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Day of Work
by Kelsey

June 23, 2009

So I’ve been here a little over a week now and I’m totally loving it. The Machis and I pal around everyday whether we’re working, playing, or learning each others languages. Machiguenga is difficult (komuitaka)! Right now they are practicing how to introduce themselves and greet tourists in English. We’ve all been working hard to prepare the lodge for the next group of tourists. We put up new mosquito netting in the dining room, washed all the floors, and cleaned the showers/restrooms. Miguel and I cut up slices from a fallen tree to fix up the paths around the camp while Jose Luis and Samuel set up the docking area with new stairs. The awning leading up to the camp was also in need of some repair so two days ago we ventured through the jungle to find a special type of liana to complete the job. It was a group outing and everyone came along for the trek; Jose Luis, Miguel, Samuel, Marta, Little Jose, Juanita Maria, and of course, me.

I’m always amazed when I walk through the forest with the Machis because they are so quiet. I usually walk in front with them behind me, and if I didn’t look back every five minutes or so I wouldn’t even know they were there. When we found the lianas, Jose Luis and Samuel cut about thirty yards of them to use as rope. I hung back with Marta and her children to take some photos. When enough rope had been collected Jose Luis looked at me and said, “Tsame! (let’s go!)” On the way home we stopped at a macaw clay lick, but there were no birds to be found. Instead, we relaxed for a while and enjoyed the serene beauty of our surroundings. Towering green trees, oxidized, outcropping cliffs, and a slow moving stream welcomed our tired legs. As I surveyed the area I found a bunch of tapir tracks. Apparently we had just missed them. Jose Luis showed me a bean that monkeys eat called “capiro.” He cut down a handful off of a nearby tree and offered them to me. I bit into the green, sturdy shell and to my surprise the juice was very sweet. It was so sweet I grabbed another handful and put them in my pocket for later.

After catching our breath, Miguel and I played games with the machetes, testing our skills as blade wielders (don’t worry Mom we were being safe!). When that got boring I taught him and Jose Luis how to do cartwheels and how to skip rocks on the stream. I was noticing the difficulty they seemed to be having with both of those games and it made me think of how culturally specific skill sets are. Then I realized many Americans can’t cartwheel or skip rocks either! Next, we began to throw rocks at distant targets. They were amazed at how far I could throw the rocks and kept asking me to hit things farther and farther away. It was fun for a while, then my arm started to get sore and I had to think of another game quickly. I found a sandstone rock and crushed it with another one. To my surprise there were a few fossilized shells inside! I showed the two of them the markings and they were excited. We all smashed a bunch more in hopes of finding other fossils, and we did come across some other shells and a plant imprint. It was getting dark and we decided to head home to call it a day.

The next morning, we had to boat three hours upriver to reach a place where palomas, a special type of tree grew. We would use these trees in conjunction with the rope from the day before to fix the awning. Before reaching our destination we stopped a Paquitza, a ranger station, and picked up Rafael. Rafael is also a Machiguenga who once was the manager of Casa Machiguenga, but now works as a park ranger. He fed us rice and beans and served coffee with sugar as we discussed the plans for the day. Rafael also served us yuca (sekatsi), one of the principal foods of the Machiguenga. It tasted exactly like a potato, not bad. Once we had gotten our fill we set off in search of building materials. On the way, Miguel taught me how to drive the boat and I navigated about half of the way upriver (katonko). I kept thinking, “I can’t believe I’m driving a boat down the Manu River!” I was deep in concentration trying to avoid trees in the river when Samuel shouted and pointed to the nearby cliffs. There sat a brilliantly colored howler monkey, his deep red coat shining in the sun like wildfire.

As soon as we arrived, the machis got to work felling trees. We needed fifteen in total and they were meticulous about the selection. When the trees were felled, the hard part commenced. We had to drag fifteen six meter tree trunks 200 yards through dense, untrimmed forest. You can imagine the problems navigating between trees, hanging lianas, and dead trunks on the ground with a massive pole over your shoulder. We finally finished the job and Rafael brought out a flask of tequila to celebrate. I didn’t want to drink because it was only 12ish, but I knew I couldn’t reject the hospitality so I downed three or four caps full. On the way home, Rafael wanted to show me Cocha Gallinar, which was not open to tourists. We were walking through the thicket when all of the sudden Jose Luis stopped abruptly and whispered, “Mira (look).” About ten feet ahead of us I saw a dirt brown snake that stretched somewhere around two feet long. I started to take out my camera but Rafael said no, it was too dangerous. We walked cautiously around it and arrived at the shores of Cocha Gallinar. There we rested for twenty minutes before returning to the boat and back down river (kamatikya). On the return journey, the river was bursting with animal life; Cocoi herons, kingfishers, vultures, and plenty of caimans (saniri).  In fact, just before Paquitza, we spotted a black caiman that was around fifteen feet long! Luckily caiman are scared of humans so there was no risk of attack. We navigated safely home and chilled the rest of the day.

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