Part 3 – the Amazon jungle tour

Again thanks to Kristi we decided to go for what I thought was going to be a 5 day/4 night excursion but in reality ended up being 3.5 days/4 nights – one night staying in the village of Esperanza at the home of the young guide (an authority of the village as designated by the apu or chief), two nights camping.

And one night ‘sleeping’ on the boat. I put sleeping in quotes since… well… out of 12.5 hours I maybe slept 2 hours, the rest of the time lying in the boat staring up at the stars.  It was overall quite pleasant for the 1st part since they simply did some paddling to guide the boat leisurely down the river, (I remember at one point with both of our guides sleeping the boat did a 360 as it slowly coasted down the river) but after about 6 hours they turned the motors on. Those engines are so bloody loud which wasn’t actually the biggest problem in hindering sleep. It was the vibration that you could feel through the camping mats they had set up as a bed on the boat.  It was horrible.

Sunset on the river

To top it off we arrived what felt like somewhat suddenly at Laguna and were supposed to have had about an hour to ‘freshen up’ – code for me going to a real toilet instead of hanging over the side of the boat with Ross holding my arms so I didn’t fall over (which I did once and was fine with this – I thought I had come up with a clever way but eventually found out that was the expectation), and to get some food for the next long 9 hour boat ride to Nauta.  Well just as we were coming into the ‘dock’, we heard them calling after this other bigger boat that was starting to head out.  It turns out it was the boat we needed to catch, but it was leaving early since it was full – no seats.  They offered to still let us on. We had noticed others on the previous similar fast boat just sitting on the floor, otherwise we would have had to wait 3 hours for the next boat.  I was like fuck it, in a split second decision I was like we will deal with it.  Alas dealing with it ended up being torture, an endurance test of immense proportions.  Looking back on it I can’t believe we actually survived it with essentially no sleep, staying awake for 20 hours.  I’m sorry but I can’t just sleep in any ol’ position unlike the Peruvians.  Fortunately when it was getting light some folks got off and we got to sit in plastic chairs – I guess better than nothing but I think it would have actually been more comfortable to sit on the floor.

Okay back to the tour.  It was an incredibly pleasant ride with our first experience of the rapid boats from Yurimaguas to Laguna. We were traveling the Marinon River, a huge tributary to the Amazon. I couldn’t believe how comfortable it actually was, more so than a greyhound bus. (This didn’t help later when my expectations were so dashed – Part 4).  It was a 6 hour ride but I at least I could sleep. The boat certainly did make a lot of stops in the middle of butfuck nowhere dropping folks off with their provisions, community members waiting and helping to carry the supplies up the banks.  Towards the end it started to rain –and I mean pouring  but no worries the canopy kept us dry although it obscured the view, and as this was our first foray in the river/jungle we wanted to see it all.

When we arrived at Laguna the rain had more or less stopped so that was good but it had made the climb up the bank – no stairs – super muddy.  Fortunately there was a crew of men stationed up the steep bank helping to get passengers up, each man passing you off to the next person. I began hearing “are you Wilma”, and I was like great – I don’t have to figure out how to find our guide Juan.

We met Juan and Agosto, his younger sidekick.  We waited a bit while they loaded up the boat with our stuff and provisions for the tour, and then we were off.  Lunch was provided on board – quite tasty actually: rice, beans  local fish of which there was more to come of course since fishing was on the itinerary.

On our way to Esperanza – pretty comfy

It was only about 2 hours to the village of Esperanza and by this time there was no rain but still some cloud cover so it wasn’t stinking hot. Approaching the village, I have to say my first thought was oh boy this looks like a First Nations reserve back in Canada and I don’t mean ones with wealth.

Approaching the village of Esperanza, Juan our guide

We were greeted by Agosto’s family – his wife and toddler daughter and an elderly family member who we later found out was 80! She looked it but we were still amazed since life is not easy here as they really do live a subsistence lifestyle but the river does provide much healthy food, and along with a communal garden where they grow corn, yam, yucca, sweet potatoes, plantains and greens, it is a plentiful diet albeit lacking in diversity for my spoiled Western palate.

Agosto’s home & neighbour’s house

Agosto’s family

Mr.C5, Agosto & me fishing:

A piranha I caught which we ate

Agosto’s home and side view, up on stilts so that they can withstand the rainy season with river rising.

The kitchen & dining area

The school – it was interested to see that the schools in most communities appeared to be the “best” buildings in the community

Juan cooking our dinner – usually around 5ish so before it got dark

Deep fried plantain which we certainly enjoyed the 1st few times, a regular with each meal, and the home cooking area

Chicken & duck houses underneath their home, little teeppes

 

Boat loaded with plantains

Typical boat and dug out boat

Makeshift “street” lamp

The outhouse & sports field

Typical homes

We took a walk along the top of the river bank – all for about 10 minutes either way- this was a really small village with about 20 families.  Later we would see other villages along the river, and clearly Esperanza was appeared to be one of the poorer ones but it had what it needed.  There was a primary and an elementary school – both buildings the best looking buildings, something I started noticing – funds went into building good schools. We met a neighbour and had a basic conversation.  Alas I could understand Juan quite well, but Agosto – that was a challenge, although Agosto seemed to often understand me more than Juan. I think it was because Agosto had had more exposure to television not that they had TVs in the village – there was no electricity or plumbing of course.  Outhouse it was or just pee anywhere you want.  Of course the mosquitoes were out – tiny little buggers unlike those in Canada.  You don’t necessarily even hear them they are so small.  We had decided not to take malaria pills for the few days we might need them, possibly stupid but we did wear long sleeves & pants – although in the end Mr.C5 got bitten quite a bit compared to me.

We had lunch – our first of many fried eggs and plantains (the sweet kind) both being quite tasty at this point especially when you consider they are deep fried – and just sat around really since there wasn’t much to do. We did chat a bit but language barriers made for some challenges.  I spent time watching the chickens and ducks – they can be so entertaining.

Our sleeping quarters for the night were set up for us later in the afternoon. I had never seen a rectangular mosquito net so this was going to be a later purchase in Iquitos.  The house had one room which was mother and child slept, two other mosquito net ‘bedrooms’, one for father, one for grandmother. Bedtime was darkness.

Our bedroom – pretty comfy overall

Dawn was the getting up time more or less although not all family members did get up early – the grandma ‘sleeping’ in.

So up we were, breakie of you guess what – fried eggs & plantains.  We did have coffee, of course instant but had to do and was fine actually considering, and we even had evap milk to go with it. We had to repeatedly tell them we just didn’t eat that much but we were never really listened to on this point.  Fortunately, Juan & Agosto easily ate what we did not.

The next morning, they packed up the boat, first making a canopy of sorts in case of rain, and then we were off.

Loaded boat

Mr.C5 ready to go

It was about a ½ day’s journey to out next stop, with a stop for lunch (spaghetti) on the sand banks of a part of the river.  This is where Mr.C5 decided to take a dip – read his story at his blog.  In summary a little bit on the penis was all it took for him to get outta there.

I couldn’t go swimming in the amazon tributaries anywhere since I had just happened to get my period. So you might think why couldn’t I swim? Well because of the piranhas. I made sure to ask the wife of our young guide when we stayed at their home – the thought occurred to me I better ask.  I had checked online the days before the tour as I knew we would not have internet for days, and lo and behold – yup don’t go swimming unless you want to be bitten severely, or should I say chunks ripped out of you. We saw some bite scars on folks – quite beautiful actually, almost like a branding but with distinct teeth marks in a circular pattern.  I did catch one and we ate it just to try it since they don’t tend to eat them. It is a tiny fish relatively speaking, so they are used for bait.

Us on the boat

Stop for lunch

Mr.C5 swimming

Turtle tracks in the sand

Vines growing on the trees, alive and dead

At the camp, we watched them set up our campsite – clearly they had lots of experience doing this using materials from the jungle for wooden stakes. It was a nice location on high ground.  We did feel guilty not helping out since this would normally be something we felt equipped to do but they refused our offers of help – I guess we were paying for us to do nothing.

Can you spot the snake?

A centipede

Juan cooking dinner

We eventually had dinner and then it was time to go nighttime fishing and hunting – fish and caiman were on the next day’s menu. Agosto was an expert at both – amazing really.  He was able to grab small caiman just to show us.  He then speared about 4 of some type of fish – Juan insisted as the good guide to tell us all the names of many fish, plants etc.., but I knew I would remember none of it – especially since the names were in Spanish. Eventually Agosto speared a caiman which according to Juan was about 6-7 months old. The poor thing had the spear partly in its neck so it certainly wasn’t dead.  Ross helped to cut out the spear’s hooks so that finally they could chop off its head.  It was then I started bawling quietly.  I was just so amazed at the perfection of this creature – it was absolutely beautiful to me. The immensity of the fact that these creatures have survived for millions of years. It was also making the sounds I had once heard on a documentary, the sounds the babies make to identify them to their mother who is very protective of them. I was completely surprised by my reaction.

A live caiman – Agosto has this ability to catch these critters by hand, the small ones that is

The next day’s meal

Ready to cook

The feast

Agosto preparing fish

Smoking caiman

During the course of the excursion we did talk a lot about animals, a sloth, some monkeys, of course lots of birds and butterflies – twice the blue morpho which was way cool.  I certainly am amazed at the colours mother nature has given us.

At one point, I asked if they ever thanked the animals for giving their lives and initially was told no rather bluntly, but then Juan stated that they thanked god. I was like oh.  I can’t help but be baffled by their total blind faith in the existence in a god – a catholic one of course. I naively thought that perhaps there was some indigeneity left in the peoples who lived in the Amazon.  Boy was I wrong – and stupid and naive.  I know there still are tribes living in relative seclusion – I didn’t mean these peoples.  I wondered how many generations back – how far removed were the people who live in these tiny communities from their indigenous ancestors or were most of these people simply descendants of the Spanish mixed with those of the Incas.  I guess I also expected some semblance of reverence for the beings of the river and jungle that sustained them. Nope. Nada.  I can’t help it but this was disappointing to hear.  As is so common, chicken is of course not from the jungle but is so common here – most folks having their own.  The poor lowly chicken – so unappreciated.  On each boat we took there was the passenger rooster or hens.

We spent one morning doing a hike through the jungle where Juan & Agosto pointed out various trees and plants, demonstrating what they could be used for in terms of medicine and survival. And now for some pics of the jungle flora.

Colourful vines – all the same plant

Tree barks

Ants, termites I believe

Rubber tree with carvings, the 2nd pic just carved showing the white rubber resin

Water from the jungle tree

Flowers, plant life on the jungle floor

A plant – tree? seed

and parasite plants (that are harvested illegally and sold)

Dead hive with new plant life growth

Some fungi

Twisty tree vines

Tree roots

Bee hives

Distant view of trees with shoots hanging down

and close up view

 

Stunning blue winged dragon fly

The dangerous palm tree with wicked spines (Mr.C5 got some spines in his foot when he disembarked from the boat onto a sandy/muddy shore line)

Mr.C5 & large trees

And me as Mr.C5 says all Diane Fossey looking

Swinging in the jungle

Pensive Mr.C5 on the boat

I had some learnings on this trip.  How large the world is for/to met, and how small it can be for so many others. The context, vision or perspective of folks who are not able to go much beyond their own community let alone travel anywhere far, really shows how different perspectives can be.  If you don’t have an idea of what something is whether something physical or simply an idea, it is like you are talking in two completely different languages (which we were with English & Spanish but this was irrelevant).  Maybe it is like an atheist and a religious believer – the perspectives are so different that it is difficult to relate.

At times Agosto would ask us about Canada. He seemed to understand what I was saying, but often not Juan. I wondered sometimes if my Spanish was that bad.  I was able to understand Juan far more than Agosto.  I think Agosto had had more exposure to television even though of course there was no electricity in his village (the ‘street’ lamp was powered by a generator which they did not use regularly).  I learned that Juan had to travel from his town of Laguna to Yurimaguas, a 6 hour boat ride, to check internet.  Cell phones did work though – that was the way folks communicated.

Next Part 4 – Nauta and Isla de los monos.

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