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Saturday, December 10, 2016

My Friend the Witch Doctor.....

Morning trip to "slothland"

Monday November 21st - Morning

Heading out on the skiff
Well today is the first full day of activities on board the Amatista.  After a hearty breakfast  we board the two  skiffs for a short trip up river where we put ashore for a little nature walk.   There is a lot of excitement in the group because the naturalist tells us we might see some three toed sloths.  Now I don’t know about the rest of you, but sloths – no matter how many toes they have – are not high on bucket list of animals to see.  I’ll take a jaguar, python, anaconda, black caiman or even a howler monkey any day over a sloth - particularly when we have to slash our way through the jungle for an hour to find one.

This is our first expedition into the jungle which I quickly nickname the Bataan Death March.  The heat and humidity – even at nine in the morning - is incredible.    To give you some idea of how hot it is, here’s my list of the hottest places in descending order:

10 Sahara Desert
9.  Sinai  Desert
8.  Vietnam
7.  Thailand
6.   ----
5.  Hell
4.  ----
3.  ----
2.  ----
1.  The amazon

Hacking through the Amazon jungle
In order to get to the sloths we actually have to hack our way through the jungle.  One of the crew has a sharp machete and chops a path for us to follow.  The problem is the guy with the machete doesn’t quite know where he’s going - so there is much backtracking.  Within minutes I’m sweating buckets.  Here’s a jungle tip:  don’t wear jeans in the jungle.  They tend to hold in all the sweat.  In less than 15 minutes I’m so drenched in sweat that it looks like I fell into the Amazon.   Oh yes, another tip: Don’t forget your water bottle.  Luckily for me, I have Tom – and Tom has Fen - and Fen has water, so I manage to share a bit of their water. 

Finally after what seemed a lifetime we break out of the jungle into a treed area and the naturalist stops us:
“Everyone be quiet,” he warns. “I think there’s a sloth up ahead.  We don’t want to spook it.”
“Spook it?” I reply in a loud voice.  “What’s it going to do?  Run away?  It’s a sloth.  What does it move at?  Two miles a week? ”
He ignores my protests and points at a tree up ahead - and sure enough.  There it is, hanging on the side of a tree.  Obviously I’d spooked it as it was on the move – slowly.”
“Wow! A regular greyhound,” I comment.
I’m treated to a round of “Shhhhhhhhhh!” from the group.
“What are you shushing me for?” I ask.  “Are you worried about a sloth stampede?”
Everyone madly clicks away at it with their cameras.

“Not much point of taking a video of it,” I comment to Tom. “Glaciers move faster.”
With the obligatory pictures taken, we hack our way back to the river, board the skiffs back to the boat for showers and cold beer.

November 21st - Afternoon 

Afternoon trip to the "witch doctor"


“I took my troubles down to Madame Ruth
You know that gypsy with the gold-capped tooth
She's got a pad down on Thirty-Fourth and Vine
Selling little bottles of love potion number nine
I told her that I was a flop with chics
I've been this way since 1956
She looked at my palm and she made a magic sign
She said "What you need is love potion number nine"
                                                                                -jerry leiber

meeting the Shamon
After lunch our itinerary calls for us to pay a visit to San Regis to meet a real life Shaman.  “Shaman” is the politically correct name for “witch doctor.” In this case it’s a woman named Corolla.  Evidently her father was fond of Toyotas. 

We are hustled off the skiffs into the town palapa - an large open sided structure with a thatched roof suitable for breeding scorpions.  There are benches all around the perimeter and a small table at the front of the room with plastic water bottles filled with various noxious looking concoctions. 

With Robertson, our guide, interpreting the Shaman explains a bit about the background of becoming a Shaman.  Evidently, it wasn’t that easy.  You have to show some aptitude for the job, and then there is the seven year apprenticeship.  Sort of like going to Medical School, - but without the perks.  Evidently it’s highly competitive.  Corolla explained that there were too other guys competing with her for the job, but one day after three years they sort of disappeared – but there were people who claimed to see two large frogs hopping into the jungle nearby.

Carlota also has a complementary degree in jungle pharmacology.  She explains what various ailments and diseases the various concoctions cure.  She singles me out for one of them.  She tells the guide this particular concoction can cure baldness.  I tell her if she wants to give it a real work out she should try it out on Tom who’s been bald since the fourth grade.

She insists on rubbing it into Tom and my scalp claiming in a few days we’ll have full heads of hair.  I tell her I’ll give it a shot as long as it doesn’t grow hair on the palms of my hands.    Evidently the concoction must be past its best due date because no hair appears to be growing on either Tom or my scalps.   I’m a little concerned because she mentioned something about having to wait until the full moon.

After the pharmacology lecture and demo we adjourn to a sacred place outside the palapa where we are to participate in a “tree planting” ceremony.  Why they need more trees in the jungle is beyond me.  The sacred area is ringed with logs and there are numerous small holes in the ground with small saplings lying on the ground beside them.  We are instructed to stand in a circle and are about to repeat the “sacred pledge” when Tom came charging into the circle.  As usual he’s late, and in his haste to join the ceremony he stumbles over one of the “sacred logs” demolishing it, and kicking seedlings in all directions.  Corolla is not impressed and if I understand her Spanish correctly she curses Tom saying “No hair for you – ever.”
Taking the Amazon Pledge
When order is restored we all join hands and pledge to preserve the forest forever.  The pledge we repeat seemed similar to the one in the pledge scene in Animal House.

“I, state your name, do hereby pledge allegiance to maintaining  Amazon, with liberty and fraternity for all forever. Amen”

With the completion of the solemn pledge each of us plants our tree and depart back to the Amatista to renew our pledges over cold beers.

Just before dinner I am paid a visit by a distraught Tom.  It seems the Shaman’s curse has extended to his camera.
“Something’s wrong with my camera,” Tom explains. “I can’t seem to take any more pictures.”
I take a look at his camera. 
“It appears your SD card is full.  How many pictures have you taken?”
“Forty,” I repeat. “Only forty, how big is your card?”
“4 Megs. Isn’t that pretty big? ”
I didn’t  know they still made cards that small.
“Tom they cards now that are 64 Gigabytes! 
I look at his camera settings and find he has it set for the smallest picture size possible  – about the size of a postage stamp. 
“Tom, you can buy a 32Gig card for about nine bucks at Staples.”
  I rummage through my pack sack and give him a spare 32gig card and change his camera settings to take decent size pictures. 
Tom leaves happy maybe the curse has been lifted – on his camera at least.

Tomorrow we’re off to an Amazon village for a fast food lunch.

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