An Open Apology

I meant to write a post four days ago (December 20, 2013). I really did. I wanted to point out that we’ve been home a whopping six months. I wanted to remember how a year ago we thought we were tough because we’d passed the halfway mark. I wanted to say how good it is to have a real, 12-foot Noble fir Christmas tree instead of a plastic tree my height.

But I didn’t. And I’m sorry. So I’ll do one now.

We’re at home, not in Cape Town. The view out our dining room window is of our dying grass instead of the promenade and the Atlantic Ocean. We have large presents under (beside, rather) our tree in place of the very small ones last Christmas. The best difference of all, though, is that my grandparents are going to spend Christmas with us.

In the last year, we touched thirteen countries on four continents. In the last six months, we’ve adjusted to “normal” life and lost our tans (that was a big tragedy). We didn’t go camping in the summer (silent rejoicing) but Ethan and I did go to camp. We may not have used our canoe at all but we hiked to multiple lakes.

Cupcakes and gelato have become dietary staples, and pizza drowned in vinegar has become the norm (at least for me).


The second half of the trip was probably more stressful for us, between worrying about jobs and cars and school when we returned, to the Amazon trip, Morocco, and our house in Semur-en-Auxois being flooded.

But who’s to say it wasn’t the better half?


The Three Cs

We’re back to cell phone service, chocolate ice cream, and Cusco!


We started out our day at Reve’s dad’s lodge at five in the morning. We loaded up the boat and left at 5:30. At around seven, we had breakfast (kiwi, papaya, and cantaloupe with muesli and strawberry yogurt). Using the tea bag wrappers, Reve taught Ethan and me how to make origami tea-shirts and swans. I was not very good at it.

In about an hour, we arrived at Colorado, where there were five bars of 3G—that’s very good service for being in the middle of nowhere! Reve found us two vans, and all our stuff, Paltacha (the cook. His nickname means avocado), the boat helper (Jonathan), Reve, and the four of us went in them. Down we went down a muddy, bumpy road to another river, where all the stuff came out, into a boat, and across the river. Once across, we met our van driver from last week. He had come with his five-year-old son.

The ride back to Cusco took about seven-and-a-half hours. The highest point was 4,725 meters above sea level. I listened to One Direction pretty much the whole time, except when we stopped for lunch and, as Reve called them, pee-pee breaks.

We’re going to miss Reve. It was good we had someone who spoke English well enough to make us mind our manners. His favorite sayings were “Don’t kill yourself—let the caiman do it for you!” and “Laha muy, Paltacha! Laha muy!” (I’m guessing on the spelling, but “laha muy” means, roughly, ‘Your food is bad but we’ll take it anyway.’ It was a sort of inside joke.) Not in the van were two other important members of our trek: the capitan and his son, who was called Segundo, or the second (he has the same name as his dad, but we don’t know what it is).

So to them we say,


Terrible Tapirs

We woke up early this morning to see the macaws at their clay lick. Usually there is a path to the hide from Rio Madre de Dios, but it was under about six feet of water. So instead we took Amazon Trals Peru through the “little stream.” At least, Reve called it a “little stream.” However, since this is the wet season, the “little stream” was forty feet wide and ten feet deep.

We arrived at the hide at around six in the morning. After several hours, during which we ate pancakes with honey and butter, the forty to fifty macaws finally appeared. Only two macaws ever made to the actual lick. The rest just watched in the trees and eventually flew away when the vulture appeared.

After Ethan didn’t catch any piranhas in the brown Rio Blanco, we had lunch at the lodge, which was made up of: mushroom soup, deep-fried pepper, boiled plantain, cauliflower, beet, carrot, beans, watermelon, and a drink that tasted like cinnamon. A few hours later, we were eating still-warm spaghetti with mushrooms in the hide at the tapir lick, where we had gone against Dad’s best judgment. It was raining, the light was dimming, and we had no chance of seeing tapirs, since they don’t go out in the rain.

So, after only three hours, we slogged back to the lodge in single file: Reve lead, with his high power torch. Next came Ethan, who cared Reve’s umbrella. I came next, trying not to think because it would give me a headache. A pace behind walked Mom, trying to keep her cast dry under her rain jacket. Dad took up the rear, always right behind Mom, sometimes even stepping on her ankles.

We made it home and are, more or less, ready to wake up at five in the morning.


Bugger Them Bugs

The mosquitoes here may seem bad, but we’ve seen worse at lakes, such as Indigo Lake, in the Oregon Cascades. However, we have lost memories of those and complain to all hours about the bugs here.

Besides mosquitoes (which are big and slow here, and not as determined), there are bot flies, which are parasites attached to mosquitoes. We’ll know if we got any bot flies in us in two or three weeks, which is when the itching/pain appears.

There are also “teeny-tiny” bugs which leave red bumps with scabs on the top. Thankfully, these don’t itch, but the sand flies’ bite-spots do. The most common cause of itchy bites here would probably be the sand flies since they’re too small to get. (Also, just waving them away doesn’t work as it does with the mozzies.)

Unfortunately, the DEET lotion we brought with us is, while effective, greasy, sticky, and very, very strong-smelling (it’s not a good smell).


Not Feather Boas

Reve is a good storyteller, despite his first language not being English. Tonight at the supper table (supper, by the way, being eggplant, tomatoes, potato, pumpkin soup, star fruit juice, and not-so-good chocolate flan), he regaled us with stories about jaguars and pumas.

We ate at eight (and I am being alliterate-ish). The reason for the late hour of supper was that we walked to the tapir clay lick at around three in the afternoon, got there at four, and eventually left at seven.

No tapirs appeared.

We did, however, see two small boas (the largest was 1.5 meters), a poison dart frog (black with green stripes), a small, harmless frog, a swimming spider, three bats, and two tailless whip scorpions.

At the tapir clay lick hide, the four of us laid on mattresses while Reve watched and our gum boots dried. They weren’t wet on the inside (thankfully) since the water on the trail wasn’t that deep, and by the time we started the return trip, the water from today’s rain was already a few inches lower.


Monkey Steamed, Monkey Stewed

We saw three kinds of monkeys today: wooly, spider, and squirrel.

The first type—wooly—was next to a troop of squirrel monkeys. We only saw one or two woolies. Reve told us that they (woolies) are the type that throw poop at people (kind of like baboons do. These monkeys also pee on people). We’ve seen four types of Latin American monkeys before (Capuchin, spider, squirrel, and howler—all in Costa Rica). Now we can say we’ve seen five.

Reve told us that people used to hunt the monkeys, but they’re safe in Parque Nacional Manu. The people hunted the monkeys for food—monkey steamed and monkey stewed.

We also saw the squirrel monkeys on our first hike, which was just along the edge of the river. On our second hike, we went to the second lake. There we saw mosquitoes, mosquitoes, and more mosquitoes as we climbed a tower and looked down on the oxbow lake below. It seemed so hot today. There was only a memory of a breeze on the top of the tower, and below it was a very distant memory.


The Countdown Begins

99 days to go til home, sweet home!


In other news, today we wore our gum boots to go riding in a catamaran around a lake and look for caimans. This was after we’d ridden in the boat for five hours, getting to our current lodge.

“I was with some tourist on a night walk,” is how a story that Reve likes to tell begins. “I was wearing my gum boots. We were looking—ooh, aah, things like that—when the tourists say, ‘Look! Look!’ And there was a fer-de-lance between my feet.” He says that’s because the venomous snakes can sense heat, and the gum boots kept his heat in.


At the pond, we saw plenty of caimans. We got very close to one to take its picture, and it only swam away when it decided we were too close for comfort. That was one of two lakes that are near this lodge. The lodge is taken care by native people—one family comes in a month. Besides the natives, we (along with our cook, guide, captain, captain’s son) are the only people in this five million-acre UNESCO World Heritage site.


Sweet Lemons and Soaked Clothes

The thunder kept me awake last night for an hour. It was probably the loudest thunder I’d heard in thirteen years.

We got to sleep in a little bit and left Bambu Lodge at 8 in the morning. We stopped at a town and dropped off two people. Reve also picked up some D batteries for his flashlight, and we got our permit for Manu Park.

We stopped at an orchid garden where we saw some orchids and Reve and Ethan picked some “sweet lemons,” which smelled sour but tasted like nothing. (We think they weren’t ripe yet.)

Down in the town of Atalaya, we waited for a while for our boat. It eventually arrived, and we piled in with all our equipment. Instead of our van driver, we have the boat driver, his son, and the “boat helper.”

About half an hour in, we stopped to switch motors. Reve told us that all boats have to travel with two motors—just in case. Twenty minutes after lunch (fried vegetables and a boiled egg), the rain started coming down. I pulled on my rain coat and was fine, but in another ten minutes Ethan and I had to grab the cushion of the bench in front of us and put it over our knees, while Mom and Dad huddled under a tarp.

We finally got to Hummingbird Lodge, and we went on a walk through the forest, getting attacked by mosquitoes and seeing puma and tapir footprints (but no animals). Reve showed us two big trees (a mahogany and a fig). For supper, we had soup, vegetables, a scoop of potato, and eggplant steak. That was when Reve told us that he owns Hummingbird Lodge with a Californian girl. He paid for 15%, she paid for the other 85%. He’s losing land to Rio Madre de Dios at a rate of about 150 feet a year, so in the off season he’s planning on moving the buildings back.

He took us looking for tarantulas, and we saw four: a female and her baby, a smaller of the same kind, and a small brown one.


Cocaine and Cuy

“Here, we aren’t addicted to cocaine. As children we are told, ‘People who make bombs don’t blow up—they sell bombs. People who make guns don’t shoot themselves—they sell guns. Here, we make cocaine and we sell it.’”

Reve, our English, Spanish, Dutch, and Quechua speaking guide, was explaining uses of coca to us. We were standing in the field of coca at our lodge for the night. The other three uses of coca were to chew, to make tea, and to offer to gods.


We finally arrived at our lodge after eleven hours on the road: from five a.m. to six in the evening. We descended over 2,000 meters, passing waterfalls and mudslides in the little van that could. We had two meals—breakfast and lunch—and a snack of fruit and doxy. Dad saw a feral guinea pig, our only mammal of the day. We saw lots of butterflies, everyone else saw a non-venomous snake, and we all saw a “cock of the rock,” which is the national bird of Peru. Actually, we saw several of these red and black birds, but only one or two were picture-worthy.