A guest post by Barry Seymour Brett
One of a series of short humorous stories of life in Iquitos from Barry’s new book, Jungle Freeze-Frame.
Each article is a portrayal of actual events, written from the perspective of a Californian living in the Jungle City of Iquitos, Peru.
It was a warm pleasant morning as we prepared to sail down-river in the “Dawn on the Amazon “, one of several boats owned by my good friend Captain Bill Grimes. Leaving from the small port of Nanay we sailed up-river for an hour or so, finally arriving at the tiny pueblo (town) of Padre Cocha. I had visited the pueblo four years earlier and not surprisingly nothing had changed.
Traveling with another Californian and his eight year old son, Antonio, we walked a mile or so along narrow pathways eventually arriving at a junction. A makeshift board illustrated with colorful butterflies beckoned us to a small clearing where a large sign warned against using cameras with flash. Taking flash-pictures of the warning we proceeded across a rickety bridge to the “Butterfly Farm” entrance.
As we approached the entrance several monkeys ambushed us from adjacent trees. Trying to steal my “Lakers” baseball cap and Antonio’s sunglasses they followed us to a seating area in front of the the reception office. As we sat down, other visitors joined us. It was a trap! Monkeys clung to our backs, and sat on our shoulders. One of the spiteful little red ones frantically tried to tie my shoes together. It was a war zone. One of the red monkeys appeared to be suffering from an epileptic fit. Initiated by an intense camera flash, she lay on the ground, limbs flailing about. Squealing, crying, quivering she reminded me of my ex-wife when she couldn’t get her way! Offered some bananas and other monkey-goodies, suddenly, miraculously, that nasty little monkey snapped out of the fit and just like my wife, resumed normalcy! My credit card and a trip to the mall would bring my wife out of her self-induced coma. That’s all it would take. And she took it all! No bananas and nuts for my gal!
Angry that someone had used a flash camera, Gudrun, the owner of the “Butterfly Farm”, rushed-over to attend to the monkey. A wonderful lady, absolutely devoted to jungle wild life, she nevertheless has little sympathy for the plight of us humans! We humans are no more than simple-minded pets. Gudrun and her ilk will never rest until all humans are caged and all wild-life is freed from captivity!
There were several species of monkey prancing and jumping between the trees. the red-faced uakari monkeys and the more aggressive black Capuchin monkeys stole the show. Intelligent tool-users, the Capuchin monkeys were always searching for odd jobs knocking nails into coconuts. The Capuchins suspected the red-faced Uakari’s of working for less than the minimum wage of three bananas a day! There was no love lost between them. Constantly threatening each other with hisses and tooth displays it was like a London Pub after the game! All species of monkey were envious and jealous of their human rivals. Occupying just one small branch on the evolutionary tree, they yearned for the day man would become extinct and a monkey could sit on the top. Monkeys would pretend to pose for photo-ops and then jump aggressively at defenseless humans. Not satisfied with threatening gestures they would cling to the legs of innocent bystanders. Sensing man’s most vulnerable point, they would attempt to steal his wallet and camera, thereby ruining his vacation and delivering an almost fatal blow. Wanting to release their Chimpanzee cousins from captivity, they would put their tiny hands into people’s pockets, desperately searching for passports, frequent flyer discounts and roundtrip air tickets to San Diego Zoo.
Then suddenly there it was. Every parent’s worst nightmare. The primordial scream of a human child. On the verge of extinction by global warming (or cooling), a poor little defenseless human boy cried-out in pain. Viciously attacked and bitten by battle-monkeys this young boy was about to be put on the endangered species list at the Ana Stahl Clinic. Once the boat returned to Iquitos, he would require a series of excruciatingly painful rabies shots spread over three days. Eco-tourists looked-on in total disbelief. How was it possible? Why would a “wild animal” attack a peace-loving child? Surely if we don’t interfere with wild animals and their way of life, if we leave them alone and don’t take sides, don’t threaten them or try to impose our values on them, just surrender to them and give them everything they want, then surely they won’t attack us! How could this have happened? He was just an innocent child! He wasn’t wearing a military uniform, waving the Stars & Stripes, or carrying a bomb? His dad didn’t work for the CIA or Animal Control! In a split second everything they had come to believe in was shattered by a bite.
Following some temporary medical treatment for the boy’s hand, the tour resumed. For a while we all petted Rosa the giant anteater, before visiting Pedro Bello, the caged Jaguar. A splendid beast, he had been in captivity for most of his life. As the helper pushed a clump of meat through the wire netting, I wondered exactly who was a threat to whom! Grabbing the meat with his large jaw, Pedro proceeded to sit down in front of us, roaring and glaring at us with his giant head and massive teeth. Gudrun had assured me that this magnificent beast was on the verge of extinction. Why then did she spend $10,000 building a metal fence and installing wire netting to protect “us” from him? He watched as we proceeded to entertain him with our cabaret acts. We made comments about the massive teeth, stupendous black and yellow skin and long sharp claws. He’d heard it all one thousand times before. This magnificent cat was subjected once again to the sight of a small group of weak pathetic humans standing before him. Those peeping toms, protected by a wire fence, would take his picture without permission and brag to their California friends and relatives about their wild-life encounter! But inside, deep down inside, he always knows. One lunge, one jump and the table turns. Victim becomes victor.
Returning to the pueblo we boarded the boat and took a trip upriver to visit the Bora tribe. They were interesting people. Kind and friendly but nevertheless ruthless when it came to conducting business. Any sign of weakness was exploited and they could certainly drive a hard bargain. Tribesman competed with poison dart blowguns. Missiles would hit on target from over fifty feet away. Wearing tribal paint they danced with rain sticks to music dating all the way back to the ancient Incas. Visitors were encouraged, pressured into painting their faces. They were then expected to join in the dancing and to wear the dance-paint and feather headdress. Antonio, the young Californian boy, his hand still in pain, nevertheless joined in the dancing with his dad. There were dozens of handicrafts on wall displays throughout the large hut. Paintings of jungle life, handbags and wallets made from armadillos, tree bark and crocodiles. Large frightening tribal masks, skulls and poison dart blowguns.
Walking back toward the “Dawn on the Amazon” we met the two seven year olds who had tied-up our boat and had been guarding it for us. Before walking up the gangplank, Antonio the California boy showed-off the souvenir he had just bought from the tribal chief. Opening-up the plastic bag as the two kids looked-on; he pulled-out the large handmade necklace and placed it around his neck. There it was strung with beads made from jungle seeds and embellished with brightly colored feathers. Pay-back; a Monkey Skull!
Barry Seymour Brett
Barry Seymour 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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