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!