…it was and was not tough. It’s hard to explain, but I’ll try.
Sure there was a lot of physical exertion. My activity monitor said that each 1 day paddling was equal to ONE full week cardiovascular exercise… and add to that; thinking about how to protect yourself against the relentless sun; the potential for weather to change (eg torrential, heavy rain) and therefore to quickly find land/make temporary shelter; adapt to the situation and the unknown unknowns; the biting insects (mosquito and fire ants); not knowing whether you were going to eat a cooked meal that evening (situation allowing) or whether it would be cold food/small portion.
The people we met on the river were amazing, real people living real lives. I cannot say hunter/gatherer as they were connected to electricity, were trading with built up cities, kids went to school on occasion…. But probably as close to foraging living as you can get in this day.
For example in one place near Palizada as we arrived the men were slaughtering pigs (boys watching to learn their future skills…) for their Dias de los muertos fiesta then the women were preparing dishes from the pig (girls watching…).
We did have plenty time to ourselves to set up camp and to nap through the day. Times when we did not interrupt certain particular daily active of the community. To give them time to be themselves, respecting their community space.
Then at other times we got to fully interact with the community. For me, in this same community I had an amazing time speaking with the children, they took me under their wing and we ‘spoke’ in Spanish. We went on a walk and they pointed out animals/trees we exchanged Spanish/English words, we played hopscotch. They took pictures on my camera of us playing and eating. It was full and uninterrupted access to a native community. A privilege.
In the town of Palizada the local tourist office organised for us to speak to a group of senior school kids (with a translator) about their opportunities in life. Between us we spoke about; the environment; traditional expected career paths vs challenging the norm; medicine in remote locations; art and; the responsibility of travelling setting good examples being ambassadors. Very rewarding.
There were times when I just wanted to sit and enjoy the environment in was in but a local engaged me in ‘pidgeon’ Spanish conversation and I realised I was an ambassador for extrañeros (foreigners) and so fully engaged. Extraordinary.