The Amazon embraced us. Rather than writing a lengthy discourse about this magical place, I am simply going to list all of the firsts I experienced on this last leg of our journey.
During our three days in the jungle:
(1) I swung from a vine hanging from the largest kapok tree in this part of the Amazon. That’s right, just like Tarzan’s Jane. And I have video to prove it.
(2) Our group was stalked by an endangered tapir (a relative of the horse and rhino) as we explored the grounds of our lodge. They call her Cynthia, a name that is really too gentle to describe her. Her enthusiasm while following us made for a couple of scary moments, as tapirs are a lot faster and more persistent than they look. As she was taking a nap, I pet her and she was soft and meaty.
(3) I had the opportunity to participate in a ceremonial dance with the Amazonian Yagua tribe. Although they’ve been westernized and no longer dress in tribal clothes on a daily basis, they are still very close to their customs, and live just a short walk away from the traditional village they use to greet tourists.
(4) I held a baby sloth in my arms (the one in the photo below). Soft and cuddly like a baby, it was completely docile and curious.
(5) I shot a (non-poisonous) dart out of a blow gun, just like the guys in the photo below. Except I totally missed the target and looked like an idiot. But when in the Amazon, you do as the Amazonians do. The Yagua tribe still hunts using this method, minus the grass skirts.
(6) I witnessed a tamarind monkey waxing poetic up close and personal.
(7) I went fishing for piranhas. I caught one, but it jumped back into the water before I could get it off the hook. Later that evening, I tasted what the rest of the group managed to hook. And despite its violent reputation, it tasted just like any other fish.
(8) I went down a water slide in the middle of the jungle.
(9) I rode in a motorized rickshaw for the first time (actually, I’ve never been transported on any kind of rickshaw, let alone one that has been jerry-rigged using a Honda motorcycle).
(10) I beheld the exquisite vistas atop what is said to be the longest canopy walk in the world, deep in the Amazon rainforest.
(11) An expert shaman applied “dragon blood” sap on my mosquito bites and I’m happy to report that 36 hours later they still don’t itch. The sap apparently choked off oxygen to the bites, depriving them of the power to torture me. I should have bought a vial when I had the chance, but guess what? I can purchase some on amazon.com.
(12) I visited a “modern” Amazon village, where the poverty is striking. The children seemed happy enough, but the adults looked weary and worn, and much older than they actually are. They survive mostly off of fishing and hunting. Their homes are no more than wood floors and walls built a few feet off the ground. Some spend their excess money on televisions and satellite dishes (powered by either generators or solar panels). Furniture is unheard of and the “kitchen” essentially consists of a primitive stovetop that, if the family is a little bit wealthier than most, will be located in a different structure from the main living area so as not to burn the rest of the house down if it catches fire. A few years ago, a charity brought clean water to the village we visited today, which decreased the frequency of illness, but the adult residents did not maintain the regimen needed to keep the water purified. The small water tower remains abandoned and the children are starting to get sick again.
Our Peru adventure was one of great beauty and contrasts in geography, culture, history, religion, flora, fauna, food and weather. We marveled at the country’s historical and architectural treasures, and its enormous wealth in natural resources. And yet for all of Peru’s riches, we were frequently reminded of the great struggles, both financial and societal, many of its citizens face on a daily basis.
As our trip winds down and we prepare to fly home tomorrow night, I feel so incredibly grateful and fortunate to have been able to spend an amazing two weeks with my mom in this wonderful country. The sights were often awe-inspiring; the Peruvians were gracious, kind and proud of their country; the tour guides were knowledgeable and passionate about sharing their stories with us; and the people with whom we traveled were interesting, smart and a whole lot of fun. I suspected it would be the trip of a lifetime and it exceeded my expectations, in every respect.