I woke to the gentle sound of rain falling outside. I looked at my alarm clock which said it was only 4:30AM. Wake up time was at 5:30 so I still had an hour to sleep. The only problem was that nature was calling and I couldn’t bear to get out of bed. After the spider incident last night, I wasn’t about to test the dark room blindly. For the record, the electricity isn’t turned back on until 5AM.
I received my wake up knock promptly at 5:30 and was up and ready for breakfast at 6AM. The rain persisted so we had a late start from the lodge. But, we finally made our way out to “The Tower” where we ascended a canopy tree house 100 yards high – close enough to the height of the tallest canopy trees in the jungle. We stayed for a couple of hours looking at the various birds that make up the aviary population in the Amazon. The highlight for me was seeing two different toucans. I’m not sure of the names, so let’s call them the white-beaked toucan and the yellow-beaked toucan.
As the bird chatter settled down, we climbed down from the treehouse and hiked over to a small lake. We climbed in our small canoe. I’m not sure why, but we as a group seemed to have a harder time keeping the equilibrium of the boat steady. We were instructed to stay as still as possible and we complied. Yet, we still tilted slightly to the left and right from time to time. I found out later we were in a narrower canoe. With 10 of us in it, the sides were only about 3-4 inches above the water surface.
This lake was filled with plants close to the shore. The lake hid beneath its brown, glassy surface the following cuddly creatures: caiman, electric eel, anaconda and two types of pirana. So, we maintained a tense quietness to avoid any sudden motions caused by talking. The silence was broken from time to time with the occasional question from the group to Danielle or Magno. Or, the occasional deprecating comment from me to Gina, who sat right in front of me.
We hiked back to camp after a quick snack of Chips Ahoy and ant watching (more interesting than what you would think I assure you). We had a quick lunch of consomme, pork chop with snap peas and cauliflower, and pear in alcohol for dessert. We were served fresh prickly pear juice and water to drink.
The real fun then came in the afternoon. Gina, Shirley and I put on our swimsuits and headed for the lagoon for an afternoon swim. The women swam yesterday with no ill effects. And, since they had done so AFTER fishing for piranas with raw meat (with success!), I figured it was worth a go. But, there were a few precautions.
- No entering the water with any open sores or wounds (Check!). Although my lips were blistered from the caribbean sun the week before.
- No touching the bottom of the lagoon. Wouldn’t want to step on a caiman, anaconda or electric eel (really more of a preference on our part – Check!).
- No peeing in the lagoon so as not to attract an organism that loves urine and will swim up your urinary tract where it will grow pricks causing pain while you wait for the surgeon to remove it – DOUBLE, NO TRIPLE CHECK!).
Not wanting to touch the bottom, I dove (well, really belly flopped) into the water. The temperature fluctuated remarkably with waves of warm water overcome by waves of cold and vice versa. Oh, almost forgot to mention that, being the chivalrous guy that I am, I let Gina and Shirley go in first. Who says chivalry is dead?
We swam out to another pier where some turtles were sunning. We didn’t get too close so as not to scare them away. Oh, and we also wanted to avoid the spiders on the pier. After about a 30 minute swim, I climbed out of the water and kayaked around the lagoon. The serenity of the afternoon was magnificent. The silence was broken only by the oars hitting the water or the random animal calling out.
We met up with the group at 4PM and headed off to the butterfly farm. We saw the butterflies at all stages: from egg to winged creatures. The farm was in a greenhouse and the final room was in a sealed-off room requiring us to go through an intermediary door to get to the butterflies. After time for numerous photos, we took our most challenging hike so far.
We hiked on land along the river (not that we could see it from the path) along densely wooded jungle. Further, the path was extremely wet with mud that was deep and clay-like in consistency and sticky. We eventually made it to the river, climbed in the canoe and slowly made our way back to the camp. Luckily, this canoe was wider and a little deeper than the one this morning so our ride was much more stable.
The sun began to set as we were on the river. The blue sky was peppered with clouds colored in various shades of whites and grays. Closer to the camp, we discovered a group of squirrel monkeys and a group of capuchine monkeys hunting for food. We sat in the canoe silently enjoying the monkeys hunt and call to each other. As the monkeys returned to the interior of the jungle, we made our way back to camp to have dinner and relax a bit before our night hike.
For dinner we started with a divine potato and cabbage soup followed by roasted chicken with potatoes and green bean and tomato salad. Tonight’s juice was star-fruit juice. For dessert we had “Gypsy’s Arm.” It was like a swiss roll or a jelly roll filled with dulce de leche and topped with chocolate.
We all quickly ran to put on long shirts and bug spray for our night hike. We didn’t go too far out and stayed close to the nearby butterfly farm’s greenhouse. We saw a few frogs, spiders, crickets, cockroaches and a few other flying insects. Just the kind of thing you want to see right before going to bed in the jungle.
Tomorrow we lose half of our group so we had a final quick powwow in the main room before retiring to bed just before 10PM. Tomorrow will come early with the 5:30 wake-up call…especially with the images of the creepy crawlies dancing in my head. There is a reason I left the small town years ago. While I can suspend my ichy feelings about bugs for these few days, I am reminded every day I am out here why I am a committed urban denizen. Good thing I put the mosquito netting down over my bed earlier today.
Originally published May 31, 2007