Before I came to Peru, I voiced my desire to experience the country like a local and last night I think I came pretty close!
A few days ago, myself, the other resident naturalists and a few local staff from the lodge, socialized in the Resident Naturalist bungalow until the wee hours of the morning, drinking beer and Pisco. This is possibly the best way to get to know the staff while practicing your broken Spanish on the non-English speaking locals. Let me take this opportunity to tell you more about Pedro and Arles, two brothers that live and work at the lodge. They are the nicest people you can possibly meet; very polite, soft spoken, decent, hardworking and genuine. They wear their hearts on their sleeves, especially Pedro, the younger of the two by two years. Somewhere in their late-thirties, they manage to exude a strength belied by their very slight build with solid muscle and not an ounce of fat to be seen. They are able to carry heavy items twice their own body weight up steep hills and over several kilometres without even breaking a sweat. At least once a week, Pedro carries a 90kg gas bottle on his back up the 50 steps leading up from the river jetty. I think both Pedro and Arles served in the Brazilian army at a some stage. Charlie, Declan and Stefan all admitted that they have a man-crush on Pedro as he is the perfect male specimen: he can carry heavy stuff like a superhuman, play real technical soccer like a pro soccer player, cook awesome food and sway his hips when dancing with the powers to enchant any woman.
Arles and Pedro were having drinks with us in our ramshackle communal bungalow and the more Pedro had to dink, the more loveable he became leading up to the point where he started to earnestly tell everyone that they are his amigos and that he likes you very very VERY much. He reiterated the statement by inviting all of us present to his house for a party, which would include a home cooked meal.
A couple of days later a group of us went into town to attend the party. Declan, a tall, aspiring documentary maker and photographer, who I can only describe as being a unique individual, wanted to make this night something to remember before he heads home to Bournemouth the next day. We were also saying goodbye to Charlie, an ecologists from Kent aka capuchin for his ability to mimic several forest animal sounds, including a capuchin monkey (when you have a lot of time on your hands and stuck in the middle of nowhere, you find ways to entertain yourself, and Charlie has it down to a fine art). Towards the end of the trip, he even managed to embody the look of a Capuchin down to a T. We arrived at Pedro’s house at 1pm and promptly started drinking Cusquena, our favourite Peruvian beer, garnished with a large portion of fried chicken with rice and yuka or as the locals like to call it, frita pollo con arroz es yuka. Beer drinking is a delicate social art in Peru. Each person is given the chance to buy a round of beers for the table. Beer usually comes in big 650ml bottles and is shared amongst everyone. The round of beer is gulped (not sipped) down quickly to give the next person the chance to buy a round of beer. This practise leads to heavy drinking in a short period, especially when you are expected to drink every time someone says “salute” – which happens extremely frequently! Unfortunately, we Gringos are not as well adapted to drinking in such large quantities as the Peruvians are. Instead, we end up feeling shit the next day while they will be ready for work at 6am the next morning, no problems! If it were not for all the sweating in the humid conditions and all the frantic dancing, I possibly would have been best friends with the toilet bowl by early evening!
We were sitting around the table, drinking beer, sweating up a storm, and listening to loud, frantic Brazilian music when our friend Stefan, an introspective intellectual from London, requested that the fan be moved closer to the table. Within minutes, Pedro’s uncle returned with wire and right there and then lengthened the extension of the fan so that the sweet wind could reach our overheated bodies. Now that is being a great host, never mind the hazardous open wire laying around our feet on the beer drenched floor! The music played on the massive sound system while the music video played on the big screen TV, showing scantly clothed, busty women, and men with tight jeans and unbuttoned shirts that have an obvious diet of steroids and Creatin.
Our lunch was not even properly digested, when the dancing started. Pedro asked Daniël’s permission to dance with me, and whisked me away before Daniël finished saying yes. We danced in the blistering sticky heat like there was no tomorrow. Thank goodness, Anouk, a beautiful Swiss German woman, was also there, otherwise I would have been the only girl the men could dance with. Her boyfriend, Kevin, an ecologist from New York, sat there with a smile on his face, probably relieved that he didn’t have to dance. Anouk and I were passed on from one dance partner to the next for the rest of the evening, barely getting a chance to catch our breath before the next guy would grab us and twirl us around. By the end of the night, I was drenched in sweat causing my dress to stick to my legs. Around the table, locals and resident naturalists socialised, splashing their beer and discarding their cigarette buds on the floor while downing their beer every time someone shouts, “salute”.
Marco, one of the guides at the lodge, usually does not drink very much, but I think that evening he sort of lost count. The drunker he became, the more clothes he started shedding. He clowned about, dancing a jig around Stefan, Declan and Charlie, occasionally going a bit too far, revealing that which others don’t wish to see unexpectedly! I had to delete some of my photos the next day after I had a look through them… poor Marco.
On the dance floor I danced with Pedro and Anouk danced with Marco. Or at least, I tried to dance with Pedro, as Marco would occasionally do a “bum” dance, pushing us physically off the dance floor with his – thankfully fully dressed – behind. Pedro was losing some of his coordination and started saying “bonita Chrissie” and “yo bueno” as the beer started talking. Later that evening Marco became all serious and took on the salsa dance instructor persona. He twisted and twirled me around so much, I didn’t know what was up or down any more.
At about 10pm Daniël and I went back to the backpackers after saying our goodbyes to everyone. The rest of the guys headed for the Discoteca to continue the evening’s festivities there. I woke up to go to the bathroom in the dark when I stumbled across “he who will not be named for discretions sake” passed out on the floor. Later, we found him in his bed, naked, with only a towel draped across his most essential parts. The definitively-worst-for-wear underwear missing from his person, found its way under his unfortunate unsuspecting friend’s pillow. Boys sometimes have a very strange sense of humour.
After months in the rainforest, a little bit of social interaction and craziness other than cabin fever, was a nice repose. Now I’m ready to tackle the jungle madness again until the next town visit!