Peru 2012: Day 3

Once again, today started early, though not as early as yesterday. Our wake-up call was at 6:00, though I woke up at 5:40 because the fact that the sun was up confused me, since sunrise is after 5:00. Breakfast was at 6:30 and was the same as yesterday, but I had immense trouble because my lower back was hurting very badly. Daddy later conjectured that the cause was sitting in the hammock, though our original prediction was that I had slept wrong. After breakfast, I decided that I didn’t want to go on the excursion to Gamitana Creek (the place where yesterday’s dinner was caught) because I was having trouble sitting down. However, after a few minutes of walking and allowing the Ibuprofen to do its work, I changed my mind and returned. The boat ride to the farm at the intersection between the Gamitana Creek and the Madre de Dios River was extremely painful for my lower back, but I survived. We began with a walk around the farm. We saw several Papaya, Fig, Star Fruit, Banana and Pineapple trees (and plants for the pineapple). However, with the exception of banana, none of these fruits are eaten by locals. They are simply sold to the Inkaterra lodge. That is the reason we are allowed on this farm. Otherwise, environmentalists don’t get along with farmers because they argue against the mining and logging techniques used by these people that are highly destructive to the ecosystem. Bananas, on the other hand, are eaten raw, and also dried and ground to make banana flour. This flour is used as a baby food and also as a cereal. We also saw a cacao tree, the fruit of which is a pod full of gooey white meat covering seeds. These seeds are dried and processed all over the world to make chocolate. The meat itself can be eaten by sucking on it like a candy. It tastes very interesting: almost like sweet coconut with the texture of lychee. The plant that Daddy confused it with was the coca plant, which we also saw. The leaves of this plant are brewed to make a tea, or just eaten raw, with the purpose of fighting altitude sickness. We will have to drink coca tea tomorrow to prepare for five days at an altitude of 11,000 feet at Cuzco. Jesus told us that we will likely see indigenous people in the Andes walking with a bag of coca leaves and just eating them to fight off the altitude sickness. However, the more common use for the coca leaf is to make cocaine. 30% of the entire world’s drug supply comes from Peru. Much of this is bought by cartels in Colombia and Mexico, which then distribute them internationally. While the government can regulate drug trafficking in populated areas, it is virtually impossible in rural areas like Madre de Dios. Trails through the rainforest allow smugglers to easily traffic cocaine into Brazil or Bolivia from this area. Along with these plants, we saw a brown aguti, the rodent which we spent much time over the past few days feeding brazil nuts. Generally, however, they avoid farms because farmers shoot them for food. This is why they like the Inkaterra Ecolodge: they’re safe here. We also saw a couple wild chickens, which are also eaten by local residents. Before hiking into the forest along Gamitana Creek, we saw a few other parts of the farm: the plantain room where bananas are stored and ground, the drying area where bananas, star fruit and cacao beans are dried, the bedrooms and kitchen, and finally, a room dedicated to drinking a hallucinogenic drink used by men in this area. We also saw a plant that grows a squash that looks like a soccer ball. It’s two uses are, when cut in half, as a bowl, and, when whole, as a material on which to carve designs, similar to the way we carve pumpkins into Jack o’ Lanterns at Halloween in the US. On the way to the dock where we could board the canoes, we came across a whip snake: the first snake we saw on this trip despite Jesus’ promise to find us one last night. We also saw several small monkeys that whistled while climbing the trees. They were very cute, but I forget their name. The canoe ride back was quite entertaining because Mama and Daddy asked for a separate canoe, but had much trouble steering it because they aren’t used to the effect of the current in the river. Our canoe was rowed by Jesus and Surya, but also contained me, Mamu and Surya (Sahil and Mami had stayed at the lodge to allow Sahil to sleep in). Along the way, we saw several fishing nets marked by floating plastic bottles, and were passed by a motorboat carrying barrels of motor oil for the mining machinery upstream. We reached the boat before any of the other groups, so we had some time just to hang out. Jesus started by telling us about the communication system used here. Every family has a radio that can connect to a radio center in Puerto Maldonado. At a certain time every day, they tune in to this channel and listen to messages left to them by friends or family members. Changing subjects, Daddy asked him whether he is married. He said no, that he’s single despite his unusually old age of 29. While this is still unusual, it’s much less unusual than it would have been just a decade ago. Due to the low level of education, people would get together at very young age: commonly 14 or 15, and have 1 or 2 kids by the age of 17. By this point, the other two groups had arrived, and we set off for the lodge. The rest of the day was fairly relaxing and uninteresting. I slept, hoping to rid myself of the pain in my back. We also played cards (UNO and Bappo). For lunch, I ate beef brochettes with ratatouille. At 6:40, we went to the Ecocenter for a lecture about the indigenous people of the Amazon area by Jesus. The slideshow that he had prepared began with a frightening picture of a 14 year-old girl from the Yanomami CIG (Civilized Indigenous Group) who has three piercings directly below her bottom lip which hold long bamboo ornaments. The Yanomami are the largest CIG in South America, and inhabit parts of Venezuela and Brazil. Unfortunately, since much of the population of this, and all other indigenous groups in South America, is young, the culture is being lost to the booming oil, timber and mining industries that attract these people to more modern lifestyles. Young girls in their teenage years are often pushed into prostitution. One of the biggest CIGs in Peru is the Machiguenga. A hint towards their modernization is that they no longer use bows and arrows to hunt. Instead, they use rifles and shotguns. Nevertheless, they have little contact with the organized Castellano population of Peru, and thus react very interestingly to contact with them. The second slide of Jesus’ slideshow was about how the indigenous people of this area got here. The common, though controversial, conjecture is that they reached Northern North America (Canada) from Siberia via the Bering Land Bridge that was caused by the Glacial Period that lowered the sea level 120 feet, about 40,000 years ago. From there, they reached the area that is now the US via an ice-free corridor that was caused by the separation of two plates of ice. In the area that is now New Mexico, they founded one of the oldest discovered civilizations on the continent: Folsom. From there, it is likely that they simply migrated South. Overall, the presentation was very interesting, though it seemed a bit degrading towards these indigenous people, and was discouraging because of the rate at which these cultures are disappearing. Directly after the presentation, we left for dinner, for which I ordered an appetizer of Quinoa Chowder, and entrée of Fried Catfish marinated in onions with white rice, and finally, a dessert of banana crêpes. After dinner, we played Thank You Sorry, but Mama and Daddy quit because Sahil and I were whispering. The day ended with the delivery of two notes and a paying card (the King of Hearts) to a certain room.


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