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Two Week Check Up
by Kelsey

June 30, 2009

I’ve been living at Casa Machiguenga for about two weeks now and what can I say about it? This place is bursting with life. Every morning, the call of the red howler monkey awakens me and every night a choir of crickets and night time birds serenade me to sleep. During the day the cries of macaws fill the air as they fly by in pairs. In fact, macaws are such a regular sight I rarely look up for them anymore. When I walk down the path that leads to the bathrooms very quietly, I often observe at least two different species of monkeys scouring the trees for fruit. Back behind the last hut is the trail through the forest to Cocha Salvador, one of the two oxbow lakes in Manu is open for tourists to visit. Again, you will probably see a few types of monkeys, and if they are out, a group of white lipped peccaries. If you are really lucky you can catch a glimpse of the jaguar, but this is difficult. It is more likely that you will spot a jaguar down on the river banks. When you reach the lake have your camera ready. The beauty and tranquility of the surroundings are enough to ease the most tightly wound stress cases, and if that’s not enough the families of otters will do the trick. Their nickname is “wolf of the river” but they remind me more of little river puppies, diving and chattering as they go. These amazing creatures remind me that life is meant to be enjoyed; laugh, play, love.

Casa Machiguenga is fully set up to accommodate the needs of the traveler. All of the structures (pankotsi) at Casa Machiguenga have been constructed in the traditional Machiguenga fashion. Take a look at the roofs, which have been woven out of thousands of Kapashi leaves. But don’t worry, I’ve tested them in the heaviest rains and they’re totally waterproof. The rooms are stocked with sheets, pillows, mosquito nets, candles, and matches to keep you comfortable. And in case you were wondering, no, you don’t have to defecate in a hole and clean yourself with a leaf (although I think you probably could if you’re into that.) The shower and restroom complex is fully functional with lights, mirrors, and running water. Four toilets, four showers, and four sinks are more than enough to cater to the groups that come through here. There is no hot water, but trust me, after a forty five minute hike through the jungle, you will be begging to get out of your sweat soaked clothes and into a cold shower. While you cool off and relax there is also a sink where you can wash those sweat soaked clothes so they will be ready for more action another day. The dining room has two huge tables where you can eat, enjoy a cup of coffee or tea, or write about your experience, and the adjoining kitchen has two sinks with running water.

To top everything off, there are the Machiguengas themselves. Groups of Machiguengas from Tayakome and Yomybato come to take care of the camp and rotate every four months. The Machiguenga are proud of their work here and rightly so. In a tourist environment dominated by the regional elite from Cusco (Herrera 2005), they have fought hard to maintain their business in hopes of bettering their communities. Recently, I spoke with Jose Luis about his motives for coming to work here: “I come here to help my community. Casa Machiguenga is our only source of income and our only way to obtain resources we need like peque peques (a type of boat).”  At first, I was nervous to come live here for two months, but after the first day with the Machis my fears subsided. Jose Luis, Miguel, Samuel, and Marta have been excellent hosts. They are a bit timid with tourists at first, but once you introduce yourself and get to know them they are a blast to hang out with; totally friendly and outgoing. They don’t speak much English, but I am currently helping to change that. In the meantime, if you speak Spanish, you can converse with some of the Machiguengas here. If you are interested, some of the men can show you how to use a traditional Machiguenga bow and arrow. Be warned, it is not easy! And for those musically inclined tourists, be sure to ask for a demonstration or a lesson in how to play the Machiguenga flute or violin, two instruments used in their sacred ayahuasca (kamarampi) ceremony. The bow and arrow, flute, violin, and an assortment of bracelets, necklaces, and bags, all made by community members from Tayakome or Yomybato, are all available for purchase at their art shack. All proceeds go directly to the original artists. If you are looking for an Amazonian experience you’ll remember, check out Casa Machiguenga: Wild enough to blow your mind, comfortable enough to keep you sane.

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