I am not a fan of motorcycles. My bum is sore from spending 7+ hours on motorcycles every day. I pray for my life whenever a truck or car passes me, bumps nearly throw me off the bike (Richard isn’t the smoothest driver and it’s not like the roads here are that great) and gravel and sand freak me out. Let’s just say that if I never ride a motorbike again after this trip, I’ll be just fine.
Ok so some of you might be wondering “What the hell does Laura mean when she says she goes out on a motorcycle all day and collects points? I thought she was adventuring in Peru?”
Well… it’s exactly what it sounds like, and isn’t really all that adventurous (unless you count the motorcycle thing). We drive down the big new concrete highway, and stop at large, identifiable plots of land (e.g. “this is a big patch of pasture/forest/banana farm”). Yes, this is Peru. And yes, if there were no people here, I’d be looking at wonderful, beautiful Amazonian rainforest on these drives. Instead, I get a lot of scenes that look like this:
And scenes that look like this:
Sometimes we see scenes that look like this and they make me sad, because I know that long-dead tree trunk belonged to a ~800 year old Brazil Nut tree.
But occasionally we’ll see signs that a farmer might care a little, when we see trees like this one, over 1,000 years old, still standing on the edge of a massive pasture:
I don’t think this farmer cares particularly. I just think he hasn’t gotten to the area of 1,000 year old forest behind his recent clear-cut.
We’ve seen a few small stands of good forest, full of White-throated Toucans and Chestnut-fronted Macaws. My favorite spot of forest so far was a little place we drove by on Tuesday. We came around a corner on the narrow clay/mud road, and saw this truck stuck in the mud. Turns out, these guys had been stuck for three days already, slowly digging their truck out of the deep Amazonian clay. I like when nature fights back.
If you need further stories to shake your head at, how about this one. At the border of my study area exists a mining town. It was settled in the 1950s or 1960s, right on the banks of the river. These miners dredge up the clay and mud from the river to filter out the alluvial gold that lies within it. Unfortunately, this process involves the use of a lot of mercury, which is just dumped into the river, along with whatever fluids are leaking out of their very old boat engines. The town is a little violent, I hear. These are the people that burned down the government complex in Pto Maldonado a few years back. They had another protest around that time where 150 people were murdered. Long story short: they live outside of the law, both in profession and group morality.
Anyway, so we drove the 70km out to this town, Laberinto. As we turned a corner and started to descend from terra firma down to the flood plain, I immediately felt horribly guilty about being a human. I blame part of this on the movie Fern Gully, by the way. Just coming around a corner to see this expanse of town tucked in between the mighty river and the dense Amazonian Rainforest is something I’ll carry with me for a long time.
I´ll upload a video of this later (when I have a better internet connection).
Unfortunately or fortunately, depending on your mood, the river is changing it’s currents, and is now aimed directly into the town. One good flood in the next 3-5 years and the entire town will be wiped out. In an effort to try to save lives, the Peruvian government has tried to get people to move up the road about 3km to terra firma. They’ve set up what I can only describe as a “starter community” for these people, but no one has moved yet.
In case you were wondering, Laberinto was where the first documented case of malaria was found in Peru.
On the way back into Pto Maldonado from this mining town, we were driving back the same highway and saw, laying dead in the road, a bush dog.
Richard told me that these are incredibly rare species to see at all, let alone this good of a view of one. National Geographic just gave a huge grant to a researcher friend of Richards to study these bush dogs so that we can have a better idea of their lives in the wild.
Ok, since I can’t end on TWO sad notes in a row, I will finish with two more silly points.
First, I’d like to present you with a short list of songs I’ve heard so far, in the middle of nowhere:
- A Peruvian/Andean flute version of ‘My Heart Will go On and On”, heard at a restaurant in Pto Maldonado.
- Men at Work (or was it just Colin Hay at that point?) “Who Can it Be Now”, heard coming out of a gas station around 60km outside of Pto Maldonado
- A full album of cheesy Italian restaurant music, complete with “O solo mio!” heard coming from the ferretaria next door, where, I am told, they make and fix machinery for the illegal gold mining boats
- And, my least favorite song ever, heard coming from a house about 25km outside of town, that “Shorty Got Low” song that goes “Apple bottom jeans, boots with the fur.” God that song is irritating. It seems to follow me everywhere. Or is it eerywher? I´m not sure. I´m too white.
And secondly, I’d like to update you that the denim backpack is alive and well.
You can all rest easy now.