After a few weeks of living in the Amazon, it was getting to be more and more ironic and ridiculous that I’d never gone on a camping trip. Ever. That problem was soon to be remedied one Sunday afternoon.
Juvenal gave us a set of options of where to stay, and we picked a site that wasn’t too close but not too far from the MLC. Carla and Alcides had made us boxed dinners to take with us since it would still be too wet to make a fire in the forest. Carla chided us for not consuming enough fruit and forced us to stuff our packs with more than we could eat. Juvenal came with us, while the rest of the staff stayed behind along with Juanma, the project director who had recently arrived from Cusco. Covered in tattoos and smelling of vanilla, he struck me as a magical, expansive being like a soft-hearted pirate from a children’s book who seemed to levitate rather than walk.
On the way to the camping site, Sarah gave me a run-down on British slang. Here is a compiled list of terms (Sarah, let me know if I left anything out)…
Guide to British Slang:
– taking the mick (out of somebody)– making fun of somebody.
Ex) My favorite pastime is taking the mick out of Juvenal.
– ming– anything that’s gross.
Ex) “Bill, go take a bath! You are so ming!”
– soppy- sappy
Ex) Reynaldo’s favorite song is the soppy “My Heart Will Go On.”
– knackered- utterly exhausted.
Ex) No, I don’t want to go on a night walk. I’m completely knackered from all the day walking.
– pulling- attracting someone.
Ex) I’m slightly disturbed that I managed to pull a monkey in the jungle. (In an entry coming soon.)
Once we arrived at the site, we set up camp. And by we I mean Juvenal did his thing while we looked on. In ten minutes time, he had created a hobbit house using nothing but a machete and jungle brush. Then we put up the tents- one for Sarah and me, another for Erica and Hanako, and one for Our Fearless Leader. Honestly, I’m surprised he used a tent at all. I half expected him to scale a tree and sleep on a limb with one eye open, just daring a jaguar to come and find him.
There wasn’t much to do, so we decided to have a little photo session. We started out in the mouth of our hobbit cave. After a few photos, I began to feel something tickling me under my shirt and in my hair. “Oh no… oh no,” I squirmed. Ants. Ants in my pants. Red ants had crawled onto the hat hanging around my neck and traveled down my body. I started to wiggle and writhe, and that’s when they began to bite. It felt like some sadistic maniac was pricking me with a needle. I stripped off my overshirt and did some kind of spastic anti-ant dance to get the little critters off of me. Meanwhile, the chicas locas were having a laugh and taping the entire thing. Finally, I shook off all the angry insects and breathed a sigh of relief. “Please, jungle. Stop trying to kill me,” I thought.
Before the ant attack there was the Hanako attack.
(Photo cred: Erica Moutrie)
Forgetting and Remembering
Before long, I realized that I had forgotten my dinner back at the MLC. I was inclined to survive off of the tangerines that Carla had forced upon me rather than risking another asthma attack, but thankfully the other girls were kind enough to go back to the MLC and retrieve my dinner.
So it was just me and Rambo in the middle of nowhere. Juvenal mostly refused to speak in English which suited me fine because I wanted to practice my Spanish anyhow. I knew how much he was understanding by watching his left eyebrow. If it was raised particularly high, then I knew I wasn’t making a lick of sense.
“Do you know any stories about Chulian Chaki?” I asked him. He laughed. “Siii. Muchas historias. There was a man who lived in these parts years ago. He was a logger. Chulian Chaki was very angry with him. He wanted him to leave his forest forever, so he made a deal with him. They would fight. If the man won, Chulian Chaki would show him a grove of hardwood chiwawakos. If Chulian Chaki won, the man would never show his face again in the jungle. And so they fought. They fought for a loooong time. Finally, the man won. Chulian Chaki had to show him the grove of the tallest, most beautiful trees. The man began to chop them all down. He became rich off the wood. But he was not happy. One day he went into the forest and never touched another tree. That is the story.
“And there is another. A man was lost in the jungle. It was raining and there was a bolt of lightning that lit a path before him. He followed the trail all the way to a small house in the middle of nowhere with a woman standing in the doorway.
“The man had hunted, so the woman offered him a place to cook his meat. He was a little wary, but he was so hungry, so cold, and the woman was so beautiful that he gave in. He cooked the meat and spoke with the woman. She was very kind. They laughed together. That night he put his arms around this woman. She was warm and very much real.
“In the morning he woke up and found that he was wrapped in the branches of the sacred lupuna tree! There was no woman and no house to be seen.” I considered this for a minute. “But why?” I asked. “Does Chulian Chaki just mess with people for fun? Or was he protecting the forest?” “No one can understand Chulian Chaki,” Juvenal said matter-of-factly, staring blankly at Lukumayo river. “He does what he wants, who knows why.”
“Have you… seen him?” I asked. Rambo chuckled. “Chulian Chaki shows you what you want to see. Once I was hunting,” he continued. “A deer came out of nowhere. She wasn’t very big. I shot her in the shoulder. And then in the neck. And two more times. Nothing. She wasn’t hurt at all. She kept running deeper and deeper into the jungle. I followed her for some time, but she never slowed down. I’ve never seen anything like it. I remembered just in time that she might not be a deer at all.”
We were silent for a little while. It was dark already and the girls hadn’t gotten back yet. “Are you ever afraid when you’re alone in the forest?” I asked. “Yes,” Juvenal whispered and then was silent again. Suddenly, I heard a strange drone emanating from the forest. “Juvenal?” I turned to him, but he was staring far off into the forest, his hand to his mouth. “Juvenal?” I asked again, a little more worried at his empty expression. Then I realized that the sound wasn’t coming from the forest, but from a small mouth harp he was playing. I sighed in relief and silently laughed at my anxiety.
“What is that?” I asked. “An icarro,” he replied. I later found out that this was actually a dan moi, a Vietnamese instrument not even close to being native to Peru, but I accepted his answer at the time. “When I feel like eyes are watching me, I play this so I will be in harmony with the jungle.” He smiled and handed me the instrument, instructing me on how to play it correctly. I thought it was the coolest thing, and ever since then I have lusted after that musical instrument.
Good night and good luck
Finally, the girls returned, laughing because they had heard some kind of growling in the forest and began to have the feeling that they were in some low-budget horror film. We ate our chicken and rice by the river, and once we’d finished, Juvenal asked us if we wanted to go for a night walk. The girls were tired from their walk back, so they opted to watch Jersey Shore back in their tent, so it was just me and Rambo again.
“There won’t be many animals out tonight,” he said. “There’s a full moon.” He jokingly threw his head back and howled. “You know, if you swim when there’s a full moon, you will get good energy,” he told me. “Yeah,” I retorted, “but then you might get eaten by a caiman, so I’m not really sure if it’s worth it.” He chuckled and walked into the forest. He paused, remembering something. He turned to me and put his finger to his lips. “Silenico. Quiet so we can hear the animals.” I nodded and followed.
I had never heard the forest so silent. Here and there we heard a bamboo rat wailing, but other than that- nothing. We came to a shallow river and Juvenal froze. He thrust his hand into the water and pulled out a small, gray fish. It’s beyond me how he managed to see the animal let alone catch it, but I unquestioningly took the fish into my hand and stroked its slimy scales. I let the creature go, and we carried on walking for about half an hour.
We came to a fork in the path and Juvenal left his hat hanging on a branch by one of the trails. He looked slightly confused. “Don’t tell me we’re lost,” I thought. Happy thoughts. Happy thoughts. If Juvenal had survived 3 days lost in the jungle, I’m sure he could handle a little night walk.
We came to a broken bridge that we crossed by balancing on one beam. We heard a rustle. “Espera. Wait.” Juvenal said and disappeared, diving into the water-filled ditch we had taken such great care to cross.
A strange calmness took over me once I was alone. I didn’t feel like an intruder, but rather part of the fabric of the forest. I waited for some time, wondering what Juvenal was hoping to find. He finally emerged from around the corner, wading through the water, tight-lipped and disappointed. “Just a baby.” he sighed. “A baby what?” I asked. “Caiman.” he confirmed. So there was a mama caiman traipsing around here somewhere. “I wanted to see an adult,” he said, mirroring my thoughts.
We started heading back to the camp site. We came to a fork in the path and I began walking down the right-hand side toward Juvenal’s hat looming in the distance. “Tina!” Juvenal barked. I turned around to see that he was nowhere in sight. I backtracked and saw that he had gone down the other trail. “But your hat…” I began. “My hat’s not there,” Juvenal dismissed. “But-” “Vamos. Let’s go.” he grunted. I didn’t want to argue, so I followed him. Soon we came to another fork in the path, and sure enough, there was his hat where he had left it. He put it back on without a word. Strange. I could’ve sworn I saw it by the other path. I was so sure.
Finally, we were back at the campsite. After sitting by the river for a bit, we went to our respective tents and settled down for the night. Maybe it was because I was so tired, but the ground felt incredibly comfortable. We awoke the next day and returned to the MLC to find that the staff had discovered a venomous snake in our roof while we were gone. “Ustedes tienen suerte,” Carla said somberly. We are lucky.