A guest post by Barry Brett
Sitting in the Plaza de Armas early one morning I noticed my neighbor’s son Oscar cleaning shoes. He was soon joined by his older brother, Carlos. “We’re trying to scrape-up some money to go visit my Aunt” he said, “She’s expecting a baby any-day now.” I reached into my pocket for some small change to pay for a moto-taxi. “No, no Barry, we can’t get there by taxi. Let’s walk. It’s a nice day.”
Starting-out early in the morning we walked for an hour or so through the city streets. We passed the school where Carlos studied until the money ran-out. Soon we were outside the City and walking through jungle growth. We crossed the Nanay river in a small boat, walked past a few villages until the trees and foliage were thick and difficult to pass. Trails led thru to a small clearing. Carlos swung his machete from side-to-side to clear a path. His brother swung his – wait a minute that’s not a machete! No public restrooms in the jungle!
We reached the clearing. I sensed imminent danger. There it was, directly in front of us. Beckoning us – daring us to approach. Every hiker’s worse nightmare. Snakebite, anybody? No. “The rope-walk.” You know the one I mean. Swaying from side-to-side. The one with those missing planks! I was afraid to look-down. It didn’t matter anyway. I couldn’t see the bottom without my eyeglasses. Reaching for my eyeglasses I missed-my-step. My legs straddling the missing planks, I struggled to hold-on to the rope handles. I could see birds perched on the far-side of the ropeway. Vultures maybe? I glanced upward to see if they were circling above, waiting for their chance. As I put-on my glasses, I looked thru the gap in the planks only to realize I needed a telescope! The chasm resembled a bottomless pit. I tried to think of something positive, like “Tarzan”, “Indy Jones” or a “Parachute!” Carlos grabbed me by the arm and plank-by-plank led me to safety! Standing on safe-ground and wearing my glasses I could see the vultures were nothing more than two brightly colored Macaws. I looked-back across the chasm toward the rope-walkway. Two young boys crossed. They pranced around, laughing and joking as they skipped-over the missing planks, buckets of water balanced on their shoulders!
It was approaching midday and we were getting hungry. Carlos climbed a tree, cutting-down a huge ants’ nest. Thousands of ants scrambled from the mound as it crashed to the ground. Grabbing a few clumps of ants, Carlos placed them in plastic bags. Dinnertime! I tried to imagine what they might taste like. Fried with Yucca, in an omelet, or maybe stuck in peanut butter with a splattering of strawberry jelly! I remembered those horrible chocolate-coated ants in Paris, France. With hindsight they didn’t seem so bad! Plastic bags squirming with ants strapped to their belts, Carlos and his brother walked a half mile or so looking for a house where we might rest and hopefully cook. There it was on the banks of a stream. A wooden shack. An elderly man beckoned us inside and soon Carlos and his brother were preparing lunch. Yes, it was a fry-up, together with Yucca and Platanos (bananas). I tasted a bunch of fried ants. Yes, I could see how some-people might get addicted to them. Maybe the fried ants could be marketed in a bottle and sold at Wall-Marts Pharmacy, on the same shelf as the other laxatives!
We sat-around and talked for a while, then suddenly I had the urge to leave. It was an urgent urge! I raced-over to the hole-in-the-ground, making sure there were no live ants lingering around, waiting their chance to get revenge! Feeling relieved, I returned to the shack to find Carlos standing next to a small boat and carrying a fishing pole. “But there’s Crocs out there and I can‘t swim,” I shouted in Spanglish as we pushed the boat into the creek. Less than five minutes into the trip and there they were. Their dinosauric eyes staring at us as they contemplated a tasty meal. Rocking the boat, Carlos made several brave attempts to navigate the boat around the Crocs. We drifted down river several miles until we reached a small shore-side community. Carlos and Oscar knew exactly where they were, their cousins lived close-by.
After a brief trek down a jungle trail we arrived at the Aunt’s house. She burst into tears as we approached the door. There were hugs and more tears. Carlos is 19, his brother 17. They were 14 and 12 last time they saw their Aunt. It was a baby boy! They talked for a long time, played soccer outside with some neighborhood kids and then we drank a couple of sodas as the Aunt prepared Lunch. It was fish with Platano and Heart-of-the-Palm. Whilst waiting for lunch the Uncle showed me the gaping hole in the roof. Good thing it wasn’t raining. The wind had blown half the roof away during the night. They needed to patch-it-up with leaves from the surrounding trees. After lunch, without the benefit of electricity, radio or television, the family entertained each other by singing and playing zamponya. No electronic games or other distractions. Just a simple pack of cards rounded-off the day’s events.
Afterwards we walked-back down the jungle trail toward the shoreline. On the way we stopped at a small lagoon to look for giant turtles. Near the shore was a run-down bar, next to a discotheque. Visitors seldom came. This was a big village event as we strolled along the shore. We were a huge hit, as eligible young women in the village rushed-over to the discotheque to meet us. Parading in front of us, the young girls were escorted by their mother or an older sister. But the mothers and older sisters wanted all the action! They pushed and shoved each other to gain an audience. The better-looking ones were trampled in the rush. “It fits My Lord!” “No it doesn’t, it fits me!!!” We couldn’t stick-around for the clock to strike midnight, we needed to get-away fast. I looked for the Pumpkin Coach but it was missing!
The journey home was difficult. It was getting dark and the mosquitoes seemed to bite harder and more-often than before. With just a flashlight to guide us we wound our way along the croc infested river. Avoiding the rope-walk, we crossed a rickety old bridge. Carlos caught a small fish which he placed in a bag and strapped it around his waste. Finally we arrived back in the City. We went-over to Carlos’s house and he and his younger brother told the good news about the baby boy as they handed Mum the fish. They talked for a while about the trip to his Aunt’s house. As I left I couldn’t help but think how different life is here in the Amazon jungle. People are alive! If this had been California, Carlos’s Mum would just have picked-up the phone. “Hi, how you doing?” “It’s a baby boy!” “Congratulations Honey, say hi to the Dad!” End of a cold, pitiful electronic conversation. No hugs, No tears of joy, No jungle walks, No rope-walks, No crocs to liven-up the trip, No sing-songs with zamponya, No Cinderella-Moment and no exercise! Just a simple two-minute phone-call. But wait a moment, did I say no ANTS? Sign me-up, I think I need a cell-phone!
Barry Brett, has spent three of the past five years here in Iquitos Peru. Growing-up in England, he emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and has lived almost forty years in Huntington Beach, California.
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