Saturday, July 15, 2017

Finding Pink River Dolphins in the Amazon Jungle

Me, traveling on the rivers of the Amazon
to find tropical fish.
near Nauta, Iquitos, Peru.
(I lost 15 pounds from January, hopefully it
stays that way.)
Jose, my tour guide, drove the boat through the rivers of the Peruvian Amazon, where the pink and grey Amazon river dolphins live. We were in search of discus fish in the black water. For the trip, I brought my own vegetables and three coconuts, because I knew there wouldn't be enough. (It's something only an American would do, especially one from a big city.)

When the boat approached them, the dolphins breached the surface of the water. I finally saw them: pink Amazon River Dolphins. I've wanted to see them for years now. Finally, I could check it off my list of animals that I needed and wanted to see.

I first became familiar with the pink river dolphins when I saw the movie Motorcycle Diaries, about ten years ago. When I saw it, I didn't know the main character was about Che Guevara, the Cuban, marxist revolutionary. In Motorcycle Diaries, "Fuser," who becomes later known as Che, and his friend, Granado take a motorcycle trip all throughout South America. By meeting the poor, throughout South America, Fuser, the privileged medical student, becomes transformed and realizes that it's his calling to create an equitable and egalitarian South America.

In one scene of the movie, Granado (whose only goal is to sleep with as many women as possible in South America) meets a prostitute on a boat in Peru. (It's probably close to where I am.) She tells him many vulgar things about what a pink river dolphin can do for a man. And Granado becomes so impassioned with lust by hearing her stories about these river dolphins that he'll do anything for her. But she charges a lot of money, which he doesn't have enough of. So, he takes all their money and gambles it on the boat, hoping he can make enough to sleep with her. Fuser is furious and thinks he's crazy to spend all their travel money on gambling. But somehow he wins enough bets to buy her for a night. 

Do you see the dolphin fin from the view from the boat?
Besides being a good side plot, I never forgot the scene, because before seeing the movie, I didn't know pink river dolphins existed. Now, ten years later, I saw them. 

I noted to myself: You're running out of rare animals you want to see

My guide said that I could join them and swim with them. (Note the picture above, I'm in swim trunks and my hair is wet.) So, I dove off the small boat and swam in the black water. (It's called black water, because it's like tea - the leaves and branches of the plants have colored and acidified the water of the Amazon.) I couldn't see anything and the dolphins didn't really approach me closely. But it was a refreshing dip.

After my swim with the dolphins, Jose drove the boat to a local village. Only 50 people lived there. It was a poor village. When we first arrived, Jose pointed to a woman near a white building and said that she was a school teacher. 

Everyone there appeared to have chickens and ducks. It reminded me of home. I hoped that my chickens were doing well. Two cats slept near me for their nap. It reminded me of our cat, Jeh Pan, but they weren't Jeh Pan. I hoped Jeh Pan was doing well too. My last memory of him was how sad he looked before I left. He knew I was leaving for awhile.

Deep fried Amazonian catfish, rice, and
For lunch, we ate deep fried catfish called zungaro wth rice, fried plantains (a kind of banana), and coconut. They don't have stoves in the village. So, they have to burn wood underneath the grill. As a result, they have no control over the temperature and oil constantly splatters everywhere. 

The catfish was delicious and it was so fresh; so, it didn't taste fishy. There's nothing like fresh catfish; the kind at the supermarket has a fishier taste. This Amazonian catfish though was a true delicacy, and it couldn't have cost too much. 

Later, we walked inland and Jose pointed to a fruit that the indigenes people use for skin paint. I asked Jose to put some on it; so, he did. It was invisible most of the day, but the day after, it left behind a light blue stain. 

More inland, a man was collecting parakeet eggs. He hatched them and was selling them for about $2.00. I played with them. 

They were delightful and fun. I could have spent a few hours with them, because they have so much energy and nibble on you and call and grab for your attention constantly. I didn't know parakeets were so amusing. 

After lunch, Jose asked me to wait in the boat. He was going to give the school teacher some gasoline. She needed it for a generator that helps her charge her cell phone. I think Jose likes her.

A boat ride to the campsite on the Amazon on the black water.
After, Jose drives the boat into a river for a few hours. On land, I see all kinds of birds of paradise, including eagles, white herons, and king fishers (a favorite fishing bird amongst bird enthusiasts). Like I said on my last trip to the Amazon, this is a bird watcher's heaven.

On our way to the camp site, I see what looks like a floating log. Then it goes beneath the black water. It's a cayman, a relative of the crocodile or alligator. 

Jose doesn't believe I saw a cayman, because he says caymans don't live here. I tell him, I've seen caymans last year. I saw the head. Then it sank. And he said, "Must be a cayman, then."

When we arrive on the campsite, Jose sets up my refugio, my sleeping space or refuge. With a machete, he cuts down four tall branches, sticks them in a ground like a square. He then puts a blue tarp on top to act as a roof, and ties string to each of the branches, which holds the tarp to the sticks. He adds the mosquito net around.

Then he collects dry wood to build a fire and cook. I help him get wood. 

While he's cooking though, I take a swim in the black water river. I tell myself to swim for 20 minutes. I need the exercise. I swim upriver and see another tourist, a white guy with a huge camera and two guides. Jose can't see me. He tells me later, he doesn't like that. 
Amazon clay all over me.

I ask the tourist, in English, if he's seen anything interesting. He said, only a snake upriver. 

After talking to him, I swim back to camp. Dinner isn't ready. 

So, I go back to the bank of the river, where I noticed the mud was clay. I put the clay on my face and body and think to myself, Might as well. People spend lots of money in spas for this kind of stuff

I notice the added benefit of having a thin layer of clayish mud all over you. The mosquitos and sand flies avoid you, because they can't pierce you with their proboscis, the sword-like syringe these insects have to suck your blood.  And believe me, they love sucking your blood.

Sadly, the sand flies seem to manage to find any spot where I don't have enough clay or mud on it. I hate the sandflies. Their bite is like a pinch, and it hurts more. And there are so many of them.

Our boat, Lorenzo Express, parked at our campsite.
I can't help but think about the verse, Ashes to ashes and dust to dust. According to Jewish and Christian theology, we were all created from mud, and it's God's breath that gives us spirit and life. So, the mud can't be bad for me or my body, right? 

Jose calls me when dinner is ready. For dinner, we have deep fried chicken, rice, and vegetables. I still have a clay mask on and clay all over me. 

During dinner, I told him I met a rich white guy with a big camera.

Jose said, "I saw him. But how do you know he's rich?"
"Because, he had two guides and he was by himself."

"If he had two guides, he has a lot of money."

"He's spending about $100 dollars a day."

"Sounds about right."

After dinner, I take another swim, where there's barely enough light to see, rinsing away the clay and mud. My skin feels so fresh and alive. It's amazing. I wonder why the clay does that. 

After, we take a night walk in the jungle. We see a large, black scorpion. I try to grab it. He says, "No!!! It's dangerous." 

Yes, I know, I think, but you just grab it by the tail

I told him, "I can catch it. You catch the tail."

He said, "No!"

I said, "Ok."

That's all we see during our night walk. We also hear monkeys but don't see much else. 

It's only 07:00PM. Night comes early in the Amazon. 
My refugio that Jose built. 

Our campfire to cook food.
I go to my refugio. I try to sleep. But it's too early. 

I'm left alone with just my thoughts. I realize then, that during the day a man can pretend to be fine and that nothing bothers him. But when a man is alone with his thoughts at night, by himself, he realizes how vulnerable and alone and exposed he really is. 

I think about home and think about all the people I miss. I think about the pets I miss. I think about all the problems that have been plaguing me, and I realize there's no easy solution to any of them. The thoughts wind and rewind and play and replay in my mind over and over again, until I tire of thinking about them. 

I think about the Spanish girl. I tell myself to not think about her. You'll never see her again. You'll never hear about her. I tell myself I do not like her, but that I'm just worried about her, because she's never traveled before and that she's young and she doesn't know what she's doing. Even if I don't see her again, I just hope she's safe and ok. I wish I had better control over what I thought about sometimes.  

After a few hours, I fall asleep and sleep well and seamlessly.

A house in the village, near Nauta, Iquitos.

Baby parakeets for sale.

My guide, Jose, getting me a fruit for blue skin paint.

An Amazonian Pink River Dolphin,
Photo not taken by me. Camera zoom isn't good enough.

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