Soaked in Las Marias
Before deserting me in this forsaken place Xavier had told me that in the morning I might be able to catch another pipante headed down river. “Si no, en dos dias”, reminding me that I may have to wait. For me uncertainty and doubt are always more fun than pre-arranged tours and fixed itineraries.
The pipante was awaiting me when I awoke. Word travels fast when there is a tourist anxious for adventure and willing to pay.
Down the snaking river we floated as the morning mist was sucked away by the rising sun. The family waived from high atop an eroded hillside as mud engulfed their bare feet then slowly trickled into the awaiting Palanco.
My new captain, younger that Xavier with a drooping lower lip covered by a grimy mustache, waived to the family and threw a rope line around a dying tree limb stuck in the muddy river bottom close to the shoreline. A young man in his team’s slid down the mud hill on his bottom waving with one hand commemorating the thrill of his ride. In the other hand he held an old cloth sack filled with freshly picked bananas. The tuk tuk captain handed the boy a few coins and we continued our voyage with our new cargo.
We repeated the routine several times during the day , waving to families, or to thin young men dressed in soiled clothes , who respected this ancient form of river commerce. By afternoon, around a bend and protected by large trees and drooping ferns, we finally saw the mud trail winding lazily up a large hill to the place called Las Marias.
I cautiously climbed the soggy trail grasping vines, tree roots and jagged rocks as I pulled myself high above the river. It was then that I realized that the only way the people in this area could be safe during the rainy season was to build homes high above the river even if it meant making the arduous climb several times a day.
At the top of the hill four dilapidated wood dwellings dotted the cleared jungle. An elongated five room structure with a narrow porch which squeaked and rumbled as two other daring tourists meandered about in the dreary afternoon sun. Behind the hotel drooping down a ravine stood a two story dwelling which served as home for the hotels caretaker and four small children. On top of a prominent knoll several yards in front of the hotel stood the home of the Las Marias head man. The most interesting building stood sturdy and stately in a corner of the makeshift town. It was the church.
“That’s where we go when the cyclones come” a boy selling warm coke-cola told me.