Tuesday, August 1, 2006

A day in the life of a city girl in the Amazon.

Well, our first full day in the Amazon started with a wake up knock on the wall from William at 4am!! Breakfast was at 4:30a so I stayed in bed as long as I could, stumbled out from under the mosquito netting that surrounded the bed, fumbled for my flashlight and headed to the bathroom to clean up, dress and get ready for the day ahead.

Despite the kerosene lamps that lit the walkway outside my room, I still needed the flashlight to help guide me along certain portions. Thank God I had a flashlight - can´t tell you how much it got used in my two days in the jungle!!

Breakfast for me consisted of two bananas, a small serving of scrambled eggs, a couple pieces of ham, a roll and a small cup of Peruvian coffee (which by the way has the consistency of mud but is not at all bitter - I´ve grown addicted to it).

So far, breakfast in Peru has been pretty much the same everywhere I´ve been - it´s pretty much their version of a continental breakfast. Simon had told us, that while we were in the jungle, that we should not to drink any of juices, eat any salad (veggie or fruit) as the water would not be safe. Fortunately, they have plenty of fresh fruit - apples, oranges, bananas and a few indigenous fruits that I have never seen or tasted before in my life. I tried a few (have no idea what they are) - some very tasty and others I could live without!

After breakfast, with flashlights on, we all followed William back down the path to the boat dock. It was quiet on the walk - I think we were all still a bit sleepy. We got on the boat, pushed off and after a 15 minute ride upstream, got off the boat and walked for about another 20 minutes where we arrived at a catamaran - basically, two canoes with a wooden platform and some benches atop. We were at an ox bow lake (can´t remember the name) but it´s in a protected reserve so the idea was we would travel in the boat to spot wildlife in and around the lake.

Believe it or not the first animals we spotted were 5 hoatzins roosting in a branch on a tree very near the edge of the boat. Through my binoculars, I actually got a good look at the birds which turned out to be much cuter than I had seen pictures of. They are about the size of a small eagle and turned out to be very common residents of the lake as we saw hoatzin after hoatzin during
our ride. Our guides were absolutely amazing at spotting the wildlife - binoculars were definitely a help and I'm glad I had brought along a pair!.



In addition to hoatzins, we also spotted macaws, egrets, black caymans and a family of river otters. The otters were very curious about our boat and swam nearby checking us out. Unfortunately, I don't have a good zoom lens on my camera so all that I could capture of the otters is the picture below but I had a really good view of them through my binoculars. At one point, a couple of them caught fish and it was really enjoyable watching them eat the fish while floating on their backs. They were so cute!



At one point, we moored the boat along the water´s edge and the boat "driver" pulled out a long branch that had fishing line tied to the narrow end. At the end of the line was a small hook. He took out a bag of what looked like to me to be chicken parts and tied one of the parts to the hook. He than flung the hook against the surface of the water several times before letting the hook sink. In matter of minutes, he had pulled up a small (4-5"? long fish) that the guide told us was a piranha. Apparently, there are 4 types of piranhas that inhabit the waters of the Amazon and they are only aggressive when they are hungry. We got a close look at the teeth of the fish when the guide held up a leaf to its mouth and it took a bite of of it - you could see the serration of the bite mark! Several others on the boat (mainly the boys and the men) wanted to give fishing a try and in no time, I think all of them had caught a fish. Here's William holding a pirahna - somehow, they don't seem to be so intimidating when they're so teeny, weeny in size!

....and I couldn't resist snapping a photo of Susie trying to look elegant with her "flying nun" hat and very stylish raingear!


We headed back to our launch point and traced our steps back to the lodge where it was time for round two of breakfast which ended up just being some fruit and coffee for me. Along the way, William gave us another lesson in Amazonian flora and fauna. Here's a picture of Carson, with his dad (Greg). Though the youngest in our group, Carson turned out to be the most adventurous when it came to picking up bugs and worms and other creepy crawlies and was always game to taste test anything that William asked him to try out!



After our second round of breakfast, we regrouped and headed for a walk to a macaw clay lick. The clay lick turned out to be a section of a small cliff that was exposed soil. Apparently, macaws ingest the clay to help with digestion and for minerals. After waiting for several minutes - with only a gecko in sight, we all opted to return to the lodge. We had a bit of downtown, I armed myself with some reading material and cocooned myself into the hammock in my room. It was a divine way to relax!



Lunch was pretty uneventful. After lunch, we had about an 1 1/2 hours of free time before our next planned activity so a small group of us opted to hike back to the canopy tower for one last view of the rainforest from above.

When we returned to the lodge, we hiked back down to the boat launch and rode downstream to visit with a local shaman who tends a very big "garden" of indigenous plants, each of which has medicinal purposes.



After a brief intro by the shaman, we headed for a walk into one of the gardens. At one point, we stopped beside a very small plant. William broke off a leaf and stripped everything off the stem - which was no wider than a toothpick. He then cut the stem into 1/2" lengths and handed each of us a piece. He then told us to bite into the stem but not to swallow our saliva. Well, I bit into the stem and after I got over the bitter taste, I soon realized that that little piece of stem had numbed my entire mouth - including my tongue! The numbness stayed with me for a good 10-15 minutes!



Along our walk, the shaman pointed out plants that had all sorts of medicinal as well as aphrodisiac purposes. The common thread seemed to be to take whatever plant it was, boil it in water for a certain amount of time and then drink the potion three times a day. In some cases (I think when the potion is bitter), honey is added and in other cases, alcohol is added as a preservative of sorts. It was a very interesting walk.

We eventually returned to our starting point and after saying our thank yous and goodbyes, we left the shaman and retraced our steps back to the lodge.

Simon rejoined us late afternoon and after dinner briefed us on our plans for the next day which would be our day to travel to Cuzco. Turned out there was a problem with my plane ticket so I would be leaving ahead of the rest of the group. Simon had originally wanted William to go with me but decided that he would accompany me instead in case there were problems with my ticket. We would be leaving the lodge at 7am to arrive for a 11am flight out of Puerto Maldonado.

That night, I also decided to take my first altitude sickness (Diamox) tablet in preparation for arrival in Cuzco.

I slept well that night though my night time visitor returned. This time, it managed to open up the zippered compartment to my daypack and retrieve an uneaten portion of a Clif Bar. I found the empty wrapper the next morning.