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Queros-Wachiperi: DAY 5

November 22, 2010

A stream near our campsite.


We camped by the river. My inflatable sleeping bag refuses to inflate, so I slept on the ground. It was not cold, but my back retains impressions of the roots and rocks on the forest floor. I woke at dawn and found that no one was stirring except my tent mate Ana, the only female conservation promoter. Breakfast was rice and fish. Ronaldo, one of the men, caught the fish last night and they have been cooked whole, whiskers, eyes, and all. I am expected to suck the bones dry and to peel it like a banana. I pass and nurse the peanut butter I have stowed away.

Our trek to the river begins at 10am. We have to cross the river and I am skeptical because it has swelled after the rains. Either I am weaker or my pack is significantly heavier, because I can barely lift my legs this morning to climb over the fallen logs. The forest floor is treacherous – slippery leaves and hidden holes make me stumble along behind the others. I am wearing my snake boots, but I still focus on the litter. I mistake a leaf for a snake, even though my eyes are trained to make sense of the mess of browns and greens.

We reach the river after an hour. I shake my head as I am confronted with a rushing chute of water. There is no way this is safe. My mind races back to my training as a backpacking leader in college – this is an occasion for rerouting. Unfortunately, there is no other route. I pass my camera gear to Freddy, an abnormally tall Peruvian and a beast of a man. He crosses the river and returns for me, holding my hand as I plant my bare feet blindly between rocks. I sigh with relief at the other side. Not so bad, I think to myself. But, there is more. There are actually two more crossings, each of increasing difficulty. I sit on the shore, sick to my stomach, as I watch three men go across. They are taller than me and it almost reaches their armpits. An attempt to walk in the water proves that the current is too strong for my 120-pound frame. The solution is to pass me from man to man like a sack of potatoes. I reach the shore, soaked, but safe.

We are in the wilderness. After 20 minutes of hiking, the trails have ended, tapering off as they reach another river. We proceed to hike up the river, zigzagging from shore to shore and crossing over 10 times. The water is shallower, but the current is still strong. The men hike in their underwear and rubber boots, gliding across the river like fish. I stumble and wince and am happy that they don’t understand English because I am cursing like a sailor.

After two hours of hiking, we arrive at a playa in the middle of the river. It is the first time that I am able to appreciate the beauty of the river and surrounding forest. Lush, tall trees line the banks and vines hang down over the water. I wait on the bank, while the men scout for a campsite. Modesty is cast aside in the wilderness and I bask in my sports bra and underwear on the bank, trying to dry out. The men clear a campsite with their machetes, turning a dense forest into a flat bank of land that is suitable for tents. After camp is setup, we all rest on the beach. I notice movement that isn’t human –a red brocket deer is swimming across the river right in front of us. It spooks when we make eye contact and retreats into the forest. A few minutes later, I watch it cross upstream and am able to snap a few images.

Night is coming on and I retreat into my tent after having scouted around the area. The forest is pulsing with noise, so I turn on my IPod and I am lulled to sleep by the dulcet sounds of Simon and Garfunkel. Believe it or not, the real adventure begins tomorrow.

Red Brocket Deer

Epiphyte (unidentified).

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