Jungle Born

Our Amazon guide Orlando grew up in the little village of El Chino, on the banks of the Tahuayo river, a tributary of the Amazon.  He had to move to Iquitos to attend high school, and there he decided to learn English and study building.

He was one of the builders of the Tahuayo Lodge.

He built the chairs we sat on during dinner.  But his leadership skills were recognized, and he became a guide for Amazonia Expeditions.

Jungle born, Orlando is compact, all muscle, and as comfortable in his element as a fish in water, or a bird in the treetops.   He has a bright smile, and not just because of his two gold teeth.

He says he is at home in the jungle as we are in our city.  “I am never lost.”

Orlando was the grandson of a shaman who lived to be 103 years old.  His grandfather always said his death would come when he decided it was time to die.  When Orlando’s father died, his grandfather decided he’d lived long enough.   Although in good health, with no sign of illness, he lay down to sleep that night and never woke up.

One morning we got into our boat to explore the river.  “Look, angel fish!”  They were just like those we used to keep in our aquarium.

“Catch one, ” said Orlando.  The kids laughed, thinking he was joking, but his hand shot into the water.  When he opened it up, there was an angel fish.   He gave us a close look and set it free.  We already were beginning to suspect he was a jungle superman.

One night we took the boat to search for caiman, the South American crocodile.  We were covered from head to toe with protective clothing and mosquito repellent.

Orlando never gave it a second thought.   Like Superman, he was invulnerable.

  In the beam of light from Orlando’s headlight, we saw the red glow of a caiman’s eye and followed it to the shallows. Orlando had a stick with a wire loop to capture the caiman for a closer look.  When he tried, with a loud splash the startled caiman plunged into water.

“Escapa?” asked Mario.  “Escapa,” said Orlando, shrugging.  “He is from the water and I am from the ground.”

The next caiman was six feet long.  It lunged past us with a loud splash.  I was leaning over, trying to catch a glimpse.  When it dove past our low-riding boat with a noisy splash, I screamed and jumped.  Orlando was still chuckling the next day as we hiked in the jungle.  Jewel-bright Morpho butterflies fluttered by like a fugitive piece of sky.  Others gathered on the riverbank, ingesting soil for the minerals.

Where we saw only treetops, Orlando saw tamarinds or red titi monkeys.  He would whistle or blow onto the back of his hand, and the monkeys would answer back.  Once he pulled the boat over to the riverbank and began to make monkey chatter.  Within minutes, climbing out of the trees and into our boat came two Woolly Monkeys.  Amazonia had rescued Lorita and Chepa from the black market, and had recently reintroduced them to the jungle.

It was a highpoint.

His machete was an extension of his arm.  Sometimes Orlando had to chop his way through the jungle, just like in the movies.

But he also used the machete to paddle the boat, open a can of pineapple, and carve a blowgun out of balsa wood.

When our canoe paddles went missing, he cut paddles from tree branches with his machete.  When our boat sprang a leak, he used his machete to carve a wooden plug to fix a leak in the boat, and pound it into place.  Once we saw a fly land on his back.  As naturally as a cow flicks an insect with its tail, in one quick motion Orlando swung his machete over his shoulder to swat the fly with the flat of the blade.

One morning Orlando set aside his machete for his knife.  “Jungle surgery,” he explained.  A year before Mario accidentally set off a trap, and was badly injured.  Most of the fifty or so pellets shot into his foot were removed at the hospital in Iquitos.  Whenever another pellet surfaces, Orlando cuts it out from Mario’s foot.  I brought antibiotic ointment, a supply of waterproof bandaids and, oh, yes, cough drops, because Mario had a cold.  They laughed and called me “Mama.”  I  shouldn’t have worried–even after jungle surgery, Mario played soccer in the mud that evening, wearing only flip flops.

When Orlando returned us to Iquitos, he showed us some sights, including this plaque, declaring the Amazon one of the New Seven Wonders of Nature.

We did see some amazing natural wonders in the Amazon.

But if you ask me, Orlando would qualify as the Eighth New Wonder of Nature.


c2013 Naomi Baltuck
Thanks to my daughter Bea, a natural storyteller who kept a journal, and helped me recall the details.

Click here for more interpretations of The Weekly Photo Challenge: Rare.

Jungle Law

Thank goodness for window screens!  But as demonstrated in my last post on the Amazon, screens don’t always keep the wildlife out.

For instance, we shared The Hammock Room at the Research Center with this tarantula.  He wasn’t as interested in us as we were in him.

We named him Tomacito, or “Little Tommy.”  Tomacito served as a reminder to shake out our shoes each morning before getting dressed. Insects and critters found their way into our little sanctuary, but it was the ones I couldn’t see that bugged me.

That first morning we ventured into the jungle with Orlando, our amazing guide.  In spite of the heat and 90+ percent humidity, we covered as much skin as possible with clothing, and sprayed whatever we couldn’t cover with repellant.  Nighttime mosquitoes carry malaria, daytime ones dengue fever, and I can’t remember which carry yellow fever, but I didn’t want to be breakfast for any of them.

Below are a few of my own unofficial rules of the jungle for the timid traveler.

Rule of the Jungle #1– bring mosquito repellent!

Fallen trees and leaves, mud, and overnight storms in the tropical rainforest made hiking challenging.

We wore rubber boots to keep our feet dry.  Bea stepped in a puddle deeper than anticipated, and water poured into her boot.

Rule of the Jungle # 2–Watch your step!

Orlando uprooted several small trees, and cut the trunks off with his machete to make tea from the bark to relieve his mother’s arthritis.  He replanted the roots in the fertile soil, so the tree would survive.  Maybe the tea really was for his mom, but I believe it was also his tactful way of providing the Gringos with walking sticks to help balance on slippery walkways.

Rule of the Jungle #3–Take the hand extended to you, and be grateful for kindness in any form or guise.

So many trees and leaves were poisonous, covered with harmful insects, or had razor-sharp edges.  Another guest at the Research Center slipped and braced herself on a porcupine tree.  It left dozens of venomous barbs in in her hand, which swelled up painfully.  There was no doctor, but her guide Fernando cut the barbs out of her hand with pins and a knife, and she took a course of anti-biotics.

Rule of the Jungle #4–Don’t touch ANYTHING!

Rule of the Jungle # 5–There are exceptions to any rule.

Orlando saw an Olive Whip Snake, and quickly caught it with his bare hands.

He showed both kids how to handle a snake without getting bitten…

Orlando’s grandfather was a shaman.  He said, “My grandfather said if you can get a snake to wrap around you, it will become gentle and give you its energy.”  As soon as it wrapped around him, the snake calmed down, and then Orlando released it into a tree.

Rule of the Jungle #6–Be as open to new experiences as you can without endangering yourself or others.

Rule of the Jungle #7–Bring your camera!!

We caught many tantalizing glimpses of wildlife, but they were often quicker than I was  when it came to focusing the camera.

However, some critters obligingly held still for me.

 

Occasionally I would be rewarded with a shot like this.

Or this….

Or this…

 

Or this…

 Or this…

Rule of the Jungle #8–Only you can know what it requires for you to glean the most meaning and satisfaction out of your jungle experience or your life.  Do no harm, but make up your own damn rules, and break them whenever necessary.

All images and words copyright 2013 NaomiBaltuck

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