Tag Archives: Amazon folklore

Expedition Chicas Locas: Queros

Much to Chico the monkey’s dismay, the chicas locas were off again after a night’s stay at Atalaya Lodge.  I tried to offer him apples as a parting gift (i.e. left-over apples Carla had forced upon us when we left the MLC), but he took a bite from one, threw it on the ground, and gave me a look of disgust.  I sighed and one of the “pirates” came up to us and pulled out a banana from behind his back.  Chico lunged at him and consumed the fruit within moments.  “Yeah, this monkey is spoiled,” I thought to myself.  “A year with humans and he’s already picky about his fruit.”

I took the apples to Gabriela in the kitchen who gratefully accepted them.  I tried to warn her that Chico had already done a number on one of them, but she didn’t seem concerned and placed them all in the icebox.  “No problem.  Muchas gracias, Tina.  Visit again?”

We said our goodbyes and another pirate helped us across the river with the cable.  And then we began our journey to Queros, the village of the Wachiperi community.

After a twenty-minute drive and a two hour walk in the heat down a dirt road, we arrived at Queros in record time.  It was… empty.  With the exception of Eddie, our guide, and his friend, no one else was around.  A bare lawn between a set of houses made me think of an abandoned school playground over summer vacation.  That is if the school playground had been overrun by chickens.  I laughed to think that I was just reflecting on how nice it was to be back in civilization again, and there we were in a village where the foul were more plentiful than inhabitants.

Twilight Zone Amazon style

Sarah with one of the many chickens in Queros.

Eddie and Dioni took us to a wooden cabin at the entrance of the village.  After my experience with Reynaldo, I was expecting squat toilets and cockroach-friendly accommodations, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that we had a REAL toilet, REAL beds, REAL walls, and wait for it… electricity.  Really.  Mind you, they only ran the generator for two hours at night, but hey, after a month of living in complete darkness at night, a couple of hours of synthetic light felt like an extravagant luxury.  In fact, I was a little suspicious of it.  It was blindingly bright, just glowing away when it wasn’t even necessary.  So in your face.  So flashy.  Still, I was glad to finally charge my camera which had died out halfway through our Atalaya experience.

After our long walk, all of the girls including myself were too exhausted to move.  I felt obligated to go talk to Eddie and find out more about his community, but I couldn’t help it, I was so tired, so I collapsed on my bed with the rest of the chicas locas in our room.  By that point, all of the volunteers had gotten bitten on nearly every inch of flesh, so we passed around the cortisone cream like it was a peace pipe, taking relief in its soothing chill.

We laid there for nearly two hours, barely moving an inch.  Some slept, but personally, I was just staring blankly at the top bunk, feeling my brain curdle from tiredness and heat.

“Chicas locas,” we heard from the dining room.  Dioni, who had survived ten days in the forest eating nothing but leaves, probably thought we were the biggest sissies of all time.  “It is time to get up.  We are going to make jewelry and baskets with the women now, okay?”  We quietly groaned and dragged ourselves out of bed.

Outside, the women had already gotten started.  They threaded beads onto strings and wove baskets out of thin, bendable leaves.  An elderly man was polishing a smooth arrow with macaw feathers protruding out the end.

“Girls, the woman pokes holes in these seeds and puts them on the string,” Dioni told us.  “You can try now.”  We began to make our own necklaces and bracelets while Dioni and the woman told us the different seed names: sera sera, walking palms, and huayruro seeds- the luckiest, most sacred seeds of the Amazon.  The red of the seed symbolizes the earth, and the black represents all life.  Drape yourself in these seeds, and you will be protected against evil and attract abundance.  Once I had finished, I tied my necklace around my neck, but even the huayruro seeds couldn’t prevent was soon to come.

Dioni asked us if we wanted to escape the heat by going to the river.  Erica and Hanako wanted to relax in the room, so Sarah and I joined him.  Sarah just wanted to take pictures, so she sat on the bank as Dioni and I tried to find a safe place to swim.  The water was frigid.  The current tugged at my legs.  “Are you sure about this?” I asked Dioni who was already several yards ahead, diving into the cold waters and laughing.  “No problem!  Come, Tina,” he called out to me.  I followed him but kept my feet on the ground.

I looked back at Sarah who was barely visible close to the horizon.  I turned back, shivering, took a breath, and dove in.  Ice.  I imagined the blood in my veins congealing.  As cold as it was, the current was not as intense as it looked.  “You see!” Dioni laughed.  “No problem!”  I laughed too and started doing the backstroke against the rushing water.  No problem.

After a few minutes, Dioni swam to another bend in the river.  He turned toward me and motioned for me to follow.  I decided to walk there again.  I didn’t want to take any chances with this river.

Once I got close, I felt the current turn colder and stronger.  My foot met a large rock jutting out from the bottom of the riverbed, and I tried to readjust my footing, but it was too late.  That one misstep sent me backwards, and before I knew it, I was being dragged along the river on my back, unable to stop myself.  It was just for a few seconds close to the bank of the river, and I laughed, not taking what was happening seriously, but looking back, I remember how strong the pull of the water was- a siren impossible to resist.

“Give me your hand!”  Dioni called out over the roaring water, and I reached out to him.  He grabbed ahold of me and pulled me out.  He laughed.  A fish out of water.  “Dioni, you quite possibly just saved my life,” I said somewhere in between sincerity and jest.  What had just happened?  Was that real or had I imagined it?

The sun was going down.  We found Sarah where we had left her, beginning to look very bored.  “I saw you out there, but then you disappeared for a bit,” she said.  “Well, yeah,” I squirmed.  “I kind of, possibly, almost drowned out there, so that’s probably why you didn’t see me.”

When we returned back to the community center, it was time for dinner.  Now this is my speed, I thought.  Food.  Delicious and filling food.  Nothing to fear.

The main component of the meal was yucca- the most common food in the Amazon, and sadly, the most boring food in the world.  It has the carbyness of potatoes without any of their buttery goodness, and it leaves your mouth dry and your body constipated.  The other dish we had was palmito.  It’s the inside of a palm tree, and tastes surprisingly like buttered corn.  I. Loved. It.

“Señora, this is the most delicious food I’ve had this whole month!” I beamed at the cook.  She smiled and offered me more.  I ate seconds.  I ate thirds.  I had three glasses of banana juice and some water from the tank that was deemed safe by our guide.  Now I was content.  All the heat exhaustion was gone and my bites were even itching less, and a vague sleepiness settled in my bones.

“Chicas,” Dioni addressed us.  “Now we are going to a bonfire with some of the Wachiperi.  They will show some typical dances and typical songs and tell some typical stories for us, okay?”  Okay.  We were sleepy, but we could swing this.  How often do you get to experience the culture of an Amazonian community, anyway?

We got to the fire and were joined by Eddie, his friend, and the older gentleman who had been polishing the arrow earlier who was now dressed in traditional clothes made from squished plant fibers.  He was proudly holding his arrow polished with a special blend of honey and minerals.

In traditional Wachiperi clothing about to dance.

Eddie lit the fire in the traditional way, by rubbing two pieces of wood together, representing the meeting of the male and female.  Then he offered us a drink called chuchuwasa.  “It’s very good.  Strong,” he said.  I took a sip.  It was strong alright.

The older man told Dioni in Spanish with a Wachiperi lilt that he should translate his stories for us.  In the first, there was a man named Ananewa who was the strongest of the Wachiperi.  He would fight with jaguars and win.  After the man died, the people of the village began to name their sons Ananewa out of respect.  Until.  All of the jaguars began to come after these boys and kill them.  You see, the name had become a challenge to the jaguars.  This is the reason why the Wachiperi never name their sons Ananewa.  To do so would be to guarantee their untimely death.  And apparently, there hasn’t been a strong man in Queros ever since.

The next one had something to do with a fox and a fire.  Firefox?  I tried to concentrate, but couldn’t manage it.  All I know is that the stories came fast and furiously, with lots of repetition and lots of reprimands.  “No, you’re not translating right, I know,” the man would say to Dioni.  “Uy, no, no, no.”  The stories went on and on.  We were too tired to focus on discerning the man’s Wachiperi tinged Spanish or Dioni’s English, so we all sat there, smiling and nodding, not understanding a word.

When it was time to leave, we thanked the men and dragged ourselves to bed.  I was so happy to finally sleep.  Such a long day.  Such a long, long day.  Something stirred in my belly.  I turned on my side.  My stomach growled.  I turned to my other side.  Nope.  I wasn’t going to let a little stomach ache stop me from sleeping.  As I was drifting off, my stomach spasmed like an alien was trying to break through.  “Oh, no,” I whispered as I instinctively jumped out of bed and ran to the outhouse.

A frog was perched on the toilet seat, staring at me with huge, buggy eyes.  “Oh no.  Oooooh no,” I said, opening the door to give him a path of escape.  Any other time, I would have flipped out and ran to grab my camera, but not. right. now.  I turned back to the toilet.  He sat there watching me.  “This is my toilet!” I said, shooing him away, my stomach seizing.  He didn’t move.  I took my shoe and poked him.  He hopped off and disappeared.  “Where did you go?” I said, checking inside the commode just in case.  My stomach seized again. “I don’t have time for this,” I told the phantom frog and slammed the door.

Eight hours and many trips to the bathroom later, I determined that I must have food poisoning.  I cursed the palmito that I had loved so dearly just hours before.  But then I remembered the water I drank.  It had something floating in it.  Something white.  I ran to the bathroom again for good measure.

As the sun came up and I stared wide-eyed at the top bunk, I hoped that what happened in Queros would stay in Queros.

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CAMPING

 Photo cred: Erica Moutrie

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.)

Ants.

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.

Spirit of the Jungle

The Birds and the… horseflies

We didn’t escape going to the clay lick this time.  My alarm didn’t go off, but thankfully my internal alarm sounded a half hour later and we made it just in time to go with Dionicio to the other side of the river.

We stood there on the beach with a telescope and a set of binoculars facing a orange-colored cliff.  A few minutes passed and there were no birds in sight.  Finally, a set of blue headed macaws came into view, and then dozens of birds followed suit.  There were macaws, parrots, and parakeets of all different colors and sizes.  Again, I couldn’t tell the difference, so others did the identification while I recorded them for some time.

I’ve always considered myself a bird person, but seeing them at that kind of distance isn’t exactly exciting.  Within a half hour, we occupied ourselves with other pursuits.  I chatted up Dioni- he told me how he had once climbed a 50 meter tree!- and Erica and Hanako took to spying on the tourists who had gathered farther down the river with the telescope.  Suddenly they burst into laughter.  The group seemed to have gone crazy- whacking each other with articles of clothing, running around like lunatics, and even stripping down in some cases.  What was going on?  A swarm of horseflies must have descended on the tourists, and as Erica and I had found out from our own horsefly attack not too long ago, those little bastards hurt.  Within a few minutes, the tourists had picked up shop and left the vicinity, much to Erica and Hanako’s dismay.

Pitfalls

Back at the MLC, there was more work to be done.  Juvenal collected us after lunch and took us down to clean and fix the pitfall traps.  Unlike the traps we had set before, these were buckets that had been buried in the ground so that small mammals would fall right into the holes as they were running along the trail.  Sadly, the only animal we later found in these traps was a large toad that had probably eaten all the small mammals in the traps.  So much for that.

We had more success with sewing the butterfly nets back in the project room.  Well, some of us did.  Juvenal, of course, was the first to finish while I slowly struggled my way through, managing to break a needle in half, leaving the pointy end jutting out of the net forever more.  As I got a new needle and continued to relentlessly jab myself, our fearless leader began to tell us the best kind of stories: jungle stories.

In the project room where we sewed our butterfly nets.

Story time with Rambo

Juvenal went hunting in the forest one day.  He found a troop of spider monkeys and followed them deep into the forest.  By the time he shot one down and flung it over his shoulders to take home, he had completely lost track of the trail.

He didn’t panic.  He knew how to live off the forest.  He ate leaves and berries off the trees.  He made a shelter out of the brush to keep warm and hidden from the night animals once the sun had gone down.  He survived the night and awoke the next day hopeful.  He tried to find a stream or river to follow back to civilization, all the while clinging to the dead monkey draped around his neck.  As he walked, everything began to look the same.  Little did he know he was walking in circles.  The second day ended and Juvenal once more fell asleep in the brush, his stomach growling and objecting to all the foliage he’d been eating.

He survived another night.  He began to trek through the forest, and in the spur of the moment, decided to change course.  After a few hours, he heard the sound of running water.  He ran toward it and breathed a sigh of relief.  He had found a river.

He went downstream until he came upon a barking dog.  He laughed out loud from happiness.  If there was a dog, there had to be a person nearby.  Soon enough, the old woman to whom the dog belonged came into view.  In a rush of emotion, Juvenal ran toward her.  He must’ve been a frightening sight, dirty and crazed, with a dead animal on his back, because she turned on her heal to go back from where she came.  Juvenal didn’t lose hope.  He calmly approached her and poured out his story to her.  She took pity on him and took him to her town where he was given food and a place to stay until he made his way home.  He was saved.

Juvenal’s story reminded me of something Lilia had mentioned during dinner the night before, her face mischievous and grinning in the candlelight.  “Chulian Chaki,” she had said “is the spirit of the jungle.  I don’t believe this.  But.  He calls your name and you go in the forest and ‘poof.’  You are gone.”  Chulian Chaki: an entity to be feared and respected.  While most of the scientists who come to the jungle dismiss such myths, many people who live in and have grown up in the forest adhere to the belief that such a creature exists.  “What does he look like?” we had asked.  “He has the foot of a deer and the foot of a turtle,” Lilia giggled.  We laughed at that.  Not exactly a scary combination.  “But,” she whispered, “he can change.  He can look like any animal.  He can look like your best friend.  He speaks to you in the voice of someone you know so you will trust him.”

I asked Juvenal to tell us what he knew about this spirit of the jungle.  He recounted what Lilia had already told us, but there was more, some other story he hadn’t disclosed yet.  “Otra vez.  Another time,” he said.  The nets were finished, so with that, we left the project room while I pondered what had happened with Juvenal and Chulian Chaki.

As the sun went down and moon came out, I thought about how ambiguous and changeable everything was.  Even the moon looked different in this hemisphere- the craters turned in such a way as to give the appearance of a large rabbit or an old man with a mustache.  I smiled.  Nothing is constant.  Nothing is as it seems.  At the mercy of nature, I realized how little control we have over our world.  As individuals we certainly have power, but at the same time, we are all passengers on the same train moving toward some unknown destination.  So far, I was enjoying the ride.

Itch, itch, scratch, scratch

It’s not fair.  Tito never had bug bites.

When I was younger, I had chicken pox twice.  The second time around, I tried my best not to scratch, but finally gave in, clawing at spots that left marks in their wake.  Laying in my bed awake at night in the middle of the jungle, I felt like that itchy third grader again.  I couldn’t help it.  After the fifth time of waking up because of the red, angry bites covering my entire body, I finally succumbed and had a scratching free for all that lasted a good ten minutes.  Meanwhile, a thunderstorm raged in the background, and for a second I considered stepping out into the rain to soothe my raw skin.

When my alarm rang at 7:00, I was already wide awake, staring blankly at the white mosquito net drooping overhead.  I sighed and groaned the usual morning mantra:  “Erica, Hanako, Sarah, time to get up!”

We paraded to the restrooms and then to the kitchen.  It was our first day without Tilman, and the first day we got to eat with the entire staff in the kitchen so as Tilman put it: we “wouldn’t be lonely.”

I was really happy to be integrated into the group, though it was a little strange not having Tilman to greet us in the morning with his usual milky hot chocolate and itinerary for the day.  Nelson was missing too, gone to Salvación because of a toothache.  Still, most of the staff was at the table, chowing down on omelets and the ever popular fried bananas.  Sarah stealthily transferred her bananas to my plate which I gladly accepted.  I freaking love fried bananas.

The bffs: Sarah and Tomas.

It made me chuckle to see the way several of the men including Alcides, the cook, fawned over our “Fearless Leader,” Juvenal, staring at him with adoration and laughing at all of his man jokes.  I glanced at Lilia and she smiled.  “Now Tilman’s gone and you’re going to do some real work, chicas locas,” she said, giving a girlish giggle.  Come to find out in the next few days, she wasn’t kidding.

We spent the day planting and measuring trees as per usual but in a different part of the forest.  Expecting a well-maintained plantation like the last, I was surprised when a demolished grove came into view.  The trees had been burned down, which unfortunately has become a common deforestation method.

Deforestation 

And so we began the long, painstaking process of recovery.  Reynaldo had taken it upon himself to teach me as many plants of the forest as possible, so he would periodically test me on the trees we were planting there.  He is that rare type of leader who shows the way through kindness, patience, and consideration.  Not one to complain or criticize, I never heard him once blame anyone for the plight of the forest.

In a denser spot.

Trying to keep the peke peke from floating away.

Anyway, nothing much else happened the rest of the day.  That night I slipped into my old habit of doing my laundry at night.  Just as I was putting my clothes on the line I heard growling.  I jerked my head up and looked into the dark of the forest.  Nothing.  Must’ve imagined it, I thought.  I continued to place my clothing on the line.  Another growl.  I dropped my underwear in the dirt.  I looked into the canopy again.  Probably a potoo bird that sounds like a jaguar I thought.  I quickly shook the dirt of my undies and hightailed it out of there just in case.