The rain here arrives like a freight train.
At first a quiet rumble and then an all out roar in the canopy before the deluge catches you like hurricane. Thunder. A whirling of wind, and rain that descends in sheets that turn the forest from green to grey and from dry to the most primal definition of wet. One feels almost as if she could swim through it instead of walk or run.
I walked at the front of the pack with Walter, our guide, this morning. He alternately trudged and hacked, clearing the path of debris that had fallen, or grown in since the last time he had passed. Periodically he would stop and tap something with the point of his machete.
“This tree, this one here,” he’d indicate, making sure I was looking in the right place, “It has hard wood, very hard. We use if for making parquet, and for fence posts, or the posts that hold up a house. It’s hard to cut down.”
We talked, while we walked about his four years as a military policeman, the faded tattoo on his arm tipped me off, and about his family in Puerto Maldanado, and about the job he once had that required him to walk two hours through the jungle every morning and night and how that taught him about what he could eat from the jungle as he walked.
“This tree,” he tapped again, “This one has a venomous sap. We use it for killing fish, and also for building boats.”
We spent half an hour hunched beneath a Chihuahuaco tree
Ironwood…looking for seeds. Imagine a peach pit, now double the size and remove the pores and you’ve got an approximation. They’re tricky to find in the undergrowth and the process is complicated by the fact that the monkeys eat them too, so often what we found were half nuts; not so useful for planting.
We filled 200 bags with soil yesterday and hoped to find 200 Chihuahuaco seeds to plant in them. The ironwood trees are disappearing quickly. They take about two to three hundred years to grow to their full heights and their extraordinarily hard wood makes them a commodity for loggers who sell them into the high end furniture market.
They’re important to the eco system for their role in housing the nests of macaws and the bromeliads that grow high in their branches forming habitat and water pockets for tree frogs and lizards to live and lay eggs in.
The girls happily collected nuts and chattered while they filled their bags while I reflected on the nut, and mushroom, and fern collecting expeditions of my youth with my parents, collecting food for our family from a very different sort of forest. I mentioned it to mom, how it felt like my childhood and she smiled. She’d been thinking the very same thing.
I stuck close to Walters heels as we continued in search of the next Chihuahuaco; they are few and far between in this forest. He told me about his ten year old daughter and that he had another family but they are already raised. Then, he pointed at the path.
“Right here, last week, when I was walking alone, I saw big tracks in the mud, and then, right there in the path… El Tigre!” A tiger… A jaguar.
I was suitably impressed and asked him if he might conjure it again today, as I’d quite like to see one. He laughed, and waved his machete in the direction of our long tail of girls.
“I don’t think so, too loud,” he chuckled as we walked on.
He shook his machete at the sky and announced, “Lluvia!”
I looked up, skeptically. The sun was shining. I’d left my raincoat and the waterproof bag for the camera in the lodge. Moments later there was a sound in the distance, a quiet SHHHHHHHHHHHH sort of noise. Just as it began to dawn on me what it was, it turned to a roar.
Walter grinned at me, “Run!”
He ran, I slid, and girls giggled and shrieked behind me. Dumping my seeds into my mother’s bag I hastily tied my plastic sack around the camera as we hurried for the lodge. Hurrying was futile.
Wet was a verb, not an adjective.
The rainforest lived up to her name. There was nothing to do but bask in the rain, and bask we did, showering off our layer of bug spray in the open air and washing our hair and armpits in the cool downpour. In other circumstances I’d have stripped naked and done my own rain dance; instead, we splashed and laughed and reveled in the power of Mother Nature to decide our bath time, as if we were her little children out playing in the mud.
Now, I’m sitting on a log chair in my hiding place. If you follow a path of log circles away from the main lodge there is a circle of cabins in the forest. In the center of that is a two story palapa. Upstairs are hammocks. Downstairs are log tables and stools, and one chair made out of a big log that is a bit like an Adirondack chair. I’ve been sitting here for an hour, writing, listening to the rain, and basking in the quiet. This place my oasis of calm.
The night jasmine is blooming and the air is thick with the sickly sweet scent. The oil lamps are lighting the darkness and we are turning in early in anticipation of a 5 a.m. excursion to and oxbow lake to see otters and other wildlife.
This evening we took a ride in the dark to hunt caimans. We found them, and the guide grabbed a small white caiman behind his non-ears and handed him around the boat. They feel amazing. Such a cool experience to get to touch one in the dark in the Amazon. I keep having to pinch myself to believe I’m here.
Going to bed is so silly, every night. Courtney, whose bed is next to mine, is hilarious. I’m tucked into my princess pod and just shared this morning’s “fart in the pod” story which got everyone giggling.
Then, Courtney announces in her best cartoon super hero voice, “Code nine! We’ve got a code nine situation people! Bug in the pod! Someone did not seal her pod properly.”
Then the sound of wrestling and swatting around as she tries to get the moth out and herself sealed in. I’m laughing, but I’m not helping because I’m already hermetically sealed into my princess pod and I have no creatures inside mine. Friendship only goes so far.
Some photos from the day: