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Monday, October 31, 2016

The Early Bird Catches the Wifi Signal

moth larva

"Don't touch that tree." warned my guide Nelly as I gingerly took steps along the muddy path.

"What's wrong with the tree?" I inquired. Her one word answer would send a chill down my spine.


Duly noted. On my last trip to the amazon jungle I had been bitten by a piranha and had absolutely no desire to add fireants to the list.  Step by step as we made our way through the jungle trails, I always did my best to adhere to the words of my guide on our hikes. One vivid memory that sticks in my mind is when my guide suddenly stepped in front of me and began pressing her boot against the mud as if she were testing it. Nelly then looked up at me and gave me some simple instructions.

"Try to step where I step."  She indicated to me that where she left bootprints in the mud, I ought to step exactly in those prints. Truthfully, it was easier said than done. With the ground being uneven, it made it challenging to aim to step exactly where she had stepped. At one point I took a step that was close-ish to where she had left her prints. Within a second I found myself knee high being swallowed alive by the jaws of the greedy mud.

Every single minute of every hour in the jungle there is an ongoing struggle between predator and prey in the battle of life, death and survival. For a few terrifying seconds I got a taste of what it was like as my leg thrashed and fought against the mud the way a fish fights to free itself from the talons of a bird that had just swooped it right out of the water.  The tug of war lasted a few moments more before the mud reluctantly relented and my leg came free. After brushing myself off and making plans for a shower, the hike continued without further adieu.

Monday, October 24, 2016

Blind As a Bat and Trapped Like a Rat

Dining Room Inaugauration Fiesta

Blind as a bat and trapped like a rat, that was what it was like in the early morning hours at the Amazon Research Center. Mentally my fist had slammed on the panic button to put a red alert telling my whole body system that this was a code red emergency. Immediately regret filled me from head to toe as thoughts of my flashlight lying on my bedstand danced mockingly in my head.

A couple of times I had to make use of the bathroom in the middle of the night and walked out of my lodging finding myself in pitch black. All lights in every part of the lodge were gone. It seemed as if they stay on until a certain time then everything shuts off. Leaving my room without a flashlight was a good way to discover the feeling of what being in a horror movie is like.

One night while making my way to the bathroom, the lights were still on so I left my flashlight on the stand beside my bed. This would soon turn out to be a sorry mistake. While making use of the facilities, the lights without warning turned off completely and the darkness swallowed me whole. 

For most of us who have spent any amount of time in darkness, it's rare that it is 100% complete darkness. There are usually lights in the distance or shadows we can make out. But I had been engulfed by true darkness, a comparable experience to being born blind and having known only a world without light.

Immediately my head snapped into action. "OK Angelina, you know the layout of the bathroom". Automatically my fingertips reached forward and felt for the door. Once outside the stall, the world remained in complete darkness. My hands pressed against sides of the wall and I knew that my only hope was to follow it to take me out of the bathroom. Before long those faithful fingertips of mine felt the door to the entrance of the bathroom.

Unfortunately, my conundrum was nowhere close to finished seeing as there is a whole room that was built outside of the entrance to the actual bathroom. It was designed to keep out insects with mesh windows. Inside this room is also a large railing that my hands grasped for desperately.  Consumed by pure black, the darkness seemed to taunt my efforts to escape from this seemingly endless maze.

My heart was racing faster than cars in a Nascar race. For a mere moment I considered just staying in one place until morning came in lieu of running the risk of stumbling around in the darkness all night. Other than the feel of the wood on the tips of my fingers there was no way to figure out my exact location in the room.

In my imagination I pictured the railing as I had seen it in broad daylight and just trusted that if my hands kept following faithfully, it would lead me close to the entrance where there might be a chance at even a little light from the night sky. The tips of my fingers followed the railing until I felt where it ended. It was then that my fingers had a new feeling, something hard and wired. It was the mesh windows.

Confusion engulfed me as my fingers ran against the mesh windows hoping for some kind of solace. The mental map of the layout in my minds eye had now been burnt to bits and now all there was left was guessing games to where I was. The darkness smirked as my daring attempt to free myself from its grasp continued.

Just when things had begun to feel completely fruitless, strange shadows appeared that looked to be like thatched roofs from its shape. Abit of a light color appeared and although pitch black, it now registered in my brain that I had reached outside.

*just wanted to explain the layout. The whole research center is built the style of raised huts. So after exiting the building that houses the bathroom, one can walk straight ahead to go to the main centre but there are walkways that branch off to the left and the right towards the individual rooms.

The finish line was near, all that was left now was to find the first walkway that branched to the left and I was home. For a few terrifying moments my hands couldn't feel anything and feared gripped me that I would fall off the edge. But my head snapped back into place and remembered that safety railings had been installed and there was no chance of that.

So once again, with only the tips of my fingers as my guide, they felt for the beam and followed it religiously. After stealthily walking for a few paces, my instincts screamed at me telling me that I  had overshot the turn to my room. So with just a little bit of backtracking, my fingertips followed the path of the beam until it felt the corners where the walkway branched towards my room. 

After following it for a few more secs, my hands made contact with a room with an open door. Thoughts whirled around in my brain faster than laundry in a washer. Dashing thru the open door, my hand reached for the one object that would give me the solace my soul was desperately craving. Flashlight in hand, my thumb hit the ON button and my heart exploded as a glorious beam of light flooded the room.....

Monday, October 17, 2016

A Rendez-vous with Dorilla Plus Two

Dorilla and baby

Whilst on the way to go searching for poison dart frogs during my first trip, I was introduced to a Woolly Monkey named Dorilla. Guides always used to stop when they came to the spot where Dorilla was and she would come right out onto the boat and we'd have the absolute pleasure of feeding her fruit along with her friend Chippa. Now 3 yrs later I find myself having an upclose and personal encounter with not only this amazing monkey but her baby as well.

For those of you who don't know Dorilla or Chippas story, I'll summarize it right here. Dorilla was rescued off the black market and brought under the care of Angels of the Amazon and the people of Tahuayo Lodge. They released Dorilla into the forest thinking she would find another tribe to join but she never did. Instead she chose to stay around and enjoy attention and free fruit.

Chippa (whom they believe she may be pregnant at the time of this writing) was being kept as a pet in someones home. She was being fed rice and not given the proper care needed by her species. Dolly Beaver convinced the woman to hand Chippa to her and the woman finally did.


Due to conflicts with the village nearby between the monkeys and the people, Dorilla and Chippa were relocated to the Amazon Research Center to avoid further trouble. Unfortunately Coby (the father of Dorillas baby) did not cooperate with the relocation and is currently still in the orignal location close to where I first met Dorilla while going to look for frogs. But they will continue with efforts to relocate him and bring him here to reunite him with his family.

For now it was me who had the joyous reunion with Dorilla.  I was overjoyed to see the monkeys and they were overjoyed at the sight of fruit. Both of them would come running down the limbs of the tree, snatch the fruit out of our hands and then find a limb where they could perch on to enjoy this succulent treat. The monkeys tore into the fruit with such a voracious appetite that the juice of the fruit would rain down on me from high above the branches. With such a healthy appetite I don't think that it will take much to convince me that Chippa just might be eating for two.....

Monday, October 10, 2016

Canopy Ziplining My Way Thru Culture Shock

full disclaimer: this pic of me and the monkeys are from my visit to "isla de los monos". Not from any excursions from Tahuayo lodge

"I'm sorry but we have to ask you not to use the hairdryer. It takes up alot of electrical current." That was the approximate translation of one of the staffs gentle reminder to me when I had turned on my hairdryer to dry my hair following a cold shower. Yes, you heard me right, a cold shower. In the Amazon jungle if water is heated to 33 degrees it becomes a soup for bacteria, leading to upper respiratory diseases. I was reminded of this fact he first day I landed back in the lodge and found there was only one option for the shower temperature.....COLD.

But back to the story about the hairdryer, I had completely forgotten that here at lodge there are only certain times in the day that devices can be plugged into the wall to conserve energy. The lodge is powered by solar power that converts it into electrical energy. Devices can be plugged in between 1-3 and then 6-8. Of course no one is going to punish you if you plug in your device any other time but it is the principal of respect for the lodge and the limited natural resources. I courteously apologized to the staff member after she reminded me.

Then I proceeded to pack my hairdryer into my suitcase because if I leave it out there is no doubt in my mind that when I get up in the morning my first instinct would be to grab it to dry my hair.  That incident opened my eyes again to how scarce our resources can be that even the use of my hairdryer was using up electricity that the staff badly needed to keep for themselves in order to prepare breakfast for the guests early in the morning. 

Tahuayo Lodge has a 40 meter high canopy zipline that runs through the jungle. They have such a good standing with the Peruvian government that they are in fact the only lodge in the jungle that is allowed to have one. Visitors always come back from having been on the zipline beaming and gushing endlessly about how thrilling the experience was.  Day to day life in jungle lodge and amongst the people of the village made me feel like I was on a canopy zipline of a different sort. Canopy ziplining my way thru culture shock.

As some of you know, I came to Tahuayo Lodge for 4 nights in July 2013. And like many visitors, once they get a taste of this place they fall in love and want to keep coming back. Who wouldn't want to come back to a lodge where you are greeted with love and hospitality the moment you get off the boat? In addition to that being paired up with a guide who takes you on fun excursions like: canopy ziplining, searching for poison dart frogs, looking for caiman, fishing for piranhas etc. My guides were wonderful and caring to me when I actually got bit by a piranha on my first trip. Make a note to oneself.....if your guides catch a piranha and show you its teeth the fish is NOT dead. Please do not reach your finger out to touch its teeth.

For the full recount of that incident you can click on the link below:

Pecked by a Peeved Piranha

I couldn't get Tahuayo out of my mind so I came back as a volunteer english teacher, teaching english at a local village named Chino. Stepping into the classrooms of Chino as a teacher and not as a visitor was an invaluable lesson in itself. The moment me and my guide entered the uniformed children would rise to greet me with a "Buenas Dias." And the funny thing was that no matter what age or classroom I went to, whether it would be primary or secondary school the kids would do it automatically on cue. There was no arguing, bad attitude, moodiness, or whining. These kids knew exactly how to treat visitors or authority figures.

On the theme of culture shock, a vastly unsettling sight that was completely normal to these people was the sight of children of all ages running around with machetes. Here in the jungle a machete is an essential tool for day to day life. Kids learn the proper use of a machete right from young from watching their parents and also being shown by the others in the village.  It makes me breathe a deep sigh of a relief that these children are so well schooled; the last thing I would ever want is to come face to face with an army of unruly misbehaving children skilled with machetes.
Trudging down the muddy hill one day, having finished a session in the village, I silently thought.....

"It really does take a village to raise a child."


Amorous Alpacas

Amorous Alpacas