Monday, January 19, 2009

Amazon Day 1: Tarzan vs. Jane

Exerpts from Shirley´s Jungle Journal - Thursday, 01/15/09

The trip has begun and there´s already a bit of drama. 7 of us are going on the trip (Me, Javier, his mom, dad, son Mac, and his nephew & niece, Pierre & Sara). Javier´s brother and sister were unable to come. Because Pierre and Sara will be traveling without their parents, their mother went to the notary to give permission for us to take them with us to Iquitos. She handed Javier the notarized document and asked if he also wanted a copy of their birth certificates. He declined. I spoke to him on the side in English and strongly suggested that he take their birth certificates (Otherwise, we could take any child we found off the street and pass them off as Pierre or Sara). He wasn´t seeing my reasoning. You probably think you know where this story is going, but he thought about it a few minutes more and accepted the additional documentation.

In the wee hours of the morning (around 3 am), Javier´s brother drove us to the airport. Everything was going fine during check in, until we were asked to show some kind, ANY kind of identification for Mac. No one had brought ANYTHING! I asked the grandparents if they had brought either his passport (he has 2: 1 peruvian, 1 American), his ID, or his birth certificate, and they casually responded with, ¨no?¨ as if to question why I was asking. HellO people´s! How are you going to fly with a child with absolutely no identification??? Long story short, Javier´s brother Luciano had to drive all the way back to get the birth certificate. This is why they suggest to get to the airport 2 hrs early.

When we finally got on the plane, Mac and Pierre fell fast asleep. They were so excited about the trip that they stayed up all night talking before the trip. They were out cold on the plane. NEVER let your guard down around Javier or else you will be sorry...

The plane ride only lasted 1 hr and 15 mins. We deboarded the plane like the president on Airforce 1 where our tour guide was waiting for us. We got into a car on the way to the city of Iquitos. Along the way, I was amazed at the amount of motorcyles and moto-taxis that there were on the streets. I´m not kidding when I say that about 90% of vehicles were motorcycles or moto-taxis. The guy driving our car said that they were referred to as the ¨mosquitos¨of the city because there is an infestation and all you hear is the buzzing. It´s true, there was a light buzzing sound that filled the air, and I noticed that there was significantly less honking. Do motorcycles not have horns? I really got a laid-back feeling in Iquitos. It reminded me of island life in Hawaii. It must be something about the water.

When we reached the inner city, we were immediately whisked away on moto-taxis to our boat dock. I sat with Sara.

This is a picture of Javier telling me to hold on to my luggage so it doesn´t get stolen.

The boat ride lasted 45mins. and at this point I was really feeling like I was in the Amazon. The river is beautiful, wide, and peaceful. The first thing we noticed is the natural debris in the water: many fallen tree trunks and water plants like lilys. The floating trunks are scary because to the novice eye, you would think they were crocs. Our tour guide called them ¨tronkodrilos¨or ¨trunkadriles¨ because of the resemblence.

On the boat, my mother in-law noticed a spider that she wanted to kill immediately. Our tour guide told us not to worry about the tiny spider because we would be seeing tarantulas shortly. We all got quiet and just stared at each other for comfort. That´s when it hit me that we were going to the jungle...

Unfortunately, before we could do so, our boat broke down. Boats are easy prey for ¨tronkodrilos¨ which can easily chew up propellers. So another boat was called and we had to switch boats in the middle of the river. During the switch, I noticed our tour guide pulled a live dog-sized, guineau pig-looking animal out of the old boat and onto our new one. It scurried and found a spot at the front of the boat. I prayed that this was not going to be dinner. I did not even want to think about it...

When we reached land, there was nothing but trees on the shore and a small trail. We walked down the trail until it became a staircase leading about 4 feet up to a long bridge or plank with a roof. It was very long as we used it to walk deeper and deeper into the jungle. Finally, it gave way to the lodge which consisted of many hut-like rooms and a large circular mess-hall in the middle. The entire lodge was reinforced with mosquito mesh to keep the bugs out, but all you need is an open door to let one mosquito in. We were shown our rooms which were decent, but we only got to spend limited time in them when we were taken on a short boat ride through a small river. On the boat ride we saw these big turkey birds that had asthma (they made a panting/huffing noise that was really unique).

By the time we got back, it was lunch time and we all met in the mess-hall. The rest our our tour group arrived which consisted of a woman named Rosa and her two teenage sons from Lima, and a Spaniard named Sergio. Our group was dubbed ¨Tarantula¨. We ate lunch in the mess-hall when a green parrot came into the mess-hall (walking on the floor and opening the door), walked straight to Pierre, used its beak and one good leg to climb Pierre´s chair, and proceeded to feast on Pierre´s food. Pierre wasn´t too happy. He likes to eat.

At that point, the dog-sized, guineau pig thing was released into the mess-hall and it just walked around receiving affection. It was the lodge´s new pet. I was happy that it would not be killed.

After lunch, we were given time to relax before our big jungle walk. Outside of the mess-hall there was a big hammock area that consisted of about 7 hammocks all tied together in the center forming a big circle. The kids found this to be an endless form of entertainment. Paco, a blue McCaw, did not seem to think so. He walked over in his parrot stance each time the kids got too rowdy and squaked and pretended that he was going to attack them. He even filed his beak on the floor like he was making it sharp just for them. Then he would proceed to chase them around the hammocks and sometimes pinch their butts from the floor as they laid on the hammocks. I´m not sure who was having more fun: Paco or the kids...

It was time for the tarantula group to go into the jungle for a walk. We donned big plastic fishing boots to keep the water and especially the sometimes deadly red ants out. We walked for what seemed like hours through thick slippery mud, leaves, and branches that we often tripped on. There was a clearing and a real Tarzan rope. We all tried to be tarzan. I thought it would be easy but halfway out on my swing, I thought I wasn´t going to be able to hang on. Poor Pierre, didn´t make it and let go and went straight into the jungle slush. Even his grandpa made it back. Mac did a pretty good job too.

We saw a lot of things along the way. Ants, frogs, birds, and even a tarantula! As our tour guide focused our attention to a tarantula on a tree, one of Rosa´s teenage sons saw something fall next to Javier and he screamed, ¨What is that!!!!!´¨

It was a small spider, maybe a tarantula, but it was dry and dead. Javier took the poor dead bug and used it as a photo opportunity.

His father did the same with a live centipede.

Near the end of our walk, the trail got shorter until there was no trail left at all and the water level seemed to be rising. At one point we were trying to board a canoe, but to get to it, we had to balance on a branch that was underwater. Poor Pierre had no balancing skills and fell into the water. Then Sara lost her balance and to stabilize, she used me. That sent one of my legs to the point of no return as I felt my boot filling with water. Eeeeeeew! Sara saved herself.

By the time we got back, it was getting dark and it was already time for dinner. That´s when I realized that this lodge had no electricity!!! All light was provided by kerosene lamp. There was no TV, no internet, no phones, no NOTHING! Except there were a whole lotta mosquitos which seemed to like me more than the Lima mosquitos. We were really roughing it out here in the jungle. The only minimal amount of power supply that was available was from a generator that was turned on every night at 6:30 pm that we could use to charge our cameras. We hung out in the mess-hall (which had netting for mosquitos) and got to know everyone, played with the parrots, dogs, and guineau pig thing, played on the hammocks, while the mosquitos had a feast on my skin. That night I slept pretty well. The mosquito netting did its job well and the sounds of the jungle were soothing. Unfortunately, I woke up at 3 am to find Javier standing up holding his big stick that he had found on our walk. He said he heard tigers. I listened.... I heard the panting noise, but I was sure it was from the asthmatic turkey birds that we had seen earlier in the day. I told him to relax and go back to sleep.