August 16, 2018
The past few days have been full of walking and data. A week or so ago we ran into a guy named Luis that is a bit quiet and lives up river away from the community. When we got to chatting, he mentioned that he knows three mineral licks that aren’t on my map, and that Ignacio (his uncle I think) knows one more a bit farther out. On the 12th, we had a bit of time after breakfast, so we went up river with Shebaco to pay Luis and Ignacio a visit and see if we could get to some of these mineral licks. When we arrived, we saw that Nancy (the lady with the pet Saki monkey) had collected the specific bark and sand types needed to make Ellie and I some traditional clay pots. She had just set the bark to slowly burning when we arrived, so it was cool to get a few minutes to ask her about the process. We went in the house and chatted for a bit, and Nancy brought out some pifuayo and salt for us to snack on (a type of fibrous palm fruit that has a bit more flavor than yuca, but is delicious with salt). Luis agreed to take us out to the mineral licks that he knows, but Ignacio said that his knees were hurting him and he could maybe go out tomorrow. We left with Luis and had a good long walk to the three mineral licks. The second lick was only about 500 meters from the third lick (by my GPS) but we took such a long circuitous route that we walked almost 3 kilometers in a huge turn before we finally arrived. A bit unnecessary I think, but that’s what happens when you follow game trails. On the way, Luis somehow spotted a huge lizard perched against the trunk of a tree that was exactly the shades of the lichens and moss growing on the tree and it let us get quite close to it thinking that we couldn’t see it. Of course, I didn’t have my camera because of the long walk. Classic. Thunder was starting to rumble in the distance when we headed back to the house and by the time we arrived it had begun to rain. A massive storm rolled in while we sat and chatted for a bit at the house, with torrential rain and wind and thunder. It turns out that this time of year that happens almost every day in the early afternoon. I was feeling a bit lethargic and sick by the time we got back to the community so I took the rest of the day to do some data work and head to the lodge for a spot of wifi.
The 13th we expected to go out with Fernando to find some 6 to 7 mineral licks that he knows, then out with Ignacio in the afternoon, but Fernando was busy with some other community members painting the school. Instead, I did some more data and we headed back to Ignacio and Nancy’s house in the afternoon. Ignacio said that we arrived too late for him to go out, so we should come back early the next day again if we wanted to see the mineral lick. So, at the end of the day, we didn’t end up getting out to a single one. Another storm rolled in while we were at the house, so we stayed and chatted for a bit again. I noticed that Nancy was missing, so I walked across the short bridge to the kitchen and found her sitting on the floor starting to roll the clay to make the pots. We chatted and I took some great photographs; her hands have so much character (see the photos!).
The next day we were determined to go out with Ignacio. We got up early and had a good breakfast of smoked deer meat (that I had purchased the night before from Everest), rice, oatmeal, and hot sauce. Shebaco came over to get some gasoline to take us up to Ignacio’s and was having a bit of trouble siphoning the gas. Classic Shebaco quote: “Esto es imposible! Yo soy el tecnico de combustible!” (This is impossible! I’m the gasoline expert!) when the gas refused to be sucked into the tube. By 7:30am we were at Ignacio’s and headed to the trail. It was a long walk, but the mineral lick he took us to was definitely worth it. It featured hundreds of tracks of different species and a large, deep cave that I could not even see the back of since I didn’t have the light. I figured in the Amazon it isn’t a good idea to go into dark caves feeling around the walls (you’re welcome Mama G). I did go in. I just didn’t feel the walls. Back at the community around noon, we called Fernando over for some lunch then headed out with him in the afternoon to find some more. After walking over three kilometers and finding three more mineral licks, the thunder was beginning to rumble yet again and he decided that we should begin to head back. I was not about to argue, that man can walk fast and I was tired. The evening saw another large storm come through as I was tucked into my hammock doing data.
The 15th was a big day because there was a community meeting scheduled for the morning, and we had a number of items on the agenda pertaining to our work. First and foremost was the construction of my house. The meeting began by Jorge (the community pastor) giving a short sermon. He spoke about passages in Genesis that tell the story of the creation of the first man and woman, and ended with a long speech on the importance of treating your wife fairly, making sure that she is always comfortable and happy, and giving her the things that she wants. As Jorge put it, without love and equality in your life, you have nothing. He also spoke about treating people from other places and cultures equally, and used me as an example because of my beard (none of the Maijuna grow facial hair). I was happy to be included in the sermon, but I think that means I need to shave.
The discussion of the house went very well, with the community agreeing to start the work on the 20th after some other community work had been completed. Everyone was excited once they learned that everyone could share in the construction and therefore share in the benefits they would get when we paid for the materials. I felt loved because when they were discussing amounts of materials, several people, including people I have never met personally, were speaking up and adding comments like “and make sure the thatch roofing is new and fresh, not panels that you have already made that are old!” and “make sure the boards are straight and flat so that they fit together nicely and no mosquitos can get through!”. We also brought up the subject of the interviews that I would need to do each week, to make sure that everyone was committing to giving me time to sit down with them and not blowing it off. Again, several people stood up and commented on the importance of my work and the importance of receiving me whenever I stop by and giving me however much time I need to complete the interview. This discussion culminated with Shebaco standing up and moving into the center of the room and speaking. He said (translated) “Friends, we need to watch out for Brian this year. I think he probably thinks that he is alone here in Peru, far away from his family, but he is not alone. He is Maijuna now. He may not know about the animals and the plants out here that are dangerous and may not see the Chambira and Huicungo trees (both have enormous spines) when we are walking. He needs us to teach him these things and to take care of him while he is learning. I ask you, friends, to please watch out for Brian like he is one of your family.” He calls me Brian Rios Ochoa, for two reasons. One, nobody can pronounce my actual last name. Two, Rios Ochoa is Shebaco’s last name, and he always tries to tell me that I am in his family now. It is great to know that I have friends here that I can count on.
After the meeting Jairo and I were chatting with some people and one man who lives down the river (I forget his name) mentioned that he had caught a Mata Mata in his fishing net, which is an extremely rare type of river turtle. They can grow even larger than the snapping turtles we have in the US. Jairo asked if I wanted to go see it, and possibly buy it to eat and I said 100% yes. We hopped in his boat and headed down and, let me tell you, this turtle was crazy looking when he dumped it out of a sack. It has huge points on its shell, giant claws, and a spade shaped head with a skinny nose that sticks out like an elephant. Its face has 4 barbels on it sticking out like mini tentacles and its chin and neck have brilliant red and yellow stripes underneath. Jairo said it was too small to be worth the 10 soles to buy it, but I asked if I could return later in the week with my camera and they said absolutely we will put it in water until then. Awesome. We were chatting (as always) when the thunder arrived. Jairo took one look at the sky and said “Uh oh. We need to go.” We ran to his boat and started to head back up river as a strong wind began to blow. It’s ominous to be on a boat in the Amazon when a storm arrives. There are thousands of leaves and branches falling and swirling, and the wind makes brilliant patterns on the surface of the river. It began to rain and just after we stepped into Jairo’s house, the strongest storm of any day so far hit Sucusari. The wind and rain was unlike anything I have ever seen and it lasted for over an hour. Jairo politely asked me “Brian, can you still use your tent in the rain? It doesn’t bother it?” I was confused but I said no, it is fine in the rain and he said “I am just asking because when it rains like this, usually the community house (where I live) floods.” No bueno. I took my shirt, socks, and pants off and ran through the storm back to the community house, which had just started to flood. Good thing Jairo said something, my computer, cameras, maps, and everything else important was spread on the ground where I had been working, meters away from the water starting to come through the door. Marina had a hot cup of coffee waiting for me when I ran back and, when I looked out the window, Victorino was slowly canoeing back to the port in the downpour. He had gone out fishing for me earlier in the day and was soaked to the bone, with his canoe almost underwater. There are some good people here.
Things always seem to work out. We need as much rain as possible to head up river in a few days, and have been worried. This morning when I walked outside, the river had begun to rise. I might just get lucky yet again.