The jungle trip began the same way I planned to start my independent journey to Iquitos. Early Friday morning I, along with the guide and five other participants – Alex [the writer’s husband], two British girls, a New-Zealander, and an Australian, piled up into a motorized canoe filled with locals and baggage of all kinds. The trip down to Nuevo Rocafuerte is about 12 hours long, so this was an excellent opportunity for people watching, but unfortunately not more than that. I was amazed though, how little environmental education the locals displayed. I am not as environmentally conscious as I probably should be, for example, I only recycle after a big party, but I couldn’t help but jump up when the locals on the boat took it as a habit of throwing their heavy-duty plastic lunch containers right into the river.
On the second day a short chubby man in narrow gold-rimmed glasses led us into the jungle. His name was Don Pepe and he spoke only Spanish. I wondered why Ramiro, our guide, didn’t take us on this excursion, but by the looks of him, he had done too much partying the previous night and was not up for it. Don Pepe took us to his fruit and vegetable garden, and demonstrated treasures like the cacao fruit, the beans of which are inside an elongated purple pumpkin-like shell and coated with a bit gooey, sour-sweet substance that is actually quite good to the taste. To make cacao powder they roast and grind the beans, it was later explained.
The days on the river dragged on in the deafening racket of our Peke-Peke canoe and its 10 HP lawn-mower motor which made all attempts to spot wildlife futile. Occasionally, we would disembark and walk through the jungle stopping to acknowledge things like spiders and termite nests. For a snack we’ve eaten some really tiny lemon-ants, and Alex even gobbled down some grubs that none of the girls would even touch. To be honest, I suspect he did it out of boredom.
In the afternoons, we fished. I had no luck, but others caught Piranha, small Catfish, and a silver fish named Lisa. Piranhas, by the way, are extremely over-hyped by Hollywood. It was my understanding that I would not want to stick one finger into piranha infested water, unless I wanted a shiny little bone for a digit, but none of it turned out to be true. We all fished with raw, bloody meat, but the piranhas seemed to nibble once in a while. When my hook got snagged on a branch at the bottom of the river, our sixteen year old boat driver CheChe (his real name – Stalin) jumped in, followed the line, and popped up a minute later with the hook in his teeth. Tough little lad.
Thus passed the days to our arrival at the Ecuador–Peru border where our passports were stamped by a very official-looking man in his underwear and a towel over his shoulder. Who could blame him? He lived here long enough not to blister from the pesky sand-flies whose bites left hundreds of blood-pockets on our skin, and the only way to battle the sticky heat around here is walk around in as little clothes as possible. It’s a “catch twenty-two” – if you take your clothes off, you get eaten by bugs, if you keep them on, in moments every inch of you is stinky and wet. Finally, worn-out by shower-less days we threw caution to the wind, with caimans, and sting-rays of the Amazon and carefully immersed ourselves in the brown river. I pulled out my modest supplies of shampoo, and we all had a little washing party (worthy of a “Survivor” episode). I don’t remember another time when I was so happy to be clean.
The jungle walks came and went with little to tell them apart. Still, a few surprises managed to sneak their way in, like the soldiers from Puerto Loja who accompanied our group for no apparent reason with their little pet monkey named Muños. Or the time Ramiro led us to the rain forest and seemingly forgot the way back. “Er… It’s a game,” he said. “Let’s see if you can find the way back now.” I am not sure what we would have done, if Che-Che didn’t happen to be on the walk with us. The young man stared at Ramiro for a second, and then sprang into action making his way to the front of the group and leading us.
For the lack of excitement on land, some of us turned to the water. I and one of the Brits, Henny, went for a swim; however, we didn’t do much swimming as we both remembered the caiman that was spotted nearby last night. When we came back, Don Pepe looked very excited. Apparently, Alfonso, the Peruvian guy who took Che-Che’s place as our Peke-Peke boat driver, was sleeping in a tree when he heard some thirty wild boars ran through the campsite. It looked like Alfonso jumped off the tree, wielding a machete, and slew a boar in one swing. When we got to the scene it was all long over with. The poor pig’s head and skin were separated from its body, and were soaking in the river alongside its guts and skinless carcass.