It was 9 am and my clothes were already sticking to my skin as we strolled down the cracked streets towards the riverbank. I needed to make one quick stop at the little money exchange kiosk at the end of the block. A man in a white t-shirt and jean shorts sat on a wooden chair with a crate propped up beside him. I needed more pesos, so I plopped down a crisp fifty-dollar American bill and a used looking twenty. He pushed the twenty back and pointed at the folded corner; damaged bills were not accepted. I was told this was a common request among rural exchanges.
I caught up with the rest of my study abroad group and jumped into our boat. We were finally leaving the city of Leticia and onto the Amazon portion of our trip. The boat was basic, built out of wood with a tarp roof and a single motor in the back. We later referred to these as the “pecka, pecka boats”, as that was the sound of the little outboard motor. I sat right in the front, away from the tarp’s shelter to stifle any chance of seasickness. Our first stop was between two military ships. I clicked my camera and waited. I waited for our guide to be perfectly framed between the two ships, papers in hand for permission to travel the river. I was nudged. My journalist instincts to capture everything clouded my judgment and I tucked my lens back into my armpit. Photos of military could come off as threatening, so the guide said.
As we entered the mouth of the river, the wind picked up. My sunny spot at the front of the boat soon clouded over with storm clouds. The contrast between the reflected water and the dark sky was perfect and pressed down the shutter of my camera. I took pictures of everyone, of the nature around me, of myself, my boots, the boat, until I felt a raindrop hit my hand. One drop became two, and soon my camera was stuck under my flimsy plastic poncho as rain pelted my face. At this moment I wished I had sat under the tarp. I was too concerned about my electronics to enjoy the rest of the three-hour commute for what it was. I should have brought a better poncho when the opportunity arose. I was soaked and cold.
This memory always reminds me of how important it is to be prepared and aware when you are travelling to foreign countries. Thank goodness, the location I was staying at had an extra poncho for me and that I listened to the recommendation to bring silica packs to draw the moisture out of my phone and camera. It is a good idea to pack most of the recommended items on your gear list and if you have any questions ask the instructor in charge to explain. Usually these people have done trips like this before and know exactly what to bring; even as quirky as undamaged bills.
By: Lisa King, a member of BCSA Writers in Residence team and former Stories from Abroad scholarship recipient. Lisa is currently working as a photojournalist and is one of the most recent graduates of Kwantlen Polytechnic University in the Bachelor of Arts General Studies program. Her study focuses were in Fine Art, Creative Writing, Geography and Sociology.