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.
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.
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.