February 11th, 2008

Thirteenth report from Peru.

Last night we returned from an amazing three day tour of the Pampas. We started and ended the trip with a three plus hour trip in the back of a land cruiser being jarred, thumped and bumped about as we struggled to drive along the very rough dirt track. Then we arrived at the river and took a long boat (made of a hollowed out tree with side boards and gunnels attached and a 15 horse power motor.) Luis was our guide for the three days and he was excellent. He didn´t speak english but luckily we had two people on our first people tour, Miriam (from Sweden but of Bolivian decent) and Verla (from Belgium) that both could translate for us. The boat ride into the camp was three hours of watching monkeys and parrots and lots and lots of other birds. As well there were some magnificent trees that just made me gasp. Our camp was primitive- it was the first time I´ve been assigned to a bed in a mixed dorm. I guess that shows my age. We had been told to bring toilet paper, water, flash light, bug spray and sun screen. All of which were absolutely essencial. We had a resident aligator that hung about for kitchen scraps. The next morning we set off by boat upstream and stopped at the Pampas. This was my worst night mare. After inspecting a baby Adaconda, we set out hiking to the island in the pampas. All of this would have been very beautiful because the pampas was filled with wild flowers and shoulder high plants. The bad part was that we were wading in water between knee and hip deep. Luis went first with his big knife and we struggled on behind wading through reeds and brown water for at least a half a mile. It was so tiring and I was so afraid of caymen, aligators and snakes! After an hour of slogging we reached the island. Initially all the trees were also growing in water but eventually we found ¨dry¨land. There were huge tracks from a large ratlike creature. Our second Adaconda was normal sized but then we spotted a large coil high up in a tree. It was at least six or eight inches in diameter and six or eight feet long with a very small head and tail. It was molting and so it was blind for a few days. Another group was also on the island from another tour and both Lois and their guide climbed the tree and got the huge Adaconda down for us to see and hold. We also found a rat in a hollow tree and Luis found and caught one of the very poisonour snakes (it was yellow and about 5 feet long. The other guide had a deformed forearm from being bitten and Luis showed us the parasitic condition on his arms and told us about being paralized for three months last fall from poor treatment for Dengua Fever. Then after all this happy talk we started the torturous slog back through the water. It was such hard going and I was so tired. I´m not sure if this was a wonderful experience or stupid.

Yesterday, I woke up to howler monkeys and a large group of black monkey were playing in the trees near the camp. The camp is entirely on stilts in water because all the trees are growing in water too. Tocans fly by and parrots sqwak. We set off by boat upstream into an incredibly beautiful area of the pampas. It really looked looked like an overdone disney animation. It was all water and sky and shapes up out of the water covered with bright green ivy and festooned with flowers (small round white ones about 2 " in diameter with purple centres.) Luis drove the boat in circles and thumped on the engine and pink dolphins started appearing. He threw an empty pop bottle for them to play with and they pushed it with their long narrow noses. Then Miriam, Rado Verla and Jim jumped into the water to swim with them.. Eventually I gathered up enought courage and joined them! Me, in smake, piranah, alligator, caymen, turtle invested water. But I did have a little swim and felt bubbles on my legs when the dolphins inspected me.Then I rolled like a beached whale back into the boat. Everyone else hopped in gracefully. I was so proud of myself that I summoned up the courage to swim in the pampas. Here´s hoping I didn´t pick up any parasites.

After an early lunch at the camp we sped back up river in a third the time it took to arrive. We had a couple of hours to fish for piranah, before the jeep picked us up. We used beef as bait. I certainly felt the piranah nibbling the beef but they got well fed and I didn´t catch one but I saw at least half a dozen being caught. I would have loved to have caught on for my fisherman son, Kelsey.

Depite the business of the past three days I did do three small sketches and I have one idea for a painting. Miriam was asleep in a hammock and her bronze skin, black hair and high cheek bones just mesmirized me. The first sketch catured the entire scene and the second one zoomed into her face and the shape of her neck. Luckily she was a very good sport and even let me photograph her after doing the paintings.
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