Thursday, July 20, 2017

Killer Bees, Cocaine Leaves, and an Accident in the Amazon Jungle

The morning sun in the Amazon Jungle.
The wakes are created by dolphin breaches.
At four in the morning, a slight breeze chilled me and woke me up, while we were sleeping on a beach of the Amazon Jungle. I couldn't get back to sleep, and was wide awake when dawn came. At dawn, I heard all the morning birds call and the splashes of the dolphins nearby. The transition between night and day and day and night becomes one enormous changing of the guard in the jungle, and this is the most dangerous period of time for prey, because the predators know that the prey are looking for a place to rest and roost. Hence, for this reason, my cat Jeh Pan is most active at dusk and dawn too.

At sunrise, my guide comes out of his boat. We both watch the river dolphins playing nearby and breaching the water. He makes me a coffee. There's no milk and it's instant. So, it's not that good, but it'll have to do.

Driving our boat through the Amazon.
Jose asks me what I want for lunch. I tell him, "Arroz con pato. (Rice with duck.)" I tell him I know have to pay extra for it, but it's a dish Peru is known for. And I've been craving duck for awhile now. I also missed my Blue Mountain coffee and my mom's cooking.

This morning, my guide wants to learn more Korean. He brings out a book and asks me phrases. He writes them down. I wonder to myself how much he fancied this Korean girl that was on his tour. I also don't think he'll learn these phrases well.

When I was in Belize, on a small key island in the sun, in the summer of 2011, I remember that the host of my hostel was in love with this Korean girl that had stayed there. He liked this girl so much, all he could do was talk about her. He asked me about Korean culture. And, to Skype with her, he'd shut down all of the internet, so the guests couldn't use it. He really fancied her.

My brother always said the world is falling in love with Koreans, because they're the best looking and smartest of the Asian race. He said that Yellow Fever was spreading across the world. I just laughed at hearing it all. But, certainly, my guide might have caught some of this epidemic.

After drinking my coffee, we were driving back to Nauta, the largest town in the area. I slept on the boat, mainly, even though there were birds and dolphins. I was tired, because I woke up early. I felt bad for doing so, because my guide was doing all the work. And even though I had paid him for his time and services, I still did not like lording the fact that I could sleep, while he worked. But I still slept, because I was tired.

We arrived in the local village where 60 people lived. A teenage boy who spotted me was shirtless and put his shirt on immediately. All the villagers stared at me, which I do not know if I liked or should not like. My guide appeared to know everyone in the village.
Looks like my Buenos Aires Tetra at home.

He asked the boy for a fishing pole. Then he dug up some worms and took them with him to go fishing.

My guide went fishing in a local stream and fished out a number of tropical fish. I wish I could bring them home, but this is not the end of my journey. So, I cannot.

After dropping them back into the stream, we hike into the jungle again, but not very far. In a secret location, he shows me a secret stash of cocaine trees growing.

I ask him, "Who owns them?"

"He's dead."

"Who was he?"

"An old man."

Picture of a cocaine tree, found in a hidden location.
We strip some leaves and chew on them. I told him, "We need lemon for the full effect."

He laughs. I know this, because I read it in an old issue of National Geographic once. To make cocaine, you need battery acid and lots of cocaine leaves. The battery acid extracts out the active ingredient, and then you have liquid cocaine. Then you have to dry it out and cut it with something more neutral. The process is the same to make aspirin, which I had to learn in organic chemistry lab, ages ago.

I chew more leaves than he does. I don't feel anything, except I'm not hungry anymore.

We leave. My guide hears some monkeys. He wants to find them. I follow him.

While walking towards the monkeys, I see some big bees that look like bumble bees. In the jungle, there are these small bee that like white flowers. But these were different. When my guide sees them, he says: "Run!!!"

So, I run and run and run. I slow down about 10 yard, about 30 meters away, when I feel a sting in my left hand, underneath the thumb. I saw a big bee on it. Then the bee tried to sting me in my stomach, but I bunched it up with my shirt and pinched it and killed it.

I kept running but felt bees buzzing in my hair. I shook my head and kept running towards the village where it was clear. My guide, at another location shouted: "Paul!"

I said, "Si."

And caught up with him. He was stung more.

He said in English: "Killer bees."

"I know."

I touched my hand to see whether there was a stinger and asked him, "Are you sure it wasn't a wasp?"

He said, "No."

"Where's the stinger then?"

He explained these kind of bees don't lose their stinger some times.

I felt my heart beating fast and the high from running. Maybe, it was the coca leaves.

We walked back to the village, which wasn't far. My guide asked around for anyone who would sell a duck.  We found a person.

The family originally asked for $7. I said, $5. They agreed.

The women fed all the animals to trick them into capture. She grabbed the duck. The duck knew it was going to be killed.

She gave the duck to the man. The man held it down with his knee and pinned it on the flooor. Then he took the knife and slit it's neck.

The duck screamed and gasped. Blood started flowing. He kept holding it down with his knees and the blood kept flowing, pouring over its feathers and onto the ground.

I wasn't going to watch. But I told myself I had to watch. I ordered the killing. Then the duck looked tired and faint and closed its eyes. I did not like watching this. But I ordered it.

I slaughtered a cock and a duck once. My mother called me cruel. I told her we shouldn't eat meat then, if we can't bear slaughtering our feed.

She didn't get it. She said it was just better to buy the meat already prepared in a market in a clean package. But that's not how it really goes down. Eating meat is violent and the loss of life is not pleasurable to watch.

I paid them. I took the duck with us to where we were going to cook it. It bled on my shorts.

Cashew fruit and nut
My guide gave me cashew fruit, which had a nut attached. He said I could eat the fruit. So, I did. It was good. Then I cracked the nut with my teeth. Immediately, my mouth and lips went numb and then fiery. I told my guide.

Jose said, "No!!! It's poison."

Oh no, I thought.

He asked the villager for some soap. He started scrubbing my licks. I had to lick the soap. I washed and rinsed and washed and rinsed over and over again. It was still numb, but it certainly helped.

After, we kept walking to where we were going to cook our duck. One of the villagers offered Jose and me a drink. I could smell it was alcoholic and asked if it was tequila. They laughed and said yes. I drank some.

Jose drank more. He threw a coin at them for the alcohol. I didn't like that.

At our cooking spot, Jose boiled some water. The duck was now dead. The life had gone out of his eyes. I hung the duck upside down to drain out more of the blood.

When the water boiled, we dunked the duck in it. I was helping Jose pluck out the feathers.

But when I walked across a plank, I slipped and fell and another plank gouged my calf. The gash was deep but not bleeding. I looked and thought, It's going to bleed soon, and a lot. It was also very painful.

I tried to walk but couldn't.

Jose said, "Slowly. Relax."

After, I walked to a bench and rested. I couldn't help Jose like this. And the pain started surging. The blood started gushing.

I asked for a bandaid. No one had one. But a girl brought me a rag. I tied it around my gash and started walking back into the village.

Jose asked, "Where you going?"

"For tequila. It hurts."


An old lady in the village gave me a shot of tequila. It helped. I walked back.

Some of Jose's friends came and asked what happened. I told them, "In one hour, I chewed on coca leaves, found killer bees, drank tequila, and ate some poison. I'm not sure what happened, but it led to my fall."

I laughed a little. Jose laughed too. What else could you do? It was kind of slapstick the whole thing.

I told Jose to also cook for me the duck liver and tongue. Lunch was plantains and duck. I had the leg, deep fried. It was a beautiful meal, but it was hard to taste on some parts, because of the poison that was still burning my tongue. The liver tasted absolutely delicious.

After lunch, Jose said he needed some time. I asked, "For what?"

He said, "Tequila." I wondered if he was an alcoholic. He showed up with bloodshot eyes when I first met him. And now, after having a sip of tequila and knowing I drank some, he couldn't help but get some more. That's how addictions work. The first taste leads to more and more.

After an hour, he came back. I was laying on the bench in pain. I was reading in Hemingway's The Dangerous Summer, coincidentally at the same time, that the main matador gets gored once and he won't take anything for the pain. He considered himself a real man for getting the gore and an even more manly man for not taking anything for the pain.

Well, I don't know if enduring pain for the sake of pain makes one a real man. I do know that my fall off the planks isn't the same as being wounded by goring. But perhaps being chased by a swarm of killer bees can be ranked up there. Who knows how dangerous it could've been if hundreds of them stung us all at once?

In fact, to impress the girls, I saw Jose take off his shorts and show the girls where he was stung in the buttocks. He made me show them where I was stung in the hand. I don't know how this makes us more of a man, but these girls actually seem to be impressed by it.

After lunch, we drove back to Nauta. I gave Jose a $10 tip. He wasn't expecting it. He gave me a big hug. I wasn't expecting that.

And he said, "God be with you."

I walked back to my hotel with my stuff. The owner asked me why my face was still kind of orange. I told her I painted it red with the resin from the tree.

She asked, "Why?"

And I said, "Because that's how the Indians from the Amazon look in the movies."

Then she started laughing.

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