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The Animals Were Out
by Kelsey

July 11, 2009

So Im in the first week of July here and its been raining heavily four days in a row. Needless to say our work has been put on hold, well, at least the outdoor things. Ive been using the time to make what I am calling, “Mandatory Machiguenga,” a list of important words that will help tourists interact with the Machis. Im thinking if the tourists can speak a few Machiguenga words, it will help the Machis to be more social. When the rain lets up every now and then I take walks around the camp to look for any structural problems that can be fixed. There’s not too many, actually. A few of the doors don’t have handles on the inside and a couple more towel racks here and there wouldn’t hurt, but I’m saving that for sunnier days when we can venture into the jungle and get supplies. The next group is due on the eleventh so until then I figure we can hang out inside and keep warm while teaching each other our languages. Be well, maika noate (now Im going).

Hello again! All is well here at Casa Machi and the sun is shining brighter than ever! Jose Luis told me the rest of my time should be hot and sunny with little rain. This week we finished construction on the new paths through the camp and both the Machis and I are satisfied with the results. The group on the eleventh proved to be a good experience for all. Jose Luis and Miguel greeted the tourists in English upon their arrival and on the second day bid them a, “good afternoon.” I was stoked. As Jose Luis always says, “poco a poco (little by little)” they are shuffling off their shyness. The guide for the group was Vanessa, my favorite guide. She’s really friendly and cares a lot about the Machiguengas. Plus she lets me eat with her groups! The animals were out this week! The day after the second ayahuasca ceremony I rose early to accompany the group to Cocha Salvador and Cocha Otorongo. On the way I met Rod and Emma, two travelers who were taking a, “midlife sabbatical” and traveling all over South America. I think they had been on the road two months and were going to continue for another four or so? Anyway, they were so cool! Definitely the best guests who have come through so far. Both of them were doctors and very smart and friendly. Good conversationalists too. Emma had done some work with an indigenous group in Canada and Rod had worked with the Aboriginies in Australia. Needless to say we had plenty to talk about and got along just fine. Meeting people like them is one of the best parts of traveling. The Salvador otters weren’t out that day, but on the way to Otorongo we spotted an adult giant otter hanging out on the banks of the river. It was sweeeet! I had never seen an otter fully out of the water before. It stayed long enough for everyone to snap a few photos and that boosted the group morale after the disappointment at Salvador. Over at Otorongo we saw even more otters and I shot a great video. As Rod said, “We just couldn’t get rid of them that day.” However, the otters at the lake were not pleased with our presence and warned us off (listen to their warning calls in the video I will post.)/. We didn’t want to stress them so we left the dock where we were and headed to the viewing tower a hundred yards or so away. Luck was on our side once again and we could see them from the top of the tower swimming and fishing for sardines. We also saw some caimans, turtles, and a couple cormorants. After Otorongo we returned to Casa Machi for lunch and some relaxation time. I was eager to catch up with Jose Luis and Miguel because I hadn’t talked to them since the ceremony the previous night so I headed straight to the office when we arrived. We laughed and chatted about what went down. Everyone was feeling good. Later, the group went a bit further upriver to explore and look for animals. I opted not to go because I was still catching up with my buds. When the group came back they gave me some bad (good) news…they saw a jaguar! I was so jealous because I still hadn’t seen one. At dinner, a heated conversation ensued. One group of tourists insisted that it was better for the Machiguengas to stay completely cut off from outside influences and that they should not even be operating Casa Machiguenga. I had to contest. Not only is Casa Machiguenga a big source of pride for the native communities Tayakome and Yomybato, but many of the Machis are curious about the outside world. While I do agree that it is important for them to retain their culture and be careful with outside influences (tobacco, alcohol, refined sugar), I don’t believe it would be right to deny them the opportunity to experience new things. The tourists were not moved by anything I or Rod and Emma (who were on my side) had to say in opposition to their opinions. Rod, Emma, and I had to leave the table because our tempers were boiling and we didn’t want anything ugly to happen…ahahhah.

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