It's a creekmore world

Peru Day 13: We get what we asked for, Monkeys!

This was Emma's favorite.  Not quite as crazy and very cute.


I can never get used to eggs fried in oil instead of butter.  But that’s the way most of the world fries eggs, so I eat mine knowing that my body will give out before lunch if I don’t.  This is our last day in the Amazon and we are ready to go – but not before a half-day excursion and one last chance at Piranha fishing.

The other groups leave early.  They had been here longer and were eager to get back to Iquitos.  The family of four with older sons had been here 8 days, which is too much unless you are a specialist in the Amazon or bird-watcher.  As a tourist, anything more than 5 nights is a long time to float in boats, take cold showers, eat the same food and deal with the rains.

Monkeys are elusive.

Macarena leaps off using Trish's arm as a lever.
I didn’t write about it much but we spent a lot of the last 3 days looking for monkeys.  The trees are alive with packs of monkeys – up to 30 in a bunch – but we have had little luck spotting primates.   We saw a group briefly, but it was really just movement and branch-shaking.  We couldn’t get a good look.

This morning we are headed to the local village where there is a family that has three monkeys as pets.   We just found out about it yesterday from a group that was leaving.  And dammit we are going to see monkeys in the Amazon even if they are pets!

This one was named Macarena
We could walk to this house if it weren’t the wet season, but we take a 3 minute boat ride up to the small building on stilts and disembark.  The 2 room ‘house’ is surprisingly dark inside even though we are in the bright morning sun.

When our eyes adjust there are two brown monkeys, each roaming around the room, tethered, but playfully hopping and climbing on the chairs and benches.  Scurrying in the rafters is a tiny one that we learn is a Tamarin Monkey, one of the most adorable little monkeys on the planet, but he won’t come down.

The big one is named Macarena, and is a woolly monkey.  She is about 18 inches tall feet tall and has a longer tail. She jumps on Trish, which makes her squeal with glee.  Macarena’s brown fur is clean and soft, something Trish didn’t get an opportunity to question before Macarena jumped into her lap.  She plays with the monkey, who loves the attention.

It makes me smile too.

The tale of the tail

The tail wraps around Trish’s arm and Macarena swings effortlessly to the floor.  Woolly monkeys are part of the New World monkey groups and differ somewhat from the African and Asian groups.  They are generally smaller.  The smallest monkey in the world, the pigmy marmoset, weighing only half a pound, is found in this area although spotting one is nearly impossible.

Their eyes have not evolved as well – the see in black and white compared to most old world monkeys.  (except the howler monkey has color)  And they do not have an opposable thumb, considered a key evolutionary benchmark.

Monkey See, Monkey do
But they have that tail – the prehensile tail – as long as they are.  It has a long pad at the end an incredibly powerful grip.  It is so impressive to have that tail wrap your forearm (or neck) and be used to propel Macarena across the room.

Trish is really happy.  She loves monkeys – always has.  I see big bright smiles and deep laughter.  She looks alive and joyful, something I haven’t seen a lot of in the past year.  And this monkey really takes to her – even burrowing into her breasts.

She does take a shit an inch from Trish’s boot, which Juanita cleans up quickly with a newspaper and dumps into a hole in the floor and is swept away instantly by the flooded amazon.

Monkey’s are really not very good pets in captivity.  They are messy, require a lot of care and can be difficult when adults.  Herman talks with them and tells us that this family really loves these monkeys, it’s not for tourists or anything like that.

Monkey brains!

Macarena does a wild move!
While we were preoccupied with Macarena, Emma has bonded with the smaller and shyer Carrie, a capuchin monkey about a foot tall.  Capuchin monkeys were named by the Spanish invaders because they have white fur on their faces which made them look like they wore the brown hooded cloak of capucin monks, who also donated their name to the cappucino’s white ‘face’ and brown ‘body’.

Capuchin monkeys are the smartest monkeys in the Western hemisphere, exhibiting limited self-awareness and strong ability to learn.  They are able to manipulate tools and pass on techniques to their offspring.

She loved playing with Trish.

Emma is smitten with this one, who isn’t quite as active.  Capucins don’t have the same prehensile tail that allows for the acrobatic movement.  (Not that you’d ever catch one in a tree.)  Emma spends a lot of time holding her and petting her.   You can tell that she is touched by the experience.

Lily is gathering up the courage to play with the rambunctious monkey.
Lily, who is always the most wary of animal petting, loves to watch and timidly approaches the monkeys, but doesn’t really want to be touched.  She shrieks half panicked and half laughing when Macarena wraps her tail around Lily’s neck enroute to another perch.

We’ve already overstayed our welcome.  Herman gently beckons us to leave.  Juanita waves at us as we go.

Pirahna fishing Part Dos

Dammit! We want to catch goddamn Piranha. For the third time, we go hunt fish.  This is more of a sign of our goal orientation than any real love of fishing.  We really want to catch just one Pirahna.  Emma wants the jaw, which can be used in jewlery.  The lower jaw, with it’s connected teeth, is very strong and solid.

A bunch of bad-ass piranha hunters.
The sunlight has really kicked in now that it’s almost eleven.  It hasn’t rained much since the first day, and the colors and shadows and contrast of the flooded Amazon are startling.  We get a tiny sense of what it would be like in a hotter, dryer month.  Still, it’ll be weeks before the water recedes for the people who’s homes are messed up and crops are underwater.

Our poles out, we shake the water again hoping for fish.  Lily feels nibbles all the time, of course.  And then I get a tug, a real one.  Teddy, the driver behind me senses it and mutters something in spanish.  He can tell I have a biting fish.

The trick with a wooden pole (with meat on a hook), is to pull up just as the fish bites.   You have to be a little lucky…. I pull back and lift a fish from the water.  It’s a catfish, unfortunately, not a piranha.  But Lily and Emma are very happy to see at least one fish get hooked.  It’s about 8 inches, not bad.

We toss it back in and try at another spot, but we just don’t have the knack for piranha fishing.  Satisfied that we caught one fish at least, we head back for lunch.

Tourist Cattle

It’s time for us to go.  We pack our damp clothes – nothing really dries in the Amazon – gather up our gear and take showers to get all the sun tan lotion, insect repellent, monkey poo, bugs and amazon river sludge off our bodies for our return to civillization.

Otorongo Lodge's dining hall
A new group is here eating lunch by themselves.  I always get a sadness when I see a new group come into a place like this.  It reminds me that I am really just tourist cattle, being moved from one pasture to the next.  It spoils my fantasy that Ontoronga is my own special place.   But I quickly get over it because the Amazon has been such a vibrant experience.

They are really on a trip

The skulls next to the dinner table.  The big one is a water buffalo
This group, we are told, is doing a trip (pun intended) to the Amazon to experience the local hallucinogenic mixture called Ayahuasca.  Ayahuasca is a form of DMT distilled from a vine that is all over the Amazon.  When combined with other ingredients (some of which are also psycho-active) it delivers a psychadelic trip of a few hours in duration.

One of the sought-after effects (yes, really) of Ayahuasca is the vomiting it produces, which is though to be a purging and cleansing of the body.   You are encouraged to eat simply before an Ayahuasca trip.  Drug tourism, under the guidance of a local ‘shaman’ is increasingly common in the Amazon and also in the Peruvian desert where some cacti deliver similar results.

Amazonian flower
I’d rather trip in the desert.   What if you freaked out and went howling into the jungle?  Or had an Apolcalpyse Now episode play in your head?  We overhear stuff that sounds like new-agey group therapy.  “I dreamed I was a Nature goddess but I couldn’t hatch my eggs!” one of them sobs.

Pfft.  Amateurs.

Adios and Hola

Entering the flooded city of Iquitos, Peru.
The trip upriver is slower because we go against the current.  It’s three hours on a hard bench in a small boat.  None of our electronics have any power so we can’t listen to music or play a game.  We can do nothing but stare at the endless riverbanks of the Amazon.

Our girls handle travel so well now.  They have spent almost 150 days on the road in 15 different countries.  They’ve developed that seasoned traveler ability to shift into a lower gear when things get boring.  It’s like an off switch where your brain idles.  Time passes…

Iquitos is a city of motorcycles.
In my own travel daze, it takes me a few moments to recognize the oil refinery that is just a few dozen miles outside the city of Iquitos.  We are almost back to the city.

There is hope that oil will return  Iquitos to it’s former glory.  In the mid to late nineteenth century, Iquitos was one of the centers of the rubber boom.  The industrial revolution, and especially cars, increased demand for rubber, which had been used as far back as the Mayans who use it to make their ball-court ball.

Emma reads the English language local paper, and lily plays with the doggie.
A rubber tree emits a milky latex sap that can be transformed with a variety of processes (like ‘vulcanization’) to form different rubber compounds.  It made the area rich and the city is filled with stunning examples of wealthy French and Spanish architecture from that time.

But the boom ended as soon as it started when production in Asia overtook that of South America.  Iquitos fell into disrepair.  The Peruvian government is trying to keep Eastern cities healthy and put a university here as well as several environmental projects.  Tourism is growing and oil may bring in some much needed cash.

Motorbike city

At the dock, we re-enter the market that we left only 4 days ago, but it feels much longer.  I am a little disoriented getting into a motor-cab and inhaling the exhaust.  Iquitos almost seems like a South-East asia city with it’s motorbikes, outdoor food stands and humid heat.

Midnight, Iquitos Airport, Peru
We spend a little time in the square.  The girls seem to have forgotten how to eat ice cream, dropping both cones onto the sidewalk as soon as we buy them.

At the Business office of the lodge, where Lily plays with their adorable little dog for a while before we head to the Iquitos airport for our flight to Lima.

Our plan is scheduled for 7pm, but is delayed till 10pm.   At least we can power up some electronics and play a game or two.  The Iquitos airport is open air, mostly, and the mosquitoes are pretty bad.  We get into the hotel in Lima past midnight.

Goodnight Amazon!  We’ll miss you.


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