Tag Archives: Amazonia

Sunday Morning Coming Down

One of Johnny Cash’s most poignant songs is about being an addict and alone on Sunday morning.

“And there ain’t nothing short of dying’  As half as lonesome as the sound, Of a sleeping city sidewalk, and Sunday morning coming down.”



Yesterday morning I was sitting on a bench  in the lovely Plaza de Armas, Chachapoyas, Peru. It’s a clean, safe park, filled with families, tourists, kids and sadl stray dogs looking for a handout. I was thinking about how the mountains and sky change throughout the day. At  7:40 am it’s quiet, and the clouds were so puffy and dense I might have been covered with a down comforter.

I was thinking about the poor dogs in every country that were domesticated and then forsaken when they weren’t needed, thinking about how grateful I am to be here-really, to be anywhere when  so many of my friends and family have already passed on.  Sitting on a park bench beckons one to reflect, observe, & frequently communicate with those who sit beside you. I love park benches. I seek them out wherever I am in the world.

Kids shaking down a tree in the park.

Kids shaking down a tree in the park.

At exactly 8 am church let out. Throngs of the devout poured into the park. Among them was a pathetic man wearing a filthy, brown, wool poncho. He headed straight for me. Still,  I didn’t get up immediately. As he got closer I saw that his eyes were rummy, his mouth crusty, his head as if it had been greased. As he sat he mumbled something about cervesa. Of course he wanted a beer. I might have given him a couple of soles, but suddenly the stench of him made me gag. I jumped up and moved across the park.

From my new bench I noticed that the devout passed him as if he was invisible. Johnny’s song rang in my head. I thought maybe “somewhere this guy  heard “a lonely bell ringing, echoing through the canyons, like disappearing dreams of yesterday.” Then again, maybe he just wanted a beer.

Nasty Monkey Hostal

Just for the record, I didn’t want to stay there.  I wanted to be in town where I had freedom to walk around day and evenings. Plus, I am always  sceptical of anyone who keeps wild pets and yet ignores starving domestic dogs and cats. I was there for one night because a new friend had made reservations.

The owner of Alto del Aguila,  known as the frier, keeps, according to the Lonely Planet, a few monkeys and a pair of mcaws that will “gather around you’ one would assume in a welcoming manner.

Having been there long enough to dump my stuff, I was standing in front of Claire’s cabana when suddenly the frier appeared. Simultaneously 3 squirrel monos were on me. “No.No.” I said. He trust a teaspoon of sugar at me. I took it because I was already in the game. When the sugar was gone two of the monos left, but one stayed. He was sort of hanging upside down on my midriff. “That’s enough now,” say I. The guy laughs. The mono’s ass in my face  was not any prettier than any other ass might be. I touched him, gently, but with a downward motion. “Go now,” I say.

Pissed that monkey off!  It turned and bit my wrist, came up toward my face which I was hiding, bit my upper arm, and put two small gouges on my chest. Maybe the owner got him off me, really I lost track of the sequence. The mono, now back under the eves of the building, the owner, muttering as he made a brushing motion down, “Defense. Defense, as he led me to the community room where he put something like iodine on the major bite.

The asumption was that It was my fault. I made the mono angry by brushing him off. I, a stupid tourist, didn’t know monkey lingo. Hell, I’m struggling with Spanish.

So later that evening a guest from Ireland,told me the macaw, that I called Lucas because he was under Cabana Lucas when I first saw him, that can’t fly, tried to bite her shoe, but when she put her hand down to stop it, it bit her finger. She clearly was ignorant in the macaw language.

When I woke up the following morning, Lucas was at my door. I made him a deal. “I have a mango. I’ll share it with you if you let me out.” I took a couple photos of him, then closed the door a little to move him back. I got a knife, cut the mango and gave him the meaty seed and skins because, although I am an ignorant tourist, I keep my word.




The slow boat to Iquitos. Rumors. Blah.

The rumors abound: watch your stuff every minute or you will be robbed, the mosquitos are voracious and will eat you alive, the food gross, the noise deafening. Ah.

The minute the cab dropped  me off at the port in Leticia, Alex, a young man offered to carry my heavy roll-along bag across the island to the boats. For about a dollar and a bottle of water, he not only carried the bag, he found me a boat. Along the short walk, he asked a thousand questions about the US. He was especially interested in Las Vegas. Young men used-back in the day- to be interested in Hollywood.

I was safely, for if you are to believe the rumors again, the boats are unsafe, the drivers reckless. Personally,  I believe people who make their lives on the sea are some of the must cautious, reverential folks on the planet. So, I arrived on the muddy bank of the Amazon in Peru. A short mototaxi to the customs office, and I was legal for the next 90 days.

Now I had several hours to kill before boarding the boat. Lunch with locals on a picnic table in front of a hardware store, carried there in styrofoam coolers by moto taxi. It was delicious chicken, beans, rice, and totally fresh salsa. She allowed me to pick out the piece of chicken I wanted!

After lunch I still had a few hours. I stopped at a restaurant that was obviously closed, but the owner saw me and welcomed me to come in. I told him I had a few hours, he offered me the hammock over looking the marsh and river. “Se puede descansar en la hamaca. ” I ordered a cold beer and took him up on the offer. I napped, feeling safe and content.

I stood on a steep bank looking at two boats. The Gran Diego and the Maria Fernandez.  Porters raced to and fro, up and down the steep hill laden with enormous burdens. These young men grow old fast.

I started downhill to the MF because it was the closest. My roll- on wanted to roll away, and my heavy backpack pushed me forward. A man, Manolo, came along beside me, took the former, and carried it to the top deck(actually next to top because the top was used by the crew). He then hung my hammock, shook my hand and went to his,  I assume.

Later that day, he came to visit me, but the minute he sat down on the bench at the end of my hammock and gave me a little wave, a woman traveling with her son sat beside him. She talked and talked. Finally he left. My chance of the Maria Fernandez becoming a love boat dashed before departure.

I still hadn’t bought a ticket. I asked a guy in a hammock where and when that happened. “Mas tarde.” Lol.

More people boarded. Finally, Rene, a Canadian/Italian man, hung his hammock next to m

The Gran Diego

The Gran Diego

Ruby con sansia

Ruby con sansia

My foot among hammocks

My foot among hammocks

Rene eating gruel

Rene eating gruel

Peruvian ferry across the river to Santa Rosa

Peruvian ferry across the river to Santa Rosa

View from hammock in Santa Rosa

View from hammock in Santa Rosa

The closed restaurant photo from hammock

The closed restaurant photo from hammock


El Gran Diego

El Gran Diego

ine. We were the only passengers not from Colombia or Peru.







Don’t Pee In The Water.

The Amacayacu lodge or headquarters sets in the confluence of the rios Mata Mata and Amazon. I was sitting on the front dock of the Amazon when some workers from the Mocaqua community docked their boat. Before going back to his roofing job, one of the young guys, took off his shirt and did a back flip into the Amazon. “Ahh,” I though, “I can swim here.” When I mentioned it to Tomas, he suggested I swim in the Mata Mata, by the boat dock, where the people who work here dock. “It’s also somewhat cleaner than the Amazon,” he added. “Fine by me,” I think, so I packed my bathing suit.

When I got here I asked Alejandro, one of the student geologists interning here if he ever swam there.”Yes. almost every day I swim. It’s beautiful. The water is warm on the top, but down under it is cool and refreshing. But, Rubi, it’s very important you don’t pee in the water.” “Why?” I asked reasonably. “It’s not good for you because of the fishes.” Ummm. I understand my pee might be not good for the fishes, but why not good for me? I pondered this. The following day I was in the kitchen with Pedro, another one of the students. “Pedro, what will happen if I pee in the water?”
“He looked at me with startling blue eyes.”It’s very bad because of the little fishes that can enter your body through the place where you pee.” Yikes.

Again I pondered. The practical side of me thinks this is something a mother would say to her kids to keep them from polluting the river, then I considered the many strange critters that live here: the piranha, fluorescent bugs, plants, and fungi, exotic insects, pink dolphins, even trees that are protected by pointy cudgels that strangle interlopers. This rainforest is a scene painted by the Brothers Grimm. If the wolf can eat the grandmother and dress in her clothes, there’s a pretty good chance a fish can enter the peeing place.

I will probably swim, but not laugh hard while I’m in the process, or sneeze.

Where’s the Carne?

Yesterday I woke up at seven o’clock to make sure everything was ready for my first trip alone to the park. The boat departure was 10 am. This is not a big deal, just the first time I’ve gone alone. At 8:30 Tomas took me, my backpack, and sack of groceries on his motorbike to the dock to buy the boat ticket. A conversation ensued with him and the clerk about the return. Apparently the person who sells the return tickets wasn’t there; then she short-changed him 5000 pesos for the ticket he bought. We left. “I’ll buy the return ticket and email the info to you,” he said.

Next, We went shopping in the market so I could buy fresh fruit. Still, we arrived at the boat(at least we assumed it my boat) an hour early. We hung out for a while by the boat than he decided to leave. I waited, my eye on the seat I wanted. A guy came to stow the passenger’s assorted stuff: backpacks, suitcases, boxes, bags on top of the boat. A few minutes later we boarded. The clerk came to check off names. Mine was called twice. I felt so special.

Finally, we were underway. But, instead of heading in the direction of the park, we went across the river and docked by three small navy boats. I’m thinking, “He’s delivering mail.” The driver got out, conversed, took something out of his pocket handed it over, and then we turned around. “Ah. Now we’re underway,” I think. Alas, to my surprise he headed into the small tributary and back to the dock! “Que pasa!” I say out loud to myself, and apparently to the woman sitting next to me. “Carne,” She says with a smile. “Carne?” “Si, carne.” We regrese para carne?” I ask. “ Si.” She smiled again. When the boat was secured a couple of guys carried a huge, obviously heavy, cooler container to the boat. Carne. They hefted it onto the roof. The boat backed up. Finally. We were off.

The ride was smooth, cool and picturesque. I took pictures of houses and boats along the way. At one of the thatched hotels on the riverbank, a gringo family of three got out. The carne went with them.

We were almost to the park when suddenly the boat lurched, and stopped. The driver muttered. (I was sitting behind him, a mutter is the same in any language) He tried the motor several times. Nada. He ran to the back to the boat, and pulled on things. Came back. Nada. Finally, he returned to the motor, took its top off, and found the problem. Something had apparently gotten wound around something. Whatever it was, he came back and said, “Ahora”. Now. Sure enough we were on our way again.

One of the qualities I hope to acquire here is the indomitable patience the people have. I’ve noticed it all over Latin America. Maybe it’s the heat. Maybe it’s having been conquered by another country. Maybe it’s the Catholic dogma that one’s reward will be in heaven, so there’s no hurry to get there. What ever it is, in my opinion it’s healthier than expecting things to happen immediately. Life isn’t perfect, but most folks don’t anticipate instant gratification, exhibit road rage, stress and other byproducts of impatience and expectation.

Zancudo. Mosquito. Mosca

Each morning when I wake up here in the jungle, encased in netting that ostensibly has kept the mosquitoes outside during the night, I lie still and mentally do a body check. This doesn’t involve touching myself. That comes later when I’m applying the hydrocortisone cream. I’ve discovered if I am very still, I can sense the new bites before they itch, which, incidentally, doesn’t take long.

This morning it was my back. In spite of several applications of Deet poison on my clothes and my skin, each day, evening and before bed, I wake up with new welts. Some of them are very small; some are grande. Lying there, I ponder if one mosquito marched across my back, munching as it traversed the white skin, or were there several at different times, and each had made their own joyful discovery of the new untrammeled expanse? My friends here think probably the former.

Yesterday, I was lying down, reading before a nap, when I saw an offender trying unsuccessfully to find its way out of the enclosure. I smashed it. It’s body spewed bright red blood on the sheet covering a section as large as my ring fingernail. I understand that one example does not prove a theory, but it’s probably enough to apply for grant money for further studies.

When I crawled out of bed, and slipped into my shoes, I realized that my feet were itchy too. Ah, yes. Lumps and bumps scattered across the top of my arch and one under it. I’ve only been in the Amazon jungle a week, so I have not yet resigned myself to being under attack 24/7, but neither have I decided on my defense against the voracious bastards.

However, now I understand why the colonialists (who I used to hold in contempt) introduced new species to contain the spread of what they perceived to be undesirable or invasive in the new world. Of course it fucked up the balance of things, but, in this case, I’m thinking bats. Clearly there aren’t enough here. We need more. I read somewhere that in one night alone, a single bat can devour several times its weight in mosquitoes. That’s not enough. Not even close.

The Teaching Schedule: Mas O Menos.

I arrived in Leticia two weeks ago. I had a nasty head cold for the first week, so I’ve just gotten to Amacayacu National Park. I start at seven tomorrow morning teaching Charlie and Luis, plus a other few other hombres from the Mocaqua community up the river a bit. Time here depends on weather, work, and a variety of other factors,  so nothing is very definite. It rains everyday. The director of the park says it shouldn’t be because it is the dry season. She agrees that global warming has caused the difference. The water level is rising, too. It will mean life changes for so many people.

Leticia is a frontier town in the Amazon bordering Peru and Brazil. There’s a strong army presence to keep the illegal drug and animal trade to a minimum. I laughed watching the beautiful golden retriever jumping around on the convayer belt sniffing our luggage when it was unloaded from the Lan flight. But I don’t think serious real traffickers  transport on commercial airlines. To me, the drug dealers are the scourge of the earth.

The motor cycle seems to be the preferred mode of transportation to get around town.  I cringe seeing small babies and children riding sans helmets, but that’s just me.Back in the day my kids didn’t have regulation car seats, or wouldn’t have had to wear helmets either.  I  have to remind myself to observe in perspective.

Leticia is bustling. It has an excellent bakery, and I ate my first piranna from a cart parked on a corner near the port. It was served with yucca and rice, and absolutely delicious. I haven’t seen any homeless here, and it seems that even the scrawniest of bent-over grandmothers wields a mean broom, and tends a bucket garden.

Folks are friendly and helpful. So far I have taught about 6 classes. I have two teenage students each morning, and several workers from the park  who come to the Entropika office each afternoon.

The park has wifi but i still can’t download photos. I’m going to have to do it at a cafe, if it’s to be done at all. What a mess. I tried to buy a usb port, but apparently Claro, the phone company has no more space in Leticia. How can there not be more virtual space to purchase? It’s vitural! It should be unlimited for gods sake.

Flying over the Amazon, I wasn’t prepared for the expanse of forest. First it was gray/green with  spotty clouds, but as the plane flew a bit lower, it became verdant and seemed to be impenetrable, although I realize it isn’t. I could see The Rio. I wanted to jump and tell the others on board, ” Hey look! that’s the Amazon River and the rain forest.!” But they already knew that.

When I saw the Rio Amazon, it took my breath away. Its wide and spacious, not held in by concrete or large buildings. As it should be, it’s edged with mud. In places it’s difficult to see the edges and gives the illusion it might be a lake. Moreover, at least on the small section I traveled, unlike the muddy, chocolate water of the Yangtze in China, the Amazon is blue! On the two hour trip here, I saw only a few small boats heading in the other direction. Scattered along every few miles, were small huts built on stilts perched on top of the bank, A few folks worked outside, and children waving to our fast boat from the muddy bank. Occasional wooden canoe type boats were tied to stakes driven into the top soil, with a line staked straight down to it on the river’s edge. It must be difficult to make even a minimal living, and to be so isolated. I can’t imagine where the kids go to school. The river will rise more than fifteen yards in the next few months.

At the park for a few months are several young students from SINCHI, a Eco-biological Research Institute.they count flora and fauna. I’ve seen some gorgeous birds, but no monos. . .   I’ll keep you posted. Such as it is, I have wifi until Sunday!!




Musings; Birds, Relaxation, Impending Danger

It’s a quiet day here on John”s Island, on my back porch office. This morning was a lazy one, filled with reflection. It’s possible to be grateful, content, meditative, fearful and angry within just a couple of hours.

 Back porch office, Casa de Updike, Johns's Island

Back porch office, Casa de Updike, Johns’s Island

The birds are apparently not hungry. I hear them calling to one another in the woods. It’s a language I don’t understand, but wish I did, a melodic cacophony. Walking through a mall in Beijing comes to mind. Probably they will come down soon for lunch. Peanuts and sunflower seeds every day free for the taking, first come- first served. image

Brash handsome  jays calling, jeer, jeer jeer, graceful doves, cardinals, (love to watch the mom feed her loud, demanding babies), woodpeckers: a downey woodpecker and what looks to be an endangered red-cockaded woodpecker, which will both soon be gone due to developers denuding the surrounding forest, a pileated woodpecker, yik-yik-yik,  that was the inspiration for the infamous Woody the Woodpecker, juncos, and other unidentified chirpy sparrows, loud barking crows…  and then, a large predator swooped into the forest. Too much in the shade of other trees for me to see what it was with my binocs, but the crows knew. They gathered together screaming and flapping like regiments in battle,  and forced it back, and off. 

We should be able to do the same to the Tea Party that threatens our way of life in America, just as  the Taliban are in the Middle East. Think about it, & check out the similarities at Politburo of Teabilly Mockery.

*open carry of military weapons, despises and wants to topple the US Government , supports the death penalty, opposes women’s rights, anti-abortion, wants to teach religion in schools, integrate religion and state,  no respect for law, authority, or the president, views homosexuality as evil. Scary.  

Casual Guns

Casual Guns


I  can’t imagine the bird scene in the jungle or even the town that is built on the Amazon River in the jungle,  but in seven weeks I will be there. First a few days in Bogota, then fly to Leticia, Amazonas. Can it be anything like I imagine it? image

Walking through the Amazon forest en route to an indigenous village, paper and pencils, maybe a portable CD player, teaching them  our language-learning theirs.  It makes the dreaded yellow fever vaccine, and the mosquitos worth it. 

I spent Sunday with my daughter and her boyfriend at a lake home she is going to buy. In the back is a 12X20′ cookhouse that I’ll turn into my studio. It won’t be the first house I’ve transformed, but probably the last. It will allow me freedom: to be with my family and friends, write, travel, kayak; what else could a nomadic gramma ask for? Lucky me.  

Relaxing with Anna.

Relaxing with Anna.

Dock, Goat Island.

Dock, Goat Island.















The Amazon: Doing Good

allegheny areal high wide shot

Allegheny River

I’m a river rat.  I grew up on the Allegheny River. I swam in it, fished with my grampa in it, and canoed on it. Most of all I watched it flow by our house. Sometimes it passed by gracefully, like a gauzy ball gown during a waltz;  occasionally it unleashed its fearsome might,  roaring past as if it were angry, in a terrible hurry.

 I loved that river. My  heart and soul was nourished by  its energy. My Mom taught me to be respectful,  “The river is beautiful, powerful, and dangerous,  but  without its  water nothing would  exist.” 


Houses in Leticia

Along both banks of the river were the  Allegheny Mountains. In spite of the scary Brothers Grimm stories,  my friends and I played in the forest. We built shacks and tree-houses, (ok all shacks), ate fresh raspberries, blueberries, and elderberries, and explored caves Indians might have  slept in.

 I loved those woods, too.  As a little kid, I knew, somehow, even though the critters that shared the forest with us kept themselves pretty much hidden, that they,  the deer, raccoons, wolves, bears, beavers, rabbits, and even the snakes…, were our neighbors-that we shared the resources. “Pay attention, you aren’t the only animal in the forest,” my mom would laugh.” cayman-tropical-rain-forest-amazon-alligator-gator-14159010

In August I will be going to live  for awhile in Leticia, Columbia, on the Amazon River. 250px-Colombia_-_Amazonas_-_Leticia.svgThe  Amazon River is the largest drainage system in the world! Its length is the equilivent of the distance from New York to Rome! The Amazon River basin is home to the largest rainforest on Earth! ON EARTH!

Amazon River & Basin

Amazon River & Basin

It’s size is roughly as big as the whole USA. Scientists say the rain forest is  ‘THE LUNGS OF OUR PLANET-without the rain forest,  the earth will die (or is dying) a slow death. We will die with it. The magnificent rain forest houses over half of the world’s species. Many folks aren’t being respectful, they apparently don’t understand that we all breathe the same air, with the same lungs.leticia boats on river

In Leticia, I’m going to be a small part of  Fundacion Entropika, a non-profit organization comprised of dedicated conservationists, that under the direction of Dr. Angela Maldonaldo, is fighting the good fight, for our planet, and those of us (all of us) who live here. 306px-Leticia

Entropika.org, ” works to contribute to the long-term conservation of tropical biodiversity by facilitating local community-led projects, establishing educational programs and research,  while working closely with the local indigenous prople.” And, much more.

Dr. Maldonado is a force. I met her last month at an IPPL conference, and immediately knew I wanted to work with this group of people who are dedicated to keeping the lungs of our earth clear, and  the habitat for the people, and other species of  animals, who call the Amazon home, safe. 

Listen to my mother. We need to be respectful. Without a healthy planet, without clean water, and forest’s oxygen, we are gonners.    amazon fishing