Sometime long before the first light of dawn, we were awakened from our sleep in a small cabin on the ferry from Iquitos to our jungle destination 200 km. along the Amazon River. After 14 hours, we were arriving at our destination port. Again receiving our marching orders to stay tight and alert, we were staged for disembarking, a process that would last only a few minutes involving the exchange of dozens of people, cargo, luggage, animals, and who knew what else.
With the boat’s flood lights trained on the shore, we nudged into the shoreline. In a flurry, we made our way off the ferry and up a dark stairway. Within minutes the flood lights were turned off and the vessel disappeared into the night. We stood in the pitch dark wishing we had been told to take our headlamps and flashlights out of our suitcases. At this point, there would be no searching through bags. And where were they anyway? The few guides who held lights guided us up the bank and eventually along the front of a building.
Banging on the building to awaken the residents, we discovered they were not around. Continuing up the street, we found tables and benches to occupy while we waited for the sun to throw light on this scene. In a short while we heard the sounds of a lady in the barren room that she called her restaurant kitchen, boiling water for coffee over an open fire, tying a chicken who would become our breakfast, and preparing rice and vegetables to accompany this meal. As the sun rose, we ate this succulent feast, visited the open market, watched the children play, and started to realize that there are thriving and charming towns in this vast tropical jungle.
Our bellies satisfied and supplies loaded, we lowered ourselves onto an open wooden boat with a small motor. More than 20 of us, shoulder to shoulder, butt to butt. With the river only a few inches below the sides of the boat, one of the younger members of our entourage had the job of bailing water. But we were getting wet anyway as showers appeared and disappeared in a flash, as though the jungle made sure we were baptized before settling into camp.
By now we were well into our lessons involving patience, trust, comfort levels, and preparedness. We were being asked to stretch on many levels. It had to be OK to be wet, dirty, hungry, cold, hot, breathe secondary smoke, live with and be food for insects of all sorts, and so much more. Our culinary limits had already been tested when, in Iquitos, we were served grilled grubs on a skewer. Yes, they are delicious. But I will admit that one was enough for me. Food is so culturally based. Just think about it – would you eat a shrimp if it walked on the ground instead of living underwater? How would it be different from a cockroach or a scorpion? And both are delicacies somewhere in the world. Luckily I was not asked to try one of those!