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Wednesday, December 14, 2016

A bird in the hand is worth two on a plate.

Tuesday, November 22, 2016


They wake us early again for another “nature walk.”  Why we can’t just sit on the boat and watch nature float by is beyond me - but I’m game for game. They promise this won’t be as bad as the day before.  This time there are actually premade “trails,” so they’ll be no hacking.  We arrive at an abandoned amazon resort. At one time it must have been high end – it even has a large empty swimming pool -although I shudder to think of what they used to fill it, and what creature visited it at night.  It appears to have been abandoned recently and the jungle seems intent on reclaiming it  as monkeys have taken up residence in the eaves of the roof.  Our guide tells us the government has bought it and intends to re-purpose it as a “research station.”

Look closely - a monkey!
We’ve progress about a hundred meters  down a well maintained trail when our guide stops suddenly  and points up into the canopy.
“Look!  Monkeys!”
Everyone immediately stops, looks up and begin snapping pictures.  I stare but see nothing but leaves.
“Don’t you see it, Jeff?” Huber asks.
“I see nada,” I reply.
“Third tree over, follow it up till you see the branches fork then follow the left branch to the end.”
He loses me at the third tree.  They all look alike. I’ve been staring up so long that my neck hurts and I’m beginning to see spots – but no monkeys.
Finally I have an inspiration.   I hand Huber my camera and let him take  a picture of whatever he claims he sees which he does and hands it back to me.  Sure enough there’s a photo of a monkey.

Two Pajaros (parrots not wankers.)
We proceed a little further down the trail  and Huber claims to see something else.  I hand him the camera.  By the third time there is no conversation.  He simply stops hand holds out his hand for the camera.

When we take a small break from the animal spotting action I approach Huber with a proposition.
“Listen Huber, why don’t you just hang on to the camera for a while.  In fact I’m thinking of just letting you hang on to it for the rest of the trip and I’ll hang out in the bar on the boat.”
Huber thinks that’s cheating, but still hangs on to the camera for the rest of the walk.

After a few more minutes we arrive at the first of seven rope suspension bridges that thread their way through the canopy.  Given the state of the resort I’m a little concerned about when the last time the bridge maintenance crew might have inspected the bridges.  Although they seem in good repair we’re warned to have no more than four people at one time on a bridge.  I purposely hang back and let the biggest guys go first figuring if the bridge holds them they won’t have a problem with a little guy like me.

After another twenty minutes or so we end up back at the abandoned resort where the locals have mysteriously appeared out of the jungle and set up their “craft fair.”  I spot a nice woven plate with a picture of two parrots on it and decide that maybe my wife might like it. (Wrong!)
Craft fair  

I show the plate to the Amatista captain who’s arrived with the skiff to ferry us back to the boat. 
“Look,” I tell him in my best Spanish, “I bought a plate with two birds on it.”

The captain falls over laughing.   He calls the first mate over and asks me to repeat what I just said.  I oblige.  The first mate calls the rest of the crew over and asks me to show them my prize.  Soon the whole crew is convulsed with laughter rolling on the ground.  Finally one of the crew breaks down and lets me in on the secret.
“You told us you bought a plate with two guys masturbating on it.”
Lunch a a local village
I deny it.  I tell them I know that “pajaro”  means bird.
“You said pajero,” he tells me.  It means something totally different. 
“Pajaro” – “Pajero”…   “tom-ay-to” -  “tom-ah-to” sounds the same to me.  Evidently not.

We return to the boat to freshen up and head out to another village where we’ve been invited to join a family for an authentic Amazon meal.  When we arrive at the village the craft fair has arrived before us and already set up.  I notice there are several more plates with pajaros on them, but decline to bargain for them as the captain and crew are hovering nearby.

Senior Pajero
Our host teaches several of us how to make some local dishes.  I don’t pay too much attention as I don’t think many of the ingredients – namely the giant banana leaves – are available at my local supermarket.

The food, mainly fish, is excellent, and eaten mostly with the fingers.  I decide it’s a good time to let the rest of the group know about my slight linguistic slip up regarding the Spanish word for “wanker.”  I notice the bottle of hand sanitizer being passed around after I pass the food.

We return to Amatista for the afternoon siesta while the boat chugs up river to our next destination – Solterito village.  This is a small village like so many we’ve passed on our journey up and down the river.  This village is named Solterito, after the man who lived alone here for 19 years.

“I guess they called him Señor Pajero, back then” I slyly remark to the captain as he ferries us ashore in one of the skiffs.
“Why would they call him Señor Bird?” he asks.  I guess I haven’t got this pronunciation thing down yet.

Once we get ashore I see Señor Salterito has been busy since  that 19 years of forced abstinence .    The place is crawling with children.  Other than a 90 year old Señor Salterito, I don’t see any other adults.  It’s spooky – sort of like Village of the Damned…. but in a nice way.  

I comment to Robinson, our guide, about the missing adults.  He tells me many adults in the  Amazon still are  untrusting of outsiders.  They haven’t forgotten or forgiven the “rubber barons” who enslaved the indigent   population under brutal conditions to tap the rubber trees.  Robinson says his grandparents remember the era vividly and when he told them he was going to Lima to attend University his grandmother was sure that he would be killed by the white people and never seen again.  The shared ethnic memory still exists and hence the adults are uncomfortable with outsiders .  Hopefully this might change with more exposure to friendly tourists.

I also notice all the houses are up on stilts.  I ask why and I’m told in the rainy season the river can easily rise twenty or thirty feet.  Robinson says the river can occasionally rise even higher and points to the trees behind the houses.  We can see watermarks ten feet up on some of them.  Come June the only way these people are going to be able to move from house to house is with the dugout canoes stored underneath each house. Occasionally the river can rise even higher and it wipes out entire towns and they have to start all over again.

We’ve brought some gifts for the kids – colouring books, crayons, pens, books.  I notice there were no felt pens or permanent markers among the gifts.  I guess the word has spread not to give the kids those things.  I once gave a bunch of them to some Masaii kids in Africa and turned them instantly into a mob of taggers – another village Jeff isn’t welcome back to. 

The kids happily perform some local songs for us and we’re asked to respond.  The best we can do is a hopelessly inane version of the “hockey pokey.” 

Having amused the kids long enough we return to Amatista to amuse ourselves by listening to our crew perform real music at the bar and knock back some  drinks.  We arrive as the heavens open up and rain falls with such force that it’s like standing in front of a fire hose.  No wonder the river can rise 30 feet in the rainy season.


Tomorrow – fishing for Piranha and swimming with the dolphins

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