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Authors: Yossi Ghinsberg

Lost in the Jungle (7 page)

BOOK: Lost in the Jungle
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After walking alongside the Tuichi for an hour, we came to an enormous clearing in the jungle, carpeted with green grass. Papaya trees, heavy with fruit, were planted here and there, and huts of bamboo and clay stood about the clearing. Karl had known Don Jorge for quite a while, but this was his first visit to the man’s home.

Don Jorge came out to greet us. He was very friendly, led us to a spacious room, and asked his wife to prepare us a feast. He showed us the trail to the Asriamas River, from which the village had taken its name. It was a small, shallow river that emptied into the Tuichi. Deciding to bathe, we lathered ourselves, shampooed our hair, and dove under to rinse off. We ran in a frenzy on the way back, emitting shouts of rage as mosquitoes swarmed over us and bit our bare skin.

Don Jorge’s wife was determined to demonstrate the full range of her culinary skills, and we ate like kings. Delicious soup, well-seasoned salad, chicken, roasted yucca. We thanked her profusely, and she blushed shyly.

We awoke early to a rooster crowing, ushering in a bright, sunny day. Outside was a pastoral scene. Ten or more sinewy horses grazed amid the huts, lazy sheep dozed under the fruit trees, and a flock of chickens competed with two pigs for the grains of corn the señora scattered about the yard.

After we had breakfasted on fried eggs, rice, and hot
caña
(sugar-cane juice), Don Jorge came to us. He was extremely worried. His oldest son had injured his big toe the week before, and the wound wasn’t healing. He was suffering terrible pain and hadn’t slept at all the past few nights.

Marcus took out the first-aid kit.

‘Let’s go have a look at the kid,’ he said to me.

The boy was barefoot. His toe was swollen and had turned completely black. Pus oozed from the wound, and the infection had begun to spread. It looked horrible. Marcus asked for a pan of hot water. He gently dipped the foot into the water and then took cotton soaked in alcohol and swabbed away the dried pus. He spoke kindly to the boy to take his mind off the pain. Then he spread the toe with disinfectant and bandaged it properly. He gave the boy antibiotic tablets.

The news spread fast: there was a doctor in the village. People converged on the little hut from all directions. They recited a litany of aches and pains, injuries, and diseases. Marcus asked to have a look at the wounds, so as to be of more help, but none of them would show him. They just wanted medicines.

We laughed. The
campesinos
are wild about medicine and don’t hesitate to make up all kinds of ailments in order to get their hands on some. Kind-hearted Marcus took out a tin of hand cream and gave a little to everyone who wanted it.

Karl was talking business with Don Jorge. He bought a large quantity of rice and pork. The prices were ridiculously low. I was a little put out with Karl. ‘Why does it have to be pork and not lamb?’ I demanded.

‘Pork keeps better. We’ll smoke it to take along with us. Lamb tastes good but spoils quickly.’

We slaughtered the pig ourselves. Karl jumped over the fence into the pen, where a large sow and four fat shoats ran about. He picked one out and began an entertaining pursuit. The squeals of the pigs were deafening. Finally he caught one, lifted it up by its hind legs, and handed it over to Kevin. Karl climbed back out of the pen and drew out a sharp knife. ‘You all hold its legs, and I’ll slit its throat.’

‘How can you do it right here, in front of its mother and brothers?’ Marcus protested.

‘Bullcrap,’ Karl replied. ‘Their turn will come soon enough.’

Marcus refused to have any part in it. He wouldn’t even watch. Kevin and I firmly gripped the fluttering legs. Karl grabbed hold of the pig by its ears and skilfully slit its throat. A pool of blood gathered on the ground near the fence. Karl carried the pig over to the oven, which stood under a thatched roof in the centre of the clearing. He tied its front legs to one of the pilings. I looked back at the surviving members of the pig family. Two of them had gone over to the pool of blood and were slurping it up thirstily. Inside the pen a fat little piglet was attempting to mount its mother.

What a world
, I thought to myself.

Kevin went to get some wood for the oven, and I helped Karl butcher the pig. We laid the loins in large roasting pans. The oven was made of clay, shaped like a little igloo. Within half an hour aromas from the roasting pork wafted through the entire village, and when it was ready, we had to share it with all of Don Jorge’s family and the neighbours.

We laid out a banquet of fresh salad, hot sauce, roast bananas, and yucca. The pork was served with rice and beans. We drank hot
caña
and had sweet bananas and papayas for dessert.

After dinner, we gathered around on the grass with Don Jorge and a few other men. Karl was feeling mellow and broke out the liquor that we had bought for the Indians. He poked a hole in the tin and generously spiked the pitcher of
caña
. Drinks were served all around. We drank and enjoyed every moment. Don Jorge rose, went into his house, and came back a moment later carrying what looked like a prayer book.

‘Now he’ll offer a prayer of thanks.’ Marcus smiled and then added, ‘Who would have thought that they knew how to read?’

Don Jorge took a wad of tobacco out of his pocket. He cut a plug with his pocketknife, tore a page out of the book, and rolled a cigarette. Kevin and I burst out laughing, but Marcus’s feelings were hurt.

The next morning we got ready to leave. Karl bought some freshly ground coffee from Don Jorge’s wife. Marcus and I went to have another look at the son with the infected toe. His mother said that he had slept soundly all night, and she was extremely grateful to Marcus. Marcus removed the bandage and saw that there hadn’t been any improvement. The toe was black and oozing pus.

‘I’m afraid that the infection will spread to his whole foot,’ he warned Don Jorge. ‘He has to see a doctor. Otherwise he could lose his foot.’

Don Jorge listened while Marcus explained in detail. Marcus showed him how to clean the toe with alcohol and warned him not to drink any of the alcohol that we were leaving with him. He gave him some antibiotic cream as well, along with bandages and antibiotic tablets.

‘If it doesn’t get any better in a couple of days, you have to take your son to Apolo,’ Marcus warned him again.

‘I will do as you say,’ Don Jorge promised.

‘And don’t let him go barefoot. He has to wear a sock at least. He can’t let the bandage get dirty.’

Kevin returned from a short picture-taking stroll through the village. We put our packs on our backs. They had grown heavier because we were now carrying the rice, five pounds of coffee, smoked pork, bananas that Don Jorge’s father-in-law had given us, and some
chancaca
(a lump of brown sugar derived from sugarcane).

I was sorry to say goodbye to Don Jorge, his wife, and his neighbours. They were all good, pleasant people, and I hoped that I would see them again.

Flaca had mistakenly thought that she would be left to loll about the village, but Karl let her know in no uncertain terms that wherever we went, she went too. The dog’s displeasure was obvious, and Kevin tried to talk Karl into leaving her behind.

‘She’s got it made in the shade here,’ he said, ‘and she’s just a nuisance to us.’

‘You don’t know what you’re talking about,’ Karl replied angrily. ‘Just look at how she’s perked up now that she’s got her strength up. Once we get going, you’ll see that I won’t have to drag her.’

Our plan was to follow the Asriamas River upstream, then to cross a range of mountains to the Cocus River. We would descend the Cocus and then continue crossing mountains until we came to the Colorado-Chico. From there it would be only a short distance to the Indian village.

The Asriamas River isn’t particularly wide or deep, but its current is very strong. On both its banks the jungle encroaches right to its edge. There is hardly any shore. Neither is there any kind of a trail, so instead of cutting our way through the jungle, we waded in the river, crisscrossing from time to time. The going was slow at first. Each time we wanted to cross the river, we took off our socks and shoes. Kevin was the first to lose patience and begin crossing with his shoes on. Soon we were all following his example. It had been difficult wading across the river barefoot anyway. The water was very cold, and smooth, sharp stones cut into the soles of our feet. It was more comfortable to cross with shoes on, but we soon had blisters from walking in wet socks.

It was a hard day for all of us. An irritating rain had been falling since morning, and we shivered with cold. Flaca was the most pitiful. Now and then she stopped in her tracks, wet, cold, and miserable, and refused to go on. Karl had to kick her to get her going. Once, while we were crossing the river, she had gotten caught in the current and was swept almost out of sight. I went after her, letting the water carry me along too. I found her perched on a small rise on the riverbank. I went over to her, but she tried desperately to get away from me. She didn’t want any help. She just wanted to be left alone. I dragged her quite a way and then picked her up and walked back against the current to rejoin the others.

It was getting late. Karl decided it was time to stop for the night. We quickly set up camp a short distance from the riverbank. Fortunately, the rain had stopped, and we got a fire going. Karl made a big pot of soup from rice and bits of smoked pork.

Marcus and Kevin, who had both brought a change of clothes, hung their wet clothes to dry by the campfire, but Karl and I had to dry our clothing while wearing it.

‘Don’t put your clothes too close to the fire,’ Karl said. ‘The threads wear out that way, and they’ll start falling apart at the seams.’

Before we fell asleep, Karl promised, ‘Tomorrow I’ll find some kind of game, for sure.’

‘That’s good, Poppa,’ Marcus laughed. ‘You have to provide for your hungry children.’

I awoke very early in the morning and found Karl already up and outside. He was whittling chips of wood from a broken branch with the machete. He placed the chips over the ashes from last night’s fire, bent over, and blew on one of the stillred logs. The fire rekindled. Karl added dry twigs and soon had a good blaze going. I crawled out of the tent and warmed myself against the morning chill. Kevin had also arisen and was breaking up a large branch. I took the pot and utensils down to the river to clean them.

The weather was better than it had been the day before. It had stopped raining, our clothing was dry, and we were soon on our way, wading in the icy water of the river.

At noon Karl noticed a gathering of dark clouds on the horizon. Before long a heavy rain was pouring down on us. Determined, we marched on, drenched to the bone.

Flaca, who was being dragged by the rope around her neck, rebelled. Her legs went out from under her, and she lay down. Karl’s shouting and kicking did no good. He dragged her a long way over the muddy ground. She didn’t let out a whimper. Finally he got really mad, took the rope from around her neck, and shouted, ‘You don’t want to come? Fine, have it your way. Just stay here!’

We went on, looking back sadly at the poor dog, sure we would never see her again. What a bum deal she had gotten, I thought to myself. We had bought her from her poor owners, thinking she’d be better off with us, but had brought her nothing but hardship. Now we were abandoning her to her fate. Alone in the jungle she would die of cold and hunger. I looked back again. Flaca was stretched out in the mud, watching us apathetically, as if resigned to the end that would soon be hers.

‘Look, cattle!’ Karl cried. ‘They belong to the people of Asriamas. They let them wander freely about the jungle to graze and breed.’

About twenty head stood on the narrow riverbank. The calves frolicked between their mothers’ legs. One, all soft and white, nuzzled its mother’s udder.

‘She’s giving milk,’ I said. ‘Maybe we could catch her and get a little milk for ourselves.’

‘Why bother?’ Karl said. ‘Better we should take a young calf and roast it over the campfire. It’s even legal,’ he added. ‘There’s an unwritten law that a hungry man travelling through the pampas can slaughter a whole cow in order to have something to eat.’

We were all starving, and it didn’t take much effort on Karl’s part to convince us that there wouldn’t be anything immoral about killing a calf belonging to the people who had sheltered us in Asriamas. So the hunt was on. Karl and Kevin sneaked up on the herd holding ropes. The cattle got wind of them and fled.

‘I have a great idea,’ Karl proclaimed. ‘We’ll keep spooking them in the direction we’re going until it’s time to set up camp. Then we’ll shoot one of them. We won’t even have to carry it that way.’

We carried on enthusiastically, driving the cattle forward with loud shouts. They tried to give us the slip, but we managed to keep them together; only one or two got away. All of the others were ahead of us, and the moment of truth had arrived.

I suddenly spotted a black bird gliding about fifty yards ahead of us.

‘Shhh,’ I said to quiet everyone, ‘look.’

Karl moved forward cautiously, and while still a considerable distance from the bird, took aim with the shotgun and fired, decapitating the bird. He rushed to the river and drew it out of the water. It was a fat, black wild goose. Karl was grinning from ear to ear. I was just as proud as he was of his admirable marksmanship.

BOOK: Lost in the Jungle
4.01Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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