A jungle guide named ‘Santiago’

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There’s a shack in the jungle, by the river, in the national park of Pacaya-Samiria. I’m there two nights. Other people pass through in that time. Some take tours of three days, or four, or seven. Some can be in the national park for up to a month.

My guide Santiago takes me on a walking tour on the second day for a few hours, while it rains. We see monkeys, and rubber trees, and the sap stretches. He shows fruits, and I taste a little bitter yellow fruit. He cuts through scrub with a machete.

 

He chops pieces of bark for himself from trees which he says can help with vaginal pain, and cancer, and other sicknesses. Everything we truly need seems to be in the jungle.

We collect strange fish, not just piranhas, from nets. He cooks lunch, we rest, and have dinner. He gets exhausted by my need to speak Spanish when we can ask nearby translators for help, and soon he offers me a boat ride in the night to search for alligators.

 

“Oh crap, I’ve offended him,” I think as we searched the creek by torchlight. “What a terrible way to die.”

Eyes shine orange in the night. A branch resting near the canoe shakes, and I jump in fright. He shows me alligators close up but they aren’t anywhere near as big as salt water crocs. I relax.

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Orange eyes in the dark stare, not looking away from their predator. Sometimes they disappear when I shine the light away and back.

Santiago can find frogs in the trees by torchlight, and shows me, and eventually we return to the shack.

The next day he’ll canoe us both upstream to the park’s entrance, barely stopping except for lunch and to signal the river otters. Sometimes he drinks a brew from a water bottle made from ingredients from the jungle, but offers me none.

  • This blog post is part of a collection of journal entries set while I journey alone to the Peruvian jungle. It begins with this post, if you are interested. 

Welcome to the Jungle!

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My jungle guide is a Peruvian by the name of Santiago. He wasn’t too impressed with me, but I think he’s incredible.

We take a moto to the national park border, sign in, and pack all we need into a dug-out canoe. Santiago loads it up with rice, eggs, water, tomatoes, and potatoes.

For eight hours he paddles slowly downstream in the creek. The jungle around us is dense, and the mangroves all have spikes the size of nails running along their roots so that if I fell into the water, without a canoe, I would drown or be in agony trying to claw my way out.

The price of life here seems to be pain.

Santiago paddles a few times, stops occasionally, and listens. Then he paddles. Tree branches collapse, and I shift excitedly, but he ignores them. He zones out the unnecessary sounds, but can point out the monkeys, and an Iguana which takes me five minutes to find after he points straight at it.

We see two anacondas that first morning, curled into branches over the creek where the best place to get sun is. After one anaconda sighting he declares that I am lucky to see one on my first day. On the second sighting he is amazed. He shifts the canoe so that I am about a metre away from its coil. It makes me anxious knowing it could choose two ways to travel if it wakes, and one of them is the canoe.

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When river dolphins splash around, he imitates their call. When monkeys pass nearby searching for fruits, he calls to them. It fools the animals sometimes, especially when we sight the otters on our third day. They are really pissed off. They yell at us in otter-speak, the second time that Santiago fools them.

I’m sunburned by the time we reach a clearing with two shacks in the late afternoon. One of the shacks is for us. I rest in a hammock just as the storm hits us. Lightning strikes and I am scared.

But despite this there is peace. There is no reception or internet. As it grows dark someone turns on a motor, which powers the electricity. Santiago prepares dinner.

*This story is part of a series of journal entries travelling into the Loreto Region in January. You can read the first piece of the collection here