Having completed our final work day assignment, we are packing up, heading into Tena for dinner and a few last minute things. Tomorrow’s 9:00 AM express to Tena followed by the 10:45 Flota Palileo express to Quito will see two contented individuals on board.
Reflecting on our time at Jatun Sacha, the experience was a synthesis of kibbutz and summer camp. We toiled arduously but always in good spirit. The food was plentiful and varied enough to prevent gastronomical ennui. Neither of us got sick and aside from my legs providing a feast for the local mosquitoery, nothing injurious to report. Our final assignemnt involved raking the paths and removing the leaves which, I can assure you, in a jungle setting can be plentiful. Weather changes its mind more often and more quickly than a JAP in a jewelry store. The most enjoyable working conditions result from overcast skies which serves to proving a sunscreen and also brings down the temp a few degrees.
Today featured a grey sky which added a level of water cooled benefit. Covered with sweat, covered with rain, I choose rain. There is something magical working in a vast garden that hosts myriad species. One of the most enjoyable areas to view are the ornamentals. Growing wild are species that would appear in a bouquet of exotics ordered for several hundred dollars from your local florist. Here the plethora of species, hanging on their original branches rather than dying in a crystal vase gives one pause to enjoy.
The air itself is free from polutants and carries the scent of redemption as life comes, life carries on and life goes, which leads to renewal. The ants are everywhere. There are millions, and that is probably an understatement. There are all kinds of varieties. There is the vignte quatro hora, a species about 3 cm long. Bitten, an individual will experience 24 hours of excruciating burning pain. Then it stops. Others call them Bullet Ants. There seems to be a discrepency amongst the lolas as to whether the searing pain is more akin to having your flesh pierced by a white hot needle or a bullet. I will leave further research to the experts. Much more endearing is the living line of Leaf Cutter ants. These guys will walk for miles in what seems to be an infinite chain. Going one way they are unburdened. The ants returning from the opposite direction are carrying pieces of leaves or blossoms. The path is vertical as well as horizontal since the yummiest cuttings come from the tops of trees 30 meters high. They traipse on endlessley. Today, the magic word was ‘yellow’. These creatures carrying pieces of blossom on their backs, often 10-20 times their size. I thought that they were looking to corner the market in yellow flora but their need is less colourful. Each morsel is chewed upon by another division. The enzyme in their saliva, when mixed with the mashed up greenery and added to ant dung, (how do people discover this stuff?) provides a fertile medium for a particular fungus to grow. This fungus is their sole source of food. A Chinese take-out joint would clean up here.
As stated, the weather is part of the enchantment. Today’s dry gray gave way to wet gray in the most subtle of fashion. The rain was not as much noticed as felt. Looking up at the sky, there was no sign of precipitation; however, when seen against the backdrop of the thatch of one of the giant palm denizens, a rain as fine as the sheerest of gossamer became visible. It barely had enough mass to land; like mist with gravitas. We breathe the air deeply, grateful for the coolant and hoping that a few of the air sacs in my lungs keep a bit of the Amazon inside me forever.
Fasten Your Cosmic Seat Belt
OK, now for the fun stuff. A Christmas like no other previously experienced nor likely to be repeated anytime soon will certainly be one of the memory highlights of this trip. The local Quechua have a tradition and spirit that keeps them well grounded and tied to the land. There is a reverence for local life that creates a bond between the physical and the spiritual. The relationship is not unique to the Quechua; Lori and I have remarked on the relationship between man and nature in most counties we’ve visited. As has been the case elsewhere, the knowledge of plant use is extensive and transcends generations. What is unique amongst the locals is their familiarity with a plant called Ayahuasca. In our reserve, there are several sections – Ornamentals, Medicinals, Fruta, and last, but certainly not least what they call “Halucinigenia. The undisputed star of the last group is Ayahuasca, the Big A, as I would like to have it known. When properly prepared from the vine, it is distilled to a bitter tasting liquid. Before imbibing, one concentrates on what element of the universe they would like to explore, a quick ‘l’chaim’, and down the hatch. There are a couple of negative physical effects. As part of the spiritual cleansing associated with the experience, an accompanied physical cleansing occurs as well. Within minutes of ingestion, I crawled to the edge of the home that we were visiting and proceded to puke my guts out for a minute or two. Most impressively, I managed to recall ‘vomir’ as the appropriate Spanish description at the time. Other users experience a similar explosion from the other end of their digestive systems. Fortunately diarrhea eluded me until much later. Here comes the good part. Within twenty minutes, a light body buzz takes place. A few minutes later, lying in a hammock in the dark with eyes closed, you leave the universe that you know. An array of colours and patterns -imagine a spirograph in 5 or six dimensions, undulating, pulsating, and warping, with illuminating colours ever changing. Add coloured laser beams shooting out in all directions. Your field of vision is no longer 180 degrees, but behind you as well.
That is only the backdrop. There are images firing away at you; some coming from within this colurful web, others emanating from who knows where. Imagine a dream sequence as orchestrated by David Lynch in his Twin Peaks days. Now hit the Fast Forward button to about times a thousand. Then multiply the number of images coming at you by infinity. As you try to keep up with whatever presents itself, the subject of your attention either melts or morphs into something else. While trying to concentrate on one screen, you are cognizant that the focus allows hundreds of others to blow by you before you can even register what they are/were. There were amusing themes that kept coming back. A bunch of giant spindly spiders kept hovering overhead, but they were cool. What was most of interest was a continuing theme of fish. Some would swim around, changing into other things, but what made me laugh was that some came along cooked and served on dishes. it was quite amusing. So you lie in a hammock, smirking as your mind is getting blown and ultimately surrender to the experinece.
Over time the hallucinatory elements diminish and you gain control of your own head and thought patterns. And now, for a little introspection. While I will not share what I thought and saw due to its very personal nature, rest assured that an interesting visit inside various souls, minds, and DNA, accompanied by visual interpretations, provided some well received insight into those around me and most importantly myself. About two hours later, it was as if the merry-go-round stopped and it was time to get off. Within seconds, I was vertical, cogent and could have driven myself to the office and done a good day’s work. I used to feel that to make this place a more sensitive and pleasant planet, every global citizen should be compelled to drop LSD at least once. Cancel that order. Chef, serve up a univeral dish of the Big A.
That was Christmas Eve. Christmas morning, Jonas, Lori, Jacob and I hopped a bus to one of Tena’s outlying regions. Our ride is about 45 minutes and the bus’ ultimate destination was Quito, several hours away. Ergo, a movie is played on a sreen at the front of the bus. Sitting in the second row, I had a great view. White House Down, featuring Jamie Foxx and James Woods was on. A typical shoot ’em up featuring terrorists, bombs; the whole shootin’ match, so to speak. I tried to keep up with the Spanish and was doing OK. The Chechyn (I think) terrorists were deep in control and things looked grim for the Ole US of A, when the bus arrived at the destination. I wanted to stay and watch. If any of you have seen this film, please let me kow how it ends, how James Woods meets his end, and what drove him to go the Benedict Arnold route. My guess it was a result of his Marine kid getting killed in action.
Speaking of action, we arrived at Cavernas Jumandy, a place famed for its caves, which served to hide a Chechyn, sorry, Quechuan from the invading Conquistadors. Stripped down to bathing suits, we traversed through the caves, ankle deep in water, but much deeper in other places, Lori, to her extreme credit, proved to be a super trooper. At one point there was a mini lake that had to be crossed. She, who swims as well as the average rock, grabbed onto the overhanging cords, jumped in and, mantra-ing “Joanne, Joanne, Joanne” crossed with no ill effects. Stalagmites and stalagtites were abundant. An interior waterfall, holy to the locals, was part of the scenery. Adjacent to the falls were a few deep holes, one being 5 meters. It measured about one meter in diameter. Jonas, Jacob and I took turns jumping in and submersing. Lori, who had just cheated a watery grave minutes earlier opted not to temp fate; a decision I wholeheatedly supported.
Exiting the cave required a hike up a rocky outcrop. Seeing light was a pleasure and we walked down to the main area of the center which, we found out, had lodges for extended stay and a large swimming pool. The pool’s primary feature was a blue water slide that was likely designed by the same individual who put together the luge track for the Vancouver olympics, that resulted in the death of a German athelete (score is now 12-1).
“Sure”, I said. The first two loops proved the existence of centrifugal force as my speed began to increase logarithmically. Next, as the steeper pitch appeared, the law of gravity revealed itself as my rate of descent increased by eight miles per second per second. Noticing that the grand finale of this death trap involved a seventy five degree angled turn that would allow the corpse to hit the water, I began to calculate the height of the embankment, my mass, my speed, and the angle and was pretty sure that I was going up and over at about 30 MPH. Fortunately I had noted a well designed retaining wall behind Dead Man’s Curve on the way up the Ladder of Doom. A sadistic architect had designed a concrete floor with a stone wall right behind it. In those two seconds I wrote this whole blog. One bruised toe and an awkward water entry later, I’m alive.
Where’s my Grub?
The ride back to base camp was interrupted for a lunch break. Following our aquatic and undergroud adventure, what better way to celebrate the birth of Christ than a meal featuring a local specialty. Archidona was renown for its preparation of Mionais. Translated – a large white larva
that if not speared with a kebab stick, salted and grilled, would eventually metamorphosize into a large white butterfly. Not these three poor souls.
Of course when eating, the polite thing is to remove the head, or as they say in Spanish, decapitata. Quite crispy on the outside
with a slightly sweet soft center, and possessing a nutrition level well off the charts (seriously) this creature is being touted by major agronomists as the next global source of protein. So get on the bus guys, you may get to see the sequel White Grub Down. Asta Luega.
Lori and I are heading to Chile on Sunday. She is flying American Airlines through Guayacil. I am taking a more direct route.