Monkeys and Mark
It's trying to eat a cookie I have in my hand
November 9, 2009
Location: TBS, Tiputini Biodiversity Station, Amazon, on the Tiputini River, off the Napo River, a tributary of the Amazon
Four AM is a painful time to get up for anything after going to bed three hours previously. I tried to sleep at 11 but couldn't with everything on my mind, so I stayed up for two more hours writing on the internet.
Our flight from Quito to Coco was delayed two hours because of bad weather in the Oriente. By the time it boarded at 7:40, I was incredibly grumpy.
When we landed, the door of the plane was a portal to an oven. No more cool, dry, mountain air. Coca is a bathroom after a shower. I could practically feel the hairs on my head sproinging skyward as I walked to the tiny, incredibly unusual excuse for an airport. It has been a long time since I've felt humidity so stifling. Not even Mississippi's August produces such a soup-thick atmosphere.
We took a short bus ride to the river, during which I managed to lose my KleanKanteen. Lovely. It cost almost as much as my snorkeling equipment.
The hotel near our dock housed a plethora of animals, most of which were running around at their will. A random tortoise got stuck under a grill and Nate had to rescue him. Peacocks and other birds walked in front of the hotel rooms like they owned them. A pair of toucans bounced over to inspect our shoe laces and untie them. One flew up to a railing and tried to steal my bag of MegaQueso! Doritos and, when he couldn't, took my whole wrist in his colorful beak and tried to draw me closer to him. Likewise, the monkeys have no fear whatsoever. They knew that if they knocked over our cold bottles of Pilsener that something good would spill out. I was taking a picture of monkey sitting on Shannon when one dropped from the ceiling right onto my shoulder and scampered right over my arms. We thought it was funny to feed them bits of mandarin orange until one pooped on Nate's shirt. It wasn't so funny after that.
The rest of the trip was trying. Two hours on a boat, two hours in a chiva (You don't know what a chiva is? Be thankful. They are a hybrid of a bus and a pickup truck and maybe the most uncomfortable mode of transportation I've ever experienced.), and another few hours on a boat. I've never loaded and unloaded luggage so much in my life.
At our half-way point, we had to go through a security check point before loading onto the chiva. I asked Juan, Narcissa's son, why, and he said that the land was owned by an oil company. The oil companies here make their own rules and treat those who cross it in whichever manner they please.It's slightly disconcerting to have a major corporation in charge of an ecological hotspot.
Tiputini Research center is a charming little place smack dab in the middle of Amazonian nowhere. It has a mess “hall” (a raised platform with a roof and tables, basically, with no enclosed sides), a bathroom, quite an impressive amount of tiny cabins, and a large building containing a library, classrooms, labs, and more permanent living quarters, all connected by slippery stone and wood steps through the jungle (which are probably highly irritating to those I won't name who decided to pack a massive suitcase filled with clothes they probably won't need in the entire 3 months we're hear--just saying). It is very charming. It would be more so, I think, if two enormous tarantulas didn't inhabit the outside wall of Jess, Jenny, Shannon, and my cabin. Cabin No. 1 is surprisingly comfy and functional, with a nice bathroom and a deck to put our shoes and wet clothes.
To escape the suffocating damp, we took a dip in the river. It is freezing and filthy and you can't see your hand three inches below the surface (Because it is a whitewater river and filled with nutrients and minerals. Aren't you proud of me, Dr. Melampy???), but it felt like the water of eternal youth after our hot, dusty trip. The swimming cove is tucked away from the main current of the river, but a small whirlpool spins you around in lazy circles if you float with it (in the horrid life vests we're forced to wear, I might add). So... swimming in the Amazon: check! One more off the bucket list.
On the way in, an audacious bee flew between my sandal and my foot as I was walking and delivered a lovely little sting on the soft insole of my right foot. Not even an hour in the jungle and the bugs are attacking me. I have a bad feeling about this place. There are too many bugs for my liking.