Saturday, March 16, 2013

Amazonian Nights 3

We wake up in the morning and I decide today that either I will see the real Silva or go bust. Silva is the Spanish word for the real rain forest. We are in equator reason for the last two weeks and so far haven’t’ found any real Silva. In Pucalpa too people told us to take a boat for whole day and then walk for some days to get to the real virgin forest canopy. When we went there people said to walk to the Brazil border that was another 100 kilometers as crow flies. No matter how far we went, we only saw destroyed jungles.
Today I am determined to find the real Silva. We walk to the Amazon River. After a breakfast of bread and butter we fetch a public boat going down the river without asking anyone about where it may go. Before boarding the boat we purchase 2 breads for our lunch. Boat makes various stops at jungle villages and we keep asking people if we any real Silva around. Almost everyone suggests us to go to the last stop and from there real Silva is about 10 kilometers. Last stop comes after 2 hours but anyway we have enjoyed our ride although many passengers carried many kinds of dead animals for trade. We arrive at the last stop and it is barely a village of 10-20 homes. Only women and children are present in the village and all adults are gone hunting or gathering meat. As usual women are all naked except for a small waistband. They are not shy at all whereas we are shy. Homes are all open kind; it is a thatched shed on four poles and hammock hanging. No home has walls for privacy. There is a communal large thatched shed in the middle and everybody cooks at that shed.

Piranha Fish

We ask the kids about the Silva but they give confusing replies then we ask the women they too give confusing replies because their language is a mixed up Spanish. Then we wait for another boat and ask the men they tell us to keep walking towards the North to witness real Silva. We begin our walk. After the village we see some clear area of about half kilometer and then haphazard forests begin. Path is zigzagging in these forests re-growth after cut and burn agriculture. We keep walking for 2 kilometers and then we see burning jungles for agriculture purposes. Since this is the dry season and people cut off some acres of patches in the jungles and now they set fire to the dry woods. We pass these fires and then keep walking in the jungles but none is a real Silva. We meet two men walking past us very fast. We ask them about real Silva and they say to keep walking for another some kilometers. It is now noon and sun is now vicious in the Equatorial jungles.
We keep walking and then after a turn and abruptly we see a towering wall of jungles. It is like a green fortress. Wall is about 200 feet high with thin trees. Jungle is impenetrable except for the trail. We enter in the jungle and it is silence. Suddenly heat is no more but it is very humid and air is also very heavy with the jungle moisture. Snakes and insects are abundant but most of the wildlife is already hunted.
We begin our run to explore the Silva because we have to return to the village to catch the boat back. After another 2 kilometers we hear birds and animals and as we walk further noise is increasing and we are drenched with sweet although it is not hot and it is barely enough light to look at the trail. Trees are all thin and tall and in a race to go higher and higher to find sunlight. Surrounding area is full of vines and most of the time impenetrable. Snakes hissing are now usual and we are not even surprised anymore.

Hunted crocodile taken to Belem market on a motorcycle
Then all of a sudden a almost naked man jumps in front of us and he is very angry at us.
He is carrying huge blow dart pipe and a quiver with some poison arrows.
He gestures us to keep quite.
I whisper in Spanish, “Why?”
He whispers back that he is chasing monkeys to hunt.
He returns in the jungle and disappears.
We also enter in the jungle behind him and all of a sudden he again jumps in front of us from nowhere and now he is extremely angry.
I take out my valet and give him some money and ask him to take us also with him. He agrees.
We follow him in the impenetrable jungle and it is 2PM. We are also worried to return to the jetty to catch some boat back to Iquitos and jetty is already several kilometers away. I know that it is easy to get lost in the jungle and I have heard stories of people being lost and found dead whereas they were barely 100 yards away from the point where they got strayed because they kept walking in the circles till their end. I have learned my lessons in the jungles by hard way, so I keep cracking the branches of the bushes. After some kilometers of walk, we are bathing in the sweat and Silva is abuzz with life. This man stops at a tree, there is a raw leather bag lying and something is wriggling in it. We ask the man about what is in there. He opens the bag, two deadly snakes are in there but a bamboo piece is over their mouth in such a way that it is almost piercing snake’s skin and their head is trapped in it. Man shows us the blue liquid oozing out from the bamboo head. This snake poison is one of the ingredients to make Curare -Worare or Arrow Poison. I try to touch the blue liquid but man pushes me away in anger.
Various poisons are mixed to make a desired mixture that works at the specific animal or at specific location. Example: Cottonmouth snake poison is used to inflect severe pain in the animal.
Nux Vomica and other strychnine based poisons are also used. These primarily affects the motor nerves in the spinal cord which control muscle contraction. Ten to twenty minutes after exposure, the body’s muscles begin to spasm, starting with the head and neck. The spasms then spread to every muscle in the body, with nearly continuous convulsions. The convulsions progress, increasing in intensity and frequency until the backbone arches continually and lungs stop working.
The golden poison frog’s skin is densely coated in alkaloid poison, one of a number of poisons common to dart frogs (batrachotoxins), which prevents nerves from transmitting impulses, leaving the muscles in an inactive state of contraction. This can lead to heart failure or fibrillation. Some native people use this poison to hunt by coating darts with the frogs poison. Alkaloid batrachotoxins can be stored by frogs for years after the frog is deprived of a food-based source, and such toxins do not readily deteriorate, even when transferred to another surface.
Man dips two arrow tips in the blue liquid and then he dips two more arrow tips in a small plastic bottle that he has in the bag. We again follow him. Now it is 3PM and Harsh and Rajiv are cursing me to return but I don’t want to give up this once a life time opportunity to witness a real hunt in the Silva. I keep walking behind the man and keep breaking the bushes so to find the way back. Rajiv and Harsh keep following me.

Iquitos city near river area
We hear the monkey screeches; man stops and tells us not to freeze. Then he points us to a tree and we see a group of monkeys. These monkeys look like the monkeys of South India and about the same size but their color is deep brown.
Man inserts a small thorn sideways at the top of the needle like arrow so its tip will break in the flash of the monkey upon the hit. Then he inserts the projectile in the tube and aims his tube a little above a monkey who is at least 90 feet high. For a moment his cheeks swell and with a hissing sound arrow shoots from the pipe and we don’t know if it has hit the monkey or not but monkey jumps and runs. All monkeys now make noise and run. Man runs after the monkey he hit, he must not lose it. We all run behind him and we cannot differentiate from one monkey to other but after some time we find a monkey slow down. Man hits it again with his blowgun and this time it was easy because monkey is already in the catatonic state. Within a minute monkey fall down and crashes near us and now time is 4PM.

We are not interested to know what he does with the money although we feel sorry for the animal who is still faintly breathing. We begin our return. Man does not make any effort to tell us the way because he had seen me breaking the branches and winked me in his approval. We lose the trail a couple of times but eventually we reach on main trail. We are running back to the Amazon to catch some boat to Iquitos. Then we realize that sun will suddenly set in 2 hours and we may not find any boat. Tomorrow morning at 6AM we are to catch a 10 hour Jet boat to the town of Leticia in Brazil. Not fetching the boat means spending a night hungry in the jungles and then missing the boat.
Suddenly we are out of the jungle and we realize that Sun is about to set. Running and walking fast we cover more than 10 kilometers and arrive at the village in week sunlight.
People at the jetty are not sure if we’d be able to find any boat at this hour. However we can see the lights of the boats in the middle of the river that is at least 3 kilometers from this jetty. Kids surround us and offer us a ride in the middle of the river to find some boat for some money. I am very skeptical because their boats are very narrow and dangerous canoes and we are three. They have two canoes and after some wait we decide to take canoes. I know swimming and Harsh also spent some hours learning swimming in the swimming pools so I and Harsh sit in a canoe because with two people canoe top is almost touching the waterline and it is very dangerous.

Man taking his catch of fishes to the Balen Market
As Rajiv does not know any swimming at all so we put him alone in the canoe with other kid. As we are in the water at about 200 yards from the bank, men from the village come running and shouting. They are cursing the kids and shouting us to return back because it is very dangerous. Especially our boat is about to capsize. Kids want to make money so in frenzy they ignore the shouts and paddle the canoes fast and now both canoes are in the deep currents of Amazon River stream.
I have accepted my fate that boat will capsize soon and I may swim for some time unless rescued. Harsh claims that he has just learned swimming and I know that he has no chance. I can swim barely to keep myself out of water and I am out of practice anyway and swimming requires immense energy to stay afloat. Second thing is that I have bad experience to rescue someone in the deep water. Once a girl was drowning in the swimming pool and I jumped in; as I was near the girl she just hung to me so tight that I was unable to keep myself afloat. I almost drowned with her. As she was also drowning she was kicking her legs and was hitting me viciously in the stomach. Luckily someone threw a rope and we both were rescued otherwise it was a matter of seconds. That is the reason rescuers never approach swimmers, they always throw them a rope etc.

Amazon River Area
I tell it to Harsh that never to come near me but hang to the floating boat or to the just anything. If he comes near me then we both are doomed. I tell him repeatedly. I give him empty plastic water bottle and tell him to use it as for some support but don’t come near me. Any movement that we made is now bringing in some water in our canoe. Water is touching at even less than one inch from the top rim. We are about half kilometer from the shore and now whole village is shouting at us and looking at us. They are all waving lanterns and flashlights to attract boats in the middle of the river.
Kid is now very worried he is rowing his balsa canoe very frantically but not much progress because it is now almost full of water to the brim. He gives me a mug and tells me to throw the water out of the boat and as I try to throw the water, canoe becomes off balance and more water comes in and I give it up.
I bid goodbye to Harsh and Rajiv.
I guess – that is it.
The End.
I slowly untie my shoes and Harsh is looking at me. He has also accepted his fate and is confused in fear. Waves are now bigger in the deeper waters and I am looking at one especially bigger wave and I know – this is it.
I look at the crimson sky and distant forests for the one last time and prepare myself for THE END.
I envision the family of Harsh cursing me because it was I who brought him on this trip to South America and then it was I who brought him to here in this situation. Rajiv was probably safe but I and Harsh are doomed. I wait for the wave and look at everything in sight assuming that there are the last things I am seeing.
Nothing lasts forever.
I wish the end won’t be painful. Hopefully I drown before piranhas find me. Getting rescued was a remote possibility. I decide to stay away from Harsh and only hang to the turned boat and hopefully he also catches it but stays away from me. His coming near to me means we both got no chance.
I know enough swimming to stay afloat for 5 minutes and river is about hundred feet deep and full of whirlpools.

Men try to salvage their boat
I am looking at the wave but before it comes; in a split second our canoe turns turtle and we are under the boat and under the water. We never had time to fill out lungs with air.
I accept my fate and also other two’s fate.
I am under the capsized canoe.
This is it.
This was my life. It was a life well lived but what about others?
Well I brush off all thoughts from my mind and I want to leave this world without fear and negative thoughts.
It this was to happen then why fret.
Nothing I can do about it.
Noting I could have done about it.
If this was to happen ….
One day we have to go and this is that day.
We all do whatever our mind guides us to do at that time. We do things because we are bound to do those things.
Why worry, if this was bound to happen.
No big deal.
Phenomenon of life.
That’s what I said to myself at that time.
To be continued ……….
Cat’s Claw
Uncaria tomentosa, una de gato, life-giving vine of Peru, samento
Cat’s claw is native to the Amazon. The name cat’s claw comes from the thorns on the plant’s leaves that look like the claws of a cat. The part used medicinally is the root bark. It comes in tablet, capsule, tea, dried herb or tincture forms.
For centuries, South American native tribes have used cat’s claw medicinally. People in the United States and Europe began to hear of the herb during the 1970s after an Austrian investigator, Klaus Keplinger, traveled to the rain forests of Peru. He learned about the plant from healer-priests of the Ashinaka tribe. Keplinger eventually received patents for isolating the active ingredients from the plant.

Cat’s Claw herb
Cat’s claw has become an extremely popular herbal supplement in the United States and Europe. Because demand for this herb has increased greatly in recent years, the Peruvian government now forbids harvesting the roots of the plant. The same compounds are present in the bark as in the root, and so the plant is now harvested 3 feet above the ground. This preserves the plant so that it can be harvested again a few years later.
Cat’s claw is used for Cancer and Arthritis etc.

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