Ok, so I spoiled the whole snake hook in the last post. I thought about dragging it out, but I just didn’t have the heart. Truth is, I expected to see snakes everywhere we went in the Amazon for the entire trip, until we left… and then worried a tiny bit that one could have gotten in the luggage, along with a tarantula. You’ve been spared those worries. As I said in the last post: there was only one snake… that I saw. This post is about our final day in the Amazon: the trip to the canopy, and the moment I fell in love and decided I really must adopt a baby. Kristen Bell? Right, well some of you will figure that one out right away… the rest of you will have to wait. Given that many of my readers are in the (ahem) mature age range, my guess is that this new hook is safe until the big reveal. For the record, I had no idea who Kristen Bell was until my kids started telling me I was acting like her, and I quietly googled her upon my return from Peru. Also for the record, I am nothing like Kristen Bell.
Our final big morning, we woke very early and got ready by the light of our kerosine lamps. The jungle sounds were stunning and I could just as happily have laid in bed, tucked in my mosquito net cocoon, and just listened all day. However, Luis was ready and waiting for us and we headed out into the jungle as the light was just making it possible to see our way. Principessa wore sturdy shoes and long pants. An Aside: For those of you who read the last post, Principessa would like it known that she is not a “clueless tourist,” who “doesn’t know how to dress,” despite her shoes. And this is true. She has traveled extensively in Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Paris, without her parents there to tell her what to do, and has worn shoes. She is generally a wise and attentive traveler, with shoes. She wants everyone to know that she was told that we’d be walking on a trail (As in boardwalk… you know, the kind they have all over the jungles of the Amazon region… Not). She thought that she’d be fine not wearing her hiking boots for one evening. Ok, so she was wrong and had a truly impressive melt down, but she wants you all to know that she is more savvy than my post may have suggested.
We walked briskly for about 45 minutes, all of us quiet and still waking up. The light was dim as we started out, but grew brighter as we made progress toward the Canopy Walk, the only one in the entire area, and built by Peter Jensen built. His ashes were spread from there when he died in 2010. The canopy walk is one of the longest in the world and rises to 115 feet at the top. It is not for the faint of heart or those with fear of heights… cue our next family vacation panic attack. Little Man is afraid of heights. Not just a little afraid, he’s very afraid. And so I want to start by giving him huge kudos for even agreeing to go up up in the canopy. We were all informed that it was “very high,” and that the “bridges from post to post sway and move quite a bit.” While we were also told that the mesh along the bridges could hold up to 800 lbs, we weren’t really prepared for the fact that the walkways would be about 18 inches wide, and that you are truly suspended VERY high up there… that when those bridges sway back and forth, or move because someone
obnoxiously bounces you happens to be walking behind you, you really don’t know what 800 lbs means, but the cables seem thin. So, Little Man gets my thumbs up for making the effort and trusting his siblings, even though he had little reason to do so. (The network of brides and platforms, and tree #6 with a platform 118 ft above the ground)
That said, Little Man had the other major melt down of our Amazon journey (after the shoe one). The canopy walk is sectioned off into 7 separate stations. Each station is higher than the one before, so that you walk across bridges that are suspended above the tree tops and ground; you then take stairs up on each new section and get from the ground to the top by making your way to each platform/station. By the time you reach station 7, you are a bit over 115 ft above the jungle floor. You can see forever. FOREVER. The birds are extraordinary, and that’s coming from someone who likes birds but is not a “birder.” Luis happens to be a birder of the highest level. He was spotting them from 1/4 of a mile off and calling out names faster than we could look. It was incredible! To see just how far off the lodge was, how far we’d come in 45 minutes of hiking, was equally amazing. To see how far the trees stretched, and then realize that up to 6 foot ball fields a second were once being destroyed in the Amazon, is a sobering thing. It’s impossible to be in the Amazon and not think about its fragility. While current data suggests that perhaps deforestation is declining (while other statistic suggest otherwise), it is truly sobering to imagine the loss of the incredible wonders we saw in our short trip there. The Canopy experience was by far one of the most incredible opportunities to see just why the Amazon is one of the Seven Natural Wonders of the World. (From the top: Amazon jungle forever and very strange folks, on the top platform)
It’s not that all of that was entirely lost on Little Man, but as we rose higher and higher, so did his anxiety. Add to that: two siblings who did not show any particular compassion for their younger brother, and one of whom
Middle Man might have made the bridges sway, or taunted him a bit… and another sibling, Principessa who took photos of Little Man’s terror and laughed a lot (one would think that said sibling might remember that she had behaved much the same during a jungle walk at night, when she WORE THE WRONG SHOES!)… and you have a recipe for a full blown melt down 115 feet above the ground. Not a pretty sight and certainly not conducive to peace and harmony in the wild. Again, I say kudos to Little Man, who continued walking on (and let me tell you, some of that walk was truly scary!). At the very top, where we stopped to enjoy the sights for 45 minutes, he was able to pause and enjoy the beauty around him… and at least pretend he wasn’t terrified.
On the way back to the lodge, we stopped at the “compound” for the local Shaman. On the grounds we got to see the many Amazon plants he was growing to use as (natural) medicinal cures and remedies. Then we were welcomed into a covered area where the two Shaman for the region showed us what plants they use and for what illnesses. While I have read many times about all the medical solutions that come out of the Amazon, it was fascinating to hear these men talk about the ways in which they treat illness and what the jungle has to offer. At the end of the talk, they asked us to come up in pairs, close our eyes, and they did some energy work and passed some feathers over our skin, while chanting in their native language. It concluded when the Shaman wiped a local scented oil across our foreheads and hair. It was very calming and we all agreed that whatever he did, we each felt at peace when it was concluded. The final thing we each got the chance to do was get a local tattoo, that would last 2-6 weeks. The oil went on invisibly, but later came out bluish black. I did not tell the Shaman what I wanted, but asked him to do whatever came to mind. I had silently wished for a Humming Bird. As my tattoo dried, there was a small humming bird on my wrist. The humming bird is symbolic of overcoming difficult times, or personal challenge. I asked the Shaman why he chose the humming bird, and he said: “I felt that this is what your spirit needs. It is what came to me as soon as you sat down.” I walked away a believer. (Visiting the Shaman: spiritual cleansing, Amazon medicines, and tattoos that go on invisible but turn color)
Back at the lodge, we gathered our things and prepared to leave… something I was not anxious to do. My entire rhythm had slowed and I felt as if I could just stay on indefinitely: lying in my hammock each day for siesta, going out on adventures during the day and enjoying the beauty all around me. And then I met the parrot. The evil, killer parrot. I was minding my own business, waiting to talk to Luis, when a parrot landed right next to me. I’d seen one of the cooks holding this parrot and talking to it moments before and now it was staring at me, from about 18 inches away. I said: “what a pretty bird,” in a voice that I thought was parrot tone, and it suddenly flew toward my arm.
Instinctively, I bent my elbow to present a perch, as I’d seen done a few times. I figured he’d land there and I’d be lucky to see him up closer. No, that parrot landed on my arm and instantly began squawking and biting me! Parrots are strong! Parrots are evil! Or this one was. I pulled away slowly and carefully, but he just kept coming at me until one of the cooks raced over and grabbed him with a towel. I tried to stay calm and not freak out, but my arm was bleeding and I was definitely unnerved. As I got bandaids for my arm, we heard the bird squawking over and over, and for the rest of the day the kids teased that I’d gotten the parrot killed, by squawking at me. (He wasn’t…killed. Squaaawwwk!)
On the way back up river, we stopped to see the Yagua village and tribe. This was another incredible experience, but we all had very mixed feelings about that. Again, as I mentioned in the previous post, it is clear that these tribes rely on tourism and people like us visiting them, and buying their wares, to support and maintain their way of life. However, it was equally clear to us that this comes at a price. The older members of the tribe, in my opinion, exuded a quiet dignity and distance from us, an ability to do their thing and not allow our presence to take away from their beliefs. Some of the older ladies were very welcoming and seemed fine with us there. The younger tribe members however seemed less comfortable, and we felt more intrusive around them. We were welcomed into a round house, that is customary of the houses that the tribe has always used for large meetings. We sat quietly, and respectfully, as they sang and danced for us, playing small flutes and circling around the room. Small children peeked in at us, and ran away when we smiled or waved. When we were asked to get up and dance with tribe members, it was that much more awkward as we clearly looked like fools trying to keep pace, and it felt that much more obvious that we were part of a performance, that the tribe does to maintain its lifestyle. We talked a lot about this later, and each struggled in our own way with the dilemma of being there. (Yagua tribe members)
After the dancing, we each had two chances to try a traditional dart gun. For the record, the record: I hit the bullseye (as did Principessa) while the males in our group did not. If called upon to defend myself with a blow gun, you’re going down! We then took some time to look at the many items that the tribal members make and sell. We bought souvenirs to bring home, and this is where I fell in love and found out I share something with Kristen Bell. In one of the last “huts,” where a woman and her young son were selling items, we met a baby sloth named Juanita, and I fell crazy in love. I was totally unaware that there was apparently an entire web mania for sloths a few months ago, when Kristen Bell posted her sloth meltdown. All kinds of
fools folks changed their Facebook profile pictures to sloths, to play along. When 7 month old Juanita was put in my arms, I was sunk. Totally sunk, by a sloth. I may have thought Kristen Bell was silly, had you shown me that video before this encounter, but I am a sloth convert. I would adopt one in a heart beat! Juanita is by far the sweetest, most amazing little creature I ever had the thrill of experiencing. (Ok, prepare to fall in love: you cannot have too many sloth pictures! Note the bandages from the evil parrot.)
Realistically, I had given sloths virtually no thought before this. I knew they existed; I’d hoped to see one in the wild; I new what they looked like (sort of); but, I had no idea that I could fall totally head over heals for one. I was ready to adopt that baby right then and there, and while I may not fall into waves of hysteria like Kristen Bell, I was absolutely giddy: talking about that sweet girl, and wanting to go back and see her again, the rest of the week. As I write this, I feel a distinct sloth rush come over me. Let it be known that even Mr. Cool (aka: Middle Man) totally melted when I reluctantly handed Juanita over to him. When I look at the pictures I grin from ear to ear… and want a sloth. So, call me Kristen Bell; I’m not ashamed. I love sloths. I want a sloth; I’m totally smitten with them. Look at that smile! Look at those crazy beautiful eyes! If you had held Juanita: had her hug you, cuddle you (seriously!), you would be Kristen Bell too. Kristen, I feel the love.
On the way back to Iquitos we were lucky enough to get to see the mysterious pink dolphins of the Amazon. Taking pictures was not easy, as they appear and then vanish just as quickly. They are shyer than the dolphins I’ve known here in the States, but there is no confusing them for anything else: they are pink. Traveling back, as the jungle grew a bit thinner and the water traffic and small houses on the shore became more frequent, I felt a sadness descend at leaving this magical place. There is no real way to fully express how the Amazon gets under your skin, how it burrows in your brain and infects your thoughts and dreams. It’s impossible to paint a full picture of the raw beauty and the simple magic there… But it stays with me, and I hope to go back and see more.
In Iquitos, we said goodbye to our wonderful guide Luis, our final guide and host on a spectacular trip to Peru. It was an honor to have benefited from his wisdom and quiet knowledge and we all were sad to see him go. We wandered the hot, dusty streets of Iquitos for the 8+ hours until our flight. We tried fruits from vendors on the street; we explored the sites; we stood out like the strangers we were. We found our way down to the river at dinner time and ended up at the perfect place, with a full menu of Peruvian and Amazon specialities, and a spectacular view of the Amazon across the street. When we boarded our flight a few hours later, I lingered on the tarmac a moment to breath in the humid air and let the place wash over me one more time, and then we flew back to Lima. (Final day in Iquitos: last glimpse of Amazon, at sunset; street art- murals and graffiti)
Our final day in Peru was spent wandering the Mira Flores area: exploring galleries; savoring the best ceviche ever, in a tiny place tucked away and filled with locals; walking for miles along the coast and then in and out of the streets of the artsy and architecturally spectacular San Isidro district. The murals, the art galleries, the graffiti, the Bridge of Sighs, the vibe, was worth the day spent. We ensconced ourselves in our hotel lobby for the final 3 hours (before our ride to the airport), spiritually one foot in Peru and one en route home already, and began our re-entry with Facebook, online news, and emails via the two computers there. Then we made our final trip to the Lima airport and began our long and much delayed (United, you suck!) trip home. (Final day in Mira Flores and San Isidro (districts of Lima)
Six weeks later, each night I inhale the scent of aromatic wood sticks that we bought in the market near Cuzco and I drift off to sleep, and dream of… Incas, Andes, Jungles, Rivers, Color, beautiful children and kind people, murals and art work, Spanish architecture, skeletons, tarantulas and snakes, salt mines, towering trees and jungle sounds, dark inky water in shallow boats, parrots and piranha, and… sloths.
If you read the entire Peru series, let me know what you liked best. What would you have liked to have read more about (is that possible)? What’s the best family vacation you ever took and why? Share some dialogue!
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