This place, and this family, is ridiculously nice. On June 24th, the festival of San Juan, Ellen and I took a day of rest after our busy weekend of exploring the Amazonian way of life. We set up our mosquito net as a safe haven where we could chat and play games in peace, and spent the day puttering around. We went for a swim in the Amazon river (staying close to shore, of course) and washed our laundry in the river as well. We felt slightly guilty for doing nothing all day, but after dinner Lucio suggested a quick walk to the bridge and back. This turned into a full-scale jungle walk by torchlight. We listened to the sounds of nocturnal birds, bats, and frogs, spotted a few jungle creatures, and listened to Lucio tell us a legend that was the Amazon version of Hansel and Gretel.

The following day we walked into Tamshiyaco, the nearest town. On our way, we passed a local who had just come across and killed a 3.5 meter long boa constrictor. The snake was still moving, although the blood trail from a nearby field indicated that we’d missed the action by at least 15 minutes. We felt thrilled to see such a large snake – and frightened to find it so close to our path. What if we’d been the first to stumble over it, unarmed and unaware? Despite the carnivorous snakes and piranhas in the river, the Amazon doesn’t feel like a dangerous place to me, though. It has a powerful natural force to be respected, but caution rather than fear seems to be enough to keep you safe. You can swim in the river, but not too far out where the current will sweep you away. The piranhas don’t eat people except in extremely rare cases, and the crocodiles only come out at night. The Amazon feels like just another place that people call home, albeit a wilder one.

To think that we could have come across one of these on our own!

To think that we could have come across one of these on our own!

On Wednesday morning we went fishing again. I wanted to make up for my failure to catch anything earlier in the week, and nobody here will turn down a nice fried fish. I jokingly insisted we all change rods, blaming mine for my bad luck last time, and the lucky rod Ellen had used before paid out on this trip as well. This time around, I caught four piranhas, a sardine, and a tall flat fish called a palometa, while Ellen caught two piranhas and a striped grey fish that Lucio called a lisa. Lucio, using the rod that had been so unlucky for me last time, broke his hook after catching just one fish, a catfish-like creature that we used for bait. The four silvery-grey larger fish flopped around in the bottom of the canoe while we finished fishing, but Lucio insisted that the piranhas be put at the front of the boat where they wouldn’t bite our bare toes while we fished. I found it amusing that we were free to trail our hands and feet in the water, or even jump into the river to bathe or swim without fear of being bitten, but a half-dead piranha on the canoe floor was a risk. However, seeing the impressive mouthful of teeth in one of them, I was willing to play it safe!

Rah! I'm a piranha! (They don't look so scary once they're caught!)

Rah! I’m a piranha! (They don’t look so scary once they’re caught!)

Several fish that we caught, displayed in one of the nice bowls we admired so much

Several fish that we caught, displayed in one of the nice bowls we admired so much

Late in the morning, we headed back to the house with a wooden bowl full of fish. We’ve seen a lot of similar bowls, which look like they’re made of coconut shells, are used for all sorts of tasks, especially for bathing. Ellen and I admired them openly, so Lucio offered to show us how they’re made. He took us to a tree with shiny green fruits the size of a small watermelon, pointed out a ripe one, and knocked it down with a stick, so he could make us a bowl each. He carefully sawed the fruit in half, shoosing which angle so the bowls would stay upright when filled. Then with a machete, he removed the horrible-smelling pulp (it’s good for inducing vomiting in sick or poisoned patients, he explained) and scraped the inside of the shell clean with a spoon. The completed bowls we placed to dry in the sun. At the time they were green, but within a week or two they’d turned brown, and looked like they’d make fine salad bowls. At this stage in my trip, with thoughts of leaving South America and establishing a home again on my mind, I was glad to carry around the bowl as a souvenir of my time in the jungle.

Lucio hollowing the bowl out with a spoon.

Lucio hollowing the bowl out with a spoon.

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