After about a week of forest debauchery, we were ready to get a taste of civilization again if only for a little while. We loaded into the organization’s boat a.k.a. the “peke peke-” aptly named for the sound the motor makes as the boat sputters along downstream- and headed to the small town of Salvación to participate in a volunteer project.
On the way to Salvación.
On the Madre de Dios
After a short trip down the river and a long, long, walk down a dirt road, we arrived in Salvación a hot mess, blinking through sweat and sun to meet the eyes of staring children, and a multitude of curious dogs who belonged to no one and to everyone in town. Soon enough, a couple of those dogs took it upon themselves to be our own personal guards and did not leave our side for the rest of the day. They even followed us into our hotel rooms, looking dejected and pathetic when they were finally turned loose for the night. Chickens were also constant companions, roaming free and popping up in the most unlikely of places, including a basket of chicks tucked away on the corner of an old man’s bed.
Our hostel was the only one in town. Despite the lack of toilet paper, hot water, and a ceiling (there was a tin roof that had a large gap that connected all the rooms in one echoing, acoustic mass), the place seemed luxurious because, well, it had walls. An incessant chirping filled the room which turned out to be frogs ribbiting, though Sarah was convinced for the longest time that it was an annoyingly loud car alarm going off for hours on end.
Once we had put our things away, we left the hostel for the nearest store to buy a few things. Just as we decided it might be nice to buy the men back home a pump for their soccer ball since theirs was broken, we heard a shrill scream coming from the back of the store.
Erica assumed that the store clerk was quarreling with her husband, but in reality a HUGE SNAKE was reared up, preparing to strike to protect himself. It was the first snake I had seen, apart from the docile looking ones in the zoo, and rather than being afraid, I was transfixed by the sleek, graceful creature seething and hissing with more intensity than I thought possible. The shop keeper did not seem to share my sentiments. “Dios mio!” she whimpered as her husband poked at the snake with a large stick, finally managing to slice the serpent into small pieces that slithered of their own accord. I shook off a strange sadness at the sight of the dead snake, and we quickly made our purchases and left the shop keepers to dispose of the wriggling snake bits.
With our first jungle snake encounter behind us, we made our way to a small, concrete house away from the center of town where a smiling, older woman stood waiting for us to begin our work. “We’re going to build a fence,” Tilman coughed. I looked around for evidence of a tool set or boards, but all I could see were a stack of machetes and a mountain of bamboo piled high by the side of the hut.
An old man emerged at the front door and glared at us as we divvied up the machetes and began to split the bamboo from tip to tip into thin strips which we wove together for the framework of the fence. We smiled at him in acknowledgement, but his only concern were the squawking chicks who engaged him in a power struggle, determined to get into a large bag of forbidden feed.
Why can’t we be friends?
Don’t mess with his chickens.
(Photo Cred: Sarah More)
I fell into a familiar rhythm chopping the bamboo, sometimes using a stone to hammer down the machete with a particularly tricky piece of wood. The nice thing about working with a machete is that you can’t think about anything else. You have to focus. If you don’t, you get yourself into trouble. And by trouble, I mean losing a finger.
(Photo Cred: Sarah More)
Before long, the mercurial skies opened up once more in the most dramatic and violent manner. Without a second thought, the family, volunteers, dogs, and chickens all ran indoors to escape the downpour. The doors were open, and wind whipped through our hair and lashed the sheets of the bed where the old man sat with his baby chicks close at hand. It was too loud to hear anything, and we were still too shy to speak each other’s tongues for too long, so we sat there placidly staring and smiling at one another. Fifteen minutes passed. Tilman took out his ipod. Half an hour passed. I trapped a puppy and forced him to sit on my lap. By the end of an hour, we were all going a little stir crazy, including the old man who abandoned the chicks, which almost resulted in their escape via sky diving off the edge of his bed.
Finally, there was no point in staying, and we made our way back to town in the rain. The weather was determined to give us more time off. After a brief respite at our hostel, the sun went down, and we ended the day at the local bar. Little did we know that buying alcohol had been prohibited due to the upcoming elections (don’t drink and vote, everybody), so naturally, we were the only ones in the entire place. But we made the best of it, bought a couple of rounds on the dl (foreigners don’t count apparently), and played a game before hitting the sack. Personally, my evening was made when Sarah divulged that her father runs Rowan Atkinson’s farm. He runs MR. BEAN’S FARM. It doesn’t get much better than that.