Sunday, August 19, 2018

Day 2 of Amazon Adventures: Museums, Manatees and Misery by Stuart R. West

Click here to read about the "wilds" of Kansas City!
Hola, fellow explorers! Herein resides more adventures in the heart of the Amazon River and Iquitos, Peru! I can't wait to get writing books set there...quite a stretch from my usual stomping grounds of Kansas.

Our second night, "Jungle Momma (the group coordinator)" told us to get lots of sleep because the next day would be jam-packed. I scoffed, nothing to it. Hey, I lived through a heart-pounding motokar city-wide trek!

Dumb. I'm soooo dumb. So very, very, very city-dumb.
I showed up in shorts. Jungle Momma chastised me, said "Nope. No. No way. You need two shirts, a long-sleeved shirt over a short-sleeved shirt. And long pants."

Grousing, dragging, I hauled myself upstairs and changed, wondering what the big deal was. I mean, it was a thousand degrees out and humid as Satan's sauna. Oh, what a naive, spoiled American I am!

First stop! The Belen market. The market is huge, supplying all of the food and goods for the entire city of Iquitos, population around 371,000 (plus ignorant tourists such as myself). 

But something didn't seem quite right. On the bus, there were two guards: one, a man strangely named "Clever" and a guy whose name I never caught. Clever warned us to watch our pockets, wallets, purses, and leave all but our necessities on the bus.

Hmm... Odd.

Ye gads, talk about overwhelming. More fish on display than an ocean could house, I wondered about the sanitation of it all. Clearly I needed to get over my Western way of thinking. Dogs and cats meandered about nonchalantly, inches away from food. Dead mice lay gutted at the foot of chicken corpses. Strange men mosied up, smiled, performed a kinda one-armed chicken dance. Ghastly things lay splayed out on merchant tables. Giant turtles were cut open with their eggs on display. Alligator heads and tails decorated tables.
 Thumb-sized larva and grubs ("Suri") wriggled about in baskets before being skewered and cooked. Like that annoying kid in eighth grade science class, I held one, showed it to the females until they "ewwwed." To get the full effect, I was willing to eat one until Jungle Momma shut me down.
Our guards stayed attached to us and I'm pretty dang glad they did. At the end of an hour-and-a-half, claustrophobia  set in. I couldn't move. An unwelcome realization dawned over me with the sledgehammer inevitability of a "duh" moment: "Hey, I think the locals might realize I'm a tourist." Not only am I the whitest guy in Kansas, but my Hawaiian shirt and camera were probably a giveaway.

Sweat began to percolate as we boarded the bus (air conditioning!). I thought I knew sweat. Turned out I hadn't even mounted the sweaty trail.

Up next was a visit to a medicinal herbal garden. (Our group was composed primarily of pharmacists, so it was kinda a big deal for them. Which made me arm candy, I suppose. Maybe more like an arm grub). But, I thought, "This will be a nice pleasant five minute stroll. We'll just drive up, park, get out, "ooh" and "ahh" over some plants, get back on the bus, and bask in air conditioning." Oh, naivete, your name is Stuart.
My wife grabs her purse, thrusts it at me to stuff into my backpack. (Embarrassing disclaimer: I've never worn a back-pack before. Back in my day {pay attention, whippersnappers!}, we carried our books.) Suddenly, Jungle Momma is tucking her pant legs into her socks. (The hell...?) Bug spray is lacquered on. Sun hats are strapped on. Shirt sleeves rolled down, buttoned, and double-checked. (Uh-oh...)

Just off the bus and already sweating, I follow the others' precautionary efforts. I don't really understand what all the fuss is for over a simple stroll through a garden. Right? RIGHT?
 That "simple stroll" turned into a three hour tour (worse than Gilligan's nightmares) through the jungle. And I'm wearing double shirts, long pants, and carrying my wife's forty pound purse (clearly she packed her bowling ball collection) in my backpack. Naturally, every intrepid explorer carries purses into the jungle.

On the left, my beautiful wife. I'm the guy wearing mustard so the anacondas can see me better.
We climbed up trails, slalomed down them, slipped through mud, dodged branches, the whole nine yards. I thought we'd never reach civilization again. I also thought a daily five miles of treadmill walking had prepared me for strenuous hiking. Such is the life of city sissies. Jumpin' Jehosophat, by the end of the tour--and with my "moobs"--I looked like I'd been hosed down for a wet t-shirt contest.

Tired travelers, weary pharmacists, and soaking wet big dumb guys in mustard.
Back on the bus, I sucked down a bottle of water and juice in seconds, dehydrated as a shrunken head. But relief was on the way as the next visit turned out to be a relatively low-key visit to a nature habitat dedicated to saving animals on the brink of extinction (due to hunting, eating, other "civilized" products) such as manatees, turtles (of which we saw the grotesque end result earlier), monkeys (monkey-head soup's big), and others. Great cause. Still, it's outside. And once I broke my sweat-seal, I never stopped draining. In fact, between the three men on the trip, we had a bit of a sweating competition. Hands down, I won, glad to know I'm good at something.
A tour of two museums followed. First up was the Museum of Indigenous Amazonian Cultures. Amazingly, there are still 200 tribes in the jungle who flat-out refuse to "civilize." The not so amazing reason is due to white man unleashing a lotta diseases and vile behavior on the indigenous in the past. Honestly, after seeing some of the lifestyles in Iquitos (and boorish American behavior), I kinda think the tribes made the right decision. 
Our final stop proved to be the most grueling one yet, the Boat Museum. While fascinating, the displays and tour took place on a boat. In closed, non-air-conditioned rooms. During the hottest part of the day. Give me the jungle heat any day. Now I know why they're called steamboats.
Finished! Back in the room, my shower was perhaps the finest I'd taken in my life, definitely in the pantheon of Top Three Showers ever.

On the next blog post, we travel down the Amazon River to...Monkey Island!

Speaking of traveling, you guys ever been to Kansas? No. What're you waiting for? Kansas is a nice, exotic, wonderful, getaway of a vacation for... Ah, who am I kidding? Kansas is downright goofy. But don't take my word for it. Click here to read about some of its inhabitants.
A rollicking, good-natured mystery comedy.

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