Friday, June 13, 2014

I live for the Macaws, Macaws, Macaws.

What did the spider monkey say to the macaw? Not sure, but whatever it was, the macaw is pissed off. Watching these two provided endless entertainment. They are both pets sharing a jungle home at the Monte Amazonico lodge, on the banks of the Madre de Dios river in Peru. I use the word "share" lightly. In truth, the Macaw is probably the most territorial pet I have ever seen. Every day, it attacked at least one unsuspecting guest who was dozing in her hammock. What made it even creepier was the way it squacked "Hola! Hello!" before snapping with its beak.

The spider monkey, Marukha, knew that the macaw was a persnickety soul and delighted in teasing it. It would swing by and grab the macaw's tail, and then dangle just out of reach of the macaw's beak. It stole a cracker that the guests had thrown out for the macaw. It stole my glasses once. It stole just about anything it could get its hands on, really, and it stole our attention whenever we were done with our jungle adventuring.

The jungle here was secondary growth forest, meaning that it had been deforested in the past, but there was plenty of flora and fauna to keep us busy. We spotted caiman, capybara, howler monkeys, tarantulas, tree frogs, snakes, hoatzin, river otters, herons, bats, enormous ants, and so many butterflies that we literally had to swat them away.

It was a surprisingly comfortable and relaxing place to be. Before coming I had feared that we would be sweltering hot, sweating through our sheets at night and devoured by the mosquitoes. We slept well, with the forest breeze wafting over us through the screen. At night, the animals didn't make as much noise as the cicadas sometimes do in the U.S. With refreshing juices at lunch, like starfruit and passion fruit and cupuazĂș (a fun Amazon jungle fruit), I had more energy to tackle the challenges the lodge threw at us.

Like ziplining in the canopy!  Much scarier than I thought it would be.  And kayaking, fishing for piranhas (Josh caught one using the most rudimentary fishing line you've ever seen), hiking through a 3km mud trail to an oxbow lake, and of course surviving the terrifying macaw.

On our last day, we took a break from animals and went to visit humans.  The Mashinega family, who now farm and live on the river bank.  They were marketed to us as a native family, but I asked the grandfather if he was born there, and he said no, so I'm pretty sure that disqualifies them... No matter, though, because it was really interesting to hear and see the things they were doing to make themselves seem more "native" to us.  Like putting achiote (red plant dye) on their faces, singing and dancing with drums, shooting arrows, and the like.  The grandmother was the only one singing, presumably because she was the only one who still knew any songs.  I knew it would be cheesy.  The thing that struck me was how earnestly the grandfather was getting into it.  And the kids loved it.  So, in the spirit of cultural exchange, and sharing, we reciprocated.  Josh and I sang "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" for them.  Of course both sides were putting on a show, and what stayed with me is how fun it was for all of us.

For all our exploring, we only saw the tiniest sliver of the forest around the river.  We both think the Amazon seems like an incredibly diverse place worth exploring further.  Going up one of the tributaries, farther away from the cities and logging operations, would be really dangerous but probably full of surprises.  We've caught jungle fever, so watch out.  We may be in the market to buy a boat if you're selling...

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