Amazon Day Trip

I’m not sure what I was expecting out of a day trip into the amazon…visions of national geographic danced through my head I suppose. I know that if we had spent any serious amount of time there, we would have been let in on the real day to day lives and rituals of those that lived there.  What I found instead was a group of lovely people who were nice enough to go through their scripted routine for us.  Don’t get me wrong, it was a really fun day, the animals we saw were scary and fascinating, the men and women kind, but I couldn’t help but feel as if we were somehow imposing on them, the price of admission only got us so far into their real lives. That being said, here’s a recap of what we saw, where we danced, and how we almost got rabies.

Boating down the Amazon
 We started off by hiring a boat to take us to the amazonian village our tour guide had told us about.  The boat guided lazily down the river, the captain educating us about the inhabitants, both of the animal and human variety.  We docked and scrambled up the dirt path towards the Kamak Maki museum, which turned out to be a nature reserve for endangered animals. I had no idea how up close and personal we would be allowed to get.  Our first encounter occurred only a few steps into the reserve, an innocent enough monkey galloped over to us to take a look. “I know him,” the captain said, and yelled a greeting to the monkey, as if the animal could understand. Turns out he probably did, as the hairy little guy started sprinting towards Linzi, and flung himself onto her legs, quickly making his way to her head, and perching himself up there, claiming her scalp like Armstrong on the moon.  We barely had time to snap pictures before he was on top of her, his cute grin now resembling an evil sneer.
Aw, he wants to say hi.
Guess he really likes you.
You’re his bride now, sorry.
If it had been me that just got scaled like a gym class ceiling rope, I would have been running around screaming.  Since it was linzi, who was oddly calm throughout the incident, I thoroughly enjoyed it.  Eventually he gave up his claim to her scalp and allowed us to proceed.  As we walked on, more and more monkeys appeared, and after the previous incident, I was pretty freaked out by them…I kept imagining scenes from planet of the apes, and just knew that by the end of the day, I’d be in a cage, flinging my own poo and asking for dinner.
The guys running the show broke off palms and made headbands and smeared paint on our faces. I’m not entirely sure what the reason behind this was, but it seemed to be part of their regular routine, so we went with it and smiled as they knighted us as princesses of the amazon.  Hokey? yes. Instant ego boost? You know it.
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Queen for a day

We walked through the reserve, taking in the sights, sounds and smells of the place.  Brilliantly colored birds,  camouflaged snakes and an animal with giant spikes that kind of looked like a massive rat were on display.  The star of the show, however, was the ocelot.  The head animal keeper opened the door to a spacious pen and motioned for us to follow him in.  Really? I thought.  You want us to be in an enclosed area with an animal whose eating habits you just described to us by saying “every so often we let a chicken loose and let him have at it.”  But the ocelot, who looked like a baby cheetah, was putty in the hands of the keeper.  The man, who was tatted up and looked like belonged more on the back of a bike than in a nature reserve, talked quietly to the animal, and put his hands in the animals mouth as he held it, much like a mother feels her baby’s gums for sprouting teeth. Put THIS guy on the bachelor, I thought to myself. Women worldwide would melt.

After the animals we made our way over to “a traditional amazon village.”  Sitting on the floor of a mud hut, we were given demonstrations of centuries old cooking techniques, dancing, and a tutorial on how to make the fermented drink, chicha de yuca. The women were very sweet, entertaining and hospitable, but I felt as if, in some way, we were intruding on their lives, tourists who were only there to take pictures, to marvel at their huts, then head back to our own word. The entrance fee we paid ensured that we would be given a certain amount of access, but as our guides led us around the village, I felt, for the first time in my travels, like I shouldn’t be there, almost guilty for intruding. I felt voyeuristic into the lives of people whose names I didn’t even know.

Do that dance
making the chica de yuca

The day culminated in one of the guides asking us if we would like our spirits cleansed.  Now, I take every opporunity to have my spirit cleansed, and I’m pretty sure I have more karmic luggage than a baggage claim at JKF, so I was pretty excited, but then the guide told us it would be two dollars extra.  Something about this just put me off, I understood that it was a small amount and it would have positively affected someone who probably really needed, but something about paying for a blessing put a bad taste in my mouth.  Annie, however, did not have these same reservations, and so the village shaman was called, a jolly looking man in kahkis who had clearly just been woken up from his nap.  After some whispered words, he shook a bouquet furiously over and around Annie’s clasped hands, thereby cleansing her spirit, balancing her inner self, and making her good to go for the rest of the week.

After the cleansing, we were shown the village gift shop, where the handmade beaded wares were laid out for us to buy like a fisherman displaying its daily catch.  The jewelry was beautiful and I was happy to purchase, but I also felt under pressure to do so, as if again, we were paying them for intruding. It was an odd mix of feelings I walked around with that day, one that I’m sure has to do with the fact that after our little foray into their world, we would go back to our hotel, with air conditioning and basic cable and all the creature comforts we have grown used to.  Traveling brings up all sorts of emotions, and occasionally ones that aren’t so pleasant. It was a mixed bag, the day trip to the Amazon. On one hand I was felt oddfo r is not so pleasant. Seeing that I think, however, that the only way to really open our eyes is to get out there and see it, even if it makes us slightly uncomfortable sometimes.
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