Puerto Serviez to Barracabermeja
Trip Start May 2006
28Trip End Aug 17, 2006
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At the port we looked for our friend who said he could help us find a canoe, but only found fish and a small mass service one of the bars blasting music earlier. We decided to take the regular boat (lancha) to Puerto Berrio. The lancha left from the other side, La Sierra, and as we left Serviez, our friend appeared, waving his hand. We yelled promising we would return, but in La Sierra we had no problems catching the 1030 lancha, so this was enough of a sign to met that we were doing what were supposed to be, still a tinge of what could have happened, had we turned around remained. Truth be told, we probably would have spent the entire day unsuccessfully trying to find a canoe for ourselves
In our brief time in la Sierra, some kids begged me to take a photo of them and they loved seeing it in the screen and then an angry woman peeled my papaya for me after seeing my ineptitude. I offered her some, but she said she was sick. Still i ate the papaya her hands had caressed.
A lancha is a motorboat with a large engine that fits about 20 people on benches 4 people wide. There is a roof where lugged is tied to and like the buses, it is maintained just enough so that it functions. The girl I was sitting next to did not have the Money to pay for her younger sister, and I considered offering, but they let her stay assuming she could get the Money in Berrio. Lanchaīs are fast and loud enough that it is difficult to talk, especially if you are in the back. The boat weaved its way around, the driver knowing precisely which areas were navigable, as obstacles including sand bars, floating trees, whirlpools, etc. We passed by tugboats pushing barges, other lanchas, floating trash, and fishermen and their motor canoes. Herons stood on the banks, motionless, like sentinels, waiting for lunch in the form of a fish to pass by. Occasionally we would drop someone off in the middle of nowhere at their little farm. This area had once been jungle, but it was clear now human impact had been immense. An tour later we arrived in Berrio.
After lunch, where I tried Bagre, a fish that didnīt come with bones,
Fernando left to make some calls and I sat watching the day pass by. Families of 4 on one motorcycle, sometimes lone 5 year olds with dirty dresses, and another woman hobbling because her feet pointed at 90 degrees to what is normal. We bought typical sombreros or the region, and I was surprised some sold for over 100 dollars if they were of fine enough stitching to be rolled up like a tortilla. Before catching the next Lancha, we had to pee and the restaurant in which we ate had a urinal, but in the same room where everyone ate.
The next trip the river became a giant maze, filled with islands and channels and inlets, much more like a lake than a river. In one inlet, some people got out, and we crossed to the other side. Three men were waiting with several barrels of what looked like gas. I began taking photos and was told not to do so. They siphoned the gas into the boats tanks, which were two large barrels and loaded the rest onto the back, all of this in a sloppy, hurried manner, spilling gas into the river
About half an hour later, the refinery skyline of Barrencabermeja appears like a giant terminator, mechanical, alien, with its infinitely intricate system of pipes, vents, chambers, ladders, and stacks where eternal flames of industry combust into the atmosphere. We turn into an inlet littered with boats and trash and pull up to port, a muddy enclave filled with people, some of whom are drinking and listening to absurdly loud music, others loading wheelbarrows full of river sand from canoes. I am reminded of Mos Eisley and the cantina in Star Wars, except this time it is only humans. We walk from the port through ragged streets. This is Barrancabermeja, the oil industrial capital of Colombia, a city whose entire existence has nothing to do with the river, but with oil, which began about 80 years ago, when Tropical Oil Company, an American enterprise arrived. Since then, there has been a funny odor in the air. On the main drag we found a basic hotel that was clean enough, though one of the beds initially had a few dozen shoe boxes on it. From the hallway is a perfect view of the refinery, which at night is beautiful skyline, lit up more than any city skyline. In between downtown and the refinery is a lake, that depending on your perspective looks like pristine jungle. We ask the waitress at a restaurant, what there is to do here. She shakes her head, not understanding. We explain we are not from here and her facial expression reveals she is confused anyone would come here. Luckily, we have people to meet, unfortunately it means we have to spend the next several days.