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Queros-Wachiperi: DAY 4

November 22, 2010

Lunch - A Roasted Armadillo

11.10.2010

I am venturing into the Queros-Wachiperi Conservation Concession today. There is one trail that goes in and that is all I am told. We are going to create tracks in what is currently an untouched wilderness. I am waiting in the community for the promoters, or park rangers, to arrive. Eddie pulls up on his motorcycle, machete strapped across his back – the epitome of cool. “Listo?” he says. Yes, I’m ready.

Eddie begins to pack up our gear. As he shoves a 10-kilogram bag of rice into his backpack, he tells me we might see a jaguar. A turkey climbs onto the porch of the little house and starts poking at our food. I save the bread form its insistent beak. The others show up and begin packing, while I sit and observe the morning activities.

I am led to the house of Ana’s abuelita for lunch. She hands me a bowl with rice and a piece of meat. They look at me, wondering how my vegetarianism will respond. “It’s white meat,” Walter says. In an effort to be flexible, I’d stated that I ate only white meat, figuring I could stomach some chicken if necessary. This is NOT chicken. There is an odd piece of bone curving over the outside of the meat. I watch as Ana plies it off and throws the bone to the dogs, eager for the ‘white’ meat underneath. What the hell is this? After running through a list of mammals in my head, it dawns on me. I am eating armadillo. Roasted armadillo. My stomach lurches. I look up at Ana’s grandmother, staring me down as I taste her specialty. I smile as I poke at it with my fork in an attempt to hide the meat in the rice, pretending I’d eaten it. But, I was the kid who ate all my vegetables; I have no experience slipping food under the table. I take four bites before Freddy saves me – “Are you going to eat that?” At least, I can say that I’m eating local.

Picture me, squeezed on a motorcycle between a camping backpack and a large Peruvian man with my camera backpack on my back and my tripod strapped in the front basket. We rode through a back jungle road, partially overgrown with vines and bamboo. The start of the trail into the concession is 5 kilometers from the community. We navigated puddles and rocky patches, driving blindly through spiky vines as we closed our eyes and pushed on. We finally stopped at a nondescript part of the road. “Estamos aca,” Walter tells me – we are here. We wait for 15 minutes for the others to arrive on their bikes. Ana pulls up with the camping gear and we unload, redistributing until we can all comfortably carry our packs.

Armed with machetes, we move forward. After only 10 minutes, Freddy puts down his pack. The others follow suit – it’s time for a rest and we’ve only just begun. Packs open and bags emerge, crackling with coca leaves. The men began to chew. They suck down handfuls, pushing the half munched leaves into the pockets of their cheeks. The bag comes to me and I take a handful, on a stage in front of the surprised eyes of my companions. “Don’t swallow the leaves – just the liquid,” they tell me. “Don’t chew hard.” I start forming a ball in my check, curious how they manage to masticate the leaves without swallowing pieces that escape the orb. My tongue tingles. We set off on the trail after they light up a few cigarettes and pass around a chocolate bar. Freddy walks in front, whacking bamboo leaves and vines with his machete and pausing occasionally to suggest a reroute because of a wasp nest. I focus on not falling down under the weight of my pack. I can only hear the tin of the machete striking the wood and the occasional stream of cocoa juice issuing from the mouth of my companions.

The sky darkens to the shade of dirty dishwater and we all know it will rain hard. We come to a clearing and the men drop their packs, rushing off to hack up bamboo for a temporary shelter. We finish off the shelter with my tripod. Within 10 minutes the raindrops are thick and heavy, obscuring the forest into a blur of greens and browns. The good thing about a hard rain is that it keeps off the mosquitoes. We sit with our backs against the packs, creating a moat of mud around the shelter with the heels of our boots.

The forest smells wet. I sneak pieces of Oreo from the pocket of my raincoat, appeasing my hunger from the unfinished lunch. The forest is lush here and I see pictures everywhere, but am afraid to expose my camera to the downpour. After two hours we emerge, stiff and tired and decide to spend the night on this side of the river, saving the long journey for tomorrow.

Our Group

The Forest in the Concession

The View from our Campsite

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