Through my eyes

living my life without regrets

Saturday, February 06, 2010

Puerto Maldonado, Day 2 and 3

We were told to be ready at 7 AM for breakfast the next morning, so at 6 AM someone knocked at our door to wake us up. A new day begins. After a buffet breakfast, we again climbed into the dugout canoe with the funny motor. This time we only went a little way down river and then got off near a spot only the guide could find. I looked but could not have found this particular spot. All of the shoreline is green, no signs I could see, yet we landed right at a small mud staircase in the riverbank. Walking up these stairs was very easy but that was the last easy part of the day. We were in for an educational walking tour that lasted for hours and covered a bit more than 4 Km walking mostly in mud. But we are good troopers. We had our rubber boots on again and we had slept well, let the new day begin. We did all we could not to get stuck in the muck. We did all we could to not touch anything along the way unless the guide said it is ok to touch.
Our guide, a young man of about 25 native to the area, who spoke English well, now showed us what he knew and pointed out things he saw. We needed him. He pointed at frogs we would have never seen without him. He pointed out edible plants, medicinal plants, and dangerous plants, showed us how to use items that grew in the jungle and were just for the taking. The key to survival comes from knowing the good stuff from bad.
One tree, looking harmless, housed fire ants. You touch the tree and you are attacked by thousands of those ants. Each ant bites and each bite is very painful and lasts 24 or more hours. Years ago, people were bound to a tree like that and exposed to these ants overnight. By morning they were usually dead. The way of the jungle is neither easy nor forgiving but it does offer the means of survival. Each minute or second of the day is full of dangers. Be aware.
Some trees are good; the bark can be used like garlic and stinks the same way. The bark is a good Insect repellent. I took a piece of this bark and put it into my pouch and the smell was so overwhelming that after an hour I threw the bark away, yet the stink in my pouch lingers to this day. Some trees are hollow, when struck with a pole the sound travels for up to 5 KM in the normally quiet jungle. These trees were used by the locals as a drum or a telegraph system, hence the name of the tree: “Telephone” tree. Another tree with very large and flat roots makes great boat paddles, we are told. An elephant tree, named after the look of the bark, when slept under, gives you erotic dreams. A shaman’s potion made from the bark of this tree will help you gain those dream stages fast. Large bushes make great roofing material, skirts and even hats. Huge leaves of some plants serve as cups or you can use them in the rain as a rain hat. The variety of plants is mindboggling.
Laced throughout this system are bugs of every kind. There are thousands of ant varieties. There are leaf cutting ants, fire ants, huge ants as big as a mouse, army ants and ants of many other kinds, each with a specialty. Termites when rubbed on the skin, serve as a mosquito repellant. Butterflies abound and grubs or larvae of some bugs or other critters are hidden in fruits, barks or under leafs. Some of those grubs are edible. I know because I ate one.
Our guide was very keen and knowledgeable. What amazed me the most is that he could see details were I only saw green. His eyes were everywhere; he was at home in the jungle. The jungle was his garden of paradise. He would have no trouble surviving; I would have starved amidst plenty.
Our walk, ever so slowly and slippery and muddy, culminated at the edge of a large lake named Apuvictor. The lodge had built a large platform at the edge of the lake so that we could have a bird’s eye view of our surroundings. We climbed the many stairs and were now at tree top level. Before us stretched a lake choked with water lilies, swamp plants and water fowl of many species. We rested for a bit, in silence and let the natural surroundings soak into our consciousness. After a while, however, the little flies, mosquitoes, etc, drove us back down and we took a boat ride, our guide paddled, quietly and efficiently through channels in the vegetation only he knew about. Some channels were exactly one boat-width wide, just enough to creep through. Again we searched for caiman but, again, we saw none. We saw a bird, a moatzin, around since prehistoric times, who had built a nest site nearby. We saw other birds, but could not identify them. Like a shadow these birds swish aloft and are gone out of sight. The lake, the surrounding area of the lake, the whole experience if visiting the jungle is a quiet experience. I cannot get over the quietude of the jungle, it was not loud like I imagined, but the buzzing of insects and a few shrieks of birds was all I heard.
We headed back towards the lodge, following a new path and again, mud, slime, water but no rain. The water we stepped in or slithered through was from previous rainfalls. Did I say no rain? About 10 minutes before the end of our walk, the heavens opened up for us and we got soaked. Yes, it rained, it rained in sheets. In a way we were lucky because we found a lean to that gave us temporary shelter. We waited until the worst was over and then made a mad dash for the good cover of the Lodge. Muddy as we were, we did not walk the polished wooden sidewalks of the lodge, but walked through the muddy grounds, back to the boot rack. Cleaning the muck off the boots is one of the jobs of the guides but we helped, leaving clean boots.
Being hot and sweaty and dirty ourselves we jumped first into the shower and then into the pool at the lodge. Wow, was that water cold. The rain water was pleasantly warm but the pool water was cold. Either way, we enjoyed both, standing in the rain, soaking up the warm water, getting rid of the dirt on our bodies felt great. Then a plunge into the chilly water of the pool cooled us off enough to enjoy the lunch at 1:30 PM. We had walked about 5 KM with many stops but in difficult terrain and we walked for about 5 hours continuously.
Our next outing entailed no more walking. We went fishing. Equipped with a stick, a short line and a hook we went for fish. Carol is the only one who caught a fish. She caught a small kind of catfish, with poisonous darts on the side of its body. Again we used our jungle canoe with homemade motor and we had visitors, too. Some young men that work at the lodge were invited to join us. We were told these young men were expert fishermen. Having seen fishermen before, I can attest that they were no such thing as experts. Noisy, boisterous and funny, they all had a good time but not one fish bit their lines. They tried nets, tried rice as chum, tried bread, tried and tried without results.
We went up a small river, a side arm of the Rio Madre de Dios for our fishing expedition. The water on this river was different; colder and faster flowing then the Madre de Dios. This new river, arrow straight in spots and overgrown with all kinds of plant life, had people living along the banks. Wretched living conditions were visible from our boat; the people looked dirty and slovenly but had a smile on their face when we went past them. Children were swimming in this river despite the dangers of piranhas who inhabit these waters. One fisherman even showed us a piranha he had just caught.
I was a visitor from planet New York, knowing nothing about the details of living in the Amazonian Jungle. I can survive the NYC Jungle; I did for close to 30 years but surviving the real Amazon jungle seems impossible. We had a great time, though. Our guide was great and knowledgeable. Ok, we caught no fish except for Carol but we had a good time. On the way back we felt like young kids. Exploring, finding something new, having our curiosity tickled, felt great. I learned something, I saw something new.
We had dinner at 7 PM again that night, sat in a hammock near the shoreline of the great river Madre de Dios and watched the sun set. Early the next morning we took a better but still narrow boat for our 2 hour trip upstream back to Puerto Maldonado with all the dirt and dust and noise we call civilization.
I loved this trip.

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