Tag Archives: Mascoitania

Ta ta, Tilman

Goodbye, Tilly!

(Photo cred: Erica Moutrie)

We thought he’d never leave, but alas, it was time for Tilman to head on back to civilization without us.  A good listener, and a good friend, we were gonna miss the fool.  Who was going to tell us off when he was “not in a mode of patience?”  Who would show us his strange ballerina moves, wow us with his earth-tone, nature shirts, and give us words of wisdom at the most unexpected times?  Such a gentle person, he had trouble telling us what his favorite animal was because he was afraid of offending the other species in the animal kingdom.  That’s Tilman for you.

From right to left: Hanako the hummingbird and Tilman the penguin. Not sure what a penguin’s doing in the rainforest.

(Photo cred: Erica Moutrie)

We saw him off down by the river with hugs all around.  We would see him again in passing when we left, so it wasn’t goodbye forever.  When he left, things felt a little emptier, but there was still work to be done.  By the time we got back to the MLC, Juvenal grabbed us, the “chicas locas” as he had started calling us, and took us to clean the collection nets in the jungle.

A big tree we found on the way.

The nets are used to catch foliage in order to see how dense the forest is.  It’s a pretty easy job, the most difficult part of the process being getting there and finding the darn things.

Hanako cleaning a net.

We ate a boxed lunch by the river, and as we were getting up to leave, we saw a flash in the river.  At first the animal was swimming, and then running faster than our eyes could follow.  “Is that a fish?”  someone asked.  “No, no, no, chicas locas” Juvenal dismissed.  “Lobo del rio!  An otter. It’s a baby.”  This “baby” belonged to the rare giant otter family found only in South America.  I had no idea these animals could move that fast, and if that was a baby, I could only imagine how big an adult was.

Only Juvenal can make butterflies look hardcore.

On the way back, Juvenal asked how my asthma was doing.  “I’m much better,” I told him in Spanish.  “I have an inhaler that I use.”  “No, no inhaler,” he scoffed.  “You need suris.”  “What are those?” I asked.  “Like a small worm.  You eat it and your asthma will be better.”  I figured it was only a matter of time before someone asked me to eat some grub around here.  And it was only a matter of time before I accepted.  Though I promised folk back home that I had given up my adventurous eating ways after ingesting cuttlefish ink and stunning my internal organs, I couldn’t resist trying just one more exotic dish.  I turned to Juvenal.  “And where exactly can I find these suris?”



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.

Causa and Cuban chicken.

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.

Kabobs, rice, and choclo

Chilling with Erica.

That’s what I’m talking about.

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.

Lost in Translation

It was finally time for our long-term reforestation project to begin.  We took the peke peke down the river and walked along the rocky bank toward the plantation to measure trees for the day.

On the peke peke

By this point, my blisters had become almost unbearable, taking up most of the space on the backs of my ankles, and even on my legs where my boots ended and my pants began.  I have pretty sizable calves, so I had to trade out boots and cut them at the tops with my knife.  This resulted in me being relatively unable to keep water from getting water in my boots when we walked in rivers and puddles, and so I walked around with a constant ocean sloshing around under-foot, leaving my blisters raw and wet.  I finally felt like I had the asthma issue under control, but once again I found myself trailing behind.  Thankfully, Tomas stayed with me and we passed the time practicing our Spanish and English.  We crossed paths with a couple of women with a herd of cattle who jokingly asked if I wanted to watch their cows, and for a second I considered it just so I wouldn’t have to walk anymore.

Yep. I’m behind…

My bud, Tomas.

At the entrance to the forest, Reynaldo, an older gentleman who has lived in Salvacion for the past twenty years or so and is the leader of this project, joined our party and led us to the plantation.  Little did I know that this man would become a dear friend to me over the course of our stay.  A sweet person with a quiet voice, he embodied patience and kindness like one of the trees he so loved.


Finally, we arrived at the plantation and found ourselves surrounded by banana trees that remind me of ripped love letters and outstretched arms reaching for the sun.  We weren’t going to be measuring banana trees that day, but rather cedro and awano trees in between them.  Sarah, Erica, and Hanako had the task of measuring the tree growth, while I joined the men in clearing the way with machetes.

Banana trees

Measuring trees.

Tomas creepin’.

Tilman and Hanako taking a break.

Time dragged on in the heat.  As I was slashing at the brush, a massive thorn lodged itself in the flesh peaking out between my glove and my sleeve.  I yanked it out and thought I had gotten it all, but to this day I still have a piece of it embedded in my arm- a token from the forest.

We were all glad when it was time to return to the MLC.  Reynaldo’s son, Tito drove the boat on the way home.  He was wearing a bracelet with peccary canines and a McD’s hat that said “I’m loving it.”  I think the slogan works for him more than it does for McDonald’s.  He’s always smiling.

Back to the peke peke.

That night the girls, Tilman, Tito, and Tomas all bonded over our beloved card game, and it also slipped that I had been on the Ellen show before, so the staff and volunteers had a laugh watching my attempt to eat a marshmallow off a string on our slow-loading internets.  (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CJvXJUDWXbM)

Before we headed off to bed, we all went to the bathroom.  As we were about to exit, we suddenly saw Tito, Alcides, and Nelson speed-walking toward the building, armed with machetes.  They all had a look of excitement in their eyes, and I asked Nelson in Spanish what was going on.  “Tito heard the jaguar,” he smiled.  Tito had grown up in the jungle and so was adept and recognizing animal sounds.  “On top, over there,” he said, pointing upward.  “On the roof?”  I asked.  “Yes!” he replied.  My jaw dropped.  On the roof??  I translated this back to the girls and we all exchanged eager, disbelieving looks.

We stood there huddled together in between the sinks for fifteen minutes while the men silently waited, machetes poised and ready.  Finally, they determined the jaguar was no longer there.  “How did it get down if it was on the roof?”  I asked.  Nelson busted out laughing.  “On the roof?  It wasn’t on the roof!”  Oops.  Mistranslation.  “I was pointing to the trees!”  he laughed again as he told the rest of the men what had happened and I relayed this new information back to the girls.  I guessed it didn’t make a lot of sense that we were waiting in the bathrooms if it was in fact over our heads, but common sense kind of escapes you when there’s a jaguar in your vicinity.