You Call That a Creek?!
Thursday, 9.1.22, 8:45pm
The fruit demonstration was both wonderful and also a very good reminder that we must all sleep when we can. Even though Sandro was engaging and charming and had a lot of excellent information about the fruits that are currently in season in the Peruvian Amazon, I was rudely yawning through his presentation…until he started passing out samples.
Ooh, I wish I could remember all the names of what we tried. Camu camu—like ultra sour cherries. (They served a juice at breakfast; very high in vitamin C). A tuber used as a potato called…wild something potato. Dark purple flesh, which Sandro served with a wonderful, flavorful sauce made of… damn it. ANOTHER fruit he told us about that I cannot remember.
Honestly, the fruits were amazing, but MY education seems sadly incomplete! The one I really do remember is the cacao. The origin of my personal demon, chocolate. It was the size and shape of a Rugby ball, and Sandro very bravely whacked through it by hitting it with a large knife while held in his other hand; it took four whacks to carve around the core. When he separated the two halves, the inside looked like what came out of the guy’s chest in Alien.
It turned out to be a whole series of seeds, each in its own slimy coat. “Take one seed and suck on it like candy,” we were advised. “Don’t bite the seed.” Astonishingly, the slimy coating tasted fruity with a hint of citrus. There was NO chocolate flavor at any point. Rusty even tried biting into the seed, which he announced (to Sandro’s great amusement) was a very bad idea. How does THAT turn into THIS?? No idea.
Then we had lunch and the “mandatory” siesta. Twig and I lay side by side in our lovely wood-lined inner sanctum, looked at the Turner landscape drifting by outside, and fell deeply, happily asleep. We slept through Walter’s photography demonstration, which was a shame—but OH BOY did it feel good!
I love this selfie. First, it has the wizard, Eddy, in it. Second, I look like Col. Kurtz. too long on the river. Madness has set in. And third, Stephen King used an artist on the Gunslinger series who drew insane grins like this one.
We were up and appropriately dressed for our afternoon/evening expedition. Twig, Rusty, and I were with Jorge again, although this time the skiff driver was Edinson (who also had an astonishing eye; these guys are amazing). We saw many birds, and then Eddo pulled over. He and Jorge had a long, rapid conversation in Spanish which I think translated to “Why are we stopping here? There’s nothing to be seen.” “Look in the tree right there. Right there. No, look where I’m pointing.”
Sloth. Brown tree sloth curled up and sleeping with white stripes down its back. So cool.
Later, Jorge uttered what’s become his trademark line: “Wait—I hear monkeys.” Then he waits for a moment and goes “There! Right there! I’ll show you with the laser pointer!” We saw common spider monkeys and a brown capuchin. It’s positively WEIRD to see them wandering around without glass walls or little feeders or unseen zookeepers keeping them from dying of boredom. They’re just hanging out. Going about their business. Walking along branches WAY fucking overhead as if they were on the sidewalk in front of their house.
I’m also having trouble accepting the fact that the trees I see from the skiff aren’t just a thin fringe of greenery, offering a visual screen in front of the next cookie-cutter housing development. If you got out of the skiff and walked over the bank, what you’d come to would be…more jungle. For miles. And miles. And miles. And then you would die because you’d lack Jorge and Eddy and Primo and the machete-wielding guys. Because the only house out there was built by someone out of poles and palm trees and maybe (for the affected among us) a nice ripple-pressed sheet of metal.
Someone in one of the other skiffs spotted the place where giant Amazonian river otters had built a den; Rusty and I both went “I forgot about Amazonian river otters! That’s tops on my list now!” But we didn’t hang around to watch for them to come home.
Eddy gasped. “Howler! Red Howler! Monkey—monkey! You see?” Eddy doesn’t speak much English, but he doesn’t need to. We all worship him. The howler monkeys were very quiet (no howling) and a long way away, but everyone had binoculars and some people had huge telephoto lenses; maybe there will be a photo exchange at the end and I’ll get some good snaps. I gave up trying to take photos of what we saw; the iPhone camera is a miracle, but it’s no match for a truly MANLY telephoto on a fancy camera. I just sat and enjoyed.
Here's a series I like. Contemplative Rusty. Rusty disagreeing with someone (no! He disagreed?! Incredible!). And then Twig in her adorable hobbit look, not rolling her eyes at her opinionated and funny nephew.
Next up: Fishing for piranha. Jorge showed us how to do it. He put a small piece of beef onto a rod made of a stick (he had a hook, of course), dipped his bait into the water, and immediately jerked out a live, wriggling piranha, shining silver with a startlingly crimson belly and a mouthful of tiny death-bringers. We were all very excited.
Rusty was the fishing leader for a while, with three piranha caught and two that he didn’t manage to land, until Skyler beat him with four. Skyer is 13; I thought Rusty was very gracious to surrender his crown so easily. (I caught one but the hook didn’t set; he was just hanging on to the bait and let go once I pulled him into the air...which was fine with me!) Twig caught two; I have adorable photos of her pretending to kiss the first, and I used the portrait feature on the iPhone for the second, so it’s very glam shot-ish.
We fished almost to sunset, when the mosquitos came out, so we got to racing back down the river to escape them as the night sky glowed around us. I couldn’t resist photos of the jungle silhouetted against the apricot sky, or a panoramic from the boat up to the moon overhead.
Jorge used a spotlight to find us caymans; some were so calm they lay alongside the boat as people got photos. And at one stop, Walter the Nat Geo photographer, borrowed one of the laser pointers and showed us some constellations. I’ve NEVER seen constellations as clearly as I did this evening; the laser pointer made finding out WHICH damned star you’re talking about into child’s play. It was so cool. He showed us the Southern Cross, which got me quietly singing David Crosby.
Theoretically, Jorge was going to find us snakes in trees, but Eddy must have had other plans, because while Jorge stood in the bow and flicked the spotlight over this bank and then that one REALLY fast, Eddy opened up the motor and we just flew down the river, lit only by the stars and the thin sliver of moon. It was actually lovely. I would have liked to have seen a snake (from a safe distance, naturally), but the ride back with the cooling air against my sweaty face was pretty dreamy.
We had dinner. Walter the photographer joined us and told us about the Galapagos, where he’s stationed. It was pretty fascinating; he’s a really nice guy. Then Rusty beat me in chess in about six moves, and he went to bed. Now I’m sitting on the top deck in the outside lounge, one leg up on the low table in front of me, with my laptop on my lap and the Ucayilli River flowing past in the darkness. The breeze is humid and cool; I’m just very slightly sticky in the humidity, but it’s nowhere near enough to be unpleasant, and the air movement and peacefulness are glorious.
Tomorrow is going to be a slight challenge in that there will only be one expedition but it will go on for seven hours! The morning wake-up knock will come at 5:30 again. Breakfast at 6. And into the skiffs by 7. Then off [somewhere] to look for wildlife. We’ll get to a place that is extremely remote; we’ll stop at a ranger station that consists of a roof and some rough-hewn tables…and that’s it. There will be a great place to swim (so I’ll wear my bathing suit under my clothes) and the Delphin II kitchen staff will set up lunch for us there. More adventuring, and back to the boat by 3pm.
“What’s the latrine situation?” Terry asked; she said it out loud but we were all thinking it. “The latrine situation is the whole Amazon. Nothing but wilderness. Yes, we’ll bring toilet paper. No, you don’t have to bury it.” The Amazon is swollen with life; a little poo next to a tree won’t bother anyone or anything. (I wanted to tell her; just go swimming and shut up about it. But probably the less said about that, the better.)
I’m grateful that I did a little writing before the fruit demonstration. Now it’s not quite 9:30 and I’m done with the day. I greet this realization with great relief; I’m ready for beddy!