Saturday, 10 December 2011

Saved from a venomous snake bite

Two posts in a day - wow that doesn't happen vey often.  Well I just wanted to write a post separate from the ayahuasca one about the various other things we did whilst in the Peruvian Amazon.  So here goes.

On arriving at the first lodge we took a quick siesta and then went to visit a local tribe called the Yaguas.  They painted our faces according to our marital status, which is apparently what they do within their own tribe.  Everyone in our group was married except for Anny and I who are engaged, so our faces were painted differently to the others.  Then they played a little music for us and then for what I found the most fun part - they got out their blow gun and showed us how they shoot down monkeys from the trees using a poison that paralyses them, by practising on a wooden post.  I would not have appreciated practising on real monkeys as that doesn't fit with my vegetarianism.  Two of the Yagua guys missed the post, but more than half of our group hit the post first time, which is surprising considering that the Yaguas need to be good at darting so that they can catch food.  Maybe they had drunk too much before the demo, although they seemed perfectly sober to me.

Anny tring her hand at blowdarting

Later in the day we went to see some young healers who taught us about the plants that they use in their traditional medicine, and this is where I asked them about the ayahuasca ceremonies and managed to sign myself up for one.  There is a drink made from seven roots that the locals drink, and each root has some particular medicinal properties.  The properties of each root was explained in detail, along with the strict rituals that the healers must follow regarding their diet and abstinence from alcohol and sex during their training.  They have a tough life it seems.

The lodge where we slept the first night was about an hour from Iquitos and is located in what is termed a secondary forest.  Basically the trees have been felled and the vegetation is not the same as it would have been before the felling began.  The remaining trees are much shorter and the vegetation less dense.

In the morning we got on the boat, which is the main form of transport in the Amazon and headed towards the other lodge, which is located in primary forest where the trees are much taller.  On the way we stopped at a place where there is an 80% chance of seeing dolphins, and we were the lucky 80% and not the unlucky 20%, as we saw plenty of them.  We saw both kinds - the grey and the pink river dolphin.  The pink dolphin in fact is unique to the Amazon.  We had to make a short walk by land across an island to another river where a boat was waiting for us.  Whilst crossing the island a young boy came out to greet us carrying a baby sloth that he had as a pet, and he asked for a tip.  We didn't give him one of course, as we don't want to encourage the locals to take animals from the forest thinking that they can make easy money from them.  The poor animals have a hard enough time as it is with the locals killing them for food.

The second lodge was quite remote and was exactly the kind of place I like to stay.  After resting for a bit some of us went for a jungle walk, but Anny wanted to rest as she has been to the Amazon before and seen most of the animals.  Unfortunately I was stupid enough to forget the insect repellent and so got eaten alive by the mosquitoes during the walk.  I was hoping there was some kind of natural repellent I could use, but the guide didn't know of one that was easily accessible.  Instead he gave me a leaf and told me to keep fanning myself to try and keep the mossies away.  Throughout the walk the guide talked about the various symbiotic relationships that exist such as the tree that houses ants that then help to protect the tree and the pig that makes a hole that snakes share in return for the snakes helping to protect the pig from predators.  I have heard about all these symbiotic relationships on wildlife documentaries but it was great to be able to see them firsthand.  We didn't see the pig and snake though.

Later in the day the guide took us out on the lagoon on a canoe, and Anny and him did some fishing whilst I just watched them.  I did the paddling as I wanted to get in some exercise and it was pretty tricky at first as the canoe didn't have a rudder so it is hard to stop it doing circles.  After a while I got the hang of it though.  The guide caught two small fish before throwing them back in the water and Anny didn't seem to be catching anything.  In the end though Anny caught two small fish also, so it was a two all draw.  Anny also threw them back as neither of us wanted to kill the poor fish.  I had hoped to see a piranha as there are plenty of them about, but the guide said to catch them we would need to use meat as bait, which would involve killing one of the fish we caught and using that, and that is something I didn't want.  I was also interested to hear that the infamous fish that swims into people's orifices does exist and it is a type of catfish.  Apparently it more often swims into men's anuses than up their penises.  On the walk back from the lagoon the light was starting to fade, and as we were strolling through the jungle the guide suddenly stopped us in our tracks.  Neither Anny or I had seen it, but there was a snake right in the middle of the path that hadn't heard us coming and so hadn't had time to slither away.  It was clearly startled and was coiled up ready to strike if we came any nearer.  I don't have a fear of snakes so it didn't really scare me, but I asked the guide all the same if it was venomous.  It most definetely was, as he recounted that this snake was a common lancehead viper or bothrops and one of the same kind had killed his aunt when he was younger.  She believed in traditional medicine and didn't go to the hospital, preferring instead to use plants and herbs to counteract the venom.  He said when she died later in the day she was bleeding from her gums and from under her fingernails, and it didn't sound like a pleasant way to go.  He said if she had gone to the hospital she probably would have lived.  Despite telling us that if we had continued walking without seeing the snake it would have most likely struck us on the boots and not penetrated the rubber outer, we were very happy that he had seen it in time.

At night I went out with the guide for a quick walk around the camp to try and spot some tarantulas.  We didn't find any, but we did find plenty of other spiders instead.

The next morning at 6.30am we went out in the boat to do some bird watching.  Once we turned off the motor we saw plenty of them.  There were all kinds of colours of birds from bright yellow to blue to multicolored beauties.

On the way back to Iquitoes we saw yet more dolphins and even saw some tourists swimming in the river near to where they were.  Rather them than me as despite the fact that most dangerous piranhas live in Hollywood and in reality they are unlikely to bother you, there are all kinds of other nasty parasites that live in the water and may make you sick.  Not to mention the anacondas, other snakes and caimans.  We also made a short stop at an animal rescue sanctuary where the animals are actually free to leave anytime they want.  All of the animals have been rescued from captivity and are roaming in a space that has no fences or cages to retain them.  The only thing that keeps the animals coming back is the food that the sanctuary owners provide for them, as most of the animals have no idea how to fend for themselves and how to catch their own food.  There was a baby monkey called King Kong that was ever so cute.  He would jump up on me and sit on my head and lie on my arm, but he was also a clever little fellow and was opening all my pockets to see if I had anything interesting inside.

King Kong and me

The trip to the Peruvian Amazon was a fantastic experience and although we weren't trekking into virigin jungle and seeing jaguars and other rarely seen creatures, it was a nice insight into the other world that exists outside of the cities and villages where most of us live.  A place where animals run the place, and where we need to afford them respect.  The venomous snake was a poignant reminder of how respectful we must be of the power of nature.

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