An Artistic Mystic in the Amazon



“I had found at the thrift store before I left, a leather Indiana Jones hat that seemed fortuitous for the trip. I was friends with an artist, Anibal Zog from Brazil and he always wore such a hat, plus I had the example from the movies, right? I was trying to blend in to the culture of the Amazon. What I didn’t know until I got there, that if you wanted to blend in you wore swim trunks, a battered American t-shirt and a ball cap. But it was shade, so with a big grin, I donned my Indiana Jones hat with the appropriate theme music, “dum de-dump DUM!” we were off!

Our native guide, Ashuco, took us on a long looping path around the back of our cabins. We passed a little bit of domesticated sugar cane and the tall manioc, and entered the deep overarching jungle. Ashuco had been explaining about the native tribes and how they made blowgun darts. “Dey use da poison from the poison arrow frog. Dis hit de monkey. De monkey go, ‘Ay, what’s dat?’ Brush eet away, he think a fly and den he fall down.” We stopped a moment in a clearing while Ashuco stepped off our narrow path to cut a hard part of a palm to whittle into a dart and show us.

My daughter, Coriander, let out a short shriek, “I’m not alone in my pants!” I looked over at her and her hand was clutching a fold of material pulled away from her thigh.
“I think I killed it, but I’m afraid to let go!” she said in a strangled voice. We both started laughing at her predicament.
I said, “Well, pull off your pants. I’m sure Ashuco has seen naked savages before.”
“No! I’m not going to do that!” she said, with self-conscious indignation.

When Ashuco stepped back to us, we explained the predicament. He very politely grabbed the offending lump and gently worked his other hand up her pants on the outside of her leg to remove the object. With a mischievous grin, he opened up his hand to display the mangled, bloody carcass of a large crushed grasshopper and got an expression of disgust from Coriander until we both broke into giggles again.

Walking on the narrow path cut through the jungle, we keep coming across wonders. Ashuco points out webbing that stretches in a kind of tangled hammock shape over three feet. Within the webbing are many small spiders scurrying around. Ashuco tells us that these are the “social spiders.” Apparently they work together to capture prey that can be many times their size, or I suppose, first come, first served on smaller prey!

There were so many beautiful flowers and many more high above our heads in the tree canopy. I spied one that Ashuco told me was an orchid, but it looked more like a red blossoming pinecone. Ashuco explained how many plants and animals had a symbiotic relationship, pointing out a narrow tree trunk.
“Dese tree trunk is hollow and makes a home for de ants. De ants protect de tree. Ees symbiosis. Dey work together,” Ashuco said.
“Watch dese.”
He started tapping on the outside of this plain looking tree and as if from nowhere, a thousand ants came swarming towards where he was tapping! We backed up quickly and left the tree alone after that.

We came across a small make-shift bridge over a streamlet. Before we crossed the logs, Ashuco excitedly pointed down into the mud at a four-toed footprint as large as his palm. “Dis is de jaguar! De jaguar footprint. You see?!” The thought that the print was relatively fresh and the jaguar must have passed some distance behind our camp in the night, was very exciting, but I could feel the hairs raise on the back of my neck.”

This is a taste of our adventures in the jungle.  We participated in a sacred ayahuasca ceremony, saw the 9 foot long pink dolphins, slept in a treehouse looking down on the tree canopy, and canoed through lumenescent waters in the night.  I am chronicling all this and including travel tips for Peru.  To be published early 2016.

  • Patricia Robin Woodruff