Notes from Afar 8: the Jungle


Did an 8 day amazon jungle tour, in the Manu National Park, which is way over a million hectares of protected jungle, and one of the highest regions of biodiversity on Earth, encompassing the cloud forest in the mountains and the Amazon basin itself. This is a relatively small chunk of the Amazon in Peru. It is pretty remote. A day of driving over dirt roads in the mountains to the end of the roads, then a day on a boat heading upriver. There are still tribes living out in the park. It is illegal to contact them, and it is possible there are uncontacted peoples out there. So yeah. Remote.

Saw lots of birds and bugs and critters. Quite a few monkeys, at a distance. A troop went by 40 metres overhead, and threw poo at us, raining down through the leaves. Luckily they were bad shots. Highlights were macaws, capybara (giant guinea pigs, utterly ridiculous looking) and tapir (an early ancestor of the horse? a rhino’s bum, horseish body, weird long rubbery mouth). However, my main focus was to just be in the jungle, to experience it as an environment, rather than to see wildlife.

The jungle is intense. Just so crammed full of life. Everything is adapted to a specific niche. Humans have no niche here. At least, not any niche we of the modern world understand. Two metres off the trail it becomes a dense impenetrable mess. There is no relaxing in the jungle. You cannot sit down comfortably anywhere. Even the ants bite, painfully. There are lots of poisonous things. Freaky noises fill the night, and the day. Howler monkeys are insane. The jungle is almost the best argument against untrammeled nature. The first natural environment I have encountered that did not feel innately peaceful. It is not a place people go for fun.

The jungle is also humid and hot. Like, five minutes after a cold shower, you are soaking again, from sweat. This, along with a dose of diarrhea, coloured my experience somewhat. Luckily, our group was very small – me and two others – which made for a much better experience than trampling around in a group of 15. Our guide was also really excellent, passionate, and knowledgeable. Random highlight was playing soccer on a makeshift pitch in the jungle, with our cook, and guide, and boatmen, against the staff of the lodge next door. There are soccer fields everywhere in Peru. Very expensive for what it was, but I am glad I got to do it.

Then everything got hectic.

From there took a 21 hour bus back to Lima, then a flight to Pucallpa, which is a small town in the Amazon. From there ended up in a remote jungle village without power or running water, and participated in a traditional healing ceremony, drinking the local plant medicine, under the guidance of a 75 year old Shipibo shaman. This was an utterly extraordinary experience, but not one I will blog about now. It was a real privilege to be there. (If you know what this was, ask me about it sometime.)

Flight back to Lima (internal transport in Peru is fucked, generally always involves having to return to Lima), overnight bus to Trujillo. Stayed in Huanchaco, visited some pre-Inca ruins from the Moche civilisation, the Huaca de la Luna, and Chan-Chan. The Huaca is pretty amazing, and the relation between their art and the Polynesians was striking. A very mental and foreign culture, the museum is really fascinating. Chan-Chan is gigantic and impressive but somehow bland. Ancient stuff is deeply weird to my kiwi mind.

Was going to go to more ruins further North the next day, but ended up out on the town with my hosts. The next day we went to a bullfight, which I didn’t even know they did in Peru. It was a bit sad, really, and frankly a custom which can be abandoned, though I can see how it would have meant something different hundreds of years ago, when humanity’s dominance over nature was less established. Weirdest thing about it was the way it was a family day out. And the crazed hysteria at the tiny entry gate.

From there another overnight bus back to Lima, watching a twisted Japanese movie with Spanish subtitles at a friends place, then hopping on a flight to London… Peru was a fantastic experience overall, and I am really glad I made it there. One of the three places I had really wanted to go, originally it had seemed there was no way I would be able to get there…

Oh, and apparently the last post was the 1000th post on undulatingungulate!

2 Responses to “Notes from Afar 8: the Jungle”

  1.   bruce
    October 9th, 2011 | 9:51 am

    Will you still be in London on the 21st? Kathy and I will be there as well. Also London decom, which we may or may not go to. Quite curious to hear about the healing ceremony…

  2.   michael
    October 9th, 2011 | 8:43 pm

    Your description of the jungle reminds me unnervingly of Werner Herzog’s comments (recorded when he was shooting Fitzcaraldo I think?). He focuses on it not being at all peaceful.

    “Kinski finds the jungle erotical. [sic] I do not find it erotical at all … the birds here do not sing, they shriek in pain” or somesuch.

    Anyway, sounds like an incredible experience, regardless of whether it was peaceful.