Jim Bart|
Once upon a time there was a young man named Nick, who went with twenty of his friends and a native-Peruvian Boatman on what they called a "playa trip."
"Playa" is Spanish for "beach," and the beach they (we) went to was a low-water sandbar out in the middle of the Ucayali river, which is one of the more significant headwaters to the mighty Amazon, which is the most insanely huge-mongous river in the entire world—discharging more water into the ocean than the next seven-largest independent rivers, combined. In fact, by the time the Ucayali becomes the Marañon and flows across the border into Brazil, it's already larger than any other river in the world. The playa in question only existed in low water, because during rainy season the Ucayali rises twenty-five feet, boils over its banks, and proceeds to drag tons and tons of dirt and herbage down toward the Atlantic. In low-water season it then recedes to its former position, leaving behind these impressive sandbars, with random piles of driftwood along their length. And by driftwood, I mean massive piles of tinder-dry tree-trunks that we would then set on fire, one at a time, with burning branches we'd carried from the last fire.
Because it was fire, and we were in high school.
Anyway, this isn't a story about the fires, or the mud wallows, or the "carneros," which were these tiny little catfish with a taste for blood and flesh that liked to swim into small orifices and were attracted to the smell of urine (try peeing in that pool).
No, this is a story about Nick, who unlike yours truly was smart enough to bring along a mosquito net on our little beach trip.
I say "smart enough" because of things like hordes of mosquitos and of course sand flies and dear-sweet-jeebus, who knows what other sort of spawn-of-Satan were biting us in the night? To this day, I cannot fathom why I and a bunch of my cronies thought it would be cool to go spend a few nights out on the river exposed to the bugs, without even so much as blankets to protect us. We'd done this before, right? So we knew we'd be up the entire night digging massive holes to keep our minds off it, and setting log-fires just to watch their twenty-foot flames suck some bugs to their raging-hot deaths, as we wondered when that stupid sun was finally going to come up again.
Anyway, there we were. Suffering.
Nick was down in his mosquito net, though—snoring—and about twenty feet off from there was the Boatman's mosquito net, because he also wasn't a total idiot.
Nick was snoring and a bunch of us were huddled around this fire we'd built, and then Nick got up to go pee and we weren't paying much attention, but then a little while later up came the Boatman, to hang out with us by the fire. Which was cool, because he was a seasoned river traveler who'd masterfully guided this boatload of white teenagers for five hours through the long cañyo from the ox-bowed Lake Yarina we lived on, out here to this Ucayali sandbar. The Boatman had several lifetimes worth of river-adventures behind his belt, and regaled us with a succession of tales about giant anacondas, turtle-stealing jaguars, and so on.
And nobody really thought about why he was hanging out with us there by that fire all night, with the bugs. We were the idiots, right? Not him.
In the morning, though, the truth came out.
Nick got up and discovered that his mosquito net was like twenty feet closer to the water than it had been the night before, and then he freaked out a bit and tried to convince us all that the river was rising again and we had to get out of there—and fast.
You might've guessed by now what actually happened.
After Nick took a groggy, disoriented midnight pee, he accidentally crawled back into bed in the wrong mosquito net. And our hapless river guide, who wasn't gay (but apparently also wasn't going to judge, or make a big deal about it), quietly crawled out of his mosquito net and came up to sit there with us by the fire.
I can only imagine the story he told his next boatload of tourists.