Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Friday, October 19, 2007

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Monday, October 15, 2007

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Sunday, October 07, 2007

Thursday, October 04, 2007

@ the boiling crawfish

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

remembering you and loving you

Treat for dog and treat for baby

Amazonian Adventures of a Capuchin Monkey

We boarded a motorboat that cruised through tributaries and along the Amazon for 3 hours before reach our destination - Tahuayo Lodge on the Tahuayo river, adjacent to a natural conservation area of the Amazon jungle. My first thought was, Swiss Family Robinson. The entire lodge was built 15-20 feet off the ground. During the wet season the water can rise 30-40 feet and covers the stilts. We were greeted by Llanny (like a spanish version of Jenny, pronounced yanni) with cups of chicha morada, a delicious juice made from purple corn. We settled into our room, which thankfully had bathrooms. I was ecstatic over the fact we didn't have to go to an outhouse (especially when I got sick in the middle of the night). Water pressure was next to nothing and it was cold, but in 75 degree weather with 98% humidity it was a blessing.

The first day, we made it time for lunch, clam soup, fried catfish, rice and fresh fruit. It was delicious. Then we took off for a short hike to go zip lining. I had done it before in Costa Rica, but I didn't have to climb a tree that time.. this time there was a 100 feet between the ground and the platform. The rest of the girls opted to climb it, lazy me got hoisted up. :) It wasn't as easy as you think though, I had to keep my stomach muscles tight the entire time because the harness was positioned rather uncomfortably. Our guides weren't expecting so many girls to want to climb, so we made a dash and zipped through the trees quickly and belayed ourselves back to the forest floor. By then it was already sunset, with a "vamanos" from Cesar we made a mad dash through the jungle trying to get back to camp - no one had brought a flashlight and my headlamp was out of batteries. Rushing through the jungle is no easy feat, every few feet are spiny trees and we had to get through mud and bridges made out of tree trunks. Just as we broke into the clearing behind the lodge, the dinner drum sounded.

Every day we had breakfast, lunch, and dinner - they featured delicious pancakes with fruit, eggs, local vegetables (like palm heart), local meats and fish, rice - cooked to perfection, fruit and fresh juices! I ate fruit I had never seen before and drank juice that I wish was sold in the US. That night we were so tired from traveling and tree climbing, we decided to hang out in the dining room. Our guides, the cook, and the lodge administrator played Peruvian music for us with flutes, drums, and rattles.. they called themselves the "Lady Killers". Llanny taught us to dance to the music and we laughed at each other... seven girls dancing to native music in the middle of the jungle, lit only by lantern light. Later that evening I snuggled into my bed, safe from mosquitoes behind my mosquito net. Expecting a peaceful rest, Jenny and I actually had a rough night that first night. She developed hives from the soup (we didn't realize there was shellfish in it at first) and I got the chills (yeah in the middle of a 70 degree jungle.. weird) and was ill. When the clock rang at 5:30, Jenny shot out of bed to wake the others up to go canoing, I decided to wallow in my misery until breakfast.

After breakfast, we donned our swim suits, slathered ourselves in insect spray and sunblock. I bought an ultra waterproof, gel sunblock that later required a lot of peeling to remove.. but it did it's job in protecting me! We boarded a small motorboat and went on our quest to find river dolphins. We caught some quick glances of gray ones before heading into the Amazon. The Amazon is a bird watcher's paradise, we saw so many birds everywhere, of every different size, shape, and color. Small blue fly catchers to beautiful herons, even an egret perched so regally on a log in the middle of the river. Our guides ever faithfully watched the banks for animals and spotted us some iguanas (they said chameleons.. but they looked like iguanas to me). I stared across the seemingly endless water, it truly is beautiful. Despite being a brown/beige color, the clouds from the sky would reflect in the water, making it seem as if the sky and the water were one. I could have sat there for hours just looking across the water. Finally we stopped the boat.. swimming time!

Wait.. what about piranhas? Are you sure it's safe? According the guides.. yes. Just don't stay still for too long, because you'll look like a dead body and if you're bleeding get out of the water.

With that the guides leaped into the murky water, Jen followed by diving in. I threw in a life jacket and lowered myself in. I was SWIMMING in the AMAZON!! The thought nearly overwhelmed me, it was such an exciting experience. Here I was, in the biggest river in the world, something you usually only see on Discovery Channel. The water was a relief to the hot sun that had been beating down on us. Still no dolphins. We swam around for about an hour and climbed back in the boat to continue our search. We grew to love the motorboat, riding it was like self made A/C, the moment we stopped the heat and humidity would surround us like walking into a sauna.

Suddenly there they were! A whole pod of pink river dolphins! We spent 20 minutes watching them play in the water and come up for air. The next hour was spent swimming after them in circles. We never did get close enough, but just being in the same water with these animals was amazing! Happily satisfied that our quest was complete, we headed to lunch in a nearby village. Lunch was ham, egg, and cheese or tuna sandwiches, with melon and oranges. We were starving and I gulped down 1 1/2 sandwiches before my stomach said you'd better stop or you'll be ill again. We even got to "experience" a typical toilet in the village. It's a pit in the ground covered by sturdy logs with a hole in the logs. For privacy a screen made of bamboo was erected around the pit. Surprisingly there was no back of the alley, near a garbage can, like the port a potty smell. This is due to the fact that almost everything in the jungle is recycled, bugs and animals come along and use the waste for some purpose or another... gotta love a self cleaning toilet right?

After lunch we got to experience a local championship football match! No matter where you are, the city, the mountains, or deep in the jungle, football is a way of life. They'll find somewhere to play and something to use for goal posts and a ball. We even got to watch an impromptu game between local villagers, some guides who were on vacation and our own Cesar and Panchito (the cook). After that, we headed back for some hammock time before dinner. Every evening I'd sit in the hammock and fall asleep without meaning too, thankfully Jenny would come wake me up to eat, I wouldn't want to miss a meal!

That evening, we boarded a motorboat to go insearch of nightlife. None was to be found though, being a nearly full mom, the animals had gone into hiding. It was still a sight to see the moon's reflection on dark waters.

The next morning we were up and ready to go at 6, went for a 2 hour hike in the jungle. We got to hear more about the wildlife, see termite nests, and finally spot some small pygmy monkeys! Our guides lead us through the jungle, trying to track a larger monkey, but we came upon the little ones instead. Towards the end of the hike, Edson also found a millipede, who apparently emits cyanide from it's feet and shell as a form of protection - please remember to wash your hands after handling that insect.

After breakfast it was a quick visit to the shaman in El Chino village. She showed us some of the medicines she uses to cure upset stomachs, arthritis, and soreness. Everything involved moonshine in the form of sugar cane rum. The healing properties came from infusions to the rum like wild garlic or other plants. We got to taste some of the medicine.. :D. After leaving the Shaman we headed to the village to visit the preschool - they sang to us, so we sang the itsy-bitsy spider, old mcdonald, and mary had a little lamb back to them. Then it was a short visit to the local grade school, K-6 all in one room. It's not mandatory that children attend as some have to help their families or watch the younger children. Some students recited poetry and the entire class sang us a song... which meant we had to sing back. Another rendition of the itsy bitsy spider, followed by row, row, row your boat in a round.. lead to no applause. Us singing in a round threw them off. Thankfully that ended quickly and the students got to ask us questions. We were asked if we studied in college and what we studied and one cheeky boy, Juan Gonzales, wanted to know if we were married. :) I think Cesar had put him up to it. After the Q&A, we were gifted with a song that seemed like a national anthem and then a song about friendship and returning to see one another again sung to the tune of Auld Lang Syne and followed with She's Coming 'Round the Mountain.

We headed back for lunch and more hammock time! Edson also brought us some ink to tattoo ourselves with, it's like henna, doesn't last but fun for the moment. I had Edson draw a butterfly on my back near my shoulder. Tanya got a hoitzin bird holding a machete, it looked like a toucan holding a pirate sword. Jenny had Ivy ink a mosquito on her shoulder (as a badge of honor for all the bites she got). That afternoon we decided to be domestic and take a basket weaving class. A woman from the local village came by and showed us the baskets and bracelets that she had made and taught us how to do it. Everything they use is natural, from the seeds to decorate the baskets to the raffia and the dye for the raffia. Most of us ambitiously decided to do a basket, Tanya ended up with a coaster (a very beautiful coaster). I managed (thanks to my lei making skills) to create a small basket the size of my hand. Woo hoo! I never said it was pretty.. but I made it. We took photos with our teacher and as we headed to dinner semi-joked that the next morning we'd go and buy prettier baskets from the locals.

This was our last night in the jungle and we were sad to be leaving. The cooks created a beautiful cake for us to say goodbye and we sang the Spanish "Auld Lang Syne" song to the staff as a thank you. We left a long thank you for making us feel so special and our trip so wonderful and memorable. We created so many stories from our excursions.

That evening the shaman made a visit to the lodge. She did a blessing ceremony (complete with moonshine infused with wild garlic) and then told us our spirit animals. I'm a white faced capuchin monkey, when asked why, she gestured at the smile on my face, and said I was healthy and easy-going. Ivy is an armadillo (I didn't think the shaman would know what an armadillo was!), Jen a turkey of some sort, Jenny a toucan, Esther a boat billed heron, Carol a fly catcher bird, and Esther was a blue and gray tanger. One more blessing for safe journey's that involved her rubbing moonshine on our faces and head and we were sent to bed. As I walked along the walkway, I looked across the river and saw lightning flashing across the horizon.

Sometime in the middle of the night it started storming, I woke up and it felt darker than it was and I could hear the rain coming down and the wind blowing. Suddenly our door flies open (keep in mind it was locked). Luckily I didn't have to get out of bed, the moment the door opened, Jenny flew out of her bed and slammed it shut. A minute later, it flew open again, this time Jenny locks it. Nope doesn't work, finally I manage to find a voice and tell her to move the small table over to block it. Brilliant! No more opening doors and we fall quickly back to sleep. Apparently the storm also woke our heaviest sleeper Ivy in her room. She woke up to rain on her face and her mosquito net blown open. Esther and Tanya slept through the storm with their door open, the purpose of the door isn't to keep people out, it's to keep bugs out.

We woke up early ready for one more adventure, took a quick motorboat trip and hiked to see the nesting area of the hoitzin and the anaconda. We didn't spot any snakes, but we did spot the fat, prehistoric looking birds sitting on their trees. After breakfast was another trip to the village, this time to go shopping. We walked away with tons of baskets and bracelets from the local villages. Before heading back to the village, we visited a villager that had caught a boa constrictor and an anaconda. We also got to see the many uses of the palm tree - thatching roofs, raffia, and as food (heart of palm).

After lunch, which happened to include palm heart (the peruvian jungle spaghetti as Llanny called it), we hugged the guides who helped us and said goodbye. Boarded our boat to head back to Iquitos and to the airport for home. It felt strange to be back in a city with people and cars after spending time in the jungle. It's been a culture shock to be home too, but out of the entire Peru trip, the Amazon was my favorite part. And as their song goes, I hope I do return again someday!