A Glimpse into the Jungle
Updated: Jul 11
The day started with a quick breakfast and a heavy application of bug spray before heading out with Roy, and his wife, Carmelita, into the Amazon rainforest. Indigenous to the upper Amazon region and members of the Cocama people, they have lived in the Ucayali River area their entire lives. The plan was to harvest food from their farmland and they welcomed me to follow along.
We found ourselves at the tail-end of the rainy season. This year's consistent heavy rain caused rot, growth restriction, and nutrient loss for staple crops such as yuca, rice, and maize. Constant downpours pose significant challenges for people who rely primarily on these crops for consumption and as an income source. Fruits like plantains can take a year or more to reproduce, so losing foods like that can be impactful.
Outside of having to steady myself as I stepped onto the motorized canoe, the ride along the Maranon River was without issue. The cool morning breeze was welcoming, and the landscape was something I'd only seen on the Discovery channel. The beauty of the landscape took me off guard. I was confronted with a blend of contrasting emotions that I didn't expect. Everything appeared brighter, sharper, and more vivid. A soothing concert of humming, chirping and buzzing from creatures known and unknown was performed in perfect harmony. There was a natural sense of serenity that promoted peace and deep contemplation. As I floated along the Amazon, my four senses were fully engaged. What I did not expect however, was that I would simultaneously and in equal measure, battle an unrelenting feeling of unease and anxiousness.
As we entered the area where he could dock, Roy expertly maneuvered his canoe to avoid places we could potentially get stuck. He jumped into the murky brown water where there was once land to forage for food. He used his machete to chop down vines and move stray branches out of his way. As I sat there watching him, I wondered what could be lurking in the water as he fearlessly moved about, surveying the land for anything he could take back with him. He was able to find papaya and cut down a plantain bunch.
We continued to the unflooded part of the land. As I observed the land, a sense of anxiety and impending danger slowly crept into my mind. Knowing within this unfamiliar environment lived poisonous snakes, jaguars, and crocodiles was downright terrifying. However, I took comfort in reminding myself I was with people who lived their entire lives in this environment and were beyond capable of navigating this terrain safely. That became abundantly clear when within minutes, Roy killed the highly poisonous jergón viper (aka Common Lancehead snake) right before we crossed its path.
As he searched for food, Roy moved about so fluidly and quickly that it was hard to maintain a level of caution while trying to keep up. Not having water boots for added protection, I felt uneasy every time I stepped on the thick undergrowth of vegetation. To reduce my odds of putting myself in harm's way (and not slow him down), I stayed in one area with a sharp eye scanning everything around me until he finished. When I spotted Roy again, he had more plantains but nothing else. We stayed in the area for about 40 minutes, leaving with only two plantain bunches and papaya. As we sailed back, we enjoyed a piece of fruit while everyone was lost in their own quiet thoughts.
Upon our return, we stopped by their home, where I was introduced to Carmelita's mother, Nora, and their three children- a boy and two girls, all under the age of 12. They live together in their
modest home, where their living room cleverly doubles as a storefront selling snacks and small household items to local villagers. While speaking with Nora, I learned she recently lost her husband of 50+ years to Covid, and her 24-year-old son passed away shortly after. Still in mourning, they lean on each other to make it through these significant losses.
As I left the family, I felt very grateful. It was a pleasure to witness, even just for a moment, their daily routine – all aimed at working together to support their growing family. Despite their recent tragedies, it is good to see that they continue to thrive. The work is hard and potentially dangerous, yet these people are so humble and kind, sharing the little they have with community and with visitors like myself. Although I know what I witnessed barely scratches the surface of their day-to-day, I am still in awe of their resilience, strength, determination, and pure spirit.