Teasing the Piranhas
Trip Start Jan 07, 2010
18Trip End Jan 28, 2010
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Where I stayed
The food at Jamu Lodge in the Amazon was good, especially considering the remoteness. Breakfast consisted of empanadas, an omelette and delicious fresh juice shakes. A good breakfast to start off a good day.
The day's itinerary was to visit a native village. Our plans to call in on a witch doctor (shaman) did not materialize because he was heading out to a clay source to make some pottery. Appointments in the jungle are not as formalized as we are used to so we accepted the rejection gracefully. However, our guide Neiser told us an interesting tale about the man. Apparently he was so intoxicated with local medicines one day that he went out with his wife to a remote location and hacked her to pieces with a machete. He claimed that he was quite remorseful after he was no longer under the influence of his medications and had no idea that he had killed his wife. However, the local authorities put him in jail for manslaughter for a four year sentence. While he was in jail, another inmate angered him, and was also killed by the shaman. After being released from jail, he married his niece. It would have been interesting to meet him.
In his stead, we met a local lady who demonstrated how to harvest yuca (also called cassava), a tuber like root that grows underground at the base of a small tree. It is a source of starch (and tapioca) that grows well, all year round, in poor soil. She pulled it out of the ground, peeled it, grated it, squeezed the juice out of it, and baked it into several forms like tortillas on a ceramic plate held above a fire with three ceramic spools or spacers. The whole process took an hour or two and we were allowed to participate in the preparation and eat some of the results. We ate it with canned tuna or jam. Apparently the native people have been harvesting this stuff for thousands of years. We also ate grapes from a shrub and the pulp that grew around gigantic beans in pods from tall trees.
Close to the side of the river, Neiser spotted a nest of "marching" wasps. On his instruction we all yelled "march" in unison to alarm the wasps. In reply, they beat their wings to produce a march like sound realistic enough that they could be used as sound effects in a World War II movie. It was a warning sound that certainly would have made me retreat if I was on my own.
We also saw turtles, swallows, marmosets, three different types of monkeys, stinky turkeys, snakes, and several caiman ( a species of crocodile)(they were easy to spot at night because their eyes reflected the light from Neiser's flashlight). We startled some fish that jumped out of the water, probably as a defence mechanism. Several landed in the boat, one hitting me on the forehead and another went down inside the front of a Swedish lady's blouse resulting in loud shrieks (from the lady not the fish).
One haunting image that I managed to capture by camera was of a native child paddling a dugout canoe. How much more primitive can you get?
Today we did a terra firma walk, meaning a walk on ground that was a little higher so that grass and trees could grow and it wasn't muddy. It also meant significantly different vegetation and animal life. We were shown a quinine tree (for anti malaria treatment) and an owl's foot plant (for cancer). A trail of leaf cutter ants were carrying pieces of leaf many times their own size, each with a smaller ant on the leaf acting as a guard. The ants store the leaf pieces to ferment them and to then eat the fungus. Leaf-cutter ants form the largest and most complex animal societies on Earth (Wikipedia).
We caught several piranhas on short sticks with short lines and strong leaders using raw meat as bait. I caught the largest one and Neiser took it back to the cook who cooked it for me and served it at supper time. It was a thoughtful gesture even though there wasn't much meat on it. Sandy, our Canadian friend's wife caught a smaller one and her gallant husband took it off the hook for her. It then bit him severely and we scrambled for improvised bandages. We later went swimming in the river, a refreshing break. It wasn't until later that it dawned on me that I had just been fishing for piranhas and watching caiman in the same river. What was I thinking? Neiser gave me a video to document my stupidity. Sandy's husband Richard did not go swimming with his bleeding finger.
As dusk approached, another party spotted an Anaconda close to the shore of a drying lagoon (laguna grande). We opted to take a look even though we had not anticipated this and didn't have our rubber boots. Anacondas are rarely seen so this was a real treat. Unfortunately, the mud in some areas was a foot deep and my only shoes for the trip were muddied. Rosamund went up to her knees in mud. Some mud was washed away with river water.
This was our last day in the jungle and Neiser made plans to take Rosamund and I out early next morning starting at 4:00 a.m. in the boat by flashlight so we could catch our plane back to Quito. The water levels had dropped about a half meter (1 ½ feet) so travel back by boat would be even more difficult. I slept soundly while Rosamund kept her eye on the time.