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Yesterday, oh Yesterday
by Kelsey

July 8, 2009

Yesterday, oh yesterday! It was one the greatest days here at Casa Machiguenga. I awoke to the sun shining brightly through the trees, a sight that always gets me in a great mood. I’m a Californian, what can I say? Gotta’ get that vitamin D! Anyway, Miguel and I began the day by sweeping and mopping all the rooms in preparation for the coming tourist group. When the work was done, Jose Luis and Miguel taught me how to use the Machiguenga bow and arrow. It’s way harder than it looks. I’ve practiced a few times since then, and I would say I’m good at it by now, but that would be a bit of an exaggeration when compared to the skill of the Machis. In my defense, Miguel has been hunting since he was 10, and Jose Luis since he was sixteen. Around midday, Satu showed up with a tourist group. They were planning on checking out the Machiguenga artworks. I was happy to see him and excited that the Machis would have an opportunity to use the English phrases I had taught them. As the tourists perused the bracelets, necklaces, and instruments, I was quietly encouraging Jose Luis to talk to one of them. Both he and Miguel were understandably nervous and opted not to test out their new linguistic abilities. I hope that during my stay I can build their confidence so that they will be able to interact with tourists more and enrich the Casa Machiguenga experience. Because in my experience, once you get to know them, the Machiguengas are totally outgoing and friendly.

After attending to the group and catching up with Satu we indulged in the giant bag of coca he had brought for us. I made a video of how to use chamwiro and puigoro to sweeten up a coca wad. When the alkaloids were flowing, Miguel and I took off to Cocha Salvador again (with a reserve bag of coca, of course.) Ten minutes down the trail, adventure ensued. I was having déjà vu and I heard, once again, the grunting and jaw snapping of the peccaries. Perfect. Another opportunity to snap a photo. We quietly crept along the path, closer and closer to the herd. Miguel was heading to the right of the trail, but I could have sworn I was hearing grunts from the left. I told Miguel and he confirmed my suspicion, “Si, hay dos grupos (yes, there are two groups).”  I felt surrounded and a tingle of anxiety resonated in my chest. I taught Miguel to use my camera the day before and he was anxious to take a good photo so I let him take the camera. He snuck off to the right and signaled me to stay behind. No way, not this time. I wanted a better look at these mysterious beasts. I followed him off the trail. Again, he looked back and signaled for me to return to the trail. He said he would have a better chance of getting a picture alone. I turned back, feeling a bit angry and left out. But luck was on my side that day. Just as he disappeared from sight I heard furious thrashing from the left side of the trail. I whipped around just in time to see a group of five or six peccaries headed straight for me! I darted up the nearest tree in a flash to keep safe. The Peccaries continued on, walked directly underneath me and stopped. What a rush! They didn’t see me, but I could tell they smelled me.  I felt like a filmmaker for Planet Earth, only I didn’t have a camera. Damnit!  One of them walked over to the machete Miguel had left in the ground, smelled it, and they all took off running. I hopped down from the tree and as I was cursing myself for giving away my camera, I saw a group of at least 25 peccaries charge across the trail fifteen yards to my right. A minute later Miguel came running after them. They must have been running from him.

We talked excitedly about our experiences and continued down the trail. The air was damp and the sun was hot, so we took a break. I sat down on a log and fanned myself with a huge leaf to cool down. I noticed a shimmer in the distance. It was the sun reflecting off the lake, we had almost made it. I started to tell Miguel and he nudged me to be quiet. Above us was a big group of spider monkeys. This time my camera was faster than their lanky limbs and I took a great photo. We got up and walked east to reach the observation dock. When I got to the end of the dock, the view was magnificent; a wakeless, plate glass lake under a deep blue sky flecked with white, cotton ball clouds. The water was so calm it reflected the sky like a mirror. I took a photo and thought, “lake reflecting clouds, Dali would be stoked, ahahahahah.”

After that day at the lake, I decided it is definitely the hotspot for wildlife viewing. Birds and monkeys played in the surrounding trees while otter and black caiman glided through the water. Awesome. This was the Amazon I came to see. We hung around for an hour or so, watching one otter hunt for fish. Before we knew it, the sun was setting and Miguel said we better head back. I agreed since we were a good 45 minutes from the camp and neither of us had a lantern. Way to think ahead, no? While hurrying down the trail we heard an all too familiar sound, more peccaries. We simultaneously looked at each other and said, “Tsame! (Machiguenga for let’s go),” as we turned off the trail and into the thicket. This time, I was going to get that photo. Third try is a charm, they say. We darted through the branches and over fallen logs in hot pursuit. It was so dense, I saw Miguel trip for the first time. He slowed his pace, we were close. I caught sight of the group, probably 25 or so. I was setting up my shot when all of the sudden they fled, and then I saw why. Miguel had sprinted toward them and ruined it! “Why!!!!!????” I thought I was so close to the perfect photo! “Kelsey, Kelsey, Taina! (come).” Miguel’s voice called through the trees. I followed the sound and as I caught sight of him I could see he had something in his hands. What was it? It looked like some kind of giant rodent. Did he catch a capybara? Then I saw it. Oh my god, he had caught a baby peccary. I was shocked. So shocked I spoke in English, “How the hell did you catch that thing?” He just laughed and put it on the ground. I shot some photos and a video and then we let it go.

At this point I realized it would be dark in five minutes or so. Miguel looked at me and asked, “donde esta la troche (where is the trail)?” Uh oh. Panic. HE was supposed to be the pro here, not me. We were lost in the Amazon and it was nearly nightfall. In a desperate effort to make it out safely we dashed in the general direction of Casa Machiguenga. I was wearing my typical get up; soccer shorts and a t shirt and branches were cutting my limbs left and right. I didn’t care. I was remembering too vividly the jaguar claw marks Jose Luis and I had seen in the exact same spot only a few days before. My heart pounded and my lungs burned as we went. I ignored it. “We can’t stop here,” I thought, “This is jaguar country,” and nervously laughed to myself. (R.I.P HST). After what seemed like an eternity of running we found the trail. After a short water break, we walked the rest of the way home.

Back at the camp, Jose Luis was sitting outside, shirt off, chewing a huge wad of coca. I’ve never seen anyone charge coca like Jose Luis. He literally had a stash the size of one of those jumbo jaw breakers tucked away in his cheek. I cracked up, sat down next to him, and took off my sweat drenched shirt. He offered me coca leaves and I couldn’t decline. As the last rays of sunlight left the sky and the crescent moon appeared overhead, we sat and reviewed the peccary footage. Jose Luis laughed as he pointed to the moon and said, “Katinga,” the Machiguenga word for a moon that is at the peak of the sky. I smiled and replied, “Kameti (good).” As we sat and talked under the night sky, I thought about my family and friends. How they were under the same moon. I missed them. But at the same time, I was happy to be in the jungle with my new, temporary family.

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