After we briefly visited a plantation, we passed dozens of houses covered in political slogans en lieu of the coming elections and finally arrived at the Madre de Dios River. We piled all of our things on a boat, and headed downstream toward the MLC. Tilman told us that the water had risen a good deal because of a storm and their neighbors had lost some of their equipment and structures to the river. Indeed, we saw one of the main buildings precariously teetering on the edge of the bank, as if it was preparing itself to dive in and join the rest of the lost infrastructure. Thankfully, the MLC was built farther away from the water, so all of our cabins were still intact- only the organization’s beach front had shrunken.
We stepped onto the bank and lugged our bags up the hill. The MLC came into view and I was instantly reminded of a tree house in this book I read as kid- “The Best Little Monkeys in the World.” No doors, no glass windows, leafy roofs, bamboo walls, and wooden floors on stilts to keep out the floods.
This place was all at once peaceful and alive with the sounds of the forest echoing around us. Macaws and parrots screeched overhead and monkeys howled from a distance. Hummingbirds were plentiful, zipping from bush to bush, flower to flower.
And then there were the insects. Oh my. In the Amazon, it doesn’t matter how big or small a bug is- it can do some serious damage. You see a gnat and you think “No way could this little thing bite me!” But sure enough, it does. And you itch. And you swell. And you promise you’ll wear more insect repellent. But you never do. What’s the point when you sweat it all off anyway?
Once we had settled in and put away our things we met the staff in the living area. We were all quite shy around each other, but I was comforted by the fact that the staff interacted like a family. There were smiles and laughter all around, and I hoped that in time we would be integrated into that tight-knit group.
For the moment though, we escaped the heat by going to the nearby waterfall for a swim. Tilman found us a termite snack on the way, which by the way, tasted like nothing in particular to me, though if you ask Sarah, tasted “earthy.” We arrived at the waterfall and submerged ourselves in the icy water. There is no more satisfying feeling than the relief of a cold waterfall on a hot day. Even now, a continent away I like to imagine myself in that waterfall, washing my soul clean. I try not to imagine eating termites.
Before we retreated for the day, we attempted to swim in the Madre de Dios. Maaaybe we should have considered the fact that our neighbors’ lodge was almost washed away just a few days before. In short, we ended up bouncing down the river on our butts. Highlight of the day? Absolutely.