Yurimaguas and Lago Cuipari

Three of Orlando's four monkeys (and counting).

Dave and Tiiiiiiiiino!

The gorgeous view of Caserio del Lago Cuipari.

Shaman Don Panchito prepares for our ceremony at his home.

Here, spitting a masticated spicy bark on my head, etc.

He repeated the ceremony with Dave.

Here he uses two different kinds of leaves to bless and protect.

Don Tomás and his kind family and neighbors at their home.

Two of the Shaman's granddaughters and a leoncito monkey... the smallest monkey in the world.

Dave and Don Julio in our canoe on Lago Cuipari.

The three musicians who regaled us with their traditional music.

The Largest Ant in the World.

We learn how to find purified water in the middle of the jungle, from the inside of the vines!

It's not an anaconda, but rather a half of a yellow boa.

Dave doesn't really eat the piranha that we untangled from a set net.

On our way back to Yurimaguas in a peque peque

It's a jungle out there... no, really!
Hi, and yes I am safe out of the jungle... for now. Dave and I decided to do this three-day tour with a company here in Yurimaguas, and instead of going to the mosquito-infested national park, we just went around a lake in the general area a few hours south of Yurimaguas. We weren't expecting to see too many animals, either there or in the park, because either way, the animals have fled the encroachment of humankind, and it takes about a week into the jungle to find areas where the natural wildlife still abounds. And by natural wildlife, I refer, of course, to the mosquitoes.

I hear that there might still be pink dolphins, manatees, monkeys, and river otters. But especially not now, during the wet season, can they be easily seen anyway, even if they did really inhabit the area. So after talking it out, lowering our expectations, and counting our money, Dave and I compromised on the tour with this company called Manguaré Expeditions (just in case you ever come down here) run by a man named Orlando, who is also known as the monkey man. Because he looks rather monkeyish, but mainly because he owns four monkeys (and two river otters)... who Dave and I got to play with endlessly while waiting the extra day for our guide to come back from a trip.

Monkeys! My favourite monkey in the whole world is named Tino, and he is a dark capuchino monkey, the largest of the four. When we first met, he gave me his hand like the perfect gentleman that he is, and then proceeded to honour my shirt with a lint check. And he took some little sticks and bits out of my hair, so I returned the favour, and we became fast friends. When he sits and holds his little arms folded across his chest and rocks and vibrates while showing his teeth and squeaking, I am told that means he loves me and wants to hug me.

He jumped up into my arms and swung up to fold himself across my chest, hanging on for dear life and gnawing my hands gently with his blunt teeth and refusing to let go, and this went on for hours. Eventually, after I picked through his fur for a while, he calmed down and I was able to extricate myself. But I didn't mind at all, and that is why he is my favourite monkey. The other small light capuchino monkey is mischievous and bit me, and the little one that looks like a lemur is crafty and jumps on people when they walk by... but the littlest one of all, the huapo, who is a just a dehydrated little baby with a big fluffy tail, is sooo cute. He fits on my palm, and squeaks like a bird, and wanders around the floor loose looking for spots of sunshine. For two days I spent quality time with him and fed him little bits of apple which he nibbled excruciatingly slowly, but hopefully he will survive his baby monkey-hood.

Ach, enough about the monkeys. Right. Orlando convinced us into the tour around the nearby lake, and we went with the capable guide, Don Julio. Funny thing is that they have had few customers lately, and never have many, but after some French people went the other week, Julio came back and found a German girl and this English guy waiting for him, and then when they came back, Julio found Dave and I... and the people in the village where we went have only seen that many tourists in the last half a year or so... and it shows in how the people treated us--which was very nicely with respectful curiosity.

So we left on the morning of day one, in a peque-peque, which is a long narrow boat with a special kind of outboard motor that looks made by hand, and consists of a box dripping combustible into a hand-cranked motor that spins a rotor on the end of a long pole that leaves the boat at a thirty-degree angle, for shallow weed-infested waters where regular outboard motors cannot go. We rode upriver about two or three hours, through a chain of brackish canals connected to the main river through mouths hidden by foliage, and arrived at a muddy bank where we disembarked.

We walked through the jungle then, for another hour, past wild and cultivated land (bananas, plantains, rice, yucca, and corn) to a river we couldn't cross. We waited for a dugout canoe to ferry us across, and then stopped for lunch at this lady's house the guide knew. We enjoyed chicha (a thick corn drink) and juanes (flavoured rice wrapped up in big leaves with a little piece of chicken and an olive inside) with eggs and these little fish with boiled plantains... we left stuffed. ...and continued walking for another hour or so in the hot sun through a bit of jungle and then along a recently inaugurated road (thanks to the European Union) and arrived then at the lake town, Caserio del Lago Cuipari. Our guide knows most all the people in the town personally, because although he only has two years guiding, he has twenty years visiting the community and hanging out with the people.

So we stayed at Doña Teresa's house, and were provided with a nice room, cane walls with dirt floor, and two single beds with a thin layer of padding over a wooden platform without pillows, but the best things were the mosquiteros. We ate most meals with her, and spent a lot of time playing with two of her grandkids and one of her sons about the same age, who were highly well behaved inquisitive little men. The first afternoon, we went down to the glorieta above the lake, and Swam With The Piranhas(!!!) in the reddish dark waters.

As long as one not bleeding from any wounds of appreciable size, the fish will pretty much leave one alone. I was a little timorous, but after the first few nips, they did keep away. The water was soo dark with stirred-up red silt; I was surprised to learn that people are accustomed to drinking the water directly from it. The animals that are attracted by urine and swim up one's urethra are not usually present in the lake water, we were relieved to find out... they tend to keep to the river areas. Though there are manta rays at the bottom, but thanks to the glorieta, we were far enough away from the edge of the lake that we didn't have to touch the bottom. And the electric eels that send out shocks to people's chests and can hurt like a mo-fo, keep to the yet even more brackish inlets where the water trickles in to feed the lakes. So, swimming with a few piranhas was nothing.

Then we went out on the lake in a dugout canoe, and watched the birds flick around the water plants and a nice sunset over the lake. Dinner, story-time, and bedtime, though I have to say that the wooden platform wasn't very comfortable at all. The next morning bright and early, after some little fish for breakfast, we headed out in the canoe along the lake towards the town of San Isidro, where the shaman lives in his raised cane hut along the river.

The shaman, called Don Panchito, was a bent old rather withered little man, with some folding of the spine going on. We talked for a bit about stuff, life, family, plants, shamanistic diets for learning and gaining power, and of course I got the conversation to come around to talk about fruits. Then we sent off for some cañazo called aguardiente, which is make from fermented sugarcane juice, and we drank it with the juice from oranges growing in his front yard. After which, the shaman agreed to cure Dave and I, giving us arkanas that we would keep spiritually behind our necks to prevent anyone from harming us with witchery.

This was after Don Panchito told us about how a brujo (wizard) had killed his mother, father, and sister, thusly motivating Don Panchito to dedicate his life to the study of arcane powers and medicine. He will never, ever, accept bribes to harm anyone else. So he decided to give us protection for our travels and beyond, and he told me not to think so much. Love will happen, great, or it won't, fine. And he chewed a spicy bark and he spat it out on my head, on my belly, on my back, on my feet, on my hands, and he blew on me, chanted, and waved two different kind of leaves together over me, and rubbed in the bark bits that he continued to spit... and now, I am cured.

He did the same to Dave, well, it was a once-in-a-lifetime sort of thing, I mean, how often do Amazon shamans spit on you? After the little ceremonies, we went around the yard getting to know the fruits we had discussed earlier, gifted the shaman some money and his favourite brand of cigarettes, and took off on foot along the riverbank to the town center.

We passed by this one raised cane house where people in the doorway waved to us and asked if we would like some masato. Masato is a special drink made expressly by the women of each household, and is fermented masticated raw yucca pulp. Yes, they chew RAW yucca (poisonous) and spit it out into a bucket and let it sit for a few days until it gets nice and yummy, and then drink it and offer it in goodwill. To refuse masato is to refuse confidence with a family, and then they never speak to you again, so we had to accept.

Good thing, too! We got to know the family of Don Tomás, and they shared their lunch with us. Well, the masato itself wasn't that great (strange, considering its appetizing fabrication) but the people were very friendly, interested in us, and cooked up some great little fish in a big leaf. We chatted at length about politics and Peruvian prisons and geography and grammar, and broke out more mapache cigarettes, which are another custom in the area for sharing time and confidence. The same goes for the aguardiente, so that was passed around as well.

After talking at length and taking photographs, we continued on through the jungle to where the aguardiente is produced. A sad horse walks in a circle where a beaten-down woman feeds cane into the press and the inebriated owner and husband, who I had originally confused for a molestatious customer, took full advantage of his finished product for free.

We were shown the crude campo process: the filtered sugarcane juice is fermented in 50-gallon buckets for several days, and then boiled in a big metal drum, and then the alcohol is siphoned off and condensed in the common manner of piping it through a nasty brackish vat of cold water, where, voila, it is aguardiente. Wooow, apparently it makes you lose your teeth... well, anyway, aguardiente consumers are generally not beautiful people... nor the best smelling. After that incredibly redonkyulous visitation, we left fleetly along the jungle paths lined with thrown-out squeezed sugarcane back past Don Tomás's house to Don Panchito's place. One of his grandkids had a member of the smallest group of simians on earth, and had it on a little cord. It was a leoncito monkey, with a rufous mane and fluffy caterpillar tail, and nasty tiny little teeth... and was very photogenic.

It was late afternoon when we headed back along the lake, and was evening by the time we finished our meal. By dark, we were surrounded by people who had come to hear the band that was playing for us outside of where we were staying. They played traditional songs of the Loreto region, and between songs (two drums and a plastic pipe) were treated to the obligatory aguardiente and mapache cigarrettes. They played many songs called pandillas and chimaychis, but I couldn't tell the difference between them, and they all seemed to have the same beat... but the boys were very nice and while smoking and drinking between songs told us all about the regions in Peru and the jungle and, well. stuff.

The passage of the night brings us to the present day, day three. We got up early and after breaking fast on the meat of the venado (jungle deer), and tasting the putrid tail meat of the white caiman (lagarto) that Don Panchito had regaled us the previous day, we headed out in the canoe again to a quebrada muerta.

We had to push through a thick growth of water plants around water palms and other trees to get into one of the many meandering waterways that go through thickly vegetated areas to hidden ponds and other waterways. We saw a little snake along the way, but other than the myriad birds, there was little wildlife. We made it over some shallowly hidden logs to an open area where we got off to walk along a footpath into virgin jungle forest.

Millipedes, centipedes, strange fruits, mud, giant ferns, what can I say? Julio cut down one of the jungle vines and we drank the sweet water that gushed out of it. It was all very Tarzan-esque, and with the machetes... we felt like true jungle people. On the way back, in the canoe, I saw a giant snake just hanging out in the middle of an open area. Well, it turned out to be just half of a giant snake, the tail half. It was a yellow boa constrictor, the same type of snake as the giant anaconda is... just, well, not so enormous. And then this little green frog jumped up on Dave, and we untangled a piranha from a set net, and that was it for wildlife, though we thought we heard a band of monkeys in the distance.

We arrived back at Teresa's in time for more venado for lunch and then headed off in motocarro fourteen km to the town of Shukushyaku to wait for a boat back to Yurimaguas. We caught one with a real outboard motor, and so arrived within two hours of speeding along with the current, and walked back to the tour office, where none other than my friend Tino was waiting to greet us. He grabbed himself around his chest, sat on his haunches and SCREAMED at me to come gather him up and hug him. Oh, he was SO happy, he couldn't let go of himself, until he remembered how much fun it was to get my arm in a deathgrip and gnaw fondly on my hands. I loooove that monkey.

So, overall it was a fairly tame trip, I guess it was the compromise we were expecting. It was much like hanging out in the campo in the Dominican Republic, just that here people go about on canoes, smoke the same kind of cigarette, and do strange things with their saliva. And have pet monkeys and eat little fish constantly... but other than that... I would equate it with hanging out with my campesino locals. It was really nice having Julio to introduce us to people and immediately be in confidence, enough to drink masato, anyway. It was worthwhile, but we didn't get to see any scary jungle animals, and I don't think the half of a snake counts.

Now that we are back in Yurimaguas, it feels a lot cooler here (at least I am not choking by breathing in my own sweat) and the mosquitoes are a lot less densely spread. We are spending the night, and then tomorrow (after playing with Tino and the little huapito, they are assured, and making some sample arty things for the artisans in Orlando the Monkey Man's cooperative to ponder, and after trading my boots for some of their artwork), we plan to head to Iquitos via riverboat (two days journey) which, if all goes as planned, is where you will hear from me next. Love and Strange Jungle-remnant Itching, Molly