Returning to Iquitos

I have included some photos here that were taken by my friend and are copyrighted by Darvinia Amazonia Reserve.  These may not be copied and used without the expressed permission of the photographer.

Domingo 2May10

My friends returned after dark last night from the “reunion” where Jim and his guys gave rousing speeches with flowery thanks, all in Spanish of course.  Mary went for appearance sake, but had Jim give her summaries at dinner, which was delayed because he and crew were doing their “final” accounting.

My back was covered with mosquito bites.  Mary and I reasoned that permitherin doesn’t work as well when perspiration has the blouse stuck to my back. She accidentally overdid the Calamine, but that, plus the cool air, put me to sleep immediately.

In the night frog (?) sounds – one almost like a child’s snore (no, it was not coming from their bedroom), another like drips of rain, a third like a handcart with a loose wheel that hadn’t been oiled.

Packing

We got up at 6am to pack.  Most of my clothes were still damp so I put them in a plastic bag – they would smell great later!  Still wore one of Mary’s ventilated hiking shirts. My friends packed four giant suitcases – a fifth sandwiched into one of them, and a sixth left.  Mary and I tried to put a smaller one into it, to no avail, then Jim decided that the smaller one would actually fit and he and one of the guys tried to pound it in.  (When in doubt, use force.)  But, strangely enough, it still didn’t fit.  One of theirs was full, loosely, with Mary’s Spontaneous Market purchases.  I had one suitcase, which had less in it than when I came, as I had given away six T-shirts.

Goodbyes

After that Nati and her children assembled and gave short speeches of thanks and a lovely shallow basket that she had woven for Mary.  Jhonatan and  Sergio Jr asked for Darvinia T-shirts, subsequently Nati did too, and we explained that there were 13 more in Iquitos.

Next our thanks and envelopes full of dinero, to them and Ramon, who had painted his face, was wearing his feather headdress and beaded ceremonial cartridge belts crossed on his chest, and was playing  a bamboo flute, which had a plaintive sound.  I mentioned to Ramon that it would be lovely if all of the school children could have shorter flutes and all play together.  He agreed.  Will he make 26 more?

We took our pictures with him.  Jhonatan (18) and Sergio Jr (20) wanted their photo with me; they both wore yellow shirts, one of which I had donated.  Mary will have some of these photos laminated for their return next year. 

I left my selva-green boots with Ramon, who seemed to have the same size foot as I do and needed a new pair, and my inexpensive poncho with Nati.  Lots of kisses and muchas gracias all around.  I had a short session with Rebecca to say goodbye.

The Snake

There were hardly any older people in the village, other than Ramon.  Eulogio’s father was somewhat old, with graying hair (which Ramon does not have!)  Ramon lost his wife to a fer-de-lance snake.  I wonder what the others died from.

Fer-de-lance: Bothrops atrox  Length: average 1.8m-2.4m+

The fer-de-lance’s name means ‘spearhead’ in French.  It is the most dangerous snake of Central and South America, and causes more human deaths than any other American reptile. On average, a fer-de-lance injects 105mg of venom in one bite, although a venom yield of up to 310mg has been recorded while milking them. The fatal dose for a human is 50mg.

Jim’s team arrived to load the boat at 8am, the five suitcases, half a dozen small bags, our backpacks, and the four cases of empty beer bottles for which we had put down a deposit.  The six guys traveling with us had their backpacks too.  Some discussions about the four solar Zantrex battery rechargers, two of which didn’t seem to work, another iffy.  We finally got going at 8:45.

We returned to Iquitos in the same “yacht” we came in with six of Jim‘s men: Ebencio, Tito, Orlando, Sergio, Juan, and Alvero, plus the boatman, who manipulated the outboard motor, and his driver. Of the five sets of seats, only the last two were covered in our bags. 

Biting Ants

In many places we had to slow down with the motor up to coast over logs.  Then we came to a tree, fallen since they had cruised in last night.  We brushed past it and those on the right – including me – were whipped by large branches and showered with minuscule biting ants!  What a rush trying to catch 3mm (!) ants to drop overboard.  My shirt was covered; they were in my hair and caught on my fanny pack.  An hour later I was still finding an ant or two.  But glad it wasn’t a wasps’ nest or a deadly bushmaster snake. 

Luckily there appeared to be no residual effect from the ant bites, as the residual itch I was having days after mosquito bites – one on my forehead just under my hatband, two on my left palm, a large one on my under-thigh at the shorts’ edge which was irritated by the shorts and the chair edge.

A native duck dove into the water and disappeared!  A black caracara, our friends the ani (Mary’s photo) and kingfisher, the usual bats scurrying.  A small green insect, six legs, not eight, on a single strand of web, with a long tail that curled up and down.  Jim was sure that it’s a new species.  When we were through the numerous downed trees and the river had widened, we were going full speed and the breeze was lovely.

We pulled into Chine, another village, larger than Nuevo Jerusalen, with a secondary school.  A long covered bridge over a low portion of land, flooded for half of the year, constructed by the government, linked a few houses to the main village.  Other houses were across the water; their owners commuted by dugout canoe.  We stopped so that Tito could see his daughter.  Sergio’s daughter (16) was here too for school.  She came down to the boat, attractive with a gorgeous smile.   Her father talked a lot and gave her cash.  (Isn’t that what all fathers do?)

A snowy egret, or one similar.  In Jamaica they were called tick birds because in a pasture each cow had her own to pick off ticks.  Another overcast sky, cumulus clouds, pearl gray with edges delicately darkened, layered over snow white, piled up beyond the selva.  Butterflies, white and lemon yellow, danced over the water and birds darted across. 

There was a foot-high stripe along the vegetation just over the water.  Had the river gone down that much in two weeks?  Another small village, two larger ones.   The last must have had a sale on light blue paint.  Five children paddling three dugouts across the river from another small village, just before the Tahuayo momentarily joined the Amazon, but we continued on the Tahuayo.  Why not the extremely wide Amazon?

Chacras, small farms, on both sides, full of banana plants.  Two dogs under a clothesline hung with colorful ropas, a woman in a docked canoe washing more.

The constant roar of the motor, our wake a meter high.  Jim and the guys all slept.  A village on high land – not needing stilts – complete with church (which was not open to god’s creation but enclosed by walls and no doubt hot).

A large dugout, a young girl in front with a very colorful umbrella, almost a parasol, a woman in the middle with a white blouse and white head scarf flowing in the breeze, a man wielding the motor in back.  They waved.

The river was a shimmering light gray-blue taffeta.  Another village on high ground with a long wide concrete stairway from the water.  Must have been government built.  A single boy in a red shirt in a canoe, fishing.

Civilization

Aha!  Civilization. Tomshiyacu.  A tin roof on a house.  Two towers, one for cell phones, one for radio.  A two-story building, yellow with Spanish-style arched windows (and glass!) – a Presbyterian church. Pigeons. 

We stopped for lunch.  This small town had concrete roads four blocks east and west, two blocks north and south from the center, with gutters and curbs and grassy, palm-treed medians.  The paved streets devolved into four-foot concrete walkways that motocarros could negotiate.  Five motocarros and a motorcycle with seemingly no place to go. 

Tito took off in one of the motocarros to handle personal business and we tried the restaurant where we’d eaten on out trip upstream but it was closed, perhaps because it was 1:30?  We were told to go to the Mercado – a large covered market with nobody there on Sunday except for an open-air kitchen.  Eight of us sat down on plastic stools and had a feast.  The beer was cold!  The toilets (no toilet paper of course) were flushed with a bucket of water filled from the cistern down the walk.

A dog underfoot looked starved.  A chicken with two chicks ambled by.  To feed us the proprietress had to send her daughter out for more beets and carrots (delicious grated with orange juice as a dressing) and tomatoes, her son for two beers for my friends, and an older son  for a two-burner stove to stir fry veggies for Jim.  She had a six-burner stove, but that was covered with pots for rice, beans, fish, etc.

Still lines full of clothes (perhaps Sunday is wash day?) but the houses were all enclosed, most painted light blue, half with corrugated metal roofs, a couple with shutters in the windows.  Hardly any dugout canoes.  Beautiful long wood boats painted blue, all with outboard motors, and metal boats.  Two two-level boats ferrying people from town to town.

Further on the river was eroding the banks.  On low ground the trees fall in, on high ground the bank falls in.  Riverfront property may not be worth much in a few years.  The river was full of debris – branches, whole trees, from the storm?  The pilot had to be watchful.  Stagnant sections were covered by broken branches.

The river had widened so much that the jungle now was insignificant.  The view was one quarter river, three quarters sky, blue above with clouds billowed over the land, artistically done with gray outlining the edges.   Then I blinked and they had lined up like giant war machines, their undersides dark over the land, their rumble actually our motor.  Next they became a squadron of large bombers. 

But ahead the clouds were blue-gray, lit from behind, outlined in white.  One appeared to be emptying over Iquitos.   I gave away my rain parka too soon!

Iquitos

The river was lined by boats – three, four stories high for people, livestock, materials.  Here cranes, there warehouses.  What looked like an open-air market.  A trestle bridge.  Seagulls.  Containers on a barge.  Military barracks with grass and trees, a large medical boat docked.  A park (?), all grass and trees.  Water-fronted restaurants, a few houseboats.  The Belen Street market with boats docked with produce, bananas on shoulders going up the stairs.  The houseboat community nestled into water hyacinths where we had rented the boat.  Communication towers.  The Malecon.  We were back!

Dried from a shower under the fan; what a luxury.  (Photos – La Pascana courtyard and a room.  What a bargain with private bath for a little over ten bucks a night!)  Calamined my bites.  An hour on the computer checking my emails.  Then to dinner at “our” restaurant, La Noche, but it was not open so we went to a tourist restaurant.

Jim persuaded us not to order the deer, caiman, etc. because los indigenes have killed off so many of the wild animals that one can no longer see them in the jungle. For example, there are no caiman near Nuevo Jerusalen except for the two that Tito had raised.  (Here a note from my friend, Jim.)

 It was teniente gobernador, Tito Manihuari. He told me that when the river flooded this year, they returned to river. In the past, he would have eaten them, as they closely resemble chicken. Next, they need to collect the hatching eggs, to protect them in an enclosure, until they are large enough to have a good chance of survival. Early explorers described seeing black caiman in very great abundance. They are stopping the fishing with nets, which will provide the caiman with enough fish to sustain larger populations.

Jim has convinced “his” village not to hunt any more (there aren’t even any peccaries around), and not to fish with nets, just hooks.  In addition, he has bought them lots of fowl to add to the few domesticated ones that they had so their diet was chickens, ducks, geese, and freshly caught fish.

Mary needed to go to an ATM so after dinner we walked to the bank on the square.  Sunday night and it was full – hawkers of balloons, motorcycle ice cream carts, a couple of enterprising people blowing bubbles to sell their bubble kits.  Children.  People walking dogs.  Loud music from an open-air balcony, a social center (?)  And all around, police women in trim uniforms.  A vibrant town.

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2 Responses to “Returning to Iquitos”

  1. Jim Says:

    Last year, a fer-de-lance was discovered by a rotting tree at the rear of our camp. It had come to hunt the Amazon whiptailed lizards. I showed our guides how to capture it live, using a forked stick. The capture impressed them, and then releasing such a dangerous snake unharmed astounded them. I explained that in a reserve, nothing should ever be killed unnecessarily; and that this kind of snake, very rarely seen by tourists, is an asset.

    What most surprised me was the perfection of its cryptic coloration; and, the great speed with which it moved when released.

  2. Alfredo Says:

    Excellent post! We are linking to this particularly great content on our website.
    Keep up the good writing.

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