Our quest, centered along the Maranon river, is drawing to an end. Our private boats take us down past ever-increasing signs of civilization to the town of Saramarisa which is nothing more than a rough trading port. We also pass larger and more numerous gold operations along every gravelly section of the river. Banana plantations emerge from the jungle and are soon quite frequent.
The upper deck is the size of a tennis court and is covered by a 6 foot high steel roof. I’m 6’2”. Therefore, the next three days are punctuated with intermittent cursing. We hang hammocks from the posts, our lodging for the night, and another 5 or 6 locals do the same.
We also stock up on snacks before the boat takes us farther downstream. This large barge stops every hour or two to pick up cargo, which is usually bananas, and lumber, but we also watch them load a Tuk-Tuk, or three wheeled moto-taxi, along with cases of beer. We also add passengers, lots of them. Before long, our hammock space is dozens of bodies string like spider’s catches, and the slightest swing bangs us against each other like those steel balls suspended from strings on the physics’ professor’s desk. There is no room to walk, almost nowhere to sit, and it’s still hot and humid. And to top it off, the beer is warm.
A day and a night of this bring us to the confluence of the Huallaga river where we turn upstream for two more days of slow going. By the time we reach Tarapoto, I am filthy from sleeping on the steel deck, sore from the low ceiling and being stooped over, hungry for a real meal, and tired of travel. Along the way, a dog bites one of our team and another team member gets his bag stolen. We survived the “hostile” natives, snakes, spiders, rapids and the unknown to receive our only real troubles in the midst of “civilization.” It’s kind of a let down. We’ve had a lot of time to ponder the results of our adventure, the information we’ve learned and the sights we’ve seen. We aren’t clear on what we actually proved. We’ve made new friends, experienced an incredible culture and environment very far away from just about anything we know. We’ve found ruins, very old roads and many stories. Clark’s grand-nephew, Alex, has been diligent in recording our retrospectives and observations, and the questioning always returns to “What next?” It’s the hardest question to answer.
A short flight takes us back to Lima and the group begins to disperse down their own paths. Alex vows to continue the search for definitive proof of Clark’s grand claims. We have the coordinates of the most promising search sight for the church at Santiago De Las Montanas, the tantalizing leads to other sights, and proof of the abundant gold in the Maranon river. Was Clark here 70 years ago? We are certain he was. Were the conquistadors here 500 years ago? The ancient road we saw and the stories we’ve heard suggest they certainly were. Did they find the source of all the Inca gold? We have left the door open for the next adventure, the next research project to try to answer these questions. Alex will endeavor to find his journals of this time in Clark’s life, and we will create a video journal of our accomplishments here, but the next phase is up to the next leader to step up and take the reins.