Tag Archives: Rainforest

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!!