Tranquilo. Cada vez yo he dicho que este es mi primera vez en la selva, la gente me dice que “La vida de la selva es tranquila.” Verdad – después de diez días, yo he realizado que este es cierto. La gente es amable, la comida es rica y suave, las noches son oscuro y relajando.
Calm. Every time I tell someone it’s my first time here in the jungle, they tell me that life here is calm, simple, good. I have had the opportunity to see parts of the Peruvian Amazon most tourists don’t get to see, and the life here indeed is tranquil.
The past week, I visited two local villages in the province of Condorcanqui in the department Amazonas (the equivalent of some counties in a state in the U.S.). After a few days in Nieva, I traveled via boat for four hours down Río Marañon and Río Santiago to the Distrito del Río Santiago, also known as La Poza, and also known as Puerto Gallilea. Here is a picture of my ride, a chalupa:
It was pouring rain when I got there. The streets were normally dirt roads, but with the rain it was pretty much all mud. I found my hotel and met the owner, whose wife was a nurse that worked at a local clinic. I got settled in, ate, walked around a bit, and then hit the hay. I also quickly learned that electricity is only on from about 6:30 pm to 10, or whenever the generator runs out of gas. The next morning, I went to the clinic to conduct interviews with a few of the workers there.
The results were pretty much the same as in Nieva: lots of intestinal diseases, respiratory infections, parasites, and AIDS. But, I got the chance to talk to a dentist, who agreed with what I had been noticing all along – the people in the jungle have pretty straight teeth. We both agreed that it has to do with the food, which consists largely of yuca and plantain here, and requires some vigorous chewing even when cooked.
I learned some more about La Poza too. It is a town in the middle of two tribes: Awahun and Wampis. But the town is populated by mestizo Peruvians from other parts of the country. After my interviews, I was hanging out with a few locals, who told told me that the people here live in peace, without fighting over their differences. Despite being from different tribes or areas of the country, everyone identified as Peruvian and as a member of the local community, which I found to be quite nice and touching, especially given some recent events throughout my own country.
The next morning, I got up at 4 am to catch another chalupa back to Nieva, where I rested for a day. Sunday, I took another, more crowded chalupa to Huampami. I have to say that humans weren’t the only passengers – a few dogs, some chickens, and a turkey also made the 4 hour trek to El Cenepa, the third district in this region. This boat didn’t have a roof, and luckily the sun was out so you could see everything. The trip was gorgeous, as we headed towards a mountain range in the distance. The flora of the Amazon is incredibly diverse, and to talk about evolution, seemed to change drastically every five minutes or so downstream. After getting a little sunburnt and amazing views of the jungle, I arrived at Huampami. I found my host, some nuns who work in the community there.
Huampami is the capital of Distrito El Cenepa, and is nearly 100% Awahun. Different language, different food, different culture here. The nuns work with the locals, taking note of the culture and language, and helping out with education in the area.
Again, I got settled, slept, then went to the local clinic to conduct interviews. I talked to a doctor and some nurses, who again confirmed what others had said: infectious diseases. But these people also noted that things are changing. Some people (although very rare) have started to develop diabetes, as cookies, candy, and soda become more readily available.
Interestingly, Huampami, and I suspect La Poza as well, import a lot of their food. I learned from the interviews in both cities that there aren’t many animals or fish to hunt for. Going with the environmentalism theme permeating nearly every one of the Brueggeman Fellows’ trips, the tribes here used to have plenty to eat. They would stay at a place for a year or two, until food got scarce, then move to another, and eventually return to a site that, after a few years, regenerated itself. But as populations grew, the people became more sedentary and food became scarce. Now, fish is only available in September when they swim upstream to breed, and the diet is mainly yuca and plantain. Because of this, malnutrition is very common as well. Furthermore, the folks tell stories about how strong and robust their ancestors were, because they had better food. Now, things are changing, as globalization permeates nearly every nook and cranny of human civilization and overproduction takes its toll on an environment.
At any rate, I had a great time in Huampami. After my interviews, I had lunch with the nuns, and then we hiked to another small village nearby. There, we delivered a package and visited with a few locals, who graciously invited us into their homes that they proudly made themselves. Inside, they gave us food, yuca, boiled eggs, raw peanuts, cacao fruit, salt from the earth, and (perhaps the craziest thing I’ve ever eaten) masato. Masato is a local beverage made by taking yuca, chewing it, then spitting it into a container and fermenting it for about a week. I thought it was pretty good, the texture was a little weird but it had a good flavor and smooth finish.
After dinner, bed, and back to Nieva with another chalupa. It’s hard to believe it’s my last day here in the jungle, and harder to believe I’ve been in Peru for nearly four weeks now. The trip has been incredible so far, and I can’t wait for the next adventure. After some more buses, I’ll get back to Lima in a few days, the head to Cusco for the last leg of the trip. Until then, I’ll enjoy the tranquil life here in la selva!