Sporting Amazon party favours made from palm fronds.
First monkey that we see in the wild.
Despite its small size, this anaconda was feisty.
Some ordinary houses along the river.
A sloth seen in the wild.
A sloth that had been captured was released after this photo was taken.
Dave 'n' me "gittin our piraña on."
Let's take a closer look to see who's is bigger ;)
The Largest Lily Pad in the World.
Dave and I are snuggling with baby capybaras, The Largest Rodents in the World.
An adult capybara with young, and then the camera "broke" :(
A Jungle Lodge is like a comfortable inn in the middle of the selva, and ours-- Loving Light-- was really quite nice. We had accommodations that exceeded my expectations, with flush toilets, sinks, and running showers in our mosquito net-lined rooms with the most comfortable (albeit rustic) beds I have slept in this whole trip. Best sleep in Peru, and the sounds of the jungle animals and pattering rain on thatch roof might have added to that nice sleep. But I get ahead of myself.
We left the docks in Iquitos two days ago, in the morning, and met up with two American brothers on spring break from college (SpRiNg??? Already?) and an Ozzie, originally from Poland. Our guide ushered us into a little speedboat and we set off at a nice clip against the current of the Amazon towards the feed river (Yanayacu) that our lodge was on. We cut through the water nonstop until we reached a little town of Tamshiyacu, where we stopped momentarily for the guide to purchase cooked rice and meat in a bag for his lunch, and we stayed in the boat chatting with some young kids.
When we pulled away to leave, we made a big deal about waving goodbye to our little friends, and then we zoomed off in an aristocratic show of unnecessary speed. So, we were going fine whizzing along, when, chshhhhhhriiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiii, the motor was doing something wonky. So wonky, we won't go into it, but basically, we floated around trying to figure things out until we were rescued by a humble peque peque doing about 4 miles an hour, which gallantly pushed us downriver the little ways until Tamshiyacu again. “Hah, hi again everyone, we were just kidding! Hiiii! Can we, um, eat lunch here with you guys while we wait for another boat to come from Iquitos to take us the rest of the way to our touristy yuppy jungle lodge? Yeah? Thanks! You plebeians are so friendly!”
Just kidding, we didn't say that at all. In fact, we ate at a restaurant and then walked around getting to know the peculiarities of the town. It was founded 80 years ago by some pesky French Canadian Catholic missionaries who couldn't let well enough alone with the natives of the Amazon who had any interesting customs at all. Our guide showed us a few plants of interest, though. A natural sunscreen is squeezed out of the piñon tree, and soap and shampoo can be procured from a type of malva. And then we climbed this enremada of three stories and saw (Lo!) some river dolphins coming up for air. I guess there really are freshwater dolphins in the Amazon, and it's not just tourist propaganda after all. How thrilling.
Finally our rescue boat arrived, and we piled in to continue our trip. We waved goodbye again to the friendly townfolk, and zoomed off after gunning our motor. Byyyeee! And then chuuuuuuckkkkachuckachuacckaakauauauuauackkkkkkk stalled again. We couldn't seem to get the motor restarted. So... we floated with much humiliation (more like mirth) back to the dock where everyone else is laughing and smiling at us. “Ooookay, yes, we seem to be having some technical difficulties... and for lack of a tertiary rescue craft, we are doing to have to dink around for your amusement for another half an hour before we can finally cruise gently and cautiously away, and now we say Goooodbye...for now!”
We did finally speed up a bit another hour into our boatride, and soon we were moving along at an appreciable speed and we found where the Yanayacu River feeds into the Amazon. Amazonian river water is a churned muddy brown colour, but the Yanayacu is a dark, almost black colour, and where they flow together is quite the nifty effect. We also saw more river dolphins blooooutschting out of the water in pairs at this point. Then with justifiable caution, we headed up the Yanaycu at a slower pace. There were floating plants everywhere (causing the river to turn the black colour, due to tannic acid) and birds, and strange sounds that could be heard over the less-loud motor. We made it to the lodge without further interruption, and were welcomed into a Loving Light, to be sure.
Lady Dog (pronounced leeeydi dohck) greeted us at the muddy riverside, and we hopped out, got shown to our rooms. Duly refreshed, we returned to the main lodge and then headed out on an evening canoe ride. First to mention are the monkeys we saw (in their natural habitat, no chains involved) in the trees. Also, the bird variety continued to amaze us, and as the day grew crepuscular, we headed into a swampy area under some trees to check out the tarantulas clinging to the hanging vines and sides of trunks. We then went back to the lodge and had a delicious gourmet meal of Dorado fish, and headed to bed after talking at the table (just the five of us) for several hours. We had the whole lodge to ourselves, as this is the low tourist season in the Amazon.
I mentioned the rain... we got rained out of our first planned activity the next morning: seeing the birds at dawn. Instead, we slept in until the drums heralded breakfast at 7:30. We (including Lady Dog and her "husband") then went on a little walk around the surrounding jungle even though it was drizzling. Despite the rain, we were plagued by mosquitoes, and the rain also caused some of the paths in the jungle to be under a foot or more of water, so we bushwhacked new trails with a machete, learning about medicinal plants along the way.
We were shown a plant in the coffee family whose berries act as a natural mosquito repellent, and the giant high-rooted bombecacia trees that you can beat on like a drum if you are lost in the jungle and need people to come find you. Our guide made headdresses, skirts (party decorations), and necklaces for us out of cleverly cut llarina palm fronds, which we wore with tourist pride until some of the more aggressive bushes we passed tore them off.
We stopped by a termite mound and were shown how to rest our hands against the nest and let the termites crawl on us, and then eat them off our hands. They pop in your mouth as you masticate them alive, and taste rather like wood smells. Go figure. Tramping and sloshing, we made our way among fungi and plants (and f&%$ing mosquitoes) to find our way back to the complete other side of the lodge, which was disconcerting as it didn’t feel like we were walking in that direction.
If you are ever lost in the jungle, there are so many shadows that you can't see the sun, so it is necessary to point one finger down to touch the flat palm of your other hand several times so you can make out where the shadow of your finger falls, to directionalize yourself. Well, our guide had to do that several times... but we made it out!
Later that day, after another fabulous meal, we (including Lady Dog the wonder-river-dog) went on a canoe trip down the river to the nearby village of 15 families to see an anaconda they had caught. It wasn't that large (only about seven or eight feet long), but was ferocious enough, squirming and writhing out of the sack. Our guide almost dropped the thing because it was trying to get his arm in a death-squeeze; so instead, our guide lifted the snake up by just its head, with a portion of its tail on the ground so that it would "dance".
“Put it away!” The Ozzie was not keen on snakes. We watched some little kids play soccer, I got some seed necklaces, and we stopped by this place that sold cañazo, or aguardiente, the sugar cane liquor, as you may recall. I purchased over 600ml for s/.1.50, about 50 cents American. I guess that is less than $1 per litre, well, enough to create an alcohol problem. Each week in that community of 15 families, an entire drum of the stuff is sold (oil drum sized), well anyway, a LOT.
And we saw some sloths! Very slow animals with calibrated movements, each new grasp over-planned. They looked high. These were three-toed sloths that inhabit the same tree for a month at a time, sleep during the day, and come down to the water's edge to drink at dusk. They eat the cecopia tree leaves, the tree they live in, and just take life easy, camouflaging themselves against hawks. Ho-hum.
That night, after the evening meal, we went out long after dark to look for caimans (alligators?). We nearly avoided seeing a large venomous snake at the lakeside, but Lady Dog had a little run-in with the intruder, but luckily her masters defended her. We paddled around in the canoes in the complete darkness, no stars because the sky was overcast, and occasionally turned on our flashlights to scan the periphery for the red glow of the caiman eye reflection. Apparently the people in the other canoe saw such a reflection, but we just enjoyed the glowworms in the floating water plants and the flitting fireflies and the bats swooping by through flashlight beams. We checked on our tarantula collection again for good measure and then headed back to the lodge where most people turned in.
The Ozzie and myself stayed up chatting with our guide, and he told us the story of how he met his first wife. How he kidnapped his first wife, actually. It is tradition in his tribe, and it was how his parents and grandparents got together, and this is the story of how he did it. Our guide was a young man of perhaps 16, had built his canoe, and was ready to have a wife, so he paddled upstream to another tribe's territory, filled his canoe with mud and water and hid it under the river, and set out to spy on the tribe on foot. He saw a girl he liked the looks of, and when she came down to the river to wash, he saw his chance.
She was busy pouring water over herself and didn't hear his approach, and before she knew it, he had grabbed her by her hair, covered her mouth, and dragged her off to where he had hidden his canoe. Quickly he dug it up and paddled like the wind all the way back to his village. The girl was morose and didn't eat for five days, but soon she came around, with the ministrations of the older ladies of her new tribe, and many dishes placed around her, she finally ate some fruit. She had three children with our dashing young protagonist, and all seemed to be none-the-worse-for-savage-kidnapping.
One day, he went off on a long hunting trip with several other men from the tribe, and came back three or four days later to find a dozen women had been likewise kidnapped by yet another tribe while they were out, and his wife was among them. He never heard from her again. Nowadays, people don't get robbed like that. The current tradition is that a man ready for marriage will bring five bottles of aguardiente and some cigarettes to the house of his intended and invite the father to drink. After the second bottle, and the father is drunk enough to make such an important decision, he will send for the girl and when she comes into the room, will announce that this man will be her husband, which she will accept with demure submittal. So liberated! Makes for a good true-story time, though.
This morning, we headed off after breakfast in a longboat with a peque peque motor on the back, to go piraña fishing. We must have bad luck with boat motors breaking down, because we were sputtering down the Yanayacu River, alternately rowing and getting the motor going and then breaking down again. We stopped at a downstream village to send a runner back along the shoreline to bring a new motor for us. Meanwhile, we hung out with locals, saw a sloth that a lady had tied up in her house, and watched as she freed it into the trees.
They can move determinedly enough to merit the adjective "swift", I would say, although they are still pretty darn slow. But strong. And those three big slashers on each limb can do more than a little damage. And oh jeez, I bought some more artisan craft, seed necklaces. I just can't help it, they are Seeds AND Beads! So our longboat was now equipped with a better motor screwed down to the back of the same leaky craft, and we puttered off downstream again. We were going piraña fishing! Okay, everyone with their sticks ready!? We gripped our bush sticks with a metre of line on them and a little hook that we had to avoid getting caught in our flesh, and prepared ourselves for our arrival.
We had to head across where the upsurge of the Amazon turned the river a muddy colour, and force our way through a bed of floating plants to get to the best fishing spot. We made it through using the motor, and set about fishing for piranhas! We baited our lines with chicken fat and trimmings, and I got the smallest stick with the biggest hook on it, and caught absolutely nothing and got my bait consistently stolen while everyone else was gloating over the little piranhas they were catching and taking the obvious "I caught this fish" pictures of each other.
But our guide switched out poles with me and I almost immediately caught a little piraña. Yay! The first fish I have Ever caught, in my Life! But it was too little, so I had to throw it back. But nobody could laugh at me for long, because I forthwith caught the Largest piraña of all, and then took the last piece of bait and cast out my line one last time. And caught Another piraña, hah! And it left me the bait, so they had to wait for me while I threw in again and caught Another piraña! So I caught the Biggest one and the Most, and I was the only girl, that oughta show them boys!
We were congratulating ourselves on our cunning and skill as we headed back to the lodge... we were late enough to lunch as it was with the boat having broken down and all. But we had to get through the floating plants we had pushed through before, and the current against us had piled up even more of the thicket, and immediately after ramming into them we became irreversibly stuck. We tried with the motor, and got it tangled. We tried with our one half of an oar, to no avail. We rocked the boat from side to side to try and push the vegetation away, to no effect. We pulled up our seats made out of boards, and used them to batten down the green soup and try and untangle the meshed roots in front of us and to the side. Finally, with a combination of everything, we made it through the 30-foot span of the floating plant death trap and cut the weeds off the rotor and tried the engine. It turned over, but we continued off and on forcing our way slowly upriver, to where we stopped at another small village to see some baby capybaras.
I am not sure if their mother had died due to a jaguar or if humans had killed and eaten her, but this family had these two cute baby capybaras that they were raising to eat later in their development. They walked around the house and could be picked up and held. They looked rather like large guinea pigs, except these were babies yet, and the adults get to be huge, the largest rodent in the world. They have no tails, rough thick hairs for fur and a decidedly rat-like denture, but are cute none-the-less.
They also happened to have artisan craft necklaces for sale, so guess what I did. And we saw giant lily pads at this place as well, the Victoria Regia, which have spiky bottoms. But there were sooo many plants and sooo many insects and animals and, the people! I could go on in even more specific detail, but let me just finish up by recounting our ride back to the lodge. Our longboat sputtered to life and we were slowly but surely pekepekepekepeking up the river when zooming towards us comes our speedboat, come to rescue us because we were so late for lunch. We transboarded midstream, prized piranhas in tow, and jetted off up the river.
Things went smoothly for about four minutes until the Boat That Came to Rescue us, after the Other Boat That Rescued us had problems, was having problems. What the heck! I joked that if we didn't work it out, we could just wait for the peque peque behind us to catch up to us and rescue us again. But we indeed got it figured out, enough to get back to the lodge, scarf lunch, pack, turn in our boots, say goodbye to Lady Dog, and jump in that selfsame speedboat for a glitch-less ride back to Iquitos through the afternoon sun. Praise be, we got into port without further incident.
A good trip, though. And... Hey, um, so I got a tattoo. Actually, three. Our guide did my right wrist and hand and ring finger, and then I did my left hand myself to equilibramatate. It is the symbol of the road to power... and is made with an Amazon guinepa tree fruit. The pigment is a dark blue, almost black, and smudged everywhere, and can't be taken off, not even with solvents. So don't be surprised, if you see me in a week, that my hands are hideous. It might eventually come off when my skin falls off... in a few weeks? Gosh, I hope so. Uhhuhuhuhuh. The thing was, it was a clear liquid when painted on, and each day it has gotten progressively and surprisingly darker. But I have done sillier things.
Okay, we are back in Iquitos, and are heading out day after tomorrow back to Lima. Then it is back to the states early Thursday morning. Hopefully our luck with motors will improve, because aircraft are not as forgiving as watercraft when it comes to engine failure. Hee hee! Tata, and Loving Light in the Amazon! Molly