Sunday, December 12, 2010

Goodbye Taricaya

So I´ve been in Peru approximately 3 months now and my time at Taricaya is coming to a close. What a bittersweet feeling! Taricaya has become a home and all the other volunteers my family. It would easy to stay here for over a year! But we joke that we know we´ve been in Peru too long because we´re starting to crave rice for all three meals of the day (yes that includes breakfast), we get super excited over fútbol matches, and we like drinking our brown creek-water over any brand of bottled water.

In the end, I really couldn´t have asked for a better experience! I only hope that all the lessons I´ve learned here will stick with me throughout the rest of my life. I never want to lose the wild jungle part of me!! Muwahahahah :)

So, bitter as it is to leave, Victoria and I have a SWEET six months ahead of us! We leave Taricaya on the 14th and we fly to Lima. We hope to meet up with Chelan, Rodrigo, and maybe even a couple staff members from Taricaya who will be there on holiday. We will also get to see good ol´ Andy and Jan there! Woohoo! From Lima, Vicki and I will split apart from the ´rents for a week or so and work our way down the southern coast of Peru. We hope to see Pisco, Ica, Huachachina, Nazca and whatever else tickles are fancy. Whilst Vicki and I become beachcombers, the parents will head to Machu Picchu and Lake Titticaca. Then, on Christmas Eve, we will meet back up in Arequipa and be together for a week or so there! We hope to venture down into the depths of Colqua Canyon (a canyon twice as deep as Arizona´s Grand Canyon). From there, we will have to part once more from the arms of our loving elders and Vicki and I will head back up to Cusco all by our lonesomes. But have no fear!, in Cusco, Vicki and I will unite with all the children that we will be passing on our EXTENSIVE amounts of knowledge to!

So basically, if I don´t update my blog or respond to any other forms of communication for the next month or so, do not FRET! I am safe and will let you all know about our travels in due course :) Have a very merry Christmas and enjoy the snow and all the fun holiday traditions for me!

P.S. Shout out to Tjos Hansen: Thank you Tjos for taking time out of your travel schedule to come see us crazies in the jungle! It was amazing and we LOVED having you here! Hope you got home safe and are enjoying skiing your brains out!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

El Día de Accion de Gracias

 Thanksgiving is here and I have so much to be thankful for that I would be a complete imbecile to take them for granted.

1. LIFE!! Ok ok ok... I know this answer is going to make you want to gag, but I have a story that will make you appreciate my answer as well. So as you know, the jungle can be a treacherous place, but I hadn´t experienced that feeling first hand until a couple of weeks ago when a few friends and I were walking in the jungle. It was dark out so we all had our torches and we were sticking strictly to the path. As we´re walking, Vicki jolts back and her scream pierces the tranquility of the forest. We freeze, and in the light of her headlamp, is a coiled up Fer-de-lance snake, poised to strike. The Fer-de-lance is a venomous pitviper that is extremely dangerous and causes more human fatalities than any other reptile (according to Wikipedia hahah). In our region of the jungle, it is the third most poisonous snake after the Coral snake and the Bushmaster. Our friend Simon had already unknowingly passed over the snake and was on the other side. Stuck on the otherside. In a frantic panic, me and another girl sprinted back to camp to call for help. We were able to get Fernando and he quickly came and killed the snake in one blow to save Simon (No problem for jungle masters like Fernando).
Though the snake didn´t bite anyone that night, we had a close call. That was one aggravated snake and one small bite could have done anything from causing memory loss, or paralysis, to a fatality. We are incredibly lucky that Vicki was vigilent that night! It´s a scaryyyy world out there! I must remain on my toes!

2. Bug repellant and AfterBite: Without these two vital chemicals, I would be one sorry scarred up girl. The other night, I went on a walk wearing leggings with shorts overtop. Two layers of protection is apparently tissue thin to the mosquito´s penetrating probiscous! I woke up the next morning and my bum was SOLID mosquito bites. Rocky mountain range status on my BEHIND!! I´ve been slathering on the AfterBite every chance I get and sneaking in little scratches when I think no one is looking ;)

3. Mosquito Net: While the bugs feast on me all they want while I´m on their turf, there is NO way they are penetrating my sacred bed bubble. I am so thankful for this marvelous piece of fabric that allows me to sleep in peace!

4. Siestas: I have definitely adopted this genious bit of South American culture. Almost every day I take a short nap after lunch to give me that extra energy boost to get me through the rest of the day. While some say this practice is only for lazy fools, I believe it is quite advanced to recognize the needs of the human body. We naturally get sleepy during this part of the afternoon and to structure your life around this energy-dip allows you to be more productive when you are awake.

5. Simple Pleasures: Being down here has made me much more appreciative of the little things. A letter from a friend, spotting wildlife, swimming in the river, tea or hot chocolate, having ice cream and other delicious foods when I come into town, identifying a bird by its call, making chocolate cakes, making a new friend, clean laundry, watching monkeys swing from branches, smuggling snacks back to Taricaya, wellies and raincoats, toast, my opaque waterbottle that allows me not to see all the dirt particles swimming in my water, candlelight, learning a word in another language, crazy dancing, and even just laughing!

6. NOT having mirrors: While Vicki and I have a small mirror in our bedroom, it is easy to avoid and I am thankful that there are few reflective surfaces down here. I´m sure glad I don´t have to look at my grimy, dirt smeared face! Haha! But it is just not important to look a certain way in the jungle and it is very refreshing to not be judged on appearance.

7. Victoria Monreal: Vicki is an amazing girl and I am SOO incredibly thankful that she was crazy enough to agree to come on this trip with me. She makes me laugh and can always amplify the awesomeness of an experience. She is up for anything and we have so much fun together! Sometimes we just start laughing for no apparent reason and can´t stop until our cheeks literally hurt! She is also one of the most caring people I know and I feel blessed to have someone who always has my back. Whether keeping me safe against eager Peruvians, pickpocketers, spiders, jaguars, or myself, she is always there :) We make a good team and I am sooo thankful to have a travel partner who is like my other half. I love you Victoria!

8. Friends/Family: Whether I have just met you or you are keeping up with me long-distance, I love you all! I am very affected by the people around me and I feel so gracious to be surrounded by such outstanding citizens!! I could never be a hermit or Chris McCandless (from Into the Wild) because the warmth and happiness people bring to my life is unmeasurable! Thank you for putting up with my craziness!! Bahaha!

9. Andy, Jan, and Allison: I love you!! I am a lucky girl to have been raised in such a loving family. Especially being down here, I feel so grateful to have had a family that has been stable enough to give me everything I need and more. I have been granted with opportunities that I know most of the world does not get to enjoy. I admire my Dad for working so hard and never letting it show. He is one of the happiest, goofiest people I know and I am astounded that he has shaped his life around what he loves. I hope I can be like that. My Mom is so kind and I thank her for all the knowledge, advice, home cooked meals, care packages, and everything else she has provided/sacrificed for me over the years. I only hope that I can give her as much recognition as she deserves! And Allison. My beautiful older sister who is always so wise and composed. She is so warm-hearted and I love that as well as the sarcastic, witty, devil side she has to her (don´t deny it Allison ;))! I hope you know how much I love you all and how much I miss you!

10. Thanksgiving Feasts: No matter where you are in the world, a thanksgiving dinner IS possible!! A few days before Thanksgiving, the three Americans (me, Vicki, and Zack) got together and discussed our options. It was simply not possible to let Thanksgiving fly by unappreciated- that would be totally against EVERYTHING the holiday stands for!! But we were a little apprehensive. We would be using foreign cooking appliances, substitue ingredients, we would have about 35 anxious mouths to feed (most of which was there first thanksgiving so they were expecting something grand!), and none of us had ever done it before, let alone cooked for that many people. It was a big endeavour but we decided to take it on. In the spirit of THANKSGIVING!

So, the day before, we went into the market and rounded up the goods. The ingredients we purchased were somewhat sketchy but we hoped that they would get the job done. And then, contrary to popular belief, we found the impossible: A GRAND TURKEY!! Whoohoo! It would be a real Thanksgiving feast.
We started that night on the pies so we would have enough oven space for the turkey the next day. And low and behold, with about half of the normal ingredients from the recipie, and some weird sort of gourd, we made PUMPKIN PIE!! Starting early the next day, we did the rest. And we did it with gusto! The whole ordeal! We made an apple crisp, apple cider, mashed potatoes, stuffing, salad, jello, popcorn (which apparently the Indians invented), bread rolls (well we bought the rolls), and of course turkey and gravy! We were nervous the whole day, but when it came time to eat, everyone was blown by how amazing it all tasted and quickly went for seconds! Even the turkey turned out perfectly tender! Not to toot my own horn or anything, but I must say three inexperienced Americans did pretty frickin awesome!! I haven´t been that full since last Thanksgiving I believe :)

It was a dinner of a lifetime. We had everyone say something they were thankful for and it was so touching that I literally had to holdback tears (my mother cursed me with weak tear ducts I think haha). Everyone was so appreciative as well (especially the cooks who got the night off) and told us we made their first Thanksgiving unforgettable!

In the end, I´m grateful I was able to bring a little piece of home to Peru and I must thank my lucky stars for helping me pull it off!

Thank you!!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Treacherous Happenings

The jungle is a very volatile place to live, and sometimes I forget that. But other times, I feel lucky to escape unscathed....

Vicki and I had spent a nice, quiet weekend at Taricaya, free of stress and drama. We relaxed all day, got some reading done, and ate way too much food for how inactive we were. After a splendid evening, we strolled back to our bungalow to get ready for bed. Vicki brushed her teeth, and I went to grab my towel to wash my face. And that´s when things took a turn for the worse. There, cleverly tucked behind the folds of my towel, was a snarling, purely EVIL, spider. With GLOWING EYES!! And this wasn´t just ANY spider. This was the Mother of All Spiders. She was eerily translucent, spindly, and about the size of my hand. She was so big, I swore I could see the purple filigree of her veins pulsing through rancid limbs.

And this over-grown, over-disgusting creature was in OUR room. While we were trying to sleep! The nerve! So much for sweet dreams. We´ve gotten used to most spiders, but there was NO way in the world we could sleep in peace knowing that the eight-legged devil was creeping over us.

I pathetically whined to Vicki to come see the horror that was our life. She came out and we were both frozen there, not knowing how to deal with this THING. After ten minutes or so of pannicking, we decided to arm ourselves for battle. As if cotton could sheild us, we covered our bodies in pants, long-sleeve shirts, gloves, and shoes.
We strategized our plan of attack. The least amount of commotion was ideal because we knew that the second the giant started scurrying, there would be total chaos and all would be lost!! We had to be quick and efficient in our movements. Ninja status. We desperately searched around, for ideas, for lethal weapons, for a god, we needed SOMETHING! I know we´re supposed to be doing conservation here, but screw it, that THING had to go. It was either me or him. We also wanted to be good bungalow-mates and not just sweep it into our neighbors room. That´s just asking for bad karma. The arachnid had to be obliterated! (for the sake of the people)!

So it was decided. Murder. A foolhardy scheme to bring the spider to it´s impending doom. Vicki had killed the last irksome insect, so we both knew it was my turn. I had to face my fear, slay the DRAGON!!! Weapon of choice: Vicki´s old tennis shoe (By the way, thank you Vicki for gallantly volunteering those shoes. You brave SOLE hehe). Armed with blugeroon in hand, we positioned ourselves. Vicki on standby with another weapon to get a second hit in if needed. I took a few moments to steady my shaking hand and catch my breath. I lined up, and as I swung, I let out a manic war cry, "PREPARE TO DIEEEEEE!!!"

I swear time stopped for an instant. Had my clobbering job WORKED?!?!?! Was the spider still at LARGE (haha)?? But sure enough, to my relief, I had hit the spider "dead" on and it´s massive corpse collapsed to the floor in an ugly heap. Vicki quickly sweeped out the twitching carnage for the vultures and the maggots to finish. That´s right, don´t mess with us. Resistance is futile.

SIGGHHHH. Just recounting this story gives me the heebie-jeebies. Especially because after the first enormous spider, we found three others that looked similar to it but smaller. We fear that the spider layed eggs in our bungalow in a final act of revenge and that we will now have 8 billion 8-legged freaks running around, haunting us.

If I come out of the jungle insane, you can blame the spider.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Fake It til You Make It

Being in the jungle, resources limited, you have no choice but to get creative. Sometimes, you get lucky and fly right on through by the seat of your pants, and other times.... well let´s just say you always learn from your mistakes :)

Just every little-day things that I take for granted back at home, I´ve been having to relearn or make up here. For example, Vicki and I have been doing some cooking and baking this past month. At home, on
the rare occasion that I do enter the kitchen with an apron, I have a microwave, recipies, and a plethora of ingredients at my disposal. Here: none of the above. And another obstacle is that I can only recognize what half of the ingredients even are due to their incriminating labels. But you can´t get choked up because when someone´s birthday comes around, they deserve cake right? Right, so I´ve become accustomed to just throwing mysterious ingredients in left and right (and doing lots of taste testing :)) until it tastes like it could potentially be edible. And though some of the recipies should never be repeated (i.e. mistaking amounts of salt and yeast, or accidently putting corn flour in a coffee cake), other cakes have been to die for!... Though it could just be my sweet-deprived stomach overexaggerating the delictable-ness.

Another interesting cooking experience was Vicki and I learning how to make popcorn on a stove. I would definitely say we learned the hard way. We had a strong start though- we turned the stove on high, we poured some oil and salt in a small sacue pan, and then we threw some kernals in. No problem. All we had to do was calmly wait for the kernals to heat. But a minute later and we´re diving to the floor, desperately trying to escape the oily balls of fire exploding everywhere. We scrambled to turn the stove off but we were too late. The kitchen was trashed. I imagine we´ll be finding little suprise kernals in random places for years. As we swept up the mess, we scolded ourselves for our lack of common sense. But we learned our lesson and now have a new understanding for how the tasty corn snack got its name.

Halloween at Taricaya was probably the most creative holiday I´ve ever witnessed. Everyone here is traveling lightly so it´s not like anyone brought along any gorilla suits or devil costumes or anything. Nope, we really had to scrounge to pull something together. But low and behold, they were some of the best costumes I´ve ever seen! Talcum powder and mosquito nets were a high commodity and people cleverly fashioned themselves into ghosts. Or in ways I cannot begin to explain, one volunteer named Sam shaped his mosquito net into a poisonous mushroom- it was quite clever! There was an ace bandage mummy, a machete bearing ninja, a turtle with a tub for a shell, and then some volunteers used our best resource: sticks and leaves! They were able to harness the jungle to cover their vital areas and totally transform themselves into native Amazonian people. It was hilarious and I applaud their efforts! Though I personally didn´t use the jungle in my costume, I was able to become part of the jungle by spending all of two minutes to twist and tie my yellow blanket into a Chiquita Banana! The resemblance wasn´t perfectly accurate (many thought I was a neo KKK member or an Indian woman) but I was pretty proud of my last minute resourcefulness!

The other day, Jack Hanna and his film crew were here. Jack Hanna is a famous zookeeper/zoologist and now he does a television series about different species of animals all over the world. He´s done over 400 shows and has been to every continent at least three times. He´s pretty much the animal expert. So Taricaya is pretty excited because Jack has been traveling about Peru and Chile and he decided to do a whole TV episode on Taricaya and what we do here!! The volunteers were also pretty excited to try out their acting skills. We got to tell him all about what we do here and all the different jungle animals. Though a lot of the footage was just rolling, some of it was staged a little. It was pretty hilarious and so fun to see all the behind the scenes stuff. I was very intrigued. I´m also incredibly jealous of Jack and his employee´s lives- they get paid to travel around the world and learn about all these exotic animals and meet all these crazy people. If anyone knows how to get me a job like this, please let me know!!

In the past few weeks, I´ve been learning most about the reptiles and the amphibians. The other night, Stuart taught us all about the Caiman (reptile similar to an alligator or a crocodile). We have them all around the river, though they are mostly nocturnal. The average caiman is 1-3 meters long but apparently they can grow to 7 meters long if the environment allows. So that night, after Stuart gave us the talk, we all silently piled into a boat and had to remain perfectly still and quiet. Gigo drove the boat from the light of one torch, while Stuart was on the lookout. Stuart was quick to spot multiple caiman and he fearlessly jumped out of the boat and wrestled them into his arms-- Crocodile Dundee style. He brought them into the boat and we all got to examine the creatures and their interesting features. Caiman have this nifty second eyelid that is like a natural goggle and allows them to see underwater! Caiman have been around since the prehistoric times and are so effiicient at what they do that adaptions since then have not been necessary. In the end, it was just amazing to see this creature who predates us by over 17 million years.

The other reptile of interest these past few weeks has been the turtle. Our lodge, Taricaya, is named after the yellow spotted turtle from these parts. In the months before I got here, volunteers had collected almost 50 turtle nests to preserve in our artificial beaches. This way, the eggs were safe from being eaten by illegal poachers. But it´s time and the turtles have been hatching like mad! After they hatched, we took them back to the lab and weighed, measured, and marked them. Then yesterday, on Taricaya´s 9th anniversary (Nov. 5), we took over 500 turtles and simaltaneously released them into the river! It was so cute to watch them blubbering their way towards the water! Knowing that the survival rate is less than 5%, we wished the baby turtles the best of luck as they floated away in the strong current! Only the few and the strong survive, but we already know our repopulation strategies have been helping because they´ve been seeing an increase in the population. It felt really great to be apart of this project and I would say that Taricaya had a successful anniversary!

So basically, I´m on a steep learning curve and my stupidity is finally turning into knowledge! My Spanish is improving a little and I´m learning more about the jungle everyday. Vicki and I have become some of the more experienced volunteers now and it feels good to know the ropes and be able instruct the "newbies" on what to do. We´ve recently picked up a few new French volunteers, another Australian woman, a German girl, and a girl from Japan. The Japanese girl is named Yuuri and she is now mine and Vicki´s roommate. She is very sweet but I think somewhat overwhelmed with the language and the culture shock. She will be with us for a month though, so I´m sure in a few days she´ll have picked up my "Fake it til you make it" motto that I´ve been using. While some may feel this expression comes with a negative connotation, you have to believe me that it´s really all you can do when you´re thrown into a situation like this. I may make a fool of myself along the way, but I´ll learn and I´ll come around... eventually :)

Love to all!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

A Metamorphisis

Here at Taricaya, one of the projects we have is working with different butterfly species and monitering their populations and where they eat and sleep and live. Gigo, the butterfly guy will go out and collect catepillars or or cocoons or we get to go stampeding through the jungle, nets in toe, in a normally pointless chase. If successful, we bring the different species back to Taricaya and we put them in an enclosure where we can observe them pass through all their stages of life. Watching the transformation has been so beautiful and it got me to thinking about the different stages I´ve gone through in my life and different stages I´ve gone through just since my last blog post.

So the process starts out with good ol´Heather Dappen, an innocent gringa, naive to the horrors and terrors of the world. Ha! Anyways, since I´ve been here, I´ve pretty much been a blank canvas and taking everything in with wide eyes and mouth aghast. Eager to shrug off this sheltered image, I listen to what the staff has to say like it´s a message from the Heavens. One evening after dinner, Gigo and the other staff members started calling all the volunteers together. They were extremely exuberant because they had just received a large batch of this magic fruit called Wicho. It´s amazing because if you mix it in alcohol and then rub it on your skin, it keeps the mosquitos and other biting bugs off for days! Gigo had been talking about Wicho ever since I got here and selling it like an infomercial. He showed us his legs and how he had so few bites and he told us this fruit was life changing and that he couldn´t live without it. We were sold. I mean who wants to be itching all the time and turning the bites into festering, oozing scabs? With this in mind, we happily accepted Gigo´s generosity and proceeded to smear the fruit over every visible patch of our skin.... and some parts that aren´t visible... ha! It turned into a giant party and there was music and people going about rubbing the fruit on others in cool designs. It was like a tribal ritual, like we were getting ready for an Amazonian war.

But then, I started being overwhelmed by the generosity. All the staff members were like, here, let me paint it on your arms, here, have some more, here, let me paint it on your face! What was this?? I mean don´t get me wrong, people are nice here, but NEVER like this. It´s usually every man for yourself here. They were TOO nice... Stepford Wives status. But only after having the fruit applied to my whole body did I realize that NONE of the staff had been applying this miracle fruit. I watched a little more and the sweet smell of the fruit turned a little fishy....

And sure enough, I transformed into my second form: A SMURF!!! haha! With every hour, my skin got bluer and bluer. It was like they had written on us with magic marker. Except a magic marker that stays on for two weeks. Yes, sadly that is correct, two looooong weeks. In a last effort to redeem my pride, I went back to the bungalow to try to scrub it off. But, in true Taricaya fashion, the water pump was broken and I couldn´t even wash my hands of this terrible fruit. They have corrupted my innocent mind- I have concluded that they broke the water pump on purpose that night in a plot to keep us blue as long as possible! Dang them!!! Dang them all to heckkkk hahaha

In the morning, I was awakened by the screaming laughter of the volunteers. I layed in my bed and chuckled to myself as I heard the others discovering their blue. Im not going to lie, I was happy to know I wasn´t the only volunteer who had been duped. At breakfast we all compared our smurfness. Even though our pride was a little wounded, we couldn´t help but laughing at all the unibrows, wrinkles, zebra stripes, smilie faces and swirlies all over our bodies! And we also couldn´t help but admitting how that was THE BEST PRACTICAL JOKE EVER!!! They had us so fooled, it was insane. I´ve never seen the staff so pleased with themselves haha. Though they better tred carefully because I must say.... revenge is going to be sweet.... ;) muhahahhahah!!

A few days later, I underwent the next step in my transformation. We went fishing and every inch of my body that had been covered in blue, was replaced with brown. What started out as a primitive fishing trip turned into an all out mud war! From smurf I had become PIGG!!!!

It all began when Vicki wasn´t having any luck fishing so she started walking up stream to find a better spot. I took my eyes off her for a minute and when I looked back she was gone. I looked closer and I saw her torso wiggling at the level of some logs. She had been consumed by the mud and couldn´t get out!! I watched her wiggle around helplessly for probably 10 minutes, me cracking up the whole time, and Vicki getting more and more frustrated I´m sure. When she was finally able to free herself and her 100 dollar shoes, she emmerged completely covered in mud. The rest of us were intrigued and decided to follow suit. We smeared mud all over ourselves and through mud at will. The more we rolled around and played, the deeper the mud got. In the end, the only way I could get back to the boat was by squirming about like some walrus or something. I now understand the phrase: as happy as a pig in mud! I was completely content, and that night, tired as a dog, I passed out :)

Another transformation I´ve been going through is becoming an AMAZON WOMAN!!! RARRR hear me roar!! The other day, I got to go out trail clearing with a local farmer/badass named Percy. He´s lived in this area his whole life and knows everything there is to know about the jungle. Rumor has it that he was once a lumberjack and he would survive for weeks at a time solely off the jungle. That´s pretty intense seeing that every other fruit, animal, or tree is out to kill you with its poisons. Anyways, in between macheting, he would give us little commentaries about the jungle. He happily taught us about many different plants and insects. He even showed us this one termite that was like an antibiotic similar to penicillin. And low and behold, I ATE IT!!! Hahaha only in the Amazon right? :) He also let me use the chainsaw :) That was fun.

While I am transforming into all these different Heather sub-species down here, in the end, I always come back to myself. Just me:) Just when I think I´m getting a little better at Spanish, I´ll say something completely idiotic to make me realize even more that Spanish is NOT my native language. Or just as I think I´m getting better with handling the baby monkeys, they´ll poop on me and put me in my place. Or just as I think I´m becoming independent, I get a random feeling of nostalgia for home to remind me of my family and where I come from. I´m having a blast down here but I want you to know that I love you guys! I also want you to know that when I´m not scrubbing monkey poo off my pants or doing other random activities, you´re on my mind. Thanks for being a part of me no matter who I am or who I become :)

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Seven Deadly Sins

Taricaya, like any other place has rules to follow or a dogma to live by. Though at Taricaya the rules must be different than normal places (either that or they are just more leniant with punishment), because I believe I have broken all of the Seven Deadly Sins. If I do not write another blog post, the Gods have smoted me. Perdoname!

1. Gluttony. I crave foods all the time! I miss food from home like she was my other sister (no offense Allison, I still love you more). I´ve literally had dreams about muffins and pizza! Here we have a very good, but very basic diet. We normally have some sort of egg dish for breakfast, some sort of rice dish for lunch, and a pasta for dinner. It´s totally fine, but I´m a true American so I crave more. Vicki and I went to the market the otherday and splurged on some AMAZING chocolate to fulfill some of our needs.

2. Pride. Being from America, and being a gringa, everyone seems to have a preconceived notion of me. Normally I take jokes really well, but after constant America-bashing, I start getting a little defensive! Haha! A guy from Holland thought all of the West coast was still cowboys and indians and I had a hard time convincing him otherwise. He also didn´t believe that I do NOT go to McDonalds all the time and that I do NOT own a gun. Vicki and I have at least proved that some Americans are NOT morbidly obese, and we´re trying really hard not to come across as idiots. Of course, me being me, I have done some pretty idiotic things that I don´t need to elaborate on! But while I have my moments, we´re trying really hard to represent YOU well! I promise!

Pride Example 2. We have a few Peruvian staff members at Taricaya and every other time I try to speak Spanish with them, they laugh at me and mock my gringa accent. It´s very frustrating because I want to learn but it can be discouraging here. After the last time Gigo laughed at me, I had slowed down on my Spanish a little. Until this morning. Gigo was trying to speak to me in English and I had an epiphany! His accent was so thick, I could barely understand him. But he kept on speaking. I decided I´m just going to have to swallow my pride and learn to laugh with them!

3. Greed. They say scratching mosquito bites makes them worse in the end and they can even scar permanently. Well too late.... I have no self control and go for the immediate satisfaction. It just feels soooooo good to scratch! If I returned looking like some odd sort of leopard, I will take full responsibility. In the mean time, I must keep in mind the chant: mind over matter, mind over matter, mind over matter.

4. Envy. Everyone is in awe of those few lucky souls whose blood does not call out to the mosquitos like a beacon. Unfortunately, I am one of the envious, not one of the lucky. Though we are all lucky here at Taricaya because Malaria hasn´t been seen in these parts. I still take my antibiotics just in case (and I think they give me more vivid dreams) but I feel better knowing that death isn´t flying by my face every 5 seconds.

5. Lust. Though I have not been lustful myself, I have witnessed it (kind of). Apparently, gringas have the reputations of being easy. Lucky me. Why couldn´t I have been magically born tan with black hair?!? When I walk through the streets in Puerto I can feel eyes on me and hear the whispers ¨gringa¨. I might as well just wear a pineapple on my head or a gorilla suit. The other day, Vicki and I had a couple of hours to kill in the main plaza before the boat left to return to Taricaya. This one guy sat across from us and literally just watched us the whole time. We were a little disconcerted but it´s all good because everyone has been very respectful and friendly to our faces. Their social rules on staring must just be a little accepting. All in all, we feel very safe. I am grateful.

Also, the latin American culture is just more emotional than North Americans I believe. Girls hold hands down the street, people kiss when they great each other, and if you can find a latino song without the word "corazon" (heart) in it, I will give you a present. A large present. One employee at Taricaya named Raul calls me Corazon or Corazonsita because it´s hard for him to say Heather and he thought that my name meant Heart. But it´s endearing and everyone hear is like family.

Another observation (it´s kind of random but I´m just going to put it under the lust section), is that many men here walk around with their T-shirts all rolled up just above their bellies. Like girl shirts from the 90s. Unfortunately, the majority of them drink too much beer or something because it does not attract me at all and it just suprises me that a man would be inclined to do this.

6. Wrath. Lets just say maybe amatures should not be given machetes....

7. Monkey. Taricaya is working really hard with Spider monkeys at the moment. They have been hunted to extinction in this area, so we have a group of monkeys that we are trying to prepare to release them back into the jungle. The ultimate goal is that they will repopulate the area. Unfortunately, spider monkeys can only give birth once every three years, so it´s going be a long process. Right now, we have an enclosure for the older spider monkeys about 2 km away from the lodge. Volunteers go out there at least twice a day to feed them. But now, we are sending extra volunteers out with Raul (the monkey man) and we sit there for two hours at a time and observe the monkeys and their behaviour. Though Raul says the monkeys will be ready in 2 months time, everybody says that 4 months is a more realistic goal.

....Oh wait... the Seventh Sin is Sloth..... Oohhhh..... Welll I´ve definitley had my share of lazy times. Last weekend Vicki and I stayed at Taricaya and were reclusive in our bungalow almost the entire time! We only came out for meals and once to dance in the rain. Vicki and I are having a blast and I´m so glad she´s here with me- she´s my better half that tries to keep me away from these deadly sins!

Settling In

It´s amazing how fast humans can adapt when thrown in a situatuion and given no other option! I know we havn´t even been here a full month yet, but even the foreign-ness of the jungle has become a familiar home. Now that I´ve been here a little longer, I am more capable of describing the routine so you can better understand my typical day. On Mon, Wed, and Fri, we have 2 activities to complete during the day with meals and free time thrown in between. Tuesdays and Thursdays are 3 activity days and we get up around 5 am to get in another activity before breakfast. It sounds awfully early, but I´ve grown to like these days because it´s the only time you can beat the heat. After activities, showers are usually necessary, so I´ve been showering two or three times a day (Quite the opposite from when I´m at home). In between activities we have lots of time to relax and take siestas of course :)

Activities range from feeding all the animals we have at our rehabilitation centre, to macheting trails, to rescue centre mantainence, to building animal enclosures, to bird watching, to going out and picking fruits for the animals from the local farms. And there´s many more activities because there´s always so much that needs to be done. After all this good manual labor, I think I´m going to come back stronger!

Feeding the animals is most volunteers´s favorite activity. Who doesn´t get joy out of a monkey crawling on your head or sharing hellos with a parrot?? The animals are so exotic to me and I could sit with them and watch them forever. However, you have to be really wary of some of the animals. The squirrel monkeys, for example, look like they wouldn´t hurt a fly, but beware! Yessi, a fully trained staff member, went into the cage and they jumped on her face and bit her nose so hard it bled! Or the macaws will say "Hola," but get too close to their sharp beaks, and you might only be able to count to 9 forever more. We have a few types of wild cats here too. Now with those guys, I know to keep my distance. The other day I thought  I was literally going to die because Dan gave me permission to feed Bella, the baby jaguar,  her breakfast. I went in the cage and set down her dish of raw meat. I think she could sense my fear because she leapt up, hissed, and unveiled her very very sharp fangs (all the better to eat you with my dear). For my own safety, I´ve vowed to let the professionals deal with her from now on. (My Mom will be proud of my decision making)!

Some of the volunteers aren´t huge fans, but Vicki and I LOVE using the machetes. However, we are sheltered gringas, so our soft little palms pay the price (between the two of us we have 8 normal blisters, 2 blood blisters, 10 cuts, and 3 punctures). But regardless, with a machete in our hands we can do anything! We feel cooler than Arnold Schwarzenegger or Al Pacino! Say Hello to my little friend ;)
One day, I hope I can be as talented as Yessi. Yessi is a native Peruvian, sweet as anything, and about 5 feet tall and 100 pounds. But she´s so strong that I bet you she could take down the rainforest faster than a tractor or a weedwacker. She´s our own little John Henry!

Gathering fruits is also great fun! Picking the papayas reminds me of playing some sort of Wii game! The papayas are super high up in some sort of palm tree, and when you see a ripe one, you get a large stick (three to four meters) and you have to poke the papaya off at the stem. You work with a partner, and while one gets to poke, the other plays wide receiver and they must sacrifice everything to not let the papaya touch the ground-- Otherwise it will be smashed to smithereens and will only be good for the flys. I guess a new volunteer was horrified the other day because the papaya fell through her fingers and right onto some unlucky chicken. The force from the fruit broke the chicken´s neck and it started squabbling around in circles with it´s head half on. Quite the site to see apparently. For Harry Potter fans, I have a lame joke: I dubbed the poor chicken, "Nearly Headless Chick". Harharhar.

Bird watching is a nice way to end your day if you´ve been working hard. We have multiple platforms to watch from. One is about 12m and our other one is the ultimate tree house I have always wanted!! It´s 42m high and you look above the whole canopy! It´s quite the empowering experience! As far as acutally identifying the birds though.... I am worthLESS. It´s pathetic. By the time I spot the bird, try to get my binoculars focused on the right spot, and shout to Alejandro (Taricaya´s bird specialist), the bird is long gone. But this is Peru so everyone is very relaxed and it´s all good. Pura Vida. Also, Alejandro gets quite the kick out of smacking me on top of the head with his giant bird book everytime I miss a bird. Maybe I will learn someday....

So far, I´m having the experience of a lifetime! It´s so different and the vibe is just what I need to thrive. Everyone is very friendly and accepting. And it´s like relationships on Roids here because since we work, play, eat, and spend every waking second together, we´ve all grown super close super fast. It´s bittersweet though, because the volunteer group is constantly changing. Today, two of the core volunteers are returning to Denmark. It´s terrible when people leave! But we just got seven new volunteers this weekend (from France, England, Belgium, Austrailia) and I think two more to come! It will be interesting to see how the vibe changes depending on the personalities we have here.

Anyways, check out Vicki´s blog for a more comprehensive description. She´s way more coherent and you  might get a better sense of what we´re going through if you read hers. It´s I apologize for my random thoughts and giant holes in communication! I hope that my lack of consistency isn´t too unbearable!

Saturday, September 18, 2010

I want to be a Monkey in My Next Life

Insights I´ve learned thusfar:

1. Goodbyes are the pitts but there´s always hello waiting at the other end.
Being at the Taricaya Conservation Lodge is great because not only am I getting a taste for Peruvian life on the Amazon, but I´m meeting loads of people from all over the world! Here, there are volunteers from England, Switzerland, Denmark, Poland, France, Quebec, Peru, New York, Boston, Germany, Austria! There is also a wide range of ages. People just out of high school like myself, all the way to people who are retired! It´s a crazy awesome group! I feel like I´m living the game of "Telephone" because so often between all the languages and accents, the meanings of what we´re trying to say gets totally twisted in translation. It can be quite amusing to see how the phrase "316 barrels of fish" turns into "two birds on a stick"??? What??
But in the end, it´s such a learning experience and everyone is very kind and accepting of you (even if you are a "fat, stupid American"). They are all great volunteers who love to work hard as well as play hard! Haha!

2. Dirt Won´t hurt.
You know the old phrase, "rub some dirt on it"? Totally applies here. My clothes get filthy from the dirt and the sweat, and we can only do laundry once a week at most. My level of hygeine has definitely declined here but it´s all good because Im learning to live "all nat-u-ral". Our bungalows and living quarters are very simple with a thin layer of grime covering everything (We have yet to clean). It is also constructed in a very open manner, so Vicki and I are learning to share our home with many eight-legged guests. Ha! But I´m actually getting used to it (that´s for you Dad, I know you didn´t think I could). Maybe it´s because they´re everywhere here I have no choice but to accept it. And though cockroaches are quite common,  I have not seen a tarantula yet.... we´ll see how that goes....

3. My body has an endless amount of sweat.
Who knew that you could sweat out of every pore from 8 am to 8 pm?? I have no idea how it appears, but the sweat beads instantly and literally cascades down. I now have more sympathy for women with hot flashes. The rare 5 second breeze is a life saver and while the power is on, the fan in the lodge is a highly desired object. The competition can get rough.

4. I want to be a Monkey in My Next Life (Or maybe this one...)
So at Taricaya, we have the pleasure of working with many animals from the Jungle. We have turtles, tapirs, macaws, toucans, jaguars, wild dogs, otters, owls, trumpeters, butterflies, and monkeys. And there are squirrel monkeys, spider monkeys, howler monkeys, and capuchin monkeys. All adorable and absolutely awesome. And I´m not going to lie, I envy them. When we feed the monkeys, we are allowed to go into some of their cages and play with them a little. They are suprising strong for how little they are and they swing from anything they can reach with ease. It looks like a blast. The capuchin monkeys are tricky little con artists though. They lure you in with their big eyes and as soon as you´re in the cage they steal your watch, or hide food down your shirt, or nibble your ears. One was hanging from a rope and would swing it and whip me with the end of the rope. They can only get away with it because they are so gosh darn cute.
Everyone´s favorite monkey by far though, is the docile 9-month-old spider monkey named Nicol. She is a little sweetheart and shy when you first meet her. Just like a toddler (or my sister to this day) she has a little comfort blanket. You just want to cuddle with her all day. I wish I could adopt her so bad, but alas, I must resist... (if you have any good plots for smuggling a spider monkey into the states let me know asap)

5. Go with the flow
Today, on our way to civilization (Puerto Maldonado), our boat broke down in the middle of the river. We waited for a few hours to try to fix the engine or flag down someone with no luck. But once the bugs started attacking us, we all just jumped in the river (and even though the river is completely opaque due to mud, there are no attacking piranahs and it appears to be safe). We played in the river for hours until a boat came to our rescue and was able to take us to town. It was a great morning and I am so elated. I love it here so far and I cant wait to see what is to come!
I hope you are all well! More to come later!

Saturday, September 4, 2010

10 days...

And the countdown has commenced! Though I'm scrambling to tie up all the loose ends around here, the truth is finally sinking in: I'm leaving for a long long long time. Definitely didn't practice my Spanish as much this summer as I had hoped... or at all.... but hey- my priority is people right now. I won't be seeing you for a year so make sure I get a good goodbye in before I'm off!! Or else.