We spent Tilman’s last day at the MLC measuring more trees. This time, I had to get in on the action since there weren’t any paths to clear, and I reluctantly left my machete by the wayside. We also had a few trees to plant to replace those that had died because all of the storms, so that slowed us down a little, but not by much. Spurred on by Hanako’s need for efficiency and the heat, we worked as quickly as humanly possible to get the job done.
Before we knew it, it was time for lunch. I’m pretty sure we had causa that day which is my favorite Peruvian dish. It has mashed potatoes on the top and bottom, lime, chili, oil, and onions, with avocado and mayonnaise in the center. Alcides likes to make it with Pollo Cubano, or Cuban chicken on the side. Sooo delicious.
It gets dark in the jungle around 6:00, so we spent the rest of the daylight doing chores and collecting firewood for a fugata, or a bonfire in honor of Tilman before he left for Cusco. The rest of the girls went off to find fallen branches along the shore of the river, while Lilia called Tito and me to collect old wood from the shed. We piled it high into the wheelbarrow, and began the arduous task of getting it all down a steep, endless set of muddy stairs. “Muy bien, Tina. Muy bien.” Tito would say with every step. Tito is one of the caretakers of the MLC, and it couldn’t be a more fitting title for him. All sympathy and kindness, Tito is a natural cheerleader.
The girls had collected enough wood and dropped it off at the bonfire site. They had something to do up at the MLC, so they left, and Tito and I set up the fire. I felt a drop of water on my cheek. “Aaay,” Tito sighed. He must’ve felt it too. He tilted his head back and blew at the sky. “What are you doing?” I asked him in Spanish. “It keeps the rain away,” he explained as he continued to pile up wood. It kept drizzling as we worked, and I was surprised that I still saw fireflies emerging from the trees. “Fireflies,” I said, pointing at the flying insects. “Aaaa si. Luciérnagas.” he replied. “Luciérnagas,” I repeated, letting the new word roll off my tongue. “Muy bien, Tina. Muy bien.”
We had to inch up the stairs in the dark because I had lent my headlamp out. I’m glad I had an excuse to go slowly because normally that hill knocks the wind out of me. Back at the MLC, the girls were poking fun at Tilman as per usual- out of love, of course- but with more jokes than usual since Tilman was set to be leaving us. He took it all in stride; he’d been in a good mood all day since he would soon get to see his wife again whom he hadn’t seen in two months. Tito and I told the others that the fire was ready, and I crossed my fingers that the soft rain hadn’t extinguished it yet.
The entire staff and all the volunteers paraded back down to the river with food ready to be cooked. The fire was still burning brightly and we turned over the wet boards to the dry side to sit down. There was undoubtedly still a divide between volunteers and staff at this point, but it was nice coming together, and we spoke what Spanish we knew. Alcides cooked the most amazing kabobs and choclo- a type of corn with large kernels- which we devoured within seconds. The meal was topped off with a delicious dessert that Tomas had made- the lightest lemon pie I’d ever had.
After carousing for a while, we let the fire die out and returned to the MLC. Back home, we played cards an ungodly amount of times while giddy Tilman filmed the entire thing. Things were going to be different without him.