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In the Jungle ---Week Three

USA | Friday, 28 September 2012 | Views [522] | Comments [1]

Week Three - In the Jungle
It took a 9-hour bus ride on a winding dirt and rocky road to reach our jungle reservation in the small town of Chontachaka, outside of the Manu National Park in the Peruvian Amazon. Tack on another half hour for fixing the flat tire, a common occurrence on these roads.  We were warned not to miss the stop, as the next stop was four hours away.  Villages out here are pretty spread out.  And truth be told, one could blink and miss the town of 10 shacks which the locals call their homes.  The families stock up on cookies and cola and even alcohol to create the "store" that we volunteers (gringos) support.  One shack has been labeled the local restaurant because, for a few soles, a woman will prepare you a meal on Sundays when the cook for our reservation (who lives in one of the local shacks) is on her day off.  One can generally predict the Sunday meal; turkeys and chicken roam the yards.  A wedding took place the week we were there; two pigs had been roaming the yards that week.  Austin, a fellow volunteer, reported back that he was offered some pig on Sunday for lunch - leftover from the wedding.  Still full from lunch, Austin stayed back with me at the reserve for dinner that Sunday while the others went to the "restaurant."  We cooked a pot of rice by candle light and added in the onion and cucumbers we found in the cooler.  There is no refrigerator on the reserve, as there is no electricity.  A new shipment of veggies was expected on Monday when the 9-hour bus from Cusco would arrive again, often also bringing new volunteers.  Food at the reserve was vegetarian; our menu consisted of rice, potatoes, and pasta.  And when it wasn't that, it was pasta, potatoes, and rice.  Actually, the cook was quite creative with her veggie soups which often had quinoa.    
We had about 10 volunteers the week I was there, although in peak season there up to 40, all of whom sleep in the same bungalow made of wood and bamboo with a corrugated steel-type open roof to protect from the rain. There are two beds to a cubicle, each bed covered with mosquito netting.  The bamboo "walls" are chest-height.  
The reserve is  like a commune.  We're not there for privacy;  it's all about experiencing the "bush" together.
So what do we do all day?  They said that the jungle experience was pretty laid back, and it was.  We worked hard a few mornings, and took some amazing hard hikes (often uphill) on the others.  We "chilled" in the afternoon - usually bathed or washed clothes in the lagoons or waterfalls.  This part was particularly significant for me because I was in the jungle during the week of Rosh HaShana.  We didn't renew ourselves by standing at the edge of the water.  We immersed completely; the experience made a separation between physical labor and physical cleansing and therein was our spiritual cleansing as well.  We often commented how refreshed and renewed we felt after coming out of the water.  As an aside, once my bio-degradable soap that I set down on a rock in the lagoon slipped off and went floating down the little waterfall.  I resigned myself to the lost soap, but my 65-year old friend Anna went scampering over the rocks in her bra and underwear and rescued the soap on a ledge before it fell over the next waterfall!  
In the evenings, we sat around  candlelight - chatted, chewed on coca leaves (a favorite local habit), read books, or sat on the rocks in the river and looked at the stars or listened to the water tumble over the boulders.  It was not unusual to go to sleep between 8 and 9.
There is a saying that one doesn't go anywhere in the jungle without a machete.  One morning, machete in hand, we cut through overgrown bamboo trees which invade the forest and prevent other trees from growing.  Another morning we weeded the pineapple plants with a machete so as not to pull out weeds and remove good topsoil.  I had always wanted  to spend some time on a kibbutz working the land, and that is what this felt like.  The experience took away my fantasy of how pleasurable this would be.  I emerged with blisters on my hands, ripped pants from the thorns on the bamboo, aching leg muscles from trying to balance myself on the hill where the  pineapples were growing, and speckled dots of blood on my arms from the prickly pineapple leaves.  I narrowly escaped a nest of two to three-inch ants that I inadvertently dug up when pulling out some weeds.  On the other hand, I emerged from the hikes often on a high.  Because we were not in an area of the jungle groomed for tourists, the hikes were through "authentic" rainforest.  Our reserve was along a river, and one uphill hike to reach the "big waterfall" had us climbing over rocks and fallen trees, criss-crossing a stream, and at one point using a rope to help pull us up a steep incline of a rocky terrain.  We had to climb down as well, which required concentration and careful stepping on the slippery rocks.  Another hike took us to a hut from which we could bird-watch in silence and observe the striking red-colored male Cock-of-the-Rock flirt with the female.  
Some of the most memorable experiences were the unplanned ones in the villages.  On the weekend, rather than waiting for a cab to come our remote way, we hitchhiked and got a ride in the back of a dirty truck carrying an odd collection of goods to deliver which became our "seats"--a can of gasoline, a mattress, wholesale packages of toilet paper, car parts, and other closed boxes.  We weren't the only ones; apparently this is the cheapest and most efficient to get to the next to town. We were joined by four local women and their little children (mothers take their children with them where ever they go), and two men.  Remember that dirt rocky road?  We used our backpacks to cushion the bounces and protect our heads from hitting the sides of truck.  It was thirty minutes to the first town, then a thirty minute wait in the truck while goods were delivered, and then another 40 minutes to the town of Atalaya.  There we met with a local boat-builder who was going to help  three of our younger volunteers build a raft for the river trip the we're planning.  We also observed an athletic competition between area village schools.  The prize was on display--a live bull, which the winning school would prepare for a festival in which all would share in the delicacy.  
This blog would not be complete without talking about the monkey that bit me.  The reserve has two pet Howler monkeys.  They are cute for all of one minute.  The first night in my bed, I awoke to some odd breathing.  I wasn't sharing my bed with any other human, so I figured it had to be some jungle animal.  I grabbed my flashlight and saw the monkey curled up right above my pillow!  Sleeping with dogs and cats, while common to many, was not within my experience, so having a monkey in my bed was not   within my comfort zone.  I tried to relax and take this in as a new experience.  But I was also mindful of warnings from other volunteers to set the limits or the monkeys would eat your food, climb on you whenever they wanted, eat your toothpaste, and toss around any of your belongings they found intriguing.  So I gave the monkey a shove, and then another shove and another until it woke up and left my bed to find a friendlier volunteer.  That time I was lucky.  The day I was on duty in the kitchen, the female monkey (the more mischievous of the two) got in, even though she is quite aware that the kitchen is off limits to her.  She was on the counter eating the veggies! I quickly went over and shoved her off.  She snapped back at me and bit me on the palm of my hand.  I was told told that she tolerates aggression from male volunteers, and is more likely to bite a female volunteer who is tough with her.  We cleaned the bleeding inch-long wound, and I was reassured that the monkey had all necessary shots and I needn't worry.   I stayed away from then on, and the monkey also learned to stay away from me!
I dreaded the ride back--another 9 hour bus ride on a rocky road with only one stop.  The local woman bring back medicinal plants from the forest, and the combination of smells and body odors is less than pleasant.  The bus is old and the windows are often broken.  As you head into Cusco, the weather gets colder.  The locals know to come equipped with blankets.  There are also people and children who sit  and sleep in the aisle, seats that are sold at a cheaper price.  As it turned out, we left in the evening, and I  slept most of the way, awaking every so often to close the window which wouldn't stay closed.  There was also one other interruption -- a police raid of all the bags for coca leaves.  The woman gather them in the forest and then sell them or use them for cooking or eating.  (Some make cocaine from the leaves.)  A fellow volunteer with whom  I was traveling told me that the woman next to her wrapped leaves in bags around her waist and legs, secured them with tape and then covered it up with her clothing.  They were not found.  
I left the jungle thinking that this was a place I would want to visit again.

Tags: ivhq, jungle, maximo novel, peru



Dear Dina,

I have to thank you because when I wake up in the morning and have nothing to worry about, I worry. After reading your last blog - thank God, I can now worry about you!!! It sound like a great adventure cutting through the jungle and fighting off monkeys and chewing on cocoa leaves (can you become addicted) but I'll bet a room at the Hilton would sound good to you. But all kidding aside, it sounds like a great experience. JUST STAY WELL AND SAFE.

Here on the home front, all is well. The holidays are almost over and life will become normal again. What is normal? We loved having Steve with us for Rosh Hashonah. We had a lovely evening at the Milgroms. She is a very gracious hostess and and made us feel very welcome.
And of course we had a lovely evening at your mother's. Services were long but OK. We had a lovely BreakFast at our house, Eric Wasserman and his wife Susan were with us as was Alan Wolk and his son Martin from Seattle. Phyllis is on a Mediterranean cruise as a guest of her son, Jeffrey, and his partner and his partner's mother. Wow!

I am still working on the sweater for the baby and am having all sorts of trouble. I think I lost my knitting gene.

I think you must be on the sightseeing part of your trip. So have fun and take pictures of the Gallopis(?) for me.



  pauline leber Oct 2, 2012 3:45 AM

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