As we drifted down the Rio Napo, we became stuck on the bank several times. Suddenly, without warning, a cloudburst pelted us. We ran for cover to a nearby hut, which was a small army base. While we waited for the rain to stop, Lt. Jaime brought out his guitar, and we sat listening to poignant Ecuadorian songs. It started with a handful of men singing and sipping national beer, with the rain beating out a steady rhythm on the palm-thatched roof. With each song, more men joined in. Soon the hut was filled with people singing.
Dinner was announced. It was still raining so officers lifted Terry and me over the water-filled gulches. We still got soaked and mud-splattered. After dinner, we were given our own hut to sleep in. The officer assigned to look after us locked the door and kept the key so that we would be fully protected. Actually, civilians were not permitted on base overnight.
Next morning we continued our trip down the Rio Napo, joined by a young and very pregnant Ecuadorian woman. As we floated along, she hummed one of the songs we had heard the night before. We loved the haunting melody. She taught us the words to Vasija de Barro.
"Yo quiero que a mi me enterran, Como a mis antepasados; En el vientre obscuro y fresco, De una vasija de barro. Cuando la vida se pierden, Tras de una cortina de anos, Vive en la flor del tiempo, Amores y desengano."
Translated it means: "I want to be buried like my ancestors in the dark and fresh belly of a clay pot. When life is lost beyond a curtain of years, love and disillusion lives in the flower of time."
At the pueblo where the pregnant woman left us, we bought some sugar cane. As we continued our leisurely trip down the Rio Napo, with legs draped over the side of the canoe, we chewed on sugar cane, spitting the fiber conveniently into the river. Then we sang the new song we had learned, again and again, until we probably drove our boatmen crazy. The water was still and golden, the sun was high. Jungle sounds of macaws and monkeys hailed us on either side as we glided blissfully down the wide yellow ribbon of water. It was paradise. Absolute serenity.
We saw tigre skins on a raft and bought them on the spot. One cost $12, another cost only $8 because it was missing a foot. Later, when the skins started to stink, we realized they had not been tanned.
We floated down the Rio Napo until we reached the Peruvian border at Nueva Roca Fuerte. Terry and I climbed out of the canoe and up the embankment and made our way to the general store that sold dry goods and hardware, and sometimes Indian artifacts.
The store was owned by Chino, an attractive Chinese fellow who chose to live a lonely life here to make money. Even though he had nothing to sell us, he begged us to stay longer. Yearning for someone to talk to, Chino served us cold drinks and told us about himself.
He was born in Guayaquil of an Ecuadorian mother and a Chinese father. His father returned to China when he was a child, then sent for him to receive his education in Hong Kong. Chino returned to Ecuador after finishing his education. However, his mother had remarried and was not eager to see her son again.
Chino longed to have a wife. He told us that a girl in Ambato was willing to marry him, "but she refused to live in this god-forsaken country." He complained that girls liked men in uniform and passed him by.
In Nueva Roca Fuerte, we struck up a conversation with an Indian women who was holding the tiniest monkey I had ever seen. His face was the size of a teaspoon and he fit in the palm of the hand except for his long plumey tail. He resembled a fierce little lion with an orange mane. His cries sounded like a bird. I was so enamored of him, she gave him to me.